My Tortured Journey With Former Guantanamo Detainee David Hicks

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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David Hicks, author of “Guantanamo: My Journey.” (Image: Random House Australia)

I’ve been struggling these past few weeks.

I read a book written by a former Guantanamo detainee named David Hicks titled “Guantanamo: My Journey.” It’s a powerful and heartbreaking memoir and it made a profound impact on me emotionally.

I interviewed Hicks after I read his book. We spoke about a half-dozen times over the past two months. This is the first interview he’s granted since he was released from the “least worst place” in 2007.

Hicks is the Australian drifter who converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammed Dawood and ended up at training camps in Afghanistan the US government said was linked to al-Qaeda, one of which was visited by Osama bin Laden several times. Hicks was picked up at a taxi stand by the Northern Alliance in November 2001 and sold to US forces for about $1,500. Hicks was detainee 002, the second person processed into Guantanamo on January 11, 2002, the day the facility opened.

Hicks was brutally tortured. Psychologically and physically for four years, maybe longer. He was injected in the back of his neck with unknown drugs. He was sodomized with a foreign object. He spent nearly a year in solitary confinement. He was beaten once for ten hours. He was threatened with death. He was placed in painful stress positions. He was subjected to sleep deprivation. He was exposed to extremely cold temperatures, loud music and strobe lights designed to disorient his senses. He was interrogated on a near daily basis.

I’ve been obsessed with the torture and rendition program since details of it first surfaced nearly a decade ago. I’m not exactly sure why I’m so fascinated and outraged by every tiny detail, every new document dump or why I chase every new lead as if I were paparazzi trying to get a shot of Lindsay Lohan. What I do know is that there’s something about the crimes committed by the Bush administration in our name that haunts me.

I have never spoken to a former detainee before I phoned Hicks at his home in Sydney, Australia, a few days before the New Year. There was something surreal about listening to Hicks’ voice as he described his suffering in painstaking detail. Maybe it was the fact that there was a real person on the other end of the receiver and not just a name on a charge sheet. I found it incredibly difficult to separate the reporter from the human being once Hicks stopped speaking. Before I hung up the phone after our first conversation, I told Hicks I was sorry.

“I’m sorry my government tortured you, David,” I said.

“Thanks, mate,” Hicks said, his voice cracking.

What I’ve been grappling with was how to tell Hicks’ story. I’ve truly been at a loss for words. I had to dig deep to figure out why I felt it was too painful to sit in front of a blank computer screen to think about what I wanted to write. Here’s what I discovered: I empathized with Hicks and, perhaps more than anyone, I understood how the then-26-year-old ended up in Afghanistan associating with jihadists a decade ago.

Five years ago, I published my memoir, “News Junkie,” and, like Hicks, I too was brutally honest about my own feelings of alienation, my battle with drug and alcohol addiction, a desire for attention, a desperate need to belong and a terrible choice I made in my early 20s to ingratiate myself with a couple of made members of a New York City crime family.

Admitting that I share some things in common with Hicks scares me. It’s another reason I believe I felt paralyzed.

I wanted to approach this as a straight news story and simply report that Hicks was tortured, that he was abandoned by his country, used as a political pawn by Australia’s former Prime Minister John Howard in his bid for reelection and forced to plead guilty to a charge of providing material support for terrorism in order to finally be freed from Guantanamo. But I’ve written so many of those reports and all of them end with a shrug here, some outrage there and no one being held accountable.

So, I’ve made the decision that I would expose my own vulnerability and tell you how my interview with the man dubbed the “Australian Taliban” has weighed heavily on my mind. I still cannot comprehend what could drive a human being to torture another human being. Hicks said he knew the answer. At Guantanamo, “torture was driven by anger and frustration.”

“It seemed like a mad fruitless quest to pin crimes on detainees, to extract false confessions and produce so-called intelligence of value,” Hicks told me. “The guards were desensitized and detainees dehumanized. Soldiers were not allowed to engage us in conversation. They were told to address us by number only and not by name. They were constantly drilled with propaganda about how much we supposedly hated them and wanted them dead and how much they needed to hate us. On occasion, when some groups of soldiers jogged around the camp perimeters I heard them sing lyrics such as, ‘you hate us and we hate you.’ One time in the privacy of Camp Echo a male soldier broke down when we were alone repeating, ‘what have I become’ after having arrived from an interrogation of a detainee in another camp.”

Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo Military Policeman (MP), who escorted Hicks off the bus at Camp X-Ray the day Guantanamo opened, said some soldiers tortured detainees because they wanted revenge for 9/11. He said that’s the message that was passed down from above.

“We were told (by superior officers) all of the detainees, including Hicks, were the ones who planned 9/11 or had something to do with it,” Neely said in an interview. “We were told over and over and over that all these guys were caught fighting Americans on the front lines and at any given time if we turned our back on them they would kill us in a heartbeat. We were told that everyday before we went to work inside the camps. After a while, the attitude was ‘who cares how we treated the detainees.’”

A day before he left Fort Hood, Texas, for Guantanamo, Neely said his unit was told “by the company commander, the colonel and platoon sergeant that these people were not Prisoners of War. They were detainees and the Geneva Conventions would not be in effect.”

George W. Bush did not formally rescind Geneva Conventions protections for “war on terror” detainees until February 7, 2002.

Neely told me a remarkable story about the hours before Hicks arrived at Camp X-Ray that underscores how impressionable he and his fellow soldiers were and how the US government conditioned its military personnel to view detainees as animals.

“When Hicks’ bus got to Camp X-Ray we were told this guy was a mercenary, he was fighting Americans and we had to be real careful around him, Neely said. “We were actually told Hicks tried to bite through the hydraulic cables on the C-130 en route to Guantanamo. So everyone was on edge.”

Neely was 21 when he was sent to Guantanamo. On June 2, 2002, his 22nd birthday, Neely received an “achievement medal” for “exceptional meritorious service while serving as a Military Policeman (MP) in support of Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

Nearly seven years later, Neely went public and revealed details about the abuses he witnessed and one that he participated in while he was at Guantanamo. Like Hicks, who Neely said reminded him “of a guy I would have just gone out and have a beer with,” he has been suffering all of these years. It was as if he was being tortured every time he saw or heard about a detainee being beaten or worse during the six months he worked at the prison facility. I can feel his pain.

Neely’s a cop in Houston now. He’s got a wife and three kids. He told me, “there has not been a day that goes by that I have not re-lived what I did or saw in Guantanamo.” Hicks reached out to Neely last year after he saw him on a BBC special. Neely had flown to London to meet a couple of former British detainees he used to guard and to apologize for the way they were treated. He and Hicks are pretty close now.

I asked Hicks if he could describe the facial expressions of his tormentors while he was being tortured and if he recalled how they reacted to his pain.

“Usually the guards seemed cold and indifferent,” Hicks said. “They deployed a just doing my job attitude, such as when they chained me to the floor in stress positions or made me sleep directly on a metal or concrete floor in a very cold air-conditioned room in only a pair of shorts. However some soldiers displayed discomfort and embarrassment. Usually guards were only used to restrain detainees, move them about, or help in the background with equipment. It was the interrogators who did the dirty work, expressing, hatred and frustration. At times soldiers did participate directly in beatings however, such the beatings I received before I arrived in GTMO (in Afghanistan, in transit, or when I was rendered to the two naval ships before being sent to Guantanamo). These soldiers made a sport of it.

“I was beaten by US forces the first time I saw them and realized straight away that torture was going to be a reality. It was very scary. As I say in my book, I could not help thinking of the saying, ‘like trying to get blood from a stone and I was afraid of becoming that stone.’”

There’s a harrowing section in Hicks’ book where he describes how he had given up all hope after years of detention and abuse and planned to commit suicide.

“I was desperate; there was no other way out,” Hicks wrote.

Those words. I’ve uttered them before. I’ve written them. I know what that kind of desperation feels like. I ask Hicks if we could talk about it, but there’s silence on the other end of the receiver.

“Hello? You still there, David?” I said.

“Yeah mate.”

I didn’t press him. Maybe he was having a flashback. Perhaps he didn’t want to talk about it. I decided to end our conversation.

“Let’s catch up later in the week. We covered a lot of ground.”

“Cheers, mate,” David said and hung up.

I had a knot in my stomach. I had a hard time sleeping for the next few nights. I could not focus on anything but the images in my mind of a helpless Hicks being tormented. It made me realize that one can never comprehend the extent of someone’s pain and suffering until we hear about it first hand. I would get out of bed during those sleepless nights and walk into my son’s room and just stare at him sleeping in his crib. There was something about that image of pure innocence that was soothing to me.

One afternoon, a couple of hours after another session on the phone with Hicks, I took my son to school. As I stood in the background and watched him interact with about 30 other two-year-old boys and girls, tears began streaming down my cheeks. I had not expected to be overcome with so much emotion. I’m embarrassed admitting that I was. Unsure of what was happening at first, I touched my eyes thinking that perhaps something else was coming out of the tear ducts. I didn’t spend much time thinking about what I was feeling at that moment. But, in hindsight, I believe I was coming to terms with how we all eventually lose our innocence. Something about that seems tragic to me. It reminds me of a passage in another memoir, “The Ticking Is the Bomb,” by Nick Flynn, who wrote about his own obsession with the Bush administration’s torture program.

“Here’s a secret: Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point. You will lose your way, you will wake up one morning and find yourself lost. This is a hard, simple truth.”

Not surprisingly, the Pentagon has vehemently denied Hicks’ torture claims. In 2007, as a condition of his guilty plea and release from Guantanamo, the US government forced him to sign a document stating that he had “never been treated illegally.” Hicks, who was the first detainee sentenced under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, said he is also “not allowed to challenge or collaterally attack my conviction, seek compensation or other remedies, or sue anyone for my illegal imprisonment and treatment.”

What makes Hicks’ story all the more tragic is how badly he’s been vilified by Australian media since his book was published. Reporters doubt he’s being truthful and they have questioned the veracity of his claims about being tortured. But those same outfits treat Howard’s characterization of Hicks as gospel and refuse to acknowledge that their former prime minister actually urged the Bush administration to charge Hicks with a war crime, despite a lack of evidence, because Hicks “had unexpectedly become a political threat,” according [7] to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman,

Gellman, author of a book on Dick Cheney titled “Angler,” wrote that Howard, “under pressure from home,” met with Cheney during the vice president’s trip to Sydney in February 2007, where the two discussed Iraq, and told Cheney, “there must be a trial ‘with no further delay’ for David Hicks who was beginning his sixth year at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay.”

“Five days later, Hicks was indicted as a war criminal,” Gellman wrote. “On March 26 [2007], he pleaded guilty to providing ‘material support’ for terrorism. Shortly after Cheney returned from Australia, the Hicks case died with a whimper. The U.S. government abruptly shifted its stance in plea negotiations, dropping the sentence it offered from 20 years in prison to nine months if Hicks would say that he was guilty.”

“Only the dramatic shift to lenience, said Joshua Dratel, one of three defense lawyers, resolved the case in time to return Hicks to Australia before Howard” faced re-election in 2007, Gellman reported.

Hicks’ plea deal prohibited him from speaking to the media for a year. That’s how Howard dealt with this “political threat.” But justice was poetic when Howard lost his bid for another term in office.
Hicks’ plea deal, “negotiated without the knowledge of the chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, was supervised by Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority over military commissions. Crawford received her three previous government jobs from then-Defense Secretary Cheney – she was appointed as his special adviser, Pentagon inspector general and then judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.”

Political interference in Hicks’ case, however, began even earlier. Davis, who resigned as chief prosecutor from military commissions at Guantanamo over the government’s handling of terrorism cases, revealed that a day after US officials met with the Australian ambassador to the United States in early January 2007, Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes called him up and asked, ‘how quickly can you charge David Hicks?’ even though at the time he had no regulations for trial by military commissions.”

Davis would later say that Hicks should not have been charged. Stephen Kenny, one of Hicks’ former attorneys, said that “it has always been my position that [Hicks] never committed any crime.”

“We looked at Australian law, international law and Afghani law and we were unable to identify any breach of those laws, Kenny said. The law that he eventually pleaded guilty to [material support for terrorism] was not actually an international war crime at all. In fact it was a crime that didn’t exist.”

Recently, the Australian government entered into a secret financial settlement with Mahmoud Habib, another Australian citizen abandoned by the Howard administration. Habib was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and rendered to Egypt where he said he was brutally tortured for seven months before being he ended up at Guantanamo. Habib was released in 2005 and was never charged with a crime, but he sued the Australian government after he got out, claiming it was complicit in his torture.

Hicks said if he were offered a similar financial settlement he wouldn’t turn it down. But what he really wants is the Australian government “to formally recognize that the 2006 Military Commissions Act was unfair” and designed simply to obtain guilty pleas.

“The Australian government has acknowledged that I have never hurt anyone or committed a crime under Australian law, so the least they can do is formally recognize my conviction as null and void,” Hicks said.

Although the Pentagon and the Australian government continue to deny Hicks was tortured, at least one former Guantanamo military guard said he was.

“David Hicks was tortured, no doubt,” said Albert Melise, who has never spoken publicly before, in several video chats we had via Skype. “Solitary confinement is torture and I think what it did to David’s mind is torture. Would you want to be in a windowless room 23 hours a day?”

But Melise said he didn’t witness any of Hicks’ physical torture or his interrogations. He only knows what Hicks told him. But, “being a cop and having experience separating what’s true and false,” he believes Hicks was being truthful.

“His [physcial] torture did not happen when I reached his camp,” Melise said. “He cut deals so [the torture] would stop. David is one of those people who was easily manipulated [into making false confessions]. He was an easy target for the interrogators. They knew they could break him mentally and physically and they did.”

Melise, 40, was a housing officer in the city of Boston when his Army reserve unit was activated and he was shipped off to Guantanamo to work as an MP.

Melise’s job duties called for him to escort detainees held in Camp Delta to their interrogations where he would “chain them down” to the floor or chair “knowing what [the detainees were] going to go through.”

The detainees sat there for hours in stressful positions while Melise stood behind a one-way mirror and watched their interrogations and waited for it to come to an end. He was present when detainees were slapped, when the temperature in the interrogation room was turned down real low and the volume on the music was turned up to excruciatingly loud levels and when the strobe lights were flicked on, part of the standard operating procedure designed to break the detainees and make them feel as uncomfortable as possible.

“That’s torture,” Melise said.

But I wanted Melise to tell me what happened in those rooms after the interrogators started questioning the detainees.

“Please don’t ask me about those things,” Melise said. “I saw a lot and I still have nightmares over it. I’ve seen these guys cry.”

I wondered if Melise bore witness to any of the horrific pictures my mind created during that split-second gap in our conversation.

“O.K. I understand,” I told Melise “I won’t go there. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m a good soul and I was put in a horrible place,” Albert said.

“I know you are,” I told him. “Well, how about this. Can you tell me what you saw in the detainees’ eyes?

“Sadness,” Melise said. “Like they could not believe the Americans are putting them through that. It was an emotional look. I’ll never forget it.”

Melise hated his job. He started drinking.

“Baccardi 151,” he said. “Two bottles a night.”

He said, “when you see people broken down so much you tend to drink a little to cope with what you’re seeing. I couldn’t deal with what they were putting me through.”

Melise said “fake” detainees were planted at Camp Delta to try and gather intelligence from the “real” detainees. He said he knew they were “fake” because they were “placed in cells for two or three months and then they would pretend to be going to another camp for interrogations.” But, “I would see them shopping, dancing or ordering a sandwich or hanging out at McDonald’s during that time.” Then the “fake” detainees would return to their cells.

He said detainees were also bribed with prostitutes as incentive to get them to work as agents for the US government. He said there was a camp at Guantanamo that just housed children, some of who were as “young as 12 and over 8” years old, called Camp Iguana.

“One of my buddies worked there,” Melise said. “Sick.”

There was also a camp where CIA interrogators worked out of called Secret Squirrel.

Eventually, Melise asked for a transfer.

“I begged them to get me out of there,” Melise said. “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Albert, do you know what would make a human being torture another human being?” I asked him.

“I don’t have the answer,” he said, shaking his head. “It takes a really disturbed individual to torture someone. That’s not me. I didn’t sign up for that. I couldn’t live with myself and I couldn’t drink it away.”

So, Melise was transferred to Camp 4 for a few weeks and in December 2003 landed at Camp Echo. That’s where he met Hicks, who was being held in complete isolation, and detainees from the UK who have since been released like Mozaam Begg or “Mo,” which is how Melise referred to him.

“Mo once cried in front of me and said he should become Christian,” said Melise, who has frequent Skype chats with Begg now and said the ex-detainee taught him how to play chess. “I told him to tighten up and stay with your heart. Fuck what’s happening now. You’ll pull through. I said ‘don’t question your faith. Don’t think you need to change.’ He once told me I was not like the other soldiers, something shined in me that he could not explain.”

At Camp Echo, Melise said he “redeemed” himself.

“I let [the detainees] out of their cells and just let them talk and hang out,” he said. “I knew it would help them mentally. I knew it would help them cope with many things they had gone through. I also gave up what I had. I gave them normal food from my lunch to eat, cigarettes, protein bars, whatever was mine was theirs. I could have gone to prison myself for doing that, believe me. But I know I did the right thing.”

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“For sympathetic reasons,” he said. “Because I sat in on interrogations. I wanted to give them a sense of humanity. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. They were not the ‘worst of the worst,’” a description placed upon the detainees by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “I’m an ex-cop and I can tell whose a criminal and who isn’t and a lot of these detainees I met were not terrorists.”

Melise told me he “likes getting this stuff off my chest” and I wanted to tell him that listening to him gave me a sense of hope and made me feel like maybe the dearth of compassion is not as widespread as I originally thought. But I held back.

Melise wanted Hicks to feel like he was back home in Australia, so he would sneak his handheld DVD player into Hicks’ cell, lock the door, and watch movies with him, such as “Mad Max,” which starred Mel Gibson. For Begg and the other British detainees Melise played “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,” directed by British filmmaker Guy Ritchie.

“I figured if [Hicks] heard Mel Gibson’s accent he would feel like he was back in Australia,” Melise said. “And if Mo heard a British accent he would feel like he was home too.”

Melise kept that up for six months. Until June 2004.

I sent an email to Hicks asking him if he remembered Melise.

“I remember him well because he did what he could in that controlled high security environment to help slow the deterioration of my sanity for the few months I spent with him,” Hicks said. “I hope to gather enough funds so I can fly [Melise and Neely] to Australia to thank them personally and show my gratitude for their friendship and trust. I would like to show them my hospitality and my country and to show them how much I appreciate their past kindness and current bravery.”

Melise, who is married with a wife and son, is now studying to be a nurse “so I can really help people in the future.” He recently re-enlisted in the Army reserves for another three years.

I was about to end my interview with Melise, but I had one last question.

“Do you think David is a terrorist?”

“No,” Melise said. “I don’t think he’s a terrorist. I plan on visiting him one day. Why would I do that if I thought he was a terrorist?”

Melise got up from his chair and walked out of sight. He shouted, “Sit tight!” He said he wanted to show me something. It was a letter. He held it up to the video camera on his computer so I could read it.

“I took this with me when I left Guantanamo in ‘04,” Melise said. “It’s a letter David wrote that he asked me to send to his father.”

Melise never sent it. It was too risky, he said.

“I was worried that if someone found out I mailed it I would have been arrested,” Melise said.

Melise faxed a copy of the letter to me. Letters to and from detainees were reviewed by military personnel and were often redacted to remove, for example, emotional phrases such as a “I love you” and any other information the military deemed “sensitive.”

But this six-page letter, written in April 2004 as Hicks’ legal team was challenging the legality of the military commissions, is clean. It clearly shows the psychological torture Hicks had endured and how he was being coerced into pleading guilty to crimes the US government knew he did not commit. The letter is addressed to Hicks’ father, Terry Hicks, who waged a campaign in Australia and the US to raise awareness about his son’s plight.

Hicks wrote that he owed his life to Melise. He said the letter he sent to his father “is very important because it’s the first and probably only time I will be able to tell you the truth of my situation.”

“Before I start I want you to know that the negative things I am going to say has nothing to do with the MP’s that are watching me,” Hicks wrote. “Some of them are marvelous people who have taken risks to help improve my day to day living. It’s because of such people that I have kept my sanity and still have some strength left. In the early days before I made it to Cuba I received some harsh treatment in transportation including mild beatings (about 4). One lasted for 10 hours. I have always cooperated with interrogators. For two years they had control of my life in the camps. If you talk and just agree with what their saying they give you real food, books and other special privileges. If not they can make your life hell. I’m angry these days at myself for being so weak during these last two years. But I’ve always been so desperate to get out and to try to live the best I can while I’m here …”

Hicks wrote that he was being pressured into pleading guilty to a wide-range of war crimes charges and he feared that if he didn’t comply he would be sent to “camp 5,” a “very bad place with complete isolation.”

“They know that this is my worst nightmare,” Hicks wrote about the threat of being transferred to camp 5. “If I end up in there I will probably lose my sanity or crack” and plead guilty. “That’s what they want … Being in my current situation the deal is tempting but only in the last week I’ve decided I’m going to call their bluff and say that I’m gonna fight them. Only know [sic] do I feel like being strong and standing up for myself … I’m sick of writing you letters saying how good it is here. I’ve always done that because I’m afraid of what the authority’s [sic] may do to me. If I told you the reality they wouldn’t give you the information. I want to be able to make as much noise as possible. To let people know of what’s really happening here.”

Hicks then predicted his own future.

“Know that if I make a deal it will be against my will,” he wrote. “I just couldn’t handle it any longer. I’m disappointed in our government. I’m an Australian citizen. If I’ve committed a crime I can be man enough to accept the consequences but I shouldn’t have to admit to things I haven’t done or listen to people falsely accuse me. We can’t let them get away with it.”

I sent Hicks the letter. He said he doesn’t recall what he wrote. But he intends on giving it to his father.

“How were you able to survive?” I asked Hicks.

“I survived because I had no choice, as many of us may unfortunately experience at some time in our lives,” he said. “It was a psychological battle, a serious and dangerous one. It was a constant struggle not to lose my sanity and go mad. It would have been so easy just to let go: it offered the only escape.”

Like Melise, however, Hicks said he, too, still suffers from nightmares.

“I see myself having to begin the long process of imprisonment again accompanied with vivid feelings of hopelessness and no knowledge of the future or how long it will last,” Hicks said, describing his dreams. “The other dreams consist of gruesome medical experimentations too horrible to describe. Losing my personality, my identity, memories and self is much more frightening to me than any physical harm. It is these dreams that are the most common and terrifying.”

Hicks isn’t a practicing Muslim anymore. A couple of years ago, he got married – to a human rights activist named Aloysia. He also has a job working as a landscaper.

He said counseling has helped him, “but the passing of time has been just as helpful.”

“Being exposed to such a consuming environment for five and a half years leaves a stain that cannot be removed overnight,” Hicks said. “It will take longer to reverse the consequences but even so, some experiences, especially one so prolonged, can never be entirely forgotten.”

I had no idea how this story would end or what I would discover when I finally sat down at the computer and started to type. I now know that torture not only permanently scars the torture victim, but it also leaves its mark on everyone who comes in contact with that person.

Editor’s Note: Hicks’ book is not available for sale in the US. However, it can be ordered from online bookshops in Australia.

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Malfunction Likely Put U.S. Drone in Iranian Hands

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The unmanned U.S. drone Iran said on Sunday it had captured was programmed to automatically return to base even if its data link was lost, one key reason that U.S. officials say the drone likely malfunctioned and was not downed by Iranian electronic warfare.

U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about Iranian claims that its military downed an RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, a radar-evading, wedge-shaped aircraft dubbed “the Beast of Kandahar” after its initial sighting in southern Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said the Iranians might be referring to an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that disappeared on a flight in western Afghanistan late last week. But they declined to say what type of drone was involved.

A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane was on a CIA mission. The CIA and Pentagon both declined to comment on the issue.

The incident came at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The United States and other Western nations tightened sanctions on Iran last week and Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran after hard-line youths stormed two diplomatic compounds.

The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the program, which Washington believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin, was first acknowledged by the U.S. Air Force in December 2009. It has a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.

Former and current military officials familiar with the Sentinel said they were skeptical about Iranian media reports that Iran’s military brought down one of the drones in eastern Iran, especially since Tehran has not released any pictures of the plane.

POSSIBLE ‘CATASTROPHIC’ MALFUNCTION

The aircraft is flown remotely by pilots based in the United States, but is also programmed to autonomously fly back to the base it departed from if its data link with U.S.-based pilots is lost, according to defense analyst Loren Thompson, who is a consultant for Lockheed and other companies.

Other unmanned aircraft have a similar capability, including General Atomics’ Predator drone, industry sources said.

The fact that the plane did not return to its base suggests a “catastrophic” technical malfunction, agreed one industry executive familiar with the operation and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. officials say they always worry about the possibility of sensitive military technologies falling into the hands of other countries or terrorist groups, one reason U.S. planes quickly destroyed a stealthy helicopter that was damaged during the bin Laden raid in Pakistan.

Many classified weapons systems have self-destruction capabilities that can be activated if they fall into enemy hands but it was not immediately clear if that was the case this time.

In this case, the design of the plane and the fact that it had special coatings that made it nearly invisible to radar were already well documented. If it survived a crash, all on-board computer equipment was heavily encrypted.

Lockheed confirmed that it makes the RQ-170 drone, which came out of its secretive Skunk Works facility in southern California, but referred all questions about the current incident to the Air Force.
Thompson and several current and former defense officials said they doubted Iranian claims to have shot the aircraft down because of its stealthy features and ability to operate at relatively high altitudes.

Iran was also unlikely to have jammed its flight controls because that system is highly encrypted and uses a direct uplink to a U.S. satellite, they said.

“The U.S. Air Force has experienced declining attrition rates with most of its unmanned aircraft. However this is a relatively new aircraft and there aren’t many in the fleet, which means that malfunctions and mistakes are more likely to occur,” Thompson said.

One former defense official familiar with the RQ-170 and other unmanned aircraft said he “absolutely” agreed that the aircraft was not lost due to any action by Iran.

Exact details about the drone remain classified but industry insiders say the plane flies at around 50,000 feet and may have a wing span of up to 90 feet. Its shape harkens back to the batwing design of the radar-evading B-2 bomber.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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A Successful Fundraiser for Carlos Montes

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The fight for justice never stops nor does it seem to ever be able to rest. Human rights activists are under siege for their work, and funds for defense and publicity for their cause are a constant need.

A successful fundraiser was held this past Sunday in Los Angeles to raise money for the defense of human rights activist and Palestinian supporter, Carlos Montes. The Los Angeles Committee to Stop FBI Repression was the sponsor. Beautiful artwork was sold as part of the plan to raise funds.

Mr. Montes was arrested in his home on May 17th by agents of the FBI and a Los Angeles SWAT team. The use of trumped up fire arms charges – the pretext for the arrest – was not merely an excuse to arrest Mr. Montes; it was an attempt to harass and intimidate anti war and Palestinian activists across the nation. Mr. Montes was simply the target in Los Angeles.

In a Muslim Observer article posted March 10 of this year, Mr. Montes and Chicago Palestinian activist, Hatem Abudayyeh, detailed the plight of 23 activists in the mid west who were at the time under subpoena for their work against the wars and for Palestinian independence. Mr. Abudayyeh was on tour in Southern California to present the case to the media and concerned organizations.

In response to this miscarriage of justice, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression was formed, and local committees have grown out of it. Mr. Montes is active in the Los Angeles branch.

Mr. Montes is the Los Angeles target for his outspoken and dedicated work not only against the wars and against the repression of Palestinians, but also for his work with the Immigrant Solidarity Network. He has also spoken out against the policy of the United States vis a vis Columbia.

The Los Angeles Committee to Stop FBI Repression has made three demands: 1) Drop the trumped up charges against Mr. Montes; 2) return all confiscated material obtained during his arrest; 3) Stop the FBI harassment of antiwar and human rights activists throughout the country.

Mr. Montes’ next court date is August 12.

For more information about Mr. Montes and the work of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, please access: www.fightbacknews.org.

13-33

‘Little Gitmo’

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

When an upstate imam named Yassin Aref was convicted on a suspect terrorism charge, he was sent to a secretive prison denounced by civil libertarians as a Muslim quarantine.

By Christopher S. Stewart

WW STING103
File:  Yassin Aref.  (Photo: Will Waldron/Albany Times Union)

July 11, 2011 “New York Magazine” — -  On August 4, 2004, Yassin Aref was walking along West Street in a run-down part of downtown Albany. It was about 11 p.m., and he had just finished delivering evening prayer at the storefront mosque around the corner, where he had been the imam for nearly four years. Caught up in his thoughts, he might not have noticed the car parked across from his two-story building if a man hadn’t called out his name.

Aref instantly recognized the FBI agents inside the darkened vehicle. They had been monitoring him for years now, maybe longer. Sometimes they stopped and asked questions about his views on Saddam Hussein or the mosque. As part of Bush’s war on terror, the FBI had been talking to other Muslims in Albany, too. When Aref climbed into the back seat, he figured that the agents simply wanted to talk some more. Instead, they told him he was under arrest.

It took a long time for this to settle in. Aref was silent as they drove to FBI headquarters, a fortlike concrete-and-glass building on the south side of town. The agency has spoken only vaguely about what happened when they questioned him, and there are no recordings, though Aref would later describe the time as the “hardest, darkest, and longest night of my life”—scarier, he said recently, than the hardships he and his wife suffered as Kurds in ­Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

His hands and feet were chained. One of the agents spoke some Kurdish. Aref heard questions about terrorism, money laundering, a missile launcher. He refused a lawyer, believing that he had nothing to hide. “It is against my religion to lie,” he told them. The interrogation lasted much of the night. He says he never heard specific charges. At some point they told him his house and mosque were being raided, and all he could think about was his wife and three children, who had arrived in Albany with him as U.N. refugees in 1999.

When morning broke, he was loaded into another car, bleary-eyed and weakened, and taken to the federal courthouse. As the vehicle moved through the streets, Aref was astonished by the sudden commotion. Helicopters swarmed overhead. There were scores of local and national news reporters, cameras angling to get his picture. He saw snipers.

During his three-week trial in 2006, he learned that he was the target of a controversial FBI sting, which involved a Pakistani informant with a history of crime. In the end, he was convicted of, among other things, conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He spent weeks in solitary confinement, days shackled in different vehicles, which shuffled him from prison to prison. Time coalesced, became unrecognizable, until, in the spring of 2007, Aref landed at a newly created prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana, that would change his life again. It already had a nickname: Little Gitmo.

Aref didn’t know anything about Little Gitmo, or a Communication Management Unit (CMU), as it’s formally called. Once a death-row facility where Timothy McVeigh was executed, the Terre Haute CMU was quietly opened by the Bush administration in December 2006 to contain inmates with links, in particular, to ­“terrorist-related activity.” A year later, another unit opened in Marion, Illinois.

Although inmates and guards refer to CMUs as Little Gitmos, the comparison to Guantánamo is imprecise: The units are not detention centers, and the inmates inside have already been convicted of crimes in the U.S. legal system. But what differentiates CMUs from all other facilities in the U.S. are the prisoners. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) estimates that 66 to 72 percent of them are Muslims, a staggering number considering that Muslims represent only 6 percent of the entire federal-prison population.

As of June, there are 82 men in the two CMUs, according to federal-prison officials, including a man convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the American Taliban John Walker Lindh, and the lone survivor of an EgyptAir hijacking in 1985. All inmates are kept under 24-hour surveillance in near-complete isolation. “If the government has intelligence that links you to terrorist activity, then that’s something that the prison authority should be able to take into account,” says Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, in defense of the measures. “We give them an array of privileges that most other places in the world are shocked by.”

Legal activists agree that restrictive rules can be applied to high-security prisoners, but many in the CMUs, they say, are low-security inmates. One Muslim man was placed in a CMU for perjury, while another was locked up, in part, for violating U.S. sanctions by donating to a charity abroad without a license. According to CCR, many don’t fully know why they ended up in the segregated units or how they might appeal their placement. In the words of Kathy Manley, one of Aref’s defense attorneys, the CMUs are a “quarantine,” and Alexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at CCR, calls them “an experiment in social isolation.” “There is this story being told in this country now about the threat of homegrown terror and of radicalization related to Muslim prisoners, and the CMU is a story about law enforcement controlling that dangerous threat,” says Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer at CCR. “An allegation that someone is somehow connected to terrorism, without evidence and without an actual conviction [for terrorism], allows them to be treated in this whole different system of justice.”

To gather intelligence from CMU inmates, correspondence is combed through by a counterterrorism unit in West ­Virginia. Regular group prayer is prohibited, and communications must be in English unless there’s a live translator. Phone calls are limited to two fifteen-minute conversations a week (most maximum-­security prisoners get 300 minutes a month). Immediate families of CMU inmates can visit only twice a month for a total of eight hours (general-population prisoners at Terre Haute get up to 49 hours of visits a month), and those conversations are monitored, recorded, and conducted through Plexiglas. Physical contact is forbidden, a permanent ban not imposed on most violent felons in maximum-security prisons.

As a result, critics say, those familiar markers—family, language, and religious identity—are being stripped away. “This is more than just being cut off from the world,” says Nina Thomas, a psychologist-psychoanalyst at NYU who has studied the CMUs. “Inmates are being shut into a very narrow universe.”

While the stated purpose of the CMUs, according to prisons spokesperson Traci Billingsley, is to “protect the public,” Meeropol thinks that they “spread fear.” Shamshad Ahmad, a physics lecturer at the University of Albany and president of Aref’s mosque, says that CMUs “send a message that the whole justice system [is] geared to take revenge of the events of 9/11 on anyone belonging to the Muslim community”—a message that, essentially, any Muslim could become Aref.

And especially because Aref’s conviction is itself a matter of controversy, CCR has chosen the imam to become its lead plaintiff in a case against the CMUs, one of the major lawsuits, including the ACLU’s in Indiana, meant to challenge the units and change the way they operate. Along with five other plaintiffs, Aref now sits at the center of a civil-­liberties battle against the prison system. To a growing number of supporters in Albany—who have rallied to get him out; have published his pre-CMU memoir, Son of ­Mountains; have raised money for his family—he is a symbol of the inequities Muslims still endure as collateral damage in the war on terror.

Aref was born in a mountain village in northern Iraq, where he lived through Saddam’s genocide on the Kurds and met his wife, Zuhur. They fled to Syria, where he finished his religious studies, worked at the office of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), and had three kids. Under a U.N. asylum program, the family learned in 1999 that they were going to Albany, a place the 29-year-old Aref had never heard of.

Although he couldn’t speak or understand much English, he managed to support his family as a hospital janitor for more than a year before he became the imam of ­Masjid As-Salam, the city’s only mosque. During his four years as imam, Aref regularly discussed his anti–Iraq War sentiments and grew to represent the spiritual voice of many Albany Muslims. “People hesitated to criticize the government publicly,” says ­Ahmad. “But he didn’t.”

It is believed that the FBI decided to target Aref in the summer of 2003, after the American military stormed an armed camp in Iraq and discovered a notebook with his name and number in it, along with the word kak, which the FBI translated as “commander” (the prosecution would later admit that the term actually translates to “mister”). The camp was alleged to be affiliated with Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization founded by Mullah Krekar, who was once a member of the IMK, where he had met Aref. Aref’s backers argue that the camp was filled with refugees and that the notebook could have belonged to anyone. Aref claims that he met Krekar only in passing and that he left for Albany long before the mullah founded Ansar al-Islam.

That Aref had a past connection to Krekar was perhaps enough to attract the FBI’s attention, though likely not enough to mount a legal case against him. So, working with expanded surveillance powers, the FBI went about setting up an operation.

Since 9/11, the FBI had begun relying more heavily on informants, under a controversial policy of preemptive prosecution—taking down those thought to possibly become terrorists in the future. It has resulted in the conviction of more than 200 individuals, including four Muslims in Newburgh convicted of plotting to bomb two Bronx synagogues; a 19-year-old Somali charged with attempting to blow up a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon; and a man caught plotting an attack on Herald Square. “These types of operations have proven to be an essential law-enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a dinner this winter in defense of the tactics.

Critics, however, point out that in many operations, it’s difficult to determine whether anyone is truly culpable—or inherently dangerous. And intentionally or not, it’s very easy to round up Muslims. “There is a massive ideological, military, and intelligence infrastructure committed to the domestic and international wars on terror. These wars depend on maintaining Muslims as the primary threat to national security,” says Amna Akbar, a senior ­research scholar at NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “The U.S. government seems to rely on widespread use of informants … sending them into mosques and other community spaces without any concrete suspicion of criminal activity.”

In order to pursue Aref, the FBI employed a Pakistani informant named ­Shahed Hussain, known as Malik, the same informant later used in the Newburgh trial and a man once described by the defense in that case as “an agent provocateur who earned his keep by scouring mosques for easy targets.” Malik had made a deal to avoid years in jail and deportation for helping people cheat on driver’s-license exams. He was also arrested in Pakistan on a murder charge. The operation, scripted by the FBI, started with Mohammed Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who owned a local pizzeria and helped found Aref’s mosque.

Over several months, Malik moved into Hossain’s life, bringing his kids toys and expressing interest in religion. Malik, who claimed to be working for the Islamic terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, or JeM, eventually said he was buying a shoulder-firing missile launcher to kill then–Pakistani president Pervez Mushar­raf during a visit in New York City. To complete the purchase, he needed Hossain to launder $50,000 for him. In return, Hossain, whose business was on the skids, would earn $5,000.

Hossain then asked Aref to be the witness to the loan, a tradition in Islamic culture (as the only imam in Albany, Aref had notarized many loans). There were additional months of transactions where Aref documented Hossain’s loan payments to ­Malik. During those months, Malik would occasionally mention the missile, using the code word chaudry. The government argued that this was evidence that Aref knew about Malik’s terrorist connection, and the jury agreed. Aref was charged with ten of the 30 total counts, and the jury found him guilty of money laundering and supporting a known terrorist organization. “Did [Aref] actually engage in terrorist acts?” William Pericek, assistant U.S. Attorney, asked during a post-sentencing press conference. “Well, we didn’t have the evidence of that. But he had the ideology.”

“Family, language, and religious identity are being stripped away.”

o outside observers of the case, the details that emerged during the trial were troubling. The FBI testified that Aref knew the code word, linking him to the conspiracy, but according to recorded conversations, there was no evidence that either Malik or Hossain informed him of the term. And though Malik had shown a fake missile to Hossain, the FBI decided against showing it to Aref because they worried that he would be “spooked.”

The case, observers noted, ultimately lacked definitive evidence that Aref knew the true nature of the transaction, and the jury was directed to ignore the motives of the FBI’s investigation. As Judge ­Thomas J. McAvoy instructed them, “The FBI had certain suspicions, good and valid suspicions for looking into Mr. Aref, but why they did that is not to be any concern of yours.”

“I’m not only surprised that the jury convicted him, but I’m sure the judge was surprised too,” says Stephen Gottlieb, a professor at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. “They basically turned two decent men into criminals.”

Manley believes he lost on emotional grounds. “I think the fear got to [the jury]. They ended up convicting him out of fear that he might be some kind of shadowy bad guy.” Steve Downs, another member of Aref’s legal team, attributes it to what he calls “the Muslim exception.” The emotion and politics of 9/11 had, they argue, altered the threshold for what constituted reasonable doubt.

In the years since Aref’s trial, critics have identified a pattern. “A whole range of policing, prosecution, and incarceration policies seem to take as a starting point that Muslims pose a particularly uncontainable threat meriting extreme and exceptional treatment by the government,” says Akbar. “Because national security has become an area in which the government is granted an extraordinary amount of deference, these policies are often allowed to stand without much scrutiny.”

After the jury reached a verdict, two local papers published editorials asking for leniency. The editors at the Albany Times Union called the case “unsettling,” with no clear answer to why the men were targeted, and wondered what lives Hossain and Aref would have “continued to lead if they had never been lured into a sting operation.”

The judge sentenced Aref to fifteen years and recommended a local federal prison. Instead, he was sent to the CMU, with little explanation, no hearing, and no obvious way to appeal.

The first time Aref wrote to me, in a heavily monitored e-mail exchange, he said, “I am not spending my time, time is spending me. My family’s situation is driving me insane and eating my patience.” His world was falling apart at the CMU. “It’s really hard for me to talk about what happened,” he wrote.

When Aref was sent to the Terre Haute CMU in May 2007, he was 37 years old. “I arrived to find a small Middle Eastern community,” he said. There were about twenty others inside. The idea of being called a terrorist sickened Aref. Every day he wondered why he was there, and he hoped someone would eventually realize that a mistake had been made. “I don’t understand how the jury found me guilty,” he wrote at one point.

His cell unlocked at 6 a.m., and he could circulate through the small unit comprising a few dozen cells and a common room. At 9 p.m., he’d be locked in for the night. On occasion, he heard screaming, and one day he saw a grown man drop to the floor and begin uncontrollably shaking and sobbing. When Aref asked a nurse later what had happened, she told him, “It’s all fear and stress.”

A peculiar loneliness consumed him. As an imam, Aref was naturally social. He helped solve people’s problems and guide them through their tangled lives. But at Terre Haute, he became reticent, curled inside himself. It was hard to know whom to trust. The FBI was sending agents to the unit to ask questions, and new inmates came every few weeks or so.

All along, he felt his family drifting away. That one fifteen-minute phone call a week (a second call per week was added in January 2010) was never enough. What could you really say in fifteen minutes divided up among at least four people? He tried to be upbeat, avoiding talk of the CMU. With the kids, he spoke about school, a kind of dinner talk. When his wife got on, the reality of their separation was oppressive.

Zuhur “almost lost her mind,” as Aref put it. The case had turned her upside down. Worried about wiretaps, she had disconnected the Internet, TV, and phone. She didn’t have a job and relied on friends and the mosque to pay her rent and buy food. She rarely interacted with strangers, afraid that they might be informants setting her up.

Talking to Aref was a project that required a friend to lend a cell phone to the family on the days he called. And when he spoke to Zuhur, she mostly cried. In the four years that he has been at the CMU, she has cried during every single call.

One of the hardest things was thinking about his young daughter, Dilnia. She was born while Aref was in jail. All he was to her was an abstract concept. “Whenever anyone asks her, ‘Where is your daddy?’ she will point or run to the phone and say, ‘That is my daddy,’ ” Aref said.

His two boys visited that first summer. With surveillance cameras zeroing in on them, it was difficult to be intimate. Salah was 10, Azzam 7. As Aref spoke through the Plexiglas, every word, every gesture was being mined for information.

His demeanor changed dramatically when his boys stepped away and Downs stepped in. Downs had made the two-day car trip with the kids from Albany. “They abuse me,” Aref said. When Downs asked him to explain, Aref wouldn’t. Then suddenly the meeting was terminated. According to Downs, a guard falsely claimed that he was using a pen “as a secret recording device.”

“I’m convinced that they understood I was trying to get info about the CMU,” Downs says. “And they did what [the CMU] was set up to do—prevent information [about the CMU] from getting out.”

The entire family arrived in a minivan the next summer, in 2008. It had been roughly four years since they’d all been together. But seeing his 2-year-old girl on the other side of the glass gave Aref tremendous pain. She didn’t recognize him.

The family spent a total of four hours together, and all seemed well until Zuhur suddenly snapped. In front of the kids, she made an announcement: She wanted to go back to Kurdistan. She felt her safety was at risk in America, even more than in the region from which she had fled.

Aref didn’t want to argue. A part of him understood. “I am not dead in order for them to forget me,” he said to me, “and not really alive to benefit them.” That was the last time he saw his family. They didn’t visit again. Zuhur wouldn’t let them.

On March 27, 2009, at about 4 a.m., a guard entered Aref’s cell and told him to pack. He was being transferred to the second CMU, at the state penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, which had opened a year before. Until recently, Marion had been one of the nation’s only supermax facilities, replacing Alcatraz in 1963.

The move came at a particularly fraught moment for the CMUs. When President Obama came into office in 2009, many hoped the units would be shut down. The Bureau of Prisons wouldn’t say if the new administration had reviewed the units, but they remained open, and their expansion soon inspired a fierce legal battle. In the summer of 2009, the ACLU’s National Prison project filed a lawsuit on behalf of an inmate that disputed the legality of the creation of the units, among other things. Soon after, the ACLU of Indiana filed another lawsuit, about the restrictions on Muslim prayer.

In the meantime, “balancers,” as CMU guards call them, were reportedly blended into the population—environmental activists, sexual predators, bank robbers, people who, prison officials claimed, “recruit and radicalize”—in order to address the criticism that CMUs were housing only Muslims. The Bureau of Prisons says it doesn’t use race or religion to decide placement, and it rejects claims of adding balancers, though Muslim inmates continue to be in the majority.

In April 2010, CCR, with Aref, filed its suit, challenging the constitutionality of the place: the harsh restrictions on phone calls and visits, the ban on physical contact, the alleged absence of due process, and cited growing evidence suggesting that prisoners were being targeted for their religious and political beliefs.

To CCR, Aref’s case was especially ­poignant. “Aref came to the United States as a refugee and was then subject to a dubious conviction,” says Agathocleous. “Despite the fact that he engaged in no violence, that the prosecution acknowledged at trial that it was not seeking to prove he was a terrorist, and that his conduct in prison was spotless, he has been subject to these incredibly restrictive conditions at the CMU … It just doesn’t make any sense.”

In Marion, Aref’s single cell was just as small as the former one, and his family was just as far away. But something had changed. He began to dread the phone calls with his family. “For many prisoners, the phone call is a big relief, and they get strength from it,” he said. “But each time I call and hear my wife crying and I learn what my children are going through, it stresses my mind.”

“I am not spending my time, time is spending me.”

After a motion for a new trial was dismissed and the appeal to his original case was rejected, a part of him became resigned to the situation, friends say.

Then on April 13, I received a surprise e-mail from Aref. “How are you doing?” he asked. And then he told me the news. “For real, I am no longer in CMU!”

“My father is a very religious man,” Aref’s 15-year old daughter, Alaa, says one recent summer night. “He has a beard and wears Arab clothes and has an accent. But when you talk to him”—she pauses as if conjuring her father—“you know he’s not a terrorist.” She has trouble saying this word. Terrorist. It doesn’t sound right in her mouth. And she tries it another way. “Baba didn’t hate anyone.”

On this June night, Aref’s four kids sit barefooted on the carpet of a classroom on the second floor of the Central Avenue mosque in Albany, where their father was once the imam. Some of the doors are still broken from the FBI raid almost eight years ago.

The two boys, Salah, 14, and Azzam, 11, sit on either side of Alaa. Dilnia, who is now 5, sits off to the side, reading a book with a family friend. Zuhur stayed home. “She sometimes is depressed and doesn’t go out,” Alaa says.

Friends of the family say that Zuhur still talks about returning to Iraq, though she doesn’t have the money for a plane ticket or travel documents. Her crying hasn’t abated. When she does leave the house, she occasionally visits Aref’s lawyers and asks, “What did Yassin do wrong?” or “When is he coming home?”

Since being placed in a general-­population prison, Aref remains cautious. Without much explanation, he was moved out of the CMU, where he had been separated from the world for four years, and he could just as easily be moved back, like officials had done recently to an environmental activist named Daniel ­McGowan. Aref’s lawyer speculates that my requests to visit Aref in a CMU and the CCR lawsuit had placed pressure on prison officials, which might have had something to do with his sudden transfer out. (It’s a tactic that’s worked for CMUs in the past. With one of the ACLU lawsuits, a plaintiff was moved from a unit to a general-population prison and the case was dismissed.)

Last April, four years after the first CMU opened and days following CCR’s suit, the Bureau of Prisons began a public discussion of the units, a move, advocacy groups say, the prison system was legally obligated to make before the CMUs ever opened.

Many of the comments that flooded in focused on the lack of meaningful appeal—that inmates are stuck in the units—and in particular, how the units were ruining the men and their families.

Once Aref entered the general-population prison, he assumed that things would get better—that he would be able to embrace his wife and hug his kids, and that he might even be transferred again to a prison closer to home.

But so far, none of that has changed.

The FBI investigation and the CMUs have so alienated his family, especially Zuhur, who has still not visited her husband since his transfer. She hasn’t allowed the kids to go, either—though supporters are working to set up a trip for this summer.

None of Aref’s kids know exactly why their father is in jail.

Azzam, playing with the yellow gum in his mouth, says, “Money laundering or something, right?”

“It was an FBI sting,” Alaa says. “They kind of set him up for missiles or something.”

Salah, who looks most like his father in his long white shirt, nods.

“I miss him,” Alaa says. Turning to Steve Downs, who has been sitting quietly against the wall, she asks, “When my father gets out, they can deport him right away?”

Downs nods. Aref will be deported the day he is released from prison. Among them, Dilnia is the only American citizen, which means that all the others could be deported on that day too, or shortly after. Zuhur was recently denied citizenship.

Alaa will turn 18 before her father is released, and she could apply for citizenship. If it’s granted, she could become the guardian of the others.

I ask whether what’s been done to their father makes them angry. The boys are silent. “I’m upset,” Alaa says. “But my dad taught us never to hate.”

13-30

Houston Baller Commits to Duke

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

17USulaimon1AAU201020Houston, Texas boys’ high school basketball player Rashad Sulaimon has committed to Duke University, a school known both for its top-tier men’s basketball and for its top-notch academics. Sulaimon is a shooting guard, and is rated by Rivals.com as the 24th best player in the nation in the class of 2012. The 6 foot 4 inch Sulaimon plays for Strake Jesuit high school.

ESPN.com offers the following scouting report on Sulaimon: Sulaimon is a high energy shooting guard the can score in a variety of ways. He can get to the rim in transition or stop and knock down a pull up jumper. He has three point range and although he is streaky the defense must respect the fact that he can go on roll and knock down two or three in a row. From the wing Sulaimon probes the defense looking for an opening to attack to score or draw and kick to an open teammate. Sulaimon has a great first step and uses a quick catch and go move as well. If the player defending him does not match his energy level Sulaimon will have a big game. This young guard is versatile enough to help at the point because he is a smart player that can handle and pass the ball. Sulaimon is capable of defending both guard positions and could develop into a lock down defender in the future because of his size attacking style of play. Sulaimon is a capable defender but tends to loose focus at times which gets him out of position or he will gamble and pick up a cheap foul. He also has the ability to be more of a factor on the glass on both ends of the floor because of his consistent energy and effort. Sulaimon can make threes but must work for consistency. He can be streaky bad or good. From time to time Sulaimon will rush or get into a hurry which may result in a turnover. Sulaimon is a long and very skilled wing. He has tremendous upside with his skills, athleticism and great energy and effort that he plays with on a consistent basis. He is a natural wing guard that can get on a roll from behind the arc or off the bounce. Sulaimon has all the tools to be a special college player.

Sulaimon also had college offers from other big schools, including Baylor, Indiana, Georgetown, and Georgia Tech. He also had an offer to play for President Obama’s brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, the head men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University. However, in the end, Rasheed chose to play for one of the most revered men’s basketball coaches of all time, Mike Kryzewski.

13-21

Israel Burnishes Missile Shield as Mideast Churns

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Williams

PALMACHIM AIR BASE, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s upgraded Arrow air defense system, designed to blow up ballistic missiles in space, could be rushed into deployment before its 2014-15 target date, a senior officer said Thursday.

Partly funded by the United States, Arrow III is envisaged as the future Israeli bulwark against Iran and Syria, with shorter-range interceptors providing protection against rockets favored by neighboring Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas.

Political turmoil in the Middle East has focused Israel’s crisis planning and a senior military officer, speaking during a rare media tour of Arrow’s command center on a base down the coast from Tel Aviv, predicted a tighter production timeline.

“We’ve already shown how we can get systems out ahead of schedule when there’s a need,” he said, referring to Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor, which shot down several Katyushas fired from Gaza last month during what was billed as an accelerated field trial.

Arrow’s manufacturers had slated the new version for 2014 or 2015. But the officer, who could not be identified under military guidelines, said: “Don’t be surprised if it’s sooner.”
The Arrow command center, dubbed “Defensive Sword,” is one of the few Israeli military units to offer a public glimpse of preparations at a time of often dizzying regional instability.
Watching citizen revolts buffet Arab states, a few of them heretofore friendly, Israelis have preferred to fret quietly on the sidelines rather than risk been perceived as meddling.
But with the future of the stable, decades-old standoff with Syria in doubt, and arch-enemy Iran forging ahead with controversial nuclear and missile projects, Israel’s air defense corps has been promoted as a strategic deterrent.

While its officers insist they can protect the Jewish state alone, the corps has practiced meshing Arrow with mobile U.S. counterparts like the seaborne Aegis ballistic interceptor.

Ensconced amid a pentagon of ochre structures in Palmachim base, protected by bunker-like steel portals and passages, the Arrow command center is staffed around the clock by a dozen officers.

Though the lieutenant-colonel in charge Thursday was careful not to answer questions about current geopolitics, the exercise playing out on his computer screen seemed topical: a Scud missile launch by Syria and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies.

The unit trains regularly, under conditions meant to simulate the stress of a real war. The commander’s F2 button sets off the firing sequence for the Arrow interceptor missiles.

A battery of Arrow II — the system’s current configuration — could shield most of Israel, a major in the unit said. But Israel has deployed several batteries and drilled using them against salvoes involving “dozens” of incoming missiles.

Defense sources report an interception rate of 80 to 90 percent. Back-up Arrow batteries, or lower-altitude interceptors like Patriot and the yet-to-be-deployed David’s Sling, would be expected to take on missiles missed by the first volley.

As with Iron Dome, Arrow has an in-built thrift in its ability to ignore missiles determined to be on a “safe” trajectory away from residential areas.

Could such protection be extended to Palestinian cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should they, along with Jewish settlers nearby, find themselves facing an incoming missile?

“I’m in the business of protecting populaces, whether or not they pay us taxes,” the lieutenant-colonel said.

13-21

The Cost of One Man

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

$3 Trillion Over 15 Years–Osama bin Laden cost America more than any villain, ever—which is exactly the way he wanted it.

by Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley

media.nationaljournal.comThe most expensive public enemy in American history died Sunday from two bullets.

As we mark Osama bin Laden’s death, what’s striking is how much he cost our nation—and how little we’ve gained from our fight against him. By conservative estimates, bin Laden cost the United States at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years, counting the disruptions he wrought on the domestic economy, the wars and heightened security triggered by the terrorist attacks he engineered, and the direct efforts to hunt him down.

What do we have to show for that tab? Two wars that continue to occupy 150,000 troops and tie up a quarter of our defense budget; a bloated homeland-security apparatus that has at times pushed the bounds of civil liberty; soaring oil prices partially attributable to the global war on bin Laden’s terrorist network; and a chunk of our mounting national debt, which threatens to hobble the economy unless lawmakers compromise on an unprecedented deficit-reduction deal.

All of that has not given us, at least not yet, anything close to the social or economic advancements produced by the battles against America’s costliest past enemies. Defeating the Confederate army brought the end of slavery and a wave of standardization—in railroad gauges and shoe sizes, for example—that paved the way for a truly national economy. Vanquishing Adolf Hitler ended the Great Depression and ushered in a period of booming prosperity and hegemony. Even the massive military escalation that marked the Cold War standoff against Joseph Stalin and his Russian successors produced landmark technological breakthroughs that revolutionized the economy.

Perhaps the biggest economic silver lining from our bin Laden spending, if there is one, is the accelerated development of unmanned aircraft. That’s our $3 trillion windfall, so far: Predator drones. “We have spent a huge amount of money which has not had much effect on the strengthening of our military, and has had a very weak impact on our economy,” says Linda Bilmes, a lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who coauthored a book on the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Certainly, in the course of the fight against bin Laden, the United States escaped another truly catastrophic attack on our soil. Al-Qaida, though not destroyed, has been badly hobbled. “We proved that we value our security enough to incur some pretty substantial economic costs en route to protecting it,” says Michael O’Hanlon, a national-security analyst at the Brookings Institution.

But that willingness may have given bin Laden exactly what he wanted. While the terrorist leader began his war against the United States believing it to be a “paper tiger” that would not fight, by 2004 he had already shifted his strategic aims, explicitly comparing the U.S. fight to the Afghan incursion that helped bankrupt the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy,” bin Laden said in a taped statement. Only the smallest sign of al-Qaida would “make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations.” Considering that we’ve spent one-fifth of a year’s gross domestic product—more than the entire 2008 budget of the United States government—responding to his 2001 attacks, he may have been onto something.

The Scorecard

Other enemies throughout history have extracted higher gross costs, in blood and in treasure, from the United States. The Civil War and World War II produced higher casualties and consumed larger shares of our economic output. As an economic burden, the Civil War was America’s worst cataclysm relative to the size of the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates that the Union and Confederate armies combined to spend $80 million, in today’s dollars, fighting each other. That number might seem low, but economic historians who study the war say the total financial cost was exponentially higher: more like $280 billion in today’s dollars when you factor in disruptions to trade and capital flows, along with the killing of 3 to 4 percent of the population. The war “cost about double the gross national product of the United States in 1860,” says John Majewski, who chairs the history department at the University of California (Santa Barbara). “From that perspective, the war on terror isn’t going to compare.”

On the other hand, these earlier conflicts—for all their human cost—also furnished major benefits to the U.S. economy. After entering the Civil War as a loose collection of regional economies, America emerged with the foundation for truly national commerce; the first standardized railroad system sprouted from coast to coast, carrying goods across the union; and textile mills began migrating from the Northeast to the South in search of cheaper labor, including former slaves who had joined the workforce. The fighting itself sped up the mechanization of American agriculture: As farmers flocked to the battlefield, the workers left behind adopted new technologies to keep harvests rolling in with less labor.

World War II defense spending cost $4.4 trillion. At its peak, it sucked up nearly 40 percent of GDP, according to the Congressional Research Service. It was an unprecedented national mobilization, says Chris Hellman, a defense budget analyst at the National Priorities Project. One in 10 Americans—some 12 million people—donned a uniform during the war.

But the payoff was immense. The war machine that revved up to defeat Germany and Japan powered the U.S. out of the Great Depression and into an unparalleled stretch of postwar growth. Jet engines and nuclear power spread into everyday lives. A new global economic order—forged at Bretton Woods, N.H., by the Allies in the waning days of the war—opened a floodgate of benefits through international trade. Returning soldiers dramatically improved the nation’s skills and education level, thanks to the GI Bill, and they produced a baby boom that would vastly expand the workforce.

U.S. military spending totaled nearly $19 trillion throughout the four-plus decades of Cold War that ensued, as the nation escalated an arms race with the Soviet Union. Such a huge infusion of cash for weapons research spilled over to revolutionize civilian life, yielding quantum leaps in supercomputing and satellite technology, not to mention the advent of the Internet.

Unlike any of those conflicts, the wars we are fighting today were kick-started by a single man. While it is hard to imagine World War II without Hitler, that conflict pitted nations against each other. (Anyway, much of the cost to the United States came from the war in the Pacific.) And it’s absurd to pin the Civil War, World War I, or the Cold War on any single individual. Bin Laden’s mystique (and his place on the FBI’s most-wanted list) made him—and the wars he drew us into—unique.

By any measure, bin Laden inflicted a steep toll on America. His 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa caused Washington to quadruple spending on diplomatic security worldwide the following year—and to expand it from $172 million to $2.2 billion over the next decade. The 2000 bombing of the USS Cole caused $250 million in damages.

Al-Qaida’s assault against the United States on September 11, 2001, was the highest-priced disaster in U.S. history. Economists estimate that the combined attacks cost the economy $50 billion to $100 billion in lost activity and growth, or about 0.5 percent to 1 percent of GDP, and caused about $25 billion in property damage. The stock market plunged and was still down nearly 13 percentage points a year later, although it has more than made up the value since.

The greater expense we can attribute to bin Laden comes from policymakers’ response to 9/11. The invasion of Afghanistan was clearly a reaction to al-Qaida’s attacks. It is unlikely that the Bush administration would have invaded Iraq if 9/11 had not ushered in a debate about Islamic extremism and weapons of mass destruction. Those two wars grew into a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign that cost $1.4 trillion in the past decade—and will cost hundreds of billions more. The government borrowed the money for those wars, adding hundreds of billions in interest charges to the U.S. debt.

Spending on Iraq and Afghanistan peaked at 4.8 percent of GDP in 2008, nowhere near the level of economic mobilization in some past conflicts but still more than the entire federal deficit that year. “It’s a much more verdant, prosperous, peaceful world than it was 60 years ago,” and nations spend proportionally far less on their militaries today, says S. Brock Blomberg, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California who specializes in the economics of terrorism. “So as bad as bin Laden is, he’s not nearly as bad as Hitler, Mussolini, [and] the rest of them.”

Yet bin Laden produced a ripple effect. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have created a world in which even non-war-related defense spending has grown by 50 percent since 2001. As the U.S. military adopted counterinsurgency doctrine to fight guerrilla wars, it also continued to increase its ability to fight conventional battles, boosting spending for weapons from national-missile defense and fighter jets to tanks and long-range bombers. Then there were large spending increases following the overhaul of America’s intelligence agencies and homeland-security programs. Those transformations cost at least another $1 trillion, if not more, budget analysts say, though the exact cost is still unknown. Because much of that spending is classified or spread among agencies with multiple missions, a breakdown is nearly impossible.

It’s similarly difficult to assess the opportunity cost of the post-9/11 wars—the kinds of productive investments of fiscal and human resources that we might have made had we not been focused on combating terrorism through counterinsurgency. Blomberg says that the response to the attacks has essentially wiped out the “peace dividend” that the United States began to reap when the Cold War ended. After a decade of buying fewer guns and more butter, we suddenly ramped up our gun spending again, with borrowed money.

The price of the war-fighting and security responses to bin Laden account for more than 15 percent of the national debt incurred in the last decade—a debt that is changing the way our military leaders perceive risk. “Our national debt is our biggest national-security threat,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters last June.

All of those costs, totaled together, reach at least $3 trillion. And that’s just the cautious estimate. Stiglitz and Bilmes believe that the Iraq conflict alone cost that much. They peg the total economic costs of both wars at $4 trillion to $6 trillion, Bilmes says. That includes fallout from the sharp increase in oil prices since 2003, which is largely attributable to growing demand from developing countries and current unrest in the Middle East but was also spurred in some part by the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Bilmes and Stiglitz also count part of the 2008 financial crisis among the costs, theorizing that oil price hikes injected liquidity in global economies battling slowdowns in growth—and that helped push up housing prices and contributed to the bubble.

Most important, the fight against bin Laden has not produced the benefits that accompanied previous conflicts. The military escalation of the past 10 years did not stimulate the economy as the war effort did in the 1940s—with the exception of a few large defense contractors—in large part because today’s operations spend far less on soldiers and far more on fuel. Meanwhile, our national-security spending no longer drives innovation. The experts who spoke with National Journal could name only a few advancements spawned by the fight against bin Laden, including Predator drones and improved backup systems to protect information technology from a terrorist attack or other disaster. “The spin-off effects of military technology were demonstrably more apparent in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s,” says Gordon Adams, a national-security expert at American University.

Another reason that so little economic benefit has come from this war is that it has produced less—not more—stability around the world. Stable countries, with functioning markets governed by the rule of law, make better trading partners; it’s easier to start a business, or tap national resources, or develop new products in times of tranquility than in times of strife. “If you can successfully pursue a military campaign and bring stability at the end of it, there is an economic benefit,” says economic historian Joshua Goldstein of the University of Massachusetts. “If we stabilized Libya, that would have an economic benefit.”

Even the psychological boost from bin Laden’s death seems muted by historical standards. Imagine the emancipation of the slaves. Victory over the Axis powers gave Americans a sense of euphoria and limitless possibility. O’Hanlon says, “I take no great satisfaction in his death because I’m still amazed at the devastation and how high a burden he placed on us.” It is “more like a relief than a joy that I feel.” Majewski adds, “Even in a conflict like the Civil War or World War II, there’s a sense of tragedy but of triumph, too. But the war on terror … it’s hard to see what we get out of it, technologically or institutionally.”

What we are left with, after bin Laden, is a lingering bill that was exacerbated by decisions made in a decade-long campaign against him. We borrowed money to finance the war on terrorism rather than diverting other national-security funding or raising taxes. We expanded combat operations to Iraq before stabilizing Afghanistan, which in turn led to the recent reescalation of the American commitment there. We tolerated an unsupervised national-security apparatus, allowing it to grow so inefficient that, as The Washington Post reported in a major investigation last year, 1,271 different government institutions are charged with counterterrorism missions (51 alone track terrorism financing), which produce some 50,000 intelligence reports each year, many of which are simply not read.

ConWe have also shelled out billions of dollars in reconstruction funding and walking-around money for soldiers, with little idea of whether it has even helped foreigners, much less the United States; independent investigations suggest as much as $23 billion is unaccounted for in Iraq alone. “We can’t account for where any of it goes—that’s the great tragedy in all of this,” Hellman says. “The Pentagon cannot now and has never passed an audit—and, to me, that’s just criminal.”

It’s worth repeating that the actual cost of bin Laden’s September 11 attacks was between $50 billion and $100 billion. That number could have been higher, says Adam Rose, coordinator for economics at the University of Southern California’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, but for the resilience of the U.S. economy and the quick response of policymakers to inject liquidity and stimulate consumer spending. But the cost could also have been much lower, he says, if consumers hadn’t paid a fear premium—shying away from air travel and tourism in the aftermath of the attacks. “Ironically,” he says, “we as Americans had more to do with the bottom-line outcome than the terrorist attack itself, on both the positive side and the negative side.”

The same is true of the nation’s decision, for so many reasons, to spend at least $3 trillion responding to bin Laden’s attacks. More than actual security, we bought a sense of action in the face of what felt like an existential threat. We staved off another attack on domestic soil. Our debt load was creeping up already, thanks to the early waves stages of baby-boomer retirements, but we also hastened a fiscal mess that has begun, in time, to fulfill bin Laden’s vision of a bankrupt America. If left unchecked, our current rate of deficit spending would add $9 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. That’s three Osamas, right there.

Although Bin Laden is buried in the sea, other Islamist extremists are already vying to take his place. In time, new enemies, foreign and domestic, will rise to challenge America. What they will cost us, far more than we realize, is our choice. 

13-20

Muhammad Wilkerson First Round Pick of the Jets

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

800-Jets_Draft_Football.sff.standalone.prod_affiliate.4Temple University defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson reacted with emotion amongst friends and family in his hometown in New Jersey last week, as he learned that he was selected by the New York Jets with the 30th pick of the first round of the 2011 National Football League draft. Wilkerson was in tears, flanked by his mother in hijab and his father in a prayer cap, amongst a group of 80-90 friends and family members at a restaurant in his hometown of Linden, New Jersey. The 6 foot 4, 305 pound Wilkerson is expected to play defensive end in the Jets’ 3-4 defense, periodically moving inside to the 3 technique defensive tackle position in four-man fronts. “I think I can come in and help the defense be more destructive than it is,” he stated in a conference call with reporters the night of the draft.

And in addition to being versatile from a position standpoint, Wiikerson is also versatile from a skill-set standpoint, as he is proficient as both a pass-rusher and as a run-stopper. Known not only for his athleticism and strength but also for his work ethic, Wilkerson left college early after his junior year to pursue his dreams of a professional football career. Now that he has been selected in the lucrative first round of the NFL Draft, it appears that his dreams of pro football are about to become a reality. Jets coach Rex Ryan stated that he felt that Muhammad would fit in quite nicely. “I think Muhammad really fits what we want to do defensively,” Ryan told the Bergen (N.J.) Record. “He was an excellent player in college, but we think he’s got more to give. We’re going to push him and push him and coach him up to play the way that we play, play like a Jet.”

13-19

Pentagon Report Calls for Office of ‘Strategic Deception’

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

The Defense Department needs to get better at lying and fooling people about its intentions. That’s the conclusion from an influential Pentagon panel, the Defense Science Board (DSB), which recommends that the military and intelligence communities join in a new agency devoted to “strategic surprise/deception.”

Tricking battlefield opponents has been a part of war since guys started beating each other with bones and sticks. But these days, such moves are harder to pull off, the DSB notes in a January report (.pdf) first unearthed by InsideDefense.com. “In an era of ubiquitous information access, anonymous leaks and public demands for transparency, deception operations are extraordinarily difficult. Nevertheless, successful strategic deception has in the past provided the United States with significant advantages that translated into operational and tactical success. Successful deception also minimizes U.S. vulnerabilities, while simultaneously setting conditions to surprise adversaries.”

The U.S. can’t wait until it’s at war with a particular country or group before engaging in this strategic trickery, however. “Deception cannot succeed in wartime without developing theory and doctrine in peacetime,” according to the DSB. “In order to mitigate or impart surprise, the United States should [begin] deception planning and action prior to the need for military operations.”

Doing that will not only requires an “understanding the enemy culture, standing beliefs, and intelligence-gathering process and decision cycle, as well as the soundness of its operational and tactical doctrine,” the DSB adds. Deception is also “reliant … on the close control of information, running agents (and double-agents) and creating stories that adversaries will readily believe.”

Such wholesale obfuscation can’t be done on an ad-hoc basis, or by a loose coalition of existing agencies. The DSB writes that ”to be effective, a permanent standing office with strong professional intelligence and operational expertise needs to be established.” I wonder: what would you call that organization? The Military Deception Agency? Or something a bit more … deceptive?

12-5

No-Fault Espionage

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Philip Giraldi

It is interesting to note what happens to espionage cases in the United States. If you spy for China, or Cuba, or Iran you will be exposed, excoriated in the media, locked up and denied bail, convicted, and sentenced to many years in a federal prison. Spying is serious business and the harsh punishment most often fits the crime because when spies steal highly sensitive defense and policy information they are not only betraying their fellow citizens, they are also making all Americans less secure. And the spying is only slightly less serious when American technology is being targeted. When spies acting for a foreign country steal sensitive technology with commercial applications that is developed at great cost either by the US government or private companies, their betrayal is also taking away the livelihoods of thousands of American workers who rely on the competitive edge of US technology to keep their jobs.

Spies are traitors in every sense of the word, unless, of course, if one is spying for Israel. Israel aggressively spies on the US both to influence policy and steal high technology, but getting caught only very rarely has any consequences. Leading neoconservatives like Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Stephen Bryen have all been detected in flagrante providing classified information to Israel but the investigations were halted and their security clearances were godfathered so they could continue to hold high office. FBI counter intelligence officer John Cole has reported on the frustration of his colleagues over the many cases of Israeli espionage that are dropped under orders from the Justice Department. He provides a “conservative estimate” of 125 worthwhile investigations into Israeli espionage in the US involving both American citizens and Israelis stopped due to political pressure from above. Israeli citizens and diplomats who are caught in the act spying are routinely freed without criminal charges and allowed to return home.

If you are an American who spies for Israel, a separate and unequal criminal justice system kicks in and the media quickly excuses your actions and then makes the story go away just as fast as it can. Most readers of Antiwar.com are familiar with the recent case of AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two men were given information that they knew to be classified by Pentagon employee Larry Franklin, who perhaps not coincidentally worked for Doug Feith. They passed the information on to an intelligence officer at the Israeli Embassy with whom they were also in contact. The FBI set up a sting using Franklin and arrested all three of the men under the Espionage Act of 1917. The arrest was followed by a nearly three year long trial in which the AIPAC duo finally escaped any punishment after presiding Judge Thomas Ellis obligingly set conditions that made it impossible for the prosecution to proceed. Franklin, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 151 months in prison, was subsequently freed of his obligation to do any jail time by the same Judge Ellis. While the trial was going on, it was conspicuously underreported by the media.

Predictably, many in the media and in the neocon establishment criticized the arrests of Rosen and Weissman, commenting that exchanges of classified “information” were routine in Washington and that Israel is a good friend requiring the classified intelligence for its own security. The argument might not have convinced the American public, but it certainly convinced the barking dogs in the media and Judge Ellis, particularly as there might have been a little nudging from important politicians taking place. Congresswoman Jane Harman, who was caught on the phone trading favors with an agent working for Israeli intelligence promised to use her influence in the Rosen-Weissman case in return for Israel helping her obtain the position of chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a devil’s bargain if there ever was one.

The case of Ben-Ami Kadish is in some ways even more intriguing than that of the two AIPAC staffers. Kadish was arrested in New Jersey in December 2008 for “conspiracy to disclose to the government of Israel documents related to the national defense of the United States and… that he participated in a conspiracy to act as an agent of the government of Israel.” Kadish gave the same Israeli intelligence officer who ran convicted spy Jonathan Pollard classified documents that he had obtained while working at the US Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey. Some of the documents were related to nuclear weapons development while others described highly classified aspects of the Patriot anti-missile defense system. Israel subsequently developed its own Arrow anti-missile system, possibly using classified information relating to the Patriot, thereby reducing its own costs and enabling it to market the Arrow internationally at a lower price than its US competitors, eliminating American jobs.

Ben-Ami Kadish was arrested in December but released on bail. He was supposed to reappear before Judge Douglas Eaton at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan two months later in February, but did not actually reappear until June. He was fined and given a suspended sentence, a slap on the wrist considerably less painful than a local businessman cheating on his income tax might have received in the same courtroom.

And there is a current spy case involving Israel which clearly is being swept under the rug. Stewart Nozette, a scientist working for the US government, was arrested on October 19th and charged with conspiring to commit espionage. Nozette was caught in an FBI sting operation in which the Bureau officer pretended to be an Israeli Mossad spy. Nozette enthusiastically embraced the offer to cooperate, demanding in return an Israeli passport and money for the information that he would provide. The US media quickly went into damage mode, the New York Times headlining its coverage “The Scientist Who Mistook Himself for a Spy.” Many in the media quickly noted that the FBI agent was not actually Mossad, meaning that Israel was not directly involved. The convenient spin ignored the fact the Nozette told the agent that he had already “communicated classified information” to Israel for many years through contacts in the Israel Aerospace Industries, for which he received $225,000. Nozette stated that he believed he had already been spying for Israel, telling the pretend Mossad but really FBI officer “I thought I was working for you already.”

So what has happened to Nozette, who, according to the court papers, “had regular, frequent access to classified information and documents related to the US national defense”? Well, as in the case of Ben-Ami Kadish, he seems to have disappeared. The media has dropped the story and Nozette did not appear again in court on November 10th as scheduled. He may have been consigned to that limbo where those who spy for Israel seem to wind up prior to being released. The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia’s website is giving nothing away. Nozette’s name does not appear anywhere and if one calls the court clerk and requests information on his status, the call will not be returned.

The point is that if Congress and the Justice Department think that when Americans are caught spying for Israel it is constitutionally protected activity, like free speech, perhaps they should say so publicly. A two-tier system relating to national security issues and rule of law is just not in the US national interest, no matter how one twists the facts. If you spy for Israel the consequences should be the same as if you spy for China or Cuba – arrest, conviction, and hard jail time. No exceptions, no excuses.

12-1

Hidden Costs of War–Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know

December 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jeremy Scahill / Rebel Reports

2009-12-18T130409Z_1544741587_GM1E5CI1M8H01_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY-AFGHANISTAN

Afghan soldiers take part in a military training exercise at a Turkish commando training center near the southern city of Isparta December 18, 2009. Dozens of Afghan troops are undergoing training on explosives, mountain climbing and anti-terrorism tactics at a Turkish commando training center. Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim member, took over the rotating command of the peacekeeping mission in Kabul but does not want to participate in combat operations.

REUTERS/Umit BEKTAS

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff, “From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan.  During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.”

At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, that’s right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related contracts.

Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. “The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management and oversight,” according to McCaskill’s briefing paper. “In May 2009, DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for Contracting Officer’s Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were currently vacant.”

A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of USAID’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are “administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and regulations.” According to one USAID official, the agency is “sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent.” As a result, the agency does not “know … where the money is going.”

The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:

In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of its large reconstruction and development projects.  According to information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.  USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for contracts in Afghanistan.

The private security industry and the US government have pointed to the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But McCaskill’s subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating: “The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors working in Afghanistan.” Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.

As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in Afghanistan. That’s 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.

11-

As in the Days of the USSR

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

Shahnawaz Tanaï, former defense minister for Najibullah’s pro-Soviet government, compares the two occupations of Afghanistan.

In the last presidential election, he came in sixth out of 41 candidates. A good showing for a man who was once defense minister to Najibullah, the former pro-Soviet president of Afghanistan, murdered by the Taliban. Shahnawaz Tanai nostalgically evokes the “good old days” of the Soviets, which he seems not to be the only one to miss. According to him, there are many commonalities between NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan and the Soviet period. First of all, the Russians, like the Americans, relied on warlords of evil repute in order to take over power. Then Russia, like NATO today, was unable to pacify the country because of the open border with Pakistan, which assured the Mudjahadijn a rear staging base. “In 1985, six years after the beginning of the Soviet invasion, the debates began in Russia, exactly like today in the West, on the legitimacy of the government in place in and on the Soviet Union’s economic troubles …The Russian Army’s morale was at a nadir and people in Moscow were wondering about the opportunity of sending more soldiers: Brejnev was for, the KGB was against …” In 1988, Najibullah sent his defense minister to Moscow to convince Gorbachev to stay in Afghanistan: “I gave him the advice I could give the Americans today: to envisage the stages of a withdrawal, you must first secure the major axes and the principle cities, Mazar, Herat, Kabul, and give the army logistical support.” Najibullah’s former minister remembers a meeting between Najibullah and Fidel Castro: “Castro advised Najibullah to appear less dependent on Gorbachev. Karzai should also put some distance between himself and the Americans …”

11-52

Israel Lost Ally Turkey

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

World Tribune

2009-10-22T080428Z_902822751_GM1E5AM18O201_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY-KAZAKHSTAN TEL AVIV — Turkey was said to have suspended up to $1 billion in proposed Israeli defense projects after canceling a major air exercise with Israel.

A leading Israeli defense analyst said the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has decided to end defense and military cooperation with Israel. Analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said the Turkish Defense Ministry has shelved a range of proposed Israeli projects.

“New deals worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars offered by Israel’s defense industries to the Turkish Army, as well as cooperation with Turkish colleagues, are being put on hold or cancelled altogether,” Ben-Yishai said in a report.

The report warned that Israel has lost Turkey as a strategic ally. Ben-Yishai said the government and military were seeking a substitute for Ankara, a task that would prove difficult.

[In Ankara, Turkish industry sources said Ankara has ruled out awarding Israel any major defense contracts. The sources said the Defense Industry Undersecretariat was expected to significantly reduce Israel’s presence after at least one key contract was scheduled to conclude in 2010.]

In many cases, Ben-Yishai said, Turkey has selected inferior and more expensive systems than those offered by Israel. He cited an Italian reconnaissance satellite, which was chosen over an offer of Israel’s Ofeq-class spy satellite.

“Only recently, officials in Ankara preferred to purchase a spy satellite from Italy, even though it is inferior in quality and more expensive than the Israeli product offered to Turkey,” Ben-Yishai said.

“Israel has indeed embarked on a process of seeking substitutes to the strategic advantages offered by the relationship with Turkey,” Ben-Yishai said on Oct. 14. “However, this process is difficult and complex, and it is doubtful whether it will compensate us for the lost ties with Ankara.”

The report said the loss of Turkey as a strategic ally has harmed Israel’s deterrence, particularly toward Iran and Syria. But Ben-Yishai said the Israel Air Force would not be significantly affected by Turkey’s decision to ban the Jewish state from the Anatolian Eagle exercise.

“Turkey is not the only region where the IAF can hold drills simulating various combat scenarios — long-range missions, operations in unknown territory, and cooperation with foreign forces,” the report said.

“Nonetheless, the decision to cancel Israel’s participation in NATO’s aerial drill in Turkey must serve as a glowing warning sign in respect to the strategic and economic implications that may follow our growing diplomatic isolation.”

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US Scientist Charged with Attempted Spying for Israel

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

AFP

nozette
Alfred Nozette, third from left.

WASHINGTON–The US authorities arrested Monday a leading American scientist who had worked for the Pentagon and NASA and charged him with attempted spying for Israel.

Stewart Nozette, 52, was apprehended after a sting operation involving an undercover FBI agent, the Department of Justice said, He is charged with “attempted espionage for knowingly and willfully attempting to communicate, deliver, and transmit classified information relating to the national defense of the United States to an individual that Nozette believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer.”

Nozette, who was arrested in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland and taken into custody, could make his first court appearance Tuesday on the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

“The conduct alleged in this complaint is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation’s secrets for profit,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.

Nozette, 52, developed an experiment that fueled the discovery of water on the south pole of the moon, and previously held special security clearance at the Department of Energy on atomic materials.

In addition to stints with NASA and the Department of Energy, Nozette worked at the White House on the National Space Council under then-president George H.W. Bush in 1989 and 1990.

“From 1989 through 2006, Nozette held security clearances as high as top secret and had regular, frequent access to classified information and documents related to the US national defense,” the Justice Department said.

In early September, Nozette received a phone call from a person “purporting to be an Israeli intelligence officer, but who was in fact an undercover employee of the FBI,” the DOJ said.

“Nozette met with the UCE (undercover employee) that day and discussed his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence,” informing the agent that “he had, in the past, held top security clearances and had access to US satellite information.”

The scientist offered to “answer questions about this information in exchange for money.”

Over the next several weeks, Nozette and the undercover agent exchanged envelopes of money for answers to lists of questions about US satellite technology.

“In addition, Nozette allegedly offered to reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems,” DOJ said.

FBI agents retrieved a manila envelope left by Nozette in a designated location this month that “contained information classified as both top secret and secret that concerned US satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy.”

In 1987, the United States sentenced Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard to life in prison for providing Israel — from May 1984 to his arrest in November 1985 — thousands of confidential military documents on US spying, particularly in Arab nations.

Israel has appealed for his release repeatedly, and in vain. And Pollard supporters in Israel and the United States have done the same for the man who since has obtained Israeli citizenship.

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Diaries Recounting Zubaydah’s Torture Should Be Given to Defense Attorneys, Judge Rules

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jason Leopold, Truthout

Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah is expected to finally gain access to diaries he wrote during the years while he was being tortured by CIA interrogators. A federal court judge has ordered the government to turn over unredacted volumes of the diaries and other “specified” writings to defense attorneys representing Zubaydah.

Zubaydah was the first high-value detainee captured after 9/11. He was repeatedly waterboarded and subjected to brutal torture techniques by CIA interrogators at secret black-site prisons.

Although the order issued by US District Court Judge Richard Roberts on September 30 was filed under seal, Zubaydah’s attorney, Brent Mickum, said in a Truthout interview that while he could not discuss the substance of the ruling, it was his opinion that the order “should have been made public from the get-go” because “there’s nothing in [the order] that should be considered classified.”

In his motion, Mickum asked for original copies of the diaries to be released. It is not known whether Roberts’ order required the government to produce original versions of Zubaydah’s diaries. However, it is believed that Roberts’ order applies to three volumes of diaries Zubaydah wrote between 2002 and 2006, the time he spent in CIA custody and was tortured.

Those volumes, identified as seven, eight and nine, “were drafted while [Zubaydah] was in CIA custody,” according to court papers filed by Mickum last January. “Volumes 10 and 11 were completed in [Department of Defense] custody at Guantanamo, after September 2006; only these last two volumes, written after [Zubaydah] was transferred from CIA to DoD custody, were given to counsel in late 2008 by [Zubaydah] because they were in his possession.”

Mickum said he already has access to volumes one through six and 11 and 12. Though volumes one through six are unclassified, they have been designated by the government as “protected” and are not publicly available.

In a public summary describing his order, Roberts wrote that Mickum’s motion for “a preservation order and additional relief will be granted in part and denied in part, and [his] motion for an order requiring the [government] to return unredacted versions of [Zubaydah’s] diaries and other specified writings to him will be granted in part and denied in part.”

The diaries have been the subject of legal wrangling for years. Justice Department attorneys in both the Bush and Obama administrations have argued that releasing unredacted copies of the diaries would constitute a threat to national security because they contain names of government employees, including an FBI agent, and names of individuals who assisted in translating the diaries from Arabic to English, plus information about ongoing counterterrorism efforts.

Mickum has filed numerous motions in federal court accusing the government of improperly classifying the diaries – even after portions have already surfaced in public documents – and abusing the classification process related to other materials in Zubaydah’s case.

For example, last August Mickum filed court papers seeking additional copies of Zubaydah’s medical records and an in-person medical evaluation, both of which Mickum says he needs in order to “challenge the lawfulness” of Zubaydah’s detention. The court previously ordered the release of medical records related to the more than 200 seizures Zubaydah has suffered since being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.

The Justice Department balked and filed its opposition in the matter under seal. Mickum objected to the government’s “ongoing abuse of the classification system” in a motion he filed in federal court in June. The court hasn’t ruled on that motion yet although it has been fully briefed on the matter.

Mickum said he has not been able to mount a meaningful defense because the government continuously denies his requests for documents related to Zubaydah’s time in CIA custody.

“The government is preventing us from working up the case,” Mickum said. “They are trying to keep things closely guarded.”

A Justice Department spokesman would not return calls for comment regarding Judge Roberts’ ruling.

Zubaydah has written 11 volumes of his diary in a “slender bound notebook” and has started work on volume 12, according to court papers in the case filed last January. He wrote the first six volumes before his March 2002 arrest in Pakistan.

The government’s case against Zubaydah is based heavily on entries contained in the first six volumes of his diaries, according to court papers. But the materials were designated by the government as “protected,” even though the diaries are unclassified and both the defense team and Zubaydah have access to volumes one through six.

In a July 14 motion opposing the government’s attempt to “protect” volumes one through six, Mickum said he is not permitted to inform Zubaydah “which passages the government relied upon” in the charges it prepared against him as outlined in the “factual return.”

“The Government has redacted every reference to the unclassified volumes of [Zubaydah’s] diary from the unclassified factual return,” Mickum’s motion states. “By removing every reference to the diary, the Government leaves very few of the relevant allegations against [Zubaydah] to be seen by the eyes of the public. Moreover, what is left is an incredibly misleading picture. For example, for several pages of the factual return, virtually the only words that are left unredacted are the names: Abu Hafs al-Masri, [al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader] Abu Mas’ab al-Zarqawi, [self-professed 9/11 mastermind] and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, known al-Qaeda operative. What the public does not see if that the only reason these people are mentioned in [the government’s] factual return is that they are alleged to have been in the same city as [Zubaydah]. The Government does not even allege [Zubaydah] had direct, or even indirect, contact with them.

“What possible explanation can the Government offer to justify that the diaries are unclassified but the quotations from the diaries upon which the government relies in the factual return are classified? There is none. By doing so, the Government simply demonstrates its disregard for the fact that the authority to designate unclassified information as protected properly belongs to the court.

“It is understandable that the Government would want to avoid the public criticism that may follow from an honest discussion of who [Zubaydah] was and how the Government mistreated him, but this is not a legitimate basis for sealing information [in his] case. [This is about] the Government’s simple desire to keep information about [Zubaydah] and the case against him secret, primarily to cover up evidence contradicting its own public misstatements about [Zubaydah] as well as potential evidence of further as-yet-undisclosed government wrongdoing.”

Mickum said diaries Zubaydah kept while in CIA custody will go a long way toward establishing the brutal treatment Zubaydah was subjected to – far surpassing what the public has learned thus far from declassified \Justice Department legal memos documenting the brutal methods, such as sleep deprivation and beatings, used by CIA interrogators against Zubaydah.

He added that the diaries contain a “list of names, dates and activities” that will assist the defense in generating leads and prove that Zubaydah was not a senior member of al-Qaeda.

But by designating the material as “protected,” the government “severely hinders [the defense team’s] ability to prepare [Zubaydah’s] defense and vindicate his constitutional entitlement to habeas corpus at numerous levels.”

Mickum opined that the government would force him to have potential witnesses sign an agreement stating that they would be bound by a protective order if he were to discuss the diaries with them. Mickum said that was impractical as his investigations “are taking place all over the world” and it would also have a “chilling effect” on foreign witnesses. “Counsel are right now seeking the cooperation of witnesses in foreign countries who can corroborate the substance of [Zubaydah’s] defense, much of which is articulated in his diary,” Mickum’s July 14 court filing says. “The Government’s attempt to designate the diary as protected, if granted, would preclude counsel from conducting such crucial investigations.”

Zubaydah began keeping a diary in 1992, after he suffered a severe head injury while fighting communist insurgents in Afghanistan. The injury left “significantly impaired both his long- and short-term memory,” states Mickum’s January 14 court motion.

“He cannot remember his father’s name and dimly recalls that he looked like a movie star in the Arab world (whose name he cannot remember). He cannot remember the name of his business partner with whom he ran a news agency prior to his arrest. Long after his 1992 injury, once [Zubaydah] had recovered the ability to speak and write, he began to keep a diary. It is his memory. Without it, he is lost.”

Dan Coleman, a former FBI agent who analyzed the diaries, said he was convinced that Zubaydah was “certifiable” and was not a high-level official in al-Qaeda as top Bush administration officials had claimed. Rather, Coleman said, Zubaydah was more like heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis, who worked as a greeter in Las Vegas at the end of his life.

According to author Ron Suskind, Zubaydah’s diaries were written in the voices of three people – Hani 1, Hani 2 and Hani 3, which, Suskind wrote in his book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” helps establish that Zubaydah was mentally ill.

Furthermore, Suskind wrote, “Zubaydah was a logistics man, a fixer, mostly for a niggling array of personal items, like the guy you call who handles the company health plan, or benefits, or the people in human resources. There was almost nothing ‘operational’ in his portfolio. That was handled by the management team. He wasn’t one of them.”

Suskind’s account closely matches what Jack Cloonan, a former FBI special agent assigned to the agency’s elite Bin Laden unit, told me in a recent interview. Cloonan said the CIA and the Bush administration were flat wrong in designating Zubaydah as a top official in al-Qaeda. Zubaydah “wasn’t privy to a lot of what I would consider to be a lot of really good operational details,” getting most of his information secondhand, Cloonan said.

Mickum denies that Zubaydah was privy to any operational details of al-Qaeda.

“My client was never, ever, even a member of al-Qaeda, much less a high-level operative,” Mickum told Truthout. “The camp he was alleged to have assisted was closed in 2000 by the Taliban. Leaders of the camp known as Khalden closed it rather than allowing it to fall under the control of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda because they disagreed with al-Qaeda’s missions and attacks on innocent civilians.” Cloonan agreed, for the most part, with Mickum’s characterization of Zubaydah.

“We thought [Zubaydah] would be best described as a logistical officer who managed a series of safe houses and was a great travel agent,” Cloonan said. “But to cast him and describe him as the al-Qaeda emir or leader for the subcontinent or worse … I think was a mistake…. Based on his age and ethnicity, [he] would [n]ever be brought into the inner circle of al-Qaeda.”

There was also the question of Zubaydah’s personality. “My partner had a chance to look at a lot of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries, poems and other things that he has written and he said that after reading this you just come away with the feeling that this is a guy who can’t be trusted or be given huge amounts of responsibility,” Cloonan said. “He just seemed mentally unstable…. “I’m not at all suggesting that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t valuable. Anytime you get one of these guys and get their cooperation, I think [it] is a win. You can get information that’s really valuable from people who are further down the food chain. It’s how you get the information and whether you’re getting real cooperation or simply compliance because somebody’s either waterboarding you or gets you on sleep deprivation.

“We know, and the science tells us, that people cannot recall details accurately, they can’t look at pictures, they will make things up if deprived of the bare essentials of life over the course of time. I don’t understand how you could sleep deprive somebody for 11 days and expect this person to provide you with accurate information.

“Even if they wanted to they’re probably so debilitated at this point they need to be rehabilitated before they ever give you anything.”

Zubaydah’s 2002 torture sessions were videotaped. But CIA officials destroyed the tapes and a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate whether federal laws were broken when the tapes were purged.

As I previously reported, CIA interrogators provided top agency officials in Langley with daily “torture” updates of Zubaydah. The extensive back-and-forth between CIA field operatives and agency officials in Langley likely included updates provided to senior Bush administration officials.

In justifying his torture, the Bush administration had maintained that Zubaydah was the No. 3 official in al-Qaeda and had information about pending terrorist attacks against the US. But documents, news reports, books and former FBI interrogators familiar with Zubaydah said he was a low-level figure in the terrorist organization and was mentally ill.

CIA interrogators waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times in one month, according to recently released documents, and placed him inside a coffin-like box for hours at a time. The Bush administration claimed it obtained actionable intelligence by torturing Zubaydah – an assertion contradicted by a CIA inspector general’s report on the agency’s torture and detention program.

CIA documents from a Combatant Status Review Tribunal in March 2007 revealed that Zubaydah’s torturers eventually apologized to him and said they concluded he was not a top al-Qaeda lieutenant as the Bush administration and intelligence officials had claimed.

“They told me sorry we discover that you are not number three [in al-Qaeda], not a partner, even not a fighter,” Zubaydah said during his tribunal hearing.

Mickum said volumes seven, eight and nine of Zubaydah’s diaries would shed further light on his brutal treatment while “in CIA custody and recount his torture and damaging exculpatory admission made by [Zubaydah’s] torturers and other CIA officials.”

The diaries “are critically important to show what [Zubaydah] was doing during this time frame and contain exculpatory evidence.”

Public court filings also state that Zubaydah “created other relevant writings and drawings, none of which have been returned to him.” Although Mickum said he could not describe the drawings because they remain classified, but it appears likely that they may depict Zubaydah’s torture.

“You’ll just have to use your imagination as to what they might be,” Mickum said. Zubaydah’s “really good.”

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Afghan War Could Last ‘For Decades’:

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

We underestimated the Taliban, says Minister

By Kirsty Walker

The Taliban were underestimated by the nations fighting them in Afghanistan, the Defense Minister admitted yesterday.

Bill Rammell said the ‘challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated’.

His comments came after Britain’s most senior diplomat warned UK troops could be stuck fighting in Afghanistan for ‘decades’.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the ambassador to Washington, warned Britain faced a ‘long-term commitment’ in the country.

Sir Nigel’s bleak assessment came after the bloodiest month of fighting, during which 22 British troops were killed.

His warning that the campaign could drag on for ‘decades’ is the longest timetable ever given by a senior British figure.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Sir Nigel said: ‘We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future. This is not just one year.

‘This is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which can they can ward off the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.’

Sir Nigel’s comments came amid mounting speculation that Britain is going to be asked to send an extra 2,000 troops. U.S. General Stanley

McChrystal, who is conducting a review mission there, is reported to want the Afghan army and police increased from 150,000 to around 400,000  -  which would require an extra 12,000 military trainers.

But a hard-hitting report by MPs yesterday warned that troops in Afghanistan are suffering from ‘mission creep’.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the armed forces had been burdened with an ever-growing list of responsibilities since 2001.

It warned soldiers should be concentrating on protecting security rather than tackling drugs or bolstering human rights and state-building.

The MPs said bad planning by the Government and a lack of direction meant the mission – which has cost 191 British lives – has been undermined.

Mr Rammell dismissed the criticism. The Defense Minister said: ‘We are focused on security and I think, with respect, the Foreign Affairs Committee is a bit behind the game.’

However, he added: ‘I will acknowledge that the scale of the challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated. We are responding to that.’

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