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Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

A report published by the charity Physicians for Human Rights has documented illegal medical experimentation carried out on prisoners detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism whilst being held in CIA custody[1]. The report, entitled Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, outlines numerous instances of illegal testing carried out on prisoners in violation of both medical ethics and international treaties.

Among the experiments performed were tests to analyse how detainees would cope with subjection to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, and experiments which involved adding a saline solution to the water used to simulate drowning during waterboarding sessions in order to prevent complications related to dilution of the blood.

Members of Physicians for Human Rights spent two years carefully analysing declassified but redacted documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees suspected of terrorism who were taken into custody following the attacks of September 11th 2001. The group has called for a congressional investigation into the allegations contained in its report, and has called on the White House to investigate.

According to the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based non-governmental organisation, such experiments – illegal under the Nuremburg Code and Geneva Conventions – were carried out with complicity on the part of CIA-appointed doctors, psychologists and other medical staff. PHR accuses the US government of having used such professionals to shield itself from criminal liability and charges that the physicians involved were complicit in “the routine practice of torture”. Page 9 of the 30 page report states that the experiments undertaken, “had no direct clinical health care application, nor [were they] in the detainee’s personal interest nor part of their medical management”.

The report observes that the illegal experimentation carried out, “appears to have been used primarily to enable the Bush administration to assess the legality of the tactics, and to inform medical monitoring policy and procedure for future application of the techniques”. Page 10 informs that, “US government lawyers used… observational data collected by health professionals… to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique on other detainees”.

The report reveals that medical professionals under the authority of the US government observed and analysed the effects of sleep deprivation on more than a dozen prisoners in 48, 96 and 180-hour increments. Scott A. Allen, MD, a PHR medical advisor and lead medical author of the report remarked that, “Any health professional [that] violates their ethical codes by employing their professional expertise to calibrate and study the infliction of harm disgraces the health profession and makes a mockery of the practice of medicine”. He stated that any medical practitioner who participated in “unethical human subject research… should be held to account”[2].

Frank Donaghue, Physicians for Human Rights’ Chief Executive Officer, affirmed that it appears that the CIA violated, “accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War”, which are designed to protect detainees from inhumane experimentation. Donaghue described the abuses detailed in the group’s report as “gross violations of human rights law” and “a grave affront to America’s core values”[3].

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano responded to the allegations on behalf of the agency, stating that PHR’s report is “just wrong”, and that the CIA did not carry out “human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees”[4].

President Barack Obama officially outlawed the practice of waterboarding not long after taking office, but has controversially preserved an undefined number of “black sites” or clandestine prisons situated in countries whose governments collaborate with the United States, and has preserved the practice of rendition whereby those suspected of broadly defined terror offences can be taken to such sites and “interrogated” with no judicial oversight.

Upon releasing four top secret Bush-era memos, which permitted the CIA to use torture against terror suspects, in April of 2009, President Obama guaranteed immunity to those who had been responsible either for encouraging and authorising such acts or for directly carrying them out. Obama called it a time for “reflection, not retribution”[5], and to date not a single member of the Bush administration has been prosecuted despite overwhelming documented evidence that torture was routinely used against people who had not been charged with any crime.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the administration of George W. Bush in 2002 had authorised the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including but not limited to: waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extremes of temperature, forced nudity and forcing detainees to maintain stress positions. Such techniques were allowed providing medical staff present ensured prisoners did not endure “severe physical and mental pain”. This arbitrary proviso was widely derided at the time, with critics maintaining that this essentially gave US interrogators, who in many cases were devoid of experience and even basic training, a free hand to administer any type of punishment they saw fit with little interference from the upper echelons of government.

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, commented that, “President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable”, with the ACLU characterising the legal basis for torture as “spurious”.

One memo declassified by the Obama administration, dated 1 August 2002, lists permissible techniques, which include: attention grasp, walling (pushing the detainee into a wall), facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, wall standing, placing a detainee with a fear of insects in a confined box containing insects, and waterboarding.

A secret 2004 US army investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Baghdad, Iraq, uncovered evidence of sustained and repeated mistreatment of prisoners held in US custody. The report revealed a damning catalogue of inhumane behaviour which included the following abuses[6]:

  • Sodomising a male detainee with a chemical light and possibly a broomstick
  • Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol
  • A male military police guard having sex with a female detainee
  • Using military working dogs, without muzzles, to intimidate and frighten detainees; in at least one case biting a detainee and causing severe injury
  • Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid onto detainees
  • Beating detainees with a broom handle and chair
  • Pouring cold water on naked detainees
  • Punching, slapping & kicking detainees
  • Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall of his cell
  • Threatening male detainees with rape
  • Jumping on detainees’ naked feet
  • Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees
  • Forcibly arranging detainees in numerous sexually explicit positions in order to photograph them
  • Forcing detainees to strip naked and depriving them of clothing for days at a time
  • Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear
  • Forcing groups of naked male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed & videotaped
  • Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and jumping on them
  • Positioning a naked male detainee on an MRE box with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis and electrically shocking him
  • Placing a dog chain around a naked male detainee and having a female soldier pose for a photo
  • Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees

The report´s author, Major General Antonio Taguba, later confirmed that photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib which the Obama administration declined to release depicts “sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube”. Taguba described the photographs as providing categoric evidence of “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.” “The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it”, he added[7].

Senior figures in the Bush administration came in for heavy criticism as it emerged that abuses amounting to torture were widespread both in Iraq and at US-controlled detention facilities in other countries. US Justice Department official John Yoo drew consternation from anti-torture advocates when he endorsed the sexual torture of terror suspects’ children in front of their parents as an acceptable method of extracting a confession[8].

Douglass Cassel, professor at Notre Dame Law School, quizzed Yoo in December of 2005 about an August 2002 memo he had authored, asking, “If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” “No treaty”, replied Yoo, who in addition to writing many of the memos which cemented the practice of “enhanced interrogation” as accepted policy also wrote extensively in favour of domestic surveillance and wiretapping of citizens of the United States without warrants. Cassel pressed the South Korea-born attorney further, “Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.” “I think it depends on why the President feels he needs to do that,” was Yoo’s now infamous response.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, http://phrtorturepapers.org/?dl_id=9

[2] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[3] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[4] Physicians group accuses CIA of testing torture techniques on detainees, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-torture-20100608,0,1471800.story

[5] Obama releases Bush torture memos – Insects, sleep deprivation and waterboarding among approved techniques by the Bush administration, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/16/torture-memos-bush-administration

[6] Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, http://www.npr.org/iraq/2004/prison_abuse_report.pdf

[7] Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5395830/Abu-Ghraib-abuse-photos-show-rape.html

[8] Meek, mild and menacing, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/blumenthal/2006/01/12/alito_bush/

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening that the call from the international community for Israel to temporarily freeze settlement construction in territory it has been illegally occupying since 1967 was an “illogical and unreasonable demand”.[1] Netanyahu’s comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the Zionist state to make “difficult but necessary choices”, a reference to Israeli plans to construct around 1,600 new homes in illegally occupied East Jerusalem which were announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the country.

Clinton used her appearance at AIPAC to underscore her “rock solid” dedication to “Israel’s security”, saying that this is “more than a policy position for me. It is a personal commitment that will never waver”. She went on to say, however, that Israel’s continuing settlement expansion “undermines mutual trust” between the two nations.[2] Such tame chastisement came less than 24 hours after Netanyahu had told his cabinet that, “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv”.

According to international law, however, there is a clear distinction. Israel has resisted repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions to withdraw from all territory it occupied in 1967, and has continuously expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have more than doubled in size since the failed Oslo peace accords of 1993. The total number of inhabitants of Jewish-only settlements in illegally occupied territory currently stands at over 650,000.

Despite the fact that the construction of settlements in territory acquired by war is roundly condemned by the international community and the practice is forbidden by international law, the BBC insists on including the concession that “Israel disputes this” whenever settlements’ legal status is mentioned, further clouding the issue and giving the illusion of legitimate contention where there is none.

Aside from their outright illegality, settlements are routinely constructed in strategic areas which give their inhabitants preferential access to scarce supplies of water and arable land to the detriment of the impoverished Palestinian communities who live on their margins. A network of roads and highways administered by Israel cuts through the West Bank, in many cases isolating Palestinian villages from one another and making travel between towns just a few miles apart unfeasible.

Settlements in East Jerusalem have been constructed so as to “ring-fence” the portion of the city under illegitimate occupation, with Israel claiming the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital. The location of such settlements makes any transfer of sovereignty over East Jerusalem to a Palestinian government under a future peace deal practically impossible should the current inhabitants be allowed to remain where they are. The dominant forces within the international community have steadfastly refused to take collective action against Israel’s repeated and flagrant violations of internationally accepted practice in refusing to withdraw from territory it acquired following the 1967 war, and have thus undermined any genuine prospect of peace between the two sides.

British arms sales to Israel skyrocketed under Tony Blair’s stewardship and currently stand at their highest ever level. The prospect of a potential future Conservative government bringing pressure to bear on the Zionist state looks remote to say the least: a Channel 4 programme entitled Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, screened in late 2009, found that roughly 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends for Israel. The United States currently sends Israel, a nation with a population of just over 7 million, around US$3 billion in foreign aid annually, more than to any other single country and more than to every country in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

Speaking at AIPAC on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that illegal settlements in East Jerusalem were an “inextricable” part of Israel and would remain so under any subsequent peace deal. Incredibly, he went on to state that their construction, “in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”[3] President Barack Obama appeared to agree with Netanyahu’s position in September of 2009, when he dropped an official demand for Israel to cease illegal settlement construction.[4] Even more bizarrely, this humiliating capitulation was reported by CNN as if it were a major step in bringing the two sides together.

Quite how Obama and the United States manage to retain any credibility whatsoever as neutral peace brokers in this conflict is a testament to the power of the mainstream media upon which the majority of Americans and Britons rely for information about world affairs. Obama, who had won glowing praise from the Israeli press for a now infamous performance at AIPAC prior to his victory at the polls in late 2008, effectively extinguished any faint hopes of positive action from Washington on the matter when he appointed former IDF volunteer Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff shortly after being elected. Emanuel is widely acknowledged to be one of the most potent figures in Obama’s administration, and it is against this backdrop that any call by the United States’ government for peace talks to resume can be discarded as fading rhetoric.

Clinton at AIPAC: Iran threatened once again

Speaking on behalf of the planet’s foremost nuclear power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the latest contribution to the burgeoning collection of threats targeted at Iran by political figures from the United States and Israel, calling for “sanctions that bite” against the Persian nation and stating that the United States is “determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons”. Clinton was greeted by applause from the 7,500-strong audience, comprised of members of arguably Washington’s most powerful political lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation, no less than 25 times during Monday’s speech. She called Iran’s mythical quest to procure nuclear weaponry “unacceptable to the United States, unacceptable to Israel and unacceptable to the region and the international community”.

Russia and China have hitherto resisted proceeding with sanctions against Iran, while the U.S. began a programme of sanctions during the presidency of Secretary Clinton’s husband Bill which were dutifully extended by President Obama shortly after the latter took office early in 2009.

The double standard underpinning the frequently recited mantra that Iran is not entitled to obtain nuclear armaments and should be considered a pariah if it wishes to do so is palpable: not only does the U.S. have the world’s most formidable nuclear arsenal; it stands apart from the other members of the coveted nuclear club, having used such weapons to devastating effect against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In addition, Israel is believed to have several hundred nuclear warheads and senior Israeli politicians have been repeatedly threatening military action against Iran in recent years. Israel allowed “cursory inspections” of its nuclear facilities once a year between 1962 and 1969, going to great lengths to conceal underground areas of its sites which contained incriminating evidence of the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.[5]

When covertly taken photographs and information regarding Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facilities were released to The Sunday Times in October 1986, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome before being flown to Israel where he served years in prison, spending longer in solitary confinement than any known prisoner in modern history. Iran, meanwhile, denies categorically that it is seeking to enrich uranium for the purpose of weapon development and maintains that its intentions are purely peaceful.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Benjamin Netanyahu says Mid-East talks face new delay, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8583589.stm

[2] Hillary Clinton warns Israel faces ‘difficult’ choices, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8579766.stm

[3] Netanyahu reaffirms ‘right to build’ in Jerusalem, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8582190.stm

[4] Obama drops demand that Israel freeze settlements, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/22/us.mideast/index.html

[5] Israel’s Nuclear Weapons, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/cpc-pubs/farr.htm

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The Dalai Lama this week expressed concern that there was little likelihood of improvement for the Tibetan cause, despite relaxing his demands in recent years. Facing huge crowds in Dharamsala on 10th March after a series of protests and demonstrations, he gave his annual commemoration speech, marking the 51st anniversary since the failed Tibetan revolt. The date is also the 2nd anniversary of the 2008 riots in which dozens were killed by Chinese security, in the largest scale protests against the regime in 50 years.

The Tibetan spiritual leader reiterated his position that he does not intend to assume a political role if his country achieves autonomy or independence, the same being said for the government in exile. [1]

Despite links and meetings with numerous foreign political figures, most notable recently both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, sufficient diplomatic and popular pressure has yet to develop. He decried the security situation in the country which he claims treats Tibetans as second class citizens and is trying to annihilate Buddhism:

“They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace. These conditions make the monasteries function more like museums and are intended to deliberately annihilate Buddhism.” [2]

China continues to denounce the Dalai Lama’s position as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, prohibiting his adoration and labeling him as merely a “political monk”. They contend that the existence of a constitution for the Tibetan “government-in-exile” undermines the movement’s claims that it is not seeking independence. Officials describe the Tibetan region as “an inalienable part of China” which has benefitted both socially and economically from its integration over the last 50 years.[3]

China first invaded Tibet in 1950 and, following a failed uprising in March 1959, the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of Tibetans fled into exile in India. During the years of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, there followed a characteristic policy of assimilation and “patriotic re-education”.[4] The Tibetan language, culture and history were replaced in both education, and official society, by those of China. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were also encouraged to settle throughout the plateau, resulting in ethnic majorities in certain regions, most notably Lhasa.[5] The latter policy inevitably assisted in the operation of the former, as China has been surprisingly successful in permeating its “history” of shared culture and unity.

Tibetans’ dogged loyalty to their own past has led to fierce repression over the last 50 years in which an estimated 90% of their cultural heritage has been destroyed. Following the 2008 protests, in anticipation of the Beijing Olympics, the security situation has been further tightened.

Apart from exceptions for visits of foreign journalists, military patrols are a regular feature of Lhasa’s streets.[6] Tibetan visitors to the capital are also required to provide three pieces of documentary evidence to avoid detention. These include: their identity card, a temporary residence permit and a letter of introduction allowing them to be in Lhasa.[7] Ethnic Han Chinese are not stopped for these checks.

China argues that it introduced democratic reforms in 1959 which have brought great social and economic progress for ordinary Tibetans, and that current security in the region is merely intended to ensure peace. [8]

China has invested some 154 billion yuan ($21 billion) in the territory over the last decade on infrastructure and various other development projects. They appreciate that the large-scale nature of many of their previous initiatives has done little to win over the minds of ordinary Tibetans. In recent years they have therefore changed their approach, focusing on local communities and encouraging tourism and small-scale industry. Although many remain skeptical, the process appears to be bearing fruit, as posters of Mao Zedong and President Hu Jintao have begun to appear on walls.[9]

Amongst the exile community, an awareness of the superiority of China has affected both official policy and individual interpretations. The Dalai Lama has switched his stance from full independence to greater rights and autonomy for Tibetans within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Exiles, who tend to follow the path of their spiritual leader, concede the advantages of a harmonious relationship with their neighbor.

This shift in demands following the defeats of 2008 may mark an end of hope for the Tibetan cause. Relations will probably normalise over time, but with Tibetan culture likely further subsumed within that of China. The examples from the UK in this regard are particularly poignant.

The successful conquest of the neighbouring states of England saw Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland all become integral parts of a greater Kingdom. Local culture and language was repressed and often prohibited, mass migrations were encouraged to dilute indigenous populations and the histories of the regions were suitably altered. Although Ireland eventually broke away, the others have remained, as they understand the impracticality of attempting to stand in the world without their richer neighbour. Relations are now normalised and, having made sacrifices to become anglicised, the possibilities of separation seem remote. [10] [11] [12] [13]

The history of the “United Kingdom” bears an interesting template perhaps for the future of Tibet as a state.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/himachalpradesh/Dalai-Lama-says-he-will-not-take-political-position-in-Tibet/Article1-517342.aspx

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[3] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[5] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[6] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[7] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7056345.ece

[8] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[9] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[10] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3972485.ece

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_nationalism

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_language

[13] http://www.theclearances.org/clearances/main.php

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has unilaterally taken over the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission, declaring himself the right to appoint all five panel members.  The move comes four months after the commission ordered a rerun of last August’s presidential election in the wake of widespread electoral fraud, with estimates that Karzai had received around one million unsubstantiated votes in order to claim victory against rival Abdullah Abdullah.[i]

This run-off, however, did not materialise, with Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing days before the vote, leading to the second round of voting being abruptly cancelled. Abdullah stated that his “demands for a fraud-free election had not been met”, and that a repeat of the August debacle “might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.”[ii] The August elections had been marked by voter intimidation and ballot stuffing in Karzai’s favour on the part of election monitors. The governor and other election officials in the northern state of Balkh, for example, noted “voter coercion” and intimidation, “particularly” on the part of election monitors.[iii]

Ballot-stuffing was also a common complaint, with both Karzai and Abdullah facing accusations over huge voting irregularities. The BBC uncovered election cards being sold openly in some cities, and candidates offering thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for votes. The Bareez tribe in the southern city of Kandahar alleged that nearly 30,000 votes had been switched from Abdullah to Karzai, with the president’s brother Ahmed Wali maintaining that the claim was “baseless”.[iv] Ahmed Wali Karzai is himself a controversial figure who does little to bolster the reputation of his brother’s regime internationally, with voluminous evidence linking him to the heroin trade in the war-torn nation.[v]

Prior to Hamid Karzai’s overhaul, the ECC had been dominated by the United Nations, with three of its panel being directly appointed by the UN. Western diplomats were quick to register their outrage at the Afghan President’s decision. The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, reportedly struck a deal in private with the Afghan head of state prior to the announcement that the President would determine the five-strong commission, to the effect that at least two foreigners would be part of the panel. This would still leave Karzai-appointees in a dominant position, holding the remaining three out of five seats. The President already controls Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, which was considered to have favoured the incumbent during the August election and was accordingly criticised by Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai’s announcement comes during a parliamentary recess, with the Afghan parliament not due to reconvene until Saturday 27 February. Abdullah Abdullah was critical of the move to seize power of the ECC, calling it a “step backwards”, and affirming that Karzai’s actions “could seriously jeopardise the efforts being made on the military front”. President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December of 2009[vi], following the deployment of an extra 17,000 troops in February of last year.[vii]

This significant increase in foreign troops comes at a time when confidence in Afghanistan’s fledgling government is dwindling, with the Karzai regime perceived by many both in and outside of the devastated nation to be riddled with corruption and showing no sign of improvement. Consequently, public opinion in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries which have troops stationed in Afghanistan has turned sharply against the war, with rising death tolls both among the Afghan civilian population and foreign occupying forces and the obvious shortcomings of Karzai’s government. The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 256 in early February 2010, surpassing the number of dead in the Falklands’ war of 1982, as three British troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand province.[viii]

Meanwhile, the Afghan cabinet voiced its condemnation of the killing of 27 civilians in the south of the country following a NATO airstrike in an area under Dutch military control in the border region between the provinces of Uruzgan and Dai Kondi.[ix] A cabinet statement affirmed that “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable… We strongly condemn it.”[x]

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary stated that the victims of the airstrike were all civilians.  He said that two Land Cruisers and a pickup truck containing a total of 42 people came under attack from the air as they approached the Khotal Chowza mountain pass that connects the two provinces.

Tom Kavanagh


[i] Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/22/karzai-afghanistan-electoral-complaints-commission

[ii] Abdullah pulls out of Afghan vote, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8336388.stm

[iii] Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082704199.html

[iv] Afghan poll: Main fraud allegations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8244125.stm

[v][v] Reports link Karzai’s brother to heroin trade, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/world/asia/04iht-05afghan.16689186.html

[vi] Barack Obama’s war: the final push in Afghanistan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/01/barack-obama-speech-afghanistan-war

[vii] Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/obama.troops/index.html

[viii] Afghanistan death toll exceeds Falklands as three UK soldiers die, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/uk-soldiers-killed-afghanistan

[ix] Afghanistan slams US-led forces over civilian deaths, http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=119233&sectionid=351020403

[x] NATO Airstrike Kills Afghan Civilians, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

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In the last hours of 2009 a US judge dismissed all charges against 5 Blackwater employees held in connection with the Nisoor Square masacre in September 2007. The case centred on claims that guards from the private security firm shot at random at unarmed civilians as their convoy passed a junction, killing 17 and injuring dozens more. The firm, which has changed its operating name to Xe services, argues that their employees we’re responding to an ambush by insurgents.

The case has acted as a focusing point for Iraqi resentment at the presence and immunity of private security contractors within the country. Many civilians claim that their behaviour has long been conducted with a disregard for Iraqi sovereignty, and that this recent victory for Blackwater’s defence highlights the impression that they are able to operate free from prosecution. Five of the six men charged in the case have been released while the fate of a sixth remains unclear due to his guilty plea.

Blackwater is one of the largest and most controversial of the private contractors operating with the Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although it has been formerly banned from Iraq by the national government, expectations that private staff will soon comprise 50% of armed forces capacity in Afghanistan will likely lead to further growth of its operations. The practice of contracting private firms for security and the protection of expatriates was hugely accelerated after 9/11, but has since seen employees embroiled in numerous cases regarding human rights and improper conduct.

During the Abu Ghraib investigations it was found that more than a third of the guards involved in abuse were employees of Blackwater. Following the Nisoor Square masacre, a 2007 House of Representatives report on the conduct of the company found several more issues. This House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that between 2005 and 2007 there had been 195 reported incidents in which employees had fired weapons. Despite its legal remit to use only defensive force in the protection of State Department officials, it was found that in 80% of the cases Blackwater guards had fired first (often from a moving vehicle). Their reputation for over-zealous force was not assisted by further revelations that 122 people from their 800 strong operating capacity in Iraq had been fired from employment, due mostly to weapons-related incidents and substance abuse. Xe Services claims this figure represents its firm commitment to the highest standards within its workforce.

In the case brought by the Justice Department against the 6 employees, the judge dismissed the case on the grounds of improper practice, claiming that their prosecution was, “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility”. District Judge Ricardo Urbina pointed to flaws in the collection and presentation of evidence. Sworn testimonies were collected from all 6 of the accused under specific terms from the State Department. These were obtained after threatening the men’s employment if they chose not to co-operate and under the formal understanding that they could not be used in legal proceedings. As government contractors, the guards were obligated to give an immediate report to State Department officials, but since the Constitution prevents the government from requiring a defendant to testify against himself, these statements could not be used in a prosecution.

It was on these grounds that Urbina dismissed the case, citing the fact that the testimonies had been used to obtain warrants, been presented to the jury, and had been leaked to witnesses. He was able to crush the case before trial without any reference to its merits from a criminal perspective. Although the Justice Department has 90-days from the date of dismissal to appeal the decision, they are unlikely to seek this. Due to the fact that the indictments sought by the department were so heavily dependent on information gained from the forced testimonies, it will prove difficult to pursue their case without them.

Iraqis and many human rights organisations have accused the U.S. justice system of deliberately avoiding an opportunity to secure accountability in its operations. Many argue that this ‘surprise’ action by Judge Urbina is reflective of the U.S.’s wish to avoid bringing its actions into public focus.

However the flaws in the Justice Department’s case have led others to question the practice of the prosecution. The errors made in the collection and handling of evidence should have meant that Urbina’s decision on December 31st came as no surpise. These errors, unacceptable under even normal legal practice, become more pronounced after claims that prosecutors ignored advice from senior department lawyers. These officials in the “taint team” warned the prosecution about the serious legal issues in their case, yet to no avail. Attorney Kenneth C. Kohl, who led the prosecution, has over 20 years experience and would have been expected to have foreseen the issues arising from the accuser’s testimonies.

Critiques of the Justice Department case claim that prosecution lawyers knowingly and deliberately sabotaged their own case in order to protect a politically sensitive issue from gaining legal examination. In his final assessment of the case, Judge Urbina himself provides perhaps the most damning indictment from this perspective:

“The only conclusion the court can draw from this evidence is that Kohl and the rest of the trial team purposefully flouted the advice of the taint team when obtaining the substance of the defendants’ compelled statements, and in so doing, knowingly endangered the viability of the prosecution.”

 

 

Chris Bowles

 

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The government of the United States has announced it will seek the death penalty for alleged 9/11 conspirators due to be put on trial in New York city. Among the five Guantanamo detainees due to be transferred to the site of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre is the “self-confessed mastermind of the September 11th attacks”, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to The Guardian1.

President Obama affirmed that he is “absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subjected to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it, and my administration insists on it”.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been held in legal limbo at the United States’ Guantánamo Bay prison on the island of Cuba since his capture in March of 2003, has been subjected to indefinite detention without trial and prolonged periods in solitary confinement in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and internationally accepted standards covering imprisonment.

The New York Times reported in April 2009 that a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been subjected to waterboarding 183 (one hundred and eighty three) times in just one month – March of 20032. The memorandum did not mention whether or not Mohammed had been subsequently subjected to additional waterboarding, although the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a term favoured by key members of the Bush administration as an alternative to “torture”, is widely acknowledged to be prevalent at Guantánamo Bay.

The New York Times evidently does not see the irony in confirming that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed endured simulated drowning 183 times in one month – equating to more than five times each day – before referring to him as “the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks” in the very same paragraph.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who made the announcement that the death penalty would be sought in the civilian trial of Mohammed and four others, said of the decision to bring the suspects to New York to face trial, “Today’s announcement marks a significant step forward in our efforts to close Guantánamo and to bring to justice those individuals who have conspired to attack our nation and our interests abroad”3. The reference to U.S. “interests abroad” is an apparent reference to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, due to be tried for the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.

Al-Nashiri, however, will not stand trial with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and will instead be tried by military commission. This controversial practice, introduced by the Bush administration in November of 2001 before being reintroduced as the Military Commissions Act in 2006, allows for trial in complete secrecy by a panel of judges appointed by the executive branch, followed by execution if a guilty verdict is passed. Barack Obama provoked outrage in May of 2009 when he clarified that he “supports the idea of the military commissions but opposes the version of the law that had been governing such trials in recent years”4.

Following the passage of the Act in 2006, The Center for Constitutional Rights observed that, “[a]mong other shortcomings”, the Military Commissions Act, “rejects the right to a speedy trial, allows a trial to continue in the absence of the accused, delegates the procedure for appointing military judges to the discretion of the Secretary of Defense, allows for the introduction of coerced evidence at hearings, permits the introduction of hearsay and evidence obtained without a warrant, and denies the accused full access to exculpatory evidence”5.

Remarkably, The New York Times and other prominent newspapers have characterised the announcement that some of those to face trial would be tried in civilian courts as a “major policy shift from the Bush administration, which contended that suspected Al Qaeda members should not be treated like — nor given the rights of — ordinary criminals”6.

Such a statement by no means sets The New York Times apart from other mainstream media outlets and is extremely misleading, belying the fact that, as reported in the same article, the Obama administration is in reality preserving and endorsing the previous administration’s contentious policy of trying “terror suspects” in secret by military tribunal. Quite how such a blatant continuation of a policy widely derided as inhumane and in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution constitutes a “major shift” from the Bush doctrine on terrorism stretches the limits of credibility.

Geoffrey Robertson, writing in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian‘s website under the heading “A nobler, trickier path to justice for 9/11”, states that “This is a trial that must be seen to be fair… Much will depend on the choice of judge, who must be conspicuously independent and of sufficient steel to reject evidence obtained by torture – there is no doubt that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been waterboarded”7.

Robertson goes on to remark that “Obama has taken the more difficult, but more principled, path”, before directly contradicting himself in the very next paragraph by stating that “It is regrettable that the non-9/11 defendants still in Guantánamo are to face military trial… If jury trials are appropriate for the 9/11 conspirators, then they should be afforded to all prisoners whom American prosecutors wish to execute or to incarcerate for the term of their natural life.”

What is truly regrettable is that such obvious double standards dominate the mainstream press’ coverage of last week’s announcements regarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow co-defendants. It is an astoundingly callous display of bravado on the part of an administration which consistently parades itself as an alternative to the human rights abuses and civil rights erosions perpetrated by its predecessor to pursue the death penalty for a man who has admittedly been repeatedly tortured in order to extract from him a confession of guilt.

Furthermore, Obama & Co.’s decision to preserve the abhorrent practice of trial by secret military tribunal is lamentable, and does little to assuage the concerns of those who see his administration as distinct from that of George W. Bush in terms of nothing but rhetoric. This trial will also bring us no closer to understanding who is really responsible for what happened on September 11th 2001; even if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all who stand charged alongside him are convicted and put to death it will be obvious to anyone who bothers to take more than a passing interest that justice has not been done and that Obama is merely carrying on where his predecessor left off.

Tom Kavanagh

19/11 accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be tried in New York court, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/13/911-accused-new-york-trial

2Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/world/20detain.html?_r=2&hp

3Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/us/14terror.html

4Obama resurrects military trials for terror suspects, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/05/14/obama.military.tribunal/index.html

6Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/us/14terror.html

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  It was announced last night that 6 Chinese nationals landed in the Pacific territory of Palau to settle in their new home. The 6 are part of a total group of 17 Chinese held in Guantanamo bay since 2001.[1]  From the far western, largely Muslim, province of Xinjiang, the men were captured by bounty hunters after reportedly fleeing repression. Initially travelling to Afghanistan, where American sources claim they received terrorist training, they attempted to move into Pakistan when the war began and were handed over to coalition forces.[2]

  Despite being held in the detention centre since 2001, no charges have been passed against the men, and their innocence has been confirmed by various bodies. As early as 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that the men posed no risk to the U.S. and their classification as ‘enemy combatants’ was inaccurate. Five of the men were found to have merely been, ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ and entirely innocent, whilst the other 12 were alleged to have sought weapons to fight the Chinese government.[3] It should be noted that even the charges against these 12 have been denied by all of them and judgements have never been passed against them.

  Although top U.S. officials realised 6 years ago that the men could viably be released, it was not until June of this year that the first of the group left the detention centre. The men testified that they refused a Chinese delegation to Guantanamo Bay which sought to repatriate and imprison them. These claims are borne out by reports from U.S. officials who claimed that to return the men would be to risk their torture or even execution. [4] Instead they have languished in prison, enduring the same standards applied to other suspects including being chained to the floor with shackles.[5]

  The plight of the men had become an embarrassing element to the continuing saga of the controversial camp for a number of years. State Department officials had reportedly begun as early as 2003 to search for an appropriate country willing to receive the men. Events took a more sudden turn in late 2008 when a Washington court ruled that the men should be brought in to the U.S. so they could be formally released on U.S. soil.[6] The release of a party of innocent men, held for 7 years in the nation’s capital was an understandably embarrassing prospect.  The Justice Department of the Bush Administration filed emergency requests overnight to revoke the order, claiming that the court did not have the right to admit aliens.[7] The appeal was granted, ignoring the fact that the Justice Department is the only party with the authority to allow entry for trial.

  In February of this year, the case took a more disappointing turn, when the appeal was heard a Federal Appeals Court. The 3 judge team found in a 2:1 majority that there was, ‘no legal or constitutional authority,’ for the immediate release of the men, even though they were, ‘unlawfully detained.’ That such a legal loophole can be conveniently created, is testament to the desperation of the U.S. authorities to avoid embarrassment to their counterterrorist operations. The men have continued to suffer from a smear campaign in both public and press spheres. Despite official reports confirming their innocence, the government continued to criticize their prospective freedom as a threat to national security.[8] Other flimsy arguments have been contrived including the claim that the re-offending of other released prisoners undermines the Chinese group’s alleged innocence.[9]

  In June 2009 Bermuda’s Prime Minister Ewart Brown agreed to take some of the men temporarily before they could be found a more permanent home.[10] Even for this modest concession, he was forced to stand against the UK government. As a crown dependency, whose foreign policy falls to UK authority, Bermuda was operating unconstitutionally. Especially since the UK had refused entry for the Chinese nationals within Britain.

  The location of Palau as a possible final home for the men seems slightly more hopeful. The territory is one of only a handful of countries around the world which still refuse to recognise China (instead recognizing Taiwan).[11] As such their offer of refuge to the men will give them a political victory, and hopefully an incentive to maintain their safety. This may finally end the embarrassing story for U.S. officials and provide the men with an opportunity to recover their lives.

 Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/01/uighurs-guantanamo-palau

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/02/18/gitmo.detainees/index.html

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/23/AR2005082301362.html

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/01/guantanamo-china

[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/23/AR2005082301362.html

[6] http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/08/court.chinese.muslims/index.html

[7] http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/08/court.chinese.muslims/index.html

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/08/court.chinese.muslims/index.html

[9] http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/02/18/gitmo.detainees/index.html

[10] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/11/guantanamo-detainees-china-demands-return

[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/01/uighurs-guantanamo-palau

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