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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“Arrest Bush” — Amnesty International Asks Canada

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michel Comte

October 13, 2011 “AFP” – Amnesty International called on Canadian authorities Wednesday to arrest and prosecute George W. Bush, saying the former US president authorized “torture” when he directed the US-led war on terror.

Bush is expected to attend an economic summit in Surrey in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province on October 20.

In a memorandum submitted last month to Canada’s attorney general but only now released to the media, the London-based group charged that Bush has legal responsibility for a series of human rights violations.

“Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture,” Amnesty’s Susan Lee said in a statement.

“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in. A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention Against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights,” Lee said.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blasted Amnesty for “cherry picking cases to publicize, based on ideology.”

“This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International,” he said.

Kenney said it will be up to Canadian border officials to decide independently whether to allow Bush into the country.

Bush canceled a visit to Switzerland in February, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International’s Canadian branch, told a press conference the rights group will pursue its case against the former US president with the governments of other countries he might visit.

“Torturers must face justice and their crimes are so egregious that the responsibility for ensuring justice is shared by all nations,” Neve said.

“Friend or foe, extraordinary or very ordinary times, most or least powerful nation, faced with concerns about terrorism or any other threat, torture must be stopped.

“Bringing to justice the people responsible for torture is central to that goal. It is the law… And no one, including the man who served as president of the world’s most powerful nation for eight years can be allowed to stand above that law.”

Amnesty, backed by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, claims Bush authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “waterboarding” on detainees held in secret by the Central Intelligence Agency between 2002 and 2009.

The detention program included “torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (such as being forced to stay for hours in painful positions and sleep deprivation), and enforced disappearances,” it alleged.

Amnesty’s case, outlined in its 1,000-page memorandum, relies on the public record, US documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush’s own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the US’s war on terror policies.

Amnesty cites several instances of alleged torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval facility, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, by the US military.

The cases include that of Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, both arrested in Pakistan. The two men were waterboarded 266 times between them from 2002 to 2003, according to the CIA inspector general, cited by Amnesty.

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Shadow War in Afghanistan

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

2010-01-09T110013Z_1558274224_GM1E6191GAK01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN-CIA-BOMBER

Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud (L) sits beside a man who is believed to be Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan, in this still image taken from video released January 9, 2010. A Pakistan television station showed on Saturday what it said was the suicide bomber double agent who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan sitting with the Pakistani Taliban leader, and reported he shared U.S. and Jordanian state secrets with militants.

REUTERS/Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan via Reuters TV

It was a Christmas and a New Year from hell for American intelligence, that US$75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones. As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were the US’s intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation. It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case – except for the placement of the bomb material – almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago.

That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse. Army Major General Michael Flynn, the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone – but by implication US intelligence operatives generally – as “clueless”. They were, he wrote, “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced … and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers … Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the US intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy.”

As if to prove the general’s point, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor with a penchant for writing inspirational essays on jihadi websites and an “unproven asset” for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), somehow entered a key agency forward operating base in Afghanistan unsearched, supposedly with information on al-Qaeda’s leadership so crucial that a high-level CIA team was assembled to hear it and Washington was alerted.

He proved to be either a double or a triple agent and killed seven CIA operatives, one of whom was the base chief, by detonating a suicide vest bomb, while wounding yet more, including the agency’s number-two operative in the country. The first suicide bomber to penetrate a US base in Afghanistan, he blew a hole in the CIA’s relatively small cadre of agents knowledgeable on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

It was an intelligence disaster splayed all over the headlines: “Taliban bomber wrecks CIA’s shadowy war”, “Killings Rock Afghan Strategy”, “Suicide bomber who attacked CIA post was trusted informant from Jordan”. It seemed to sum up the hapless nature of America’s intelligence operations, as the CIA, with all the latest technology and every imaginable resource on hand, including the latest in Hellfire missile-armed drone aircraft, was out-thought and out-maneuvered by low-tech enemies.

No one could say that the deaths and the blow to the American war effort weren’t well covered. There were major TV reports night after night and scores of news stories, many given front-page treatment. And yet lurking behind those deaths and the man who caused them lay a bigger American war story that went largely untold. It was a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and which bears little relationship to the Afghan war as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.

2010-01-09T151633Z_01_BTRE60816FS00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-JORDAN-BOMBER-CIA

A man reads a copy of the day’s newspaper whose front page shows a photo of suspected suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in Amman January 9, 2010.

REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the US was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the US that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.

Black ops and black sites

Secrecy is a part of war. The surprise attack is only a surprise if secrecy is maintained. In wartime, crucial information must be kept from an enemy capable of using it. But what if, as in the US’s case, wartime never ends, while secrecy becomes endemic, as well as profitable and privitizable, and much of the information available to both sides on the US’s shadowy new battlefield is mainly being kept from the American people? The coverage of the suicide attack on forward operating base (FOB) Chapman offered a rare, very partial window into that strange war – but only if you were willing to read piles of news reports looking for tiny bits of information that could be pieced together.

We did just that and here’s what we found:

Let’s start with FOB Chapman, where the suicide bombing took place. An old Soviet base near the Pakistani border, it was renamed after a Green Beret who fought beside CIA agents and was the first American to die in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It sits in isolation near the town of Khost, just kilometers from the larger Camp Salerno, a forward operating base used mainly by US Special Operations troops.

Occupied by the CIA since 2001, Chapman is regularly described as “small” or “tiny” and, in one report, as having “a forbidding network of barriers, barbed wire and watchtowers”. Though a US State Department provisional reconstruction team has been stationed there (as well as personnel from the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of Agriculture), and though it “was officially a camp for civilians involved in reconstruction”, FOB Chapman is “well-known locally as a CIA base” – an “open secret”, as another report put it.

The base is guarded by Afghan irregulars, sometimes referred to in news reports as “Afghan contractors”, about whom we know next to nothing. (“CIA officials on Thursday would not discuss what guard service they had at the base.”) Despite the recent suicide bombing, according to Julian Barnes and Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times, a “program to hire Afghans to guard US forward operating bases would not be canceled. Under that program, which is beginning in eastern Afghanistan, Afghans will guard towers, patrol perimeter fences and man checkpoints.”

Also on FOB Chapman were employees of the private security contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater), which has had a close relationship with the CIA in Afghanistan. We know this because of reports that two of the dead “CIA” agents were Xe operatives.

Someone else of interest was at FOB Chapman at that fateful meeting with the Jordanian doctor Balawi – Sharif Ali bin Zeid, a captain in the Jordanian intelligence service, the eighth person killed in the blast. It turns out that Balawi was an agent of the Jordanian intelligence, which held (and abused) torture suspects kidnapped and disappeared by the CIA in the years of George W Bush’s “global war on terror.”

The service reportedly continues to work closely with the agency and the captain was evidently running Balawi. That’s what we now know about the polyglot group at FOB Chapman on the front lines of the agency’s black-ops war against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the allied fighters of the Sirajuddin and Jalaluddin Haqqani network in nearby Pakistan. If there were other participants, they weren’t among the bodies.

The agency surges

And here’s something that’s far clearer in the wake of the bombing: among the US’s vast network of bases in Afghanistan, the CIA has its own designated bases – as, by the way, do US Special Operations forces, and according to a Nation reporter, Jeremy Scahill, even private contractor Xe. Without better reporting on the subject, it’s hard to get a picture of these bases, but Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal tells us that a typical CIA base houses no more than 15-20 agency operatives (which means that Balawi’s explosion killed or wounded more than half of the team on FOB Chapman).

And don’t imagine that we’re only talking about a base or two. In the single most substantive post-blast report on the CIA, Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times wrote that the agency has “an archipelago of firebases in southern and eastern Afghanistan”, most built in the last year. An archipelago? Imagine that. And it’s also reported that even more of them are in the works.

With this goes another bit of information that the Wall Street Journal seems to have been the first to drop into its reports. While you’ve heard about President Barack Obama’s surge in American troops and possibly even State Department personnel in Afghanistan, you’ve undoubtedly heard little or nothing about a CIA surge in the region, and yet the Journal’s reporters tell us that agency personnel will increase by 20-25% in the surge months. By the time the CIA is fully bulked up with all its agents, paramilitaries and private contractors in place, Afghanistan will represent, according to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest “stations” in agency history.

This, in turn, implies other surges. There will be a surge in base-building to house those agents, and a surge in “native” guards – at least until another suicide bomber hits a base thanks to Taliban supporters among them or one of them turns a weapon on the occupants of a base – and undoubtedly a surge in Blackwater-style mercenaries as well.

Keep in mind that the latest figure on private contractors suggests that 56,000 more of them will surge into Afghanistan in the next 18 months, far more than surging US troops, State Department employees and CIA operatives combined. And don’t forget the thousands of non-CIA “uniformed and civilian intelligence personnel serving with the Defense Department and joint interagency operations in the country”, who will undoubtedly surge as well.

Making war

The efforts of the CIA operatives at Chapman were reportedly focused on “collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders”, especially those in the Haqqani network in the North Waziristan tribal area just across the Pakistani border. They were evidently running “informants” into Pakistan to find targets for the agency’s ongoing drone assassination war.

These drone attacks in Pakistan have themselves been on an unparalleled surge course ever since Obama entered office; 44 to 50 (or more) have been launched in the past year, with civilian casualties running into the hundreds. Like local Pashtuns, the agency essentially doesn’t recognize a border. For them, the Afghan and Pakistani tribal borderlands are a single world.

In this way, as Paul Woodward of the website War in Context has pointed out, “Two groups of combatants, neither of whom wear uniforms, are slugging it out on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Each group has identified what it regards as high-value targets and each is using its own available means to hit these targets. The Taliban/al-Qaeda are using suicide bombers while the CIA is using Hellfire missiles.”

Since the devastating explosion at Chapman, statements of vengeance have been coming out of CIA mouths – of a kind that, when offered by the Taliban or al-Qaeda, we consider typical of a backward, “tribal” society. In any case, the secret war is evidently becoming a private and personal one. Balawi’s suicide attack essentially took out a major part of the agency’s targeting information system.

As one unnamed NATO official told the New York Times, “These were not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads … [The CIA is] pulling in new people from all over the world, but how long will it take to rebuild the networks, to get up to speed? Lots of it is irrecoverable.” And the agency was already generally known to be “desperately short of personnel who speak the language or are knowledgeable about the region”. Nonetheless, drone attacks have suddenly escalated – at least five in the week since the suicide bombing, all evidently aimed at “an area believed to be a hideout for militants involved”. These sound like vengeance attacks and are likely to be particularly counterproductive.

To sum up, US intelligence agents, having lost out to enemy “intelligence agents”, even after being transformed into full-time assassins, are now locked in a mortal struggle with an enemy for whom assassination is also a crucial tactic, but whose operatives seem to have better informants and better information.

In this war, drones are not the agency’s only weapon. The CIA also seems to specialize in running highly controversial, kick-down-the-door “night raids” in conjunction with Afghan paramilitary forces. Such raids, when launched by US Special Operations forces, have led to highly publicized and heavily protested civilian casualties. Sometimes, according to reports, the CIA actually conducts them in conjunction with special ops forces.

In a recent American-led night raid in Kunar province, eight young students were, according to Afghan sources, detained, handcuffed and executed. The leadership of this raid has been attributed, euphemistically, to “other government agencies” (OGAs) or “non-military Americans”. These raids, whether successful in the limited sense or not, don’t fit comfortably with the Obama administration’s “hearts and minds” counter-insurgency strategy.

The militarization of the agency

As the identities of some of the fallen CIA operatives at Chapman became known, a pattern began to emerge. There was 37-year-old Harold Brown Jr, who formerly served in the army. There was Scott Roberson, a former Navy SEAL who did several tours of duty in Iraq, where he provided protection to officials considered at high risk. There was Jeremy Wise, 35, an ex-SEAL who left the military last year, signed up with Xe, and ended up working for the CIA. Similarly, 46-year-old Dane Paresi, a retired special forces master sergeant turned Xe hired gun, also died in the blast.

For years, American author and professor Chalmers Johnson, himself a former CIA consultant, has referred to the agency as “the president’s private army.” Today, that moniker seems truer than ever. While the civilian CIA has always had a paramilitary component, known as the Special Activities Division, the unit was generally relatively small and dormant. Instead, military personnel like the army’s special forces or indigenous troops carried out the majority of the CIA’s combat missions.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, George W Bush empowered the agency to hunt down, kidnap and assassinate suspected al-Qaeda operatives, and the CIA’s traditional specialties of spycraft and intelligence analysis took a distinct back seat to Special Activities Division operations, as its agents set up a global gulag of ghost prisons, conducted interrogations by torture, and then added those missile-armed drone and assassination programs.

The military backgrounds of the fallen CIA operatives cast a light on the way the world of “intelligence” is increasingly muscling up and becoming militarized. This past summer, when a former CIA official suggested the agency might be backing away from risky programs, a current official spit back from the shadows: “If anyone thinks the CIA has gotten risk-averse recently, go ask al-Qaeda and the Taliban … The agency’s still doing cutting-edge stuff in all kinds of dangerous places.”

At about the same time, reports were emerging that Blackwater/Xe was providing security, arming drones, and “perform[ing] some of the agency’s most important assignments” at secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also emerged that the CIA had paid contractors from Blackwater to take part in a covert assassination program in Afghanistan.

Add this all together and you have the grim face of “intelligence” at war in 2010 – a new micro-brew when it comes to Washington’s conflicts. Today, in Afghanistan, a militarized mix of CIA operatives and ex-military mercenaries as well as native recruits and robot aircraft is fighting a war “in the shadows” (as they used to say in the Cold War). This is no longer “intelligence” as anyone imagines it, nor is it “military” as military was once defined, not when US operations have gone mercenary and native in such a big way.

This is pure “lord of the flies” stuff – beyond oversight, beyond any law, including the laws of war. And worse yet, from all available evidence, despite claims that the drone war is knocking off mid-level enemies, it seems remarkably ineffective. All it may be doing is spreading the war farther and digging it in deeper.

Talk about “counter-insurgency” as much as you want, but this is another kind of battlefield, and “protecting the people” plays no part in it. And this is only what can be gleaned from afar about a semi-secret war that is being poorly reported. Who knows what it costs when you include the US hired guns, the Afghan contractors, the bases, the drones and the rest of the personnel and infrastructure? Nor do we know what else, or who else, is involved, and what else is being done. Clearly, however, all those billions of “intelligence” dollars are going into the blackest of black holes.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University’s Center for the United States and the Cold War. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website is NickTurse.com.

(Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse.)

Gates: US Absolutely Not Leaving Afghanistan

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick

2009-10-14T173345Z_514805076_GM1E5AF044W02_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan boy pushes his youngest brother on a wheelbarrow in a village in Charkh district, Logar province October 14, 2009.

REUTERS/Nikola Solic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Monday ruled out any consideration of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s sweeping strategy review of the increasingly unpopular war there.

“We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a television program taped at George Washington University that will be aired by CNN on Tuesday.

Gates said the Afghan and Pakistani governments should not be “nervous” about the U.S. review as Obama prepared to brief congressional leaders and to convene his war council again this week on how to deal with the deteriorating security situation.

“I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “That’s quite clear.”

Obama faces pivotal decisions in the coming weeks after the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, presented a dire assessment of the eight-year-old war effort.

Earlier, Gates urged military advisers to speak “candidly but privately” but defended McChrystal, who has been criticized for appearing to lobby in public for his position that more troops need to be sent to Afghanistan.

“Stan McChrystal is exactly the right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now,” Gates said. “I have every confidence that, no matter what decision the president makes, Stan McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible.”

The debate within the Obama administration is now over whether to send thousands more U.S. troops, as McChrystal has requested, or scale back the U.S. mission and focus on striking al Qaeda cells, an idea backed by Vice President Joe Biden.

‘Our Inability’

Gates suggested that the failure of the United States and its allies to put more troops into Afghanistan in earlier years — a period when former U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq — had given the Taliban an edge in Afghanistan.

“The reality is that because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, (to put) enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” Gates said, although he declined to discuss what options Obama may be considering.

As the strategy debate in Washington gathered steam, Afghan election authorities began a recount on Monday in the disputed presidential election held in August.

Allegations of fraud in what Gates called the “flawed” election are among the reasons U.S. officials have cited for launching the review of policy toward Afghanistan.

With U.S. casualties on the rise, American public opinion has turned increasingly against what Obama’s aides once hailed as the “good war,” in contrast to the unpopular war in Iraq that occupied the focus of Bush.

There also have been increasing calls from the anti-war left and foreign policy critics for a U.S. pullout. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the White House on Monday, and a few were arrested when they chained themselves to the gates.

Seeking to shore up support, Obama invited senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers to the White House on Tuesday to discuss the future course of the war. He is due to meet his national security team on Wednesday and Friday.

The Obama administration already has almost doubled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year to 62,000 to contend with the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001. The U.S. invasion was launched in the weeks after the September 11 attacks carried out by al Qaeda, which had been given a haven in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

McChrystal has warned in a confidential assessment that the war effort would end in failure without additional troops and changes in strategy.

But signing off on the 30,000 to 40,000 troop increase that McChrystal is said to have requested would be politically risky for Obama due to unease within his own Democratic Party and fatigue among the American public after eight years of war in Afghanistan and six in Iraq.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered their worst losses in more than a year when fighters stormed remote outposts near the Pakistan border over the weekend. Eight American soldiers were killed on Saturday after tribal militia stormed two combat outposts in remote Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan.

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Is, or Was, the CIA Engaged Against Pakistan’s ISI and Military?

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sandra Johnson in Washington DC, Christina Palmer in New Delhi, Jamal Afghani in Kabul, Makhdoom Babar in Islamabad

www.ahmedquraishi.com

http://pakalert.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/must-read-cia-versus-isi/

Capture9-17-2009-3.17.02 PM

The American CIA almost killed Musharraf. The ISI is familiar with terrorism inside Pakistan by the spy agencies of many countries. Even Libya’s Gaddafi once ordered a couple of bombings here after the execution of his friend Mr. Bhutto. But this is the first time that the CIA is found directly involved in working against Pakistani interests. The U.S. spy organization is sponsoring the multibillion dollar Afghan drug trade, helped by the Indians. CIA’s latest trash is a statement by a U.S. congresswoman and a book by a third-rate American journalist both aimed at discrediting the ISI in the eyes of its own people. The million dollar question is this: Why is CIA sponsoring the campaign to tarnish Pakistani image worldwide, from the nuclear scare to the breakup scare to the `terrorist’ scare? The answer is astonishing.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Coffee and aspirin, aspirin and coffee. This is what the Chief of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. General Ehsan-ul-Haque was repeating after he went through the news on the website of a U.S. newspaper in which a news report filed by a U.S. news agency claimed quoting "U.S. intelligence sources" that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survived the bomb attack on his motorcade because the President’s limousine was equipped with state-of-the-art jamming devices.

The news appeared on Dec. 18, 2003, shortly after former President Musharraf’s motorcade was attacked through a remote controlled device connected to a cell phone on a bridge in Rawalpindi.

"What the hell is this, we discussed this jamming device thing with them just a day before and they have leaked it to the media straight away? What are they up to? Are they helping us or al-Qaeda by telling them that President’s car cannot be bombed through a remote device? Are they trying to guide these killers so that they go for a suicide attack next time?" Gen. Ehsan asked his aides, sitting there to discuss the issue.

And true to his prediction, after a gap some 15 to 20 days, Musharraf’s motorcade was subjected to a high profile suicide attack on the same road a just a few yards away from the previous incident. However the Pakistani President survived again.

This has been the biggest dilemma of Pakistan’s ISI ever since Islamabad decided to be an ally in America’s global war on terror. Right from day one, Pakistan’s Foreign Office and the ISI sleuths have been complaining about the constant leaking in the U.S. media by `U.S. intelligence sources’ of intelligence reports and highly classified. The former President of the Islamic Republic, Pervez Musharraf, who was also the head of the country’s army, conveyed these reservations about intelligence leakages many times to U.S. officials and made it very clear to the former U.S. President George W. Bush that Pakistan and particularly the ISI were not comfortable at all with such a state of affairs. The U.S. was told in clear terms that this menace of constant leakages of classified material to the U.S. media had become a very big hardship for the continuation of anti-terror operations.

Terrorism in nothing new to Pakistan, neither is its top security agency, the ISI, an alien to the operations of foreign intelligence services against Pakistan. Starting from 1960s, when neighboring India’s counterpart of ISI, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), commonly know as RAW, started small- scale sabotage activities in border towns like Sialkot, Shakar Garh and parts of Balochistan, the ISI and other security agencies of Pakistan have been through a lot of encounters to prevent and counter anti-Pakistan sabotage activities by India’s R&AW, former Soviet Union’s KGB, former communist Afghanistan’s Khaad, Iran’s former Savak, Israel’s Mosaad and even the Libyan MIF that carried out some sabotage operations after the hanging of the former Prime Mini ster of the country, Mr. Z. A. Bhutto, who was a very special friend of Libya’s Gaddafi.

In sharp contrast, the ISI or the country’s other security agencies never had a problem with the American CIA and in fact developed an amazing level of understanding and professional collaboration during the USSR’s invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. It appears that suddenly, after the demise of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and with the growing influence of India’s R&AW in Afghanistan, the CIA preferred to become hand in glove with R&AW in Afghanistan. Both R&AW and CIA are banking on the three trillion U.S. Dollars worth of drug money every year that is generated through heroin production and its subsequent sale across the world.

According to The Daily Mail’s investigations, certain wings of both the R&AW and CIA generate millions of dollars by providing or arranging safe passages for drug traffickers of Afghanistan and India at many points across the world. They generate these funds to carry out certain unapproved operations. It was the Pakistani Army and ISI that unfolded some proofs of the same in this direction after which the CIA got extremely annoyed and finally opted to launch motivated campaigns against Pakistan’s ISI and Pakistani Army with the generous collaboration of India’s R&AW.

A former official of the UN office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) says that despite the fact that the cultivation of poppy crop across Afghanistan has risen dramatically after the Taliban era and=2 0dozens of heroin production factories have been established across the country, the CIA never showed any interest in recommending to the U.S. government to launch a crackdown on heroin factories across Afghanistan that feed and finance militants and warlords. The annoyance of CIA with Pakistani ISI and Army, according to some reports, peaked when an Indian defense official posted at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, who was a lynchpin between the Indian and Afghan drug operations, was killed in a suicide attack last year. The said Indian official was killed in an attack carried out, according to our investigations, by Afghan President’s brother and the world’s biggest heroin producer Izzat Ullah Wasifi after he developed doubts that the Indian officer was betraying him to America’s DEA (Drugs Enforcement Agency). And despite leads in this direction, R&AW convinced the CIA that the Indian officer was killed by attackers sent by ISI.

The recent blitzkrieg on Pakistan Army and the ISI are clear gifts of CIA. In the first attack, the Chairperson of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Intelligence Diane Feinstein came up with a very ridiculous and rather childish `disclosure’ that U.S. Drones, named Predators, were flying from certain ISI air bases within Pakistan and that the USAF or U.S. Army had nothing to do with this activity. "Even a child knows that these Predators fly from the U.S. base in Bagram in Afghanistan and there are no air bases owned by the ISI as ISI is an intelligence agency that relies on Pakista n Air Force and its bases for any air space or avionic support. Coming out with such a ridiculous statement and that too, publicly, by the head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence committee is very surprising", commented a senior defense analyst when contacted by The Daily Mail. He said this was nothing but a bid to generate feelings of hatred among Pakistanis against their own premier intelligence service, when the ISI is busy protecting the interests of the Pakistanis people.

In a second example, an ordinary U.S. journalist, working for the CIA-blessed U.S. daily The New York Times; named David E. Sanger, has come out with a book that can be described as nothing but a perfect piece of trash and a very mediocre work on intelligence. In the book, titled The Inheritance, Sanger claims, attributing to some highly classified files of the CIA and NSA that former Pakistani President Musharraf was playing a double game and making a double deal, on one side with America and on other side with the Taliban. This is not the start of the great Sanger-CIA trash but he claims a little down the road that the CIA had been bugging or tapping the telephones of top Pakistani Army Generals including the Chief of the Army Staff and head of the top spy agency, the ISI, and that during these tapped calls, it was revealed to the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) that top Generals of Pakistan were protecting the [Afghan] Taliban.

"This Sanger trash is nothing but a double bullshit with a cherry on top. First of all in the Pakistan Army establishment, the Generals and Commanders do not use the ordinary telephone lines or the cellular or satellite phones. The Armed forces have their own, secured and dedicated phone lines and most of the time, dedicated for person to person conversation and no one from the outside can, through any means, tape or bug these highly secured and sophisticated phone lines. Secondly, I must tell you that conversations of such a highly sensitive nature are never made on telephone lines anywhere in the world, a fact that makes this Sanger stuff a complete piece of trash and bullshit," said a former Chief of ISI, adding that in no intelligence set up across the world, such advanced warnings are issued to any ally, the way Sanger has narrated in his book while mentioning an advance warning by some ISI officials to Taliban before launching an attack on a school in tribal areas of the country, where Pakistani Army and the ISI are battling militants.

According to certain Western intelligence observers and media commentators, if for a minute it is assumed that Sanger’s book was based on facts, this would raise alarming questions about the state of security and secrecy within CIA and NSA where a journalist like Sanger can lay his hands on information that supposedly cost the two organizations millions of dollars to attain and secure.

"In that case, the ISI’s complaints and Islamabad’s protests over the constant leakages of classified information to the media by U.S. intelligence authorities are one hundred percent accurate," says David Smith, a senior journalist at a Washington-based news organization. Diplomatic analysts and intelligence observers say that it was surprising to see how that whenever it has something against Pakistan, the first thing the CIA does is to reach out straight away to the journalists of New York Times, Washington Post or CNN. How come the reporters of these media organizations get easy access to highly classified CIA reports in no time?

Taking exceptional note of the Sanger trash, former President Pervez Musharraf, for the first time after he left the Presidency, appeared before the media and brushed aside all the accusations made in the Sanger-CIA trash. He clearly stated that if the Pakistan Army and the ISI were not sincere in the global anti terror war, then it was a big intelligence lapse on part the U.S. spymasters who could not detect this alleged duplicity earlier. He also snubbed Sanger for his baseless accusations but said he would not press charges against the American journalist because the said journalist was that important and such mischief is not unusual. But Musharraf was clear about one thing: That there is a motivated campaign against Pakistan Army and ISI by U.S. quarters. He said the military and the ISI are custodians of Pakistan’s security and solidarity. He urged the Pakistani media to expose the hands behind this anti-ISI and anti-Pak Army campaign.

The Daily Mail is based in Islamabad and Beijing. Makhdoom Babar Sultan can be reached at macbaburAThotmail.com

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Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist Showered With Gifts: “I Feel Like Michael Jackson”

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Chulov and Rory McCarthy, The Guardian

shoes-thrown-at-bush As his size 10s spun through the air towards George W Bush, Muntazer al-Zaidi — the man the world now knows as the shoe-thrower — was bracing for an American bullet.

“He thought the secret service was going to shoot him,” says Zaidi’s younger brother, Maitham. “He expected that, and he was not afraid to die.”

Zaidi’s actions during the former U.S. president’s swansong visit to Iraq last December have not stopped reverberating in the nine months since.

Next Monday, when the journalist walks out of prison, his 10 raging seconds, which came to define his country’s last six miserable years, are set to take on a new life even more dramatic than the opening act.

Across Iraq and in every corner of the Arab world, Zaidi is being feted. The 20 words or so he spat at Bush — “This is your farewell kiss, you dog. This is for the widows and orphans of Iraq” – have been immortalized, and in many cases memorized.

Pictures of the president ducking have been etched onto walls across Baghdad, made into T-shirts in Egypt, and appeared in children’s games in Turkey.

Zaidi has won the adulation of millions, who believe his act of defiance did what their leaders had been too cowed to do.

Iraq has been short of heroes since the dark days of Saddam Hussein, and many civilians are bestowing greatness on the figure that finally took the fight to an overlord.

“He is a David and Goliath figure,” said Salah al-Janabi, a white goods salesman in downtown Baghdad. “When the history books are written, they will look back on this episode with great acclaim. Al-Zaidi’s shoes were his slingshot.”

From his prison cell, Zaidi has a sense of the gathering fuss, but not the full extent of the benefactors and patrons preparing for his release.
A new four-bedroom home has been built by his former boss. A new car — and the promise of many more — awaits.

Pledges of harems, money and healthcare are pouring in to his employers, the al-Baghdadia television channel.

“One Iraqi who lived in Morocco called to offer to send his daughter to be Muntazer’s wife,” said editor Abdul Hamid al-Saij.

“Another called from Saudi offering $10m for his shoes, and another called from Morocco offering a gold-saddled horse.

“After the event, we had callers from Palestine and many women asking to marry him, but we didn’t take their names. Many of their reactions were emotional. We will see what happens when he is freed.”

From the West Bank town of Nablus, Ahmed Jouda saw the incident on television news and felt so moved that he called together his relatives for a meeting in a nearby reception hall.

Jouda, 75, a farmer and head of a large extended family, convinced his relatives to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to support Zaidi’s legal case.

Jouda himself decided to sell half his herd of goats; another man asked if he might offer a young woman from his family as a bride. Jouda said he would, if Zaidi was interested.

“I said we are willing to present him with a bride loaded with gold,” said Jouda. “We are people of our word. If he decided to marry one of our daughters we would respect what we said.

“We are compassionate and supportive to the Iraqi people for what they have gone through.

“We are people who have tasted the bitterness, sorrow and agony of occupation too. What he did, he did for all the Arabs, not just the Iraqis, because Bush was the reason behind the problems of all the Arab world.”

Zaidi’s brother insists that no one put Muntazer up to such an act. But he revealed that Muntazer had told him he had pre-scripted at least one line ahead of the fateful press conference.

From the roof of his brother’s new home, Maitham al-Zaidi said: “He always thought he would die as a martyr, either by al-Qaida or the Americans. More than once he was kidnapped by insurgents. He was surprised that Bush’s guards didn’t shoot him on the spot.”

Muntazer al-Zaidi has told Maitham, and another brother, Vergam, that he is planning to open an orphanage when he leaves prison and will not work again as a journalist.

“He doesn’t want his work to be a circus,” said Vergam. “Every time he asked someone a difficult question they would have responded by asking whether he was going to throw his shoes at them.”

Muntazer has alleged that after his actions he was tortured by government officials. Medical reports say he has lost at least one tooth and has two broken ribs and a broken foot that have not healed properly.

“He will stay in Iraq, but first he has to leave the country to get his health fixed,” said Vergam.

In the run-up to his release, Maitham has a sense of the reception awaiting his brother.

“I feel like Michael Jackson at the moment. Everywhere I go, people are taking pictures of me and asking for my photo. If they do that for me, what will they do for Muntazer himself?”

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‘Coalition of the Willing’ Comes to an End in Iraq

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

War now truly an American-only effort after Britain and Australia pull out

By Chelsea J. Carter, AP

2009-07-30T165015Z_01_LON708_RTRMDNP_3_BRITAIN-IRAQ

John Chilcot, the chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, listens during a news conference in London July 30, 2009. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be asked to testify to a panel investigating the Iraq war, the head of the inquiry said on Thursday. Former civil servant Chilcot said the inquiry, set up by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, would look at British involvement in the war, covering the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July this year.

REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool

The war in Iraq was truly an American-only effort Saturday after Britain and Australia, the last of its international partners, pulled out.

Little attention was paid in Iraq to what effectively ended the so-called coalition of the willing, with the U.S. — as the leader of Multi-National Force, Iraq — letting the withdrawals pass without any public demonstration.

The quiet end of the coalition was a departure from its creation, which saw then-U.S. President George W. Bush court countries for support before and after the March 2003 invasion.

“We’re grateful to those partners who contributed in the past and we look forward to working with them in the future,” military spokesman Army Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Ballesteros told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

At its height, the coalition numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries— 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain, and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians. But most of the United States’ traditional European allies, those who supported actions in Afghanistan and the previous Iraq war, sat it out.

It effectively ended this week with Friday’s departure of Australian troops and the expiration of the mandate for the tiny remaining British contingent after Iraq’s parliament adjourned without agreeing to allow the troops to stay to protect southern oil ports and train Iraqi troops.

The U.S. military, though, said the withdrawals did not mean it was going it alone in Iraq.

“We haven’t lost our international partners. Rather, there are representatives from around the world here in various capacities such as NATO, military advisers, law enforcement and construction workers,” said Army Colonel John R. Robinson, a military spokesman at the U.S. headquarters outside Baghdad.

Australia’s military commander in the Middle East, Major-General Mark Kelly, said Friday the last 12 Australian soldiers who had been embedded with U.S. units were flown out of Baghdad on Tuesday, three days ahead of the deadline. A security detachment of about 100 soldiers will remain to protect embassy personnel.

Britain withdrew its remaining 100 to 150 mostly Navy personnel to Kuwait, though was hopeful they might return.

“We are exploring with the Iraqi Government the possibility of resuming some or all of our planned naval activity in advance of ratification,” the British Defence Ministry said in a statement released Saturday.

The coalition had a troubled history and began to crumble within months of the U.S.-led invasion as many countries faced political and social unrest over an unpopular war.

Critics said the tiny contingents that partnered with the coalition, such as Estonia, Albania and Romania, gave the U.S. token international support for the invasion.

Mass protests were held in many countries, including Spain, which was one of the most notable withdrawals from the coalition. In 2004, a bombing attack in Madrid linked to Islamic extremists helped overturn the political establishment in Spain and the new leadership pulled out the Spanish troops.

By January 2007, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. By October 2007, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

The US military, meanwhile, has increased its focus on redefining its relationship with Iraq under a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.

American combat forces withdrew from Iraq’s urban areas at the end of June and all troops are to withdraw by the end of 2011, according to the agreement. President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving roughly 50,000 troops to train and advise Iraqi security forces.
“Today is a normal day for our forces currently in Iraq,” Col. Robinson said, “because our business is already tied closely to our bilateral partnership with the Iraqis.”

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Still: Secret Bush-Era Prisons

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By John C. Trang, New America Media (NAM)

NAM Editor’s Note: Muslims make up 70 percent of inmates in two prisons the George W. Bush regime clandestinely established in the Midwest between 2006 and 2008.

razorwire

Despite President Barack Obama’s declaration that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam, government practices suggest otherwise.

In June, the ACLU filed complaints against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for illegally establishing secret prisons called Communications Management Units, or CMUs. The ACLU also alleged unconstitutional restrictions on Muslim inmates’ right to religious freedom. As a law student investigating the CMUs, the existence of these secret prisons trouble me.

The first CMU was clandestinely established in late 2006 at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind. In 2008, another CMU was established in Marion, Ill. According to the government, CMUs were created to “house inmates who, due to their current offense of conviction, offense conduct or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communication between inmates and persons in the community in order to protect the safety, security, and orderly operations of Bureau facilities and protect the public.”

Sounds mundane, right? But the fact is CMUs are a palpable and disconcerting product of xenophobia and the war on terrorism. Concocted during the Bush administration, CMUs are alarmingly reminiscent of McCarthy-era practices and the Japanese American internment camps.

Although the number of inmates placed at the CMUs has not exceeded 40, around 70 percent are Muslim. The likelihood of finding another prison in the United States with similar proportions of Muslim inmates is zero. There is only one other facility under U.S. jurisdiction with similar demographics: Guantanamo Bay.

With such a high proportion of Muslim inmates, civil rights groups expressed concern about constitutional violations of equal protection. BOP officials deny CMU placement is based on religious identity. According to one government document, criteria for CMU placement includes continued misuse/abuse of approved communication privileges; history of judicial threats; and being convicted of, or associated with, involvement in terrorism. This odd mix of criteria that warrants CMU placement is applicable to hundreds of the incarcerated. Therefore, how and why specific inmates are chosen for CMU placement remains unclear.

Unlike other prisons in the United States, information about CMUs remains scarce. Few publicly available government documents mention “Communications Management Unit.” The secrecy is increased by restrictions on inmates’ communications. All communications to and from inmates are examined. If a message is not approved, it is never transmitted. In fact, in some respects CMU inmates – all of who are categorized as low to medium risk–have more restrictive conditions than inmates categorized with higher security risk levels.

While the government describes CMUs in innocuous terms, many groups have alternate theories as to the actual purpose and nature of CMUs. Some believe CMUs were created solely to house terrorists since some, though not all, inmates have terrorism related convictions. However, even the terrorism related convictions are suspect.

Take for example ACLU’s client and CMU inmate Sabri Benkahla. Benkahla, born in Virginia and a graduate of George Mason University, was studying Islamic law and jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia when he was abducted at Saudi secret police, flown back to America and charged with supplying services to the Taliban and using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. He was found not guilty. Not satisfied with the acquittal, the U.S. government forced Benkahla to testify before a federal grand jury where he was accused and eventually convicted of perjury. Nonetheless, the presiding judge asserted Benkahla was “not a terrorist” and noted the chances of Benkahla committing another crime were “infinitesimal.”

While some view CMUs as facilities for terrorists, a majority of news articles assert the common thread uniting inmates is their strong community support and their politically unpopular views. That is, CMUs are political prisons.

I am not convinced CMUs are traditional political prisons – the sort used to silent inmates. There is growing evidence CMUs were created to extract information from inmates for the war on terrorism. Since privacy rights are reduced for the incarcerated, increasing attention to prisoners as a source of information was a logical step for proponents of sustaining a war on terrorism. And by stretching what constitutes a terrorism related charge, the government could consolidate prisoners believed to possess desired knowledge and ignore even basic civil liberties afforded other incarcerated people by invoking “war on terrorism.” To be sure, similar to the tenuous links to terrorism, the extent of any inmate’s knowledge about terrorism is questionable at best.

Ultimately, due to the secretive nature of CMUs, the real explanation continues to be a mystery. What is not a mystery is that the war on terrorism continues to be wrongfully conflated with Islam. This likely explains the disproportionate level of Muslim inmates. Although there are non-Muslim inmates at CMUs, at least one Muslim inmate claims that security guards have called non-Muslim inmates “racial balancers.” Whether or not non-Muslim inmates are mere decoys is unclear. But such a claim should heighten our concern that the government is targeting inmates based on a racial perception of who is a terrorist.

Any selective targeting of Muslims inside and outside the prison system in the name of war and national security would be dangerously similar to the selective targeting of Japanese Americans during World War II. After decades of struggle, the government officially apologized to the Japanese American community and admitted that xenophobia and wartime hysteria contributed to discriminatory policies that should never be repeated.

Granted there are differences between Japanese American internees and CMU inmates. CMU inmates have been convicted of at least one federal crime, albeit often minor crimes such as incorrectly filing taxes. However, the prison system should not strip inmates of all their constitutional rights, or segregate them in highly restrictive prisons based on religious identity.

Almost eight years after the September 11 attacks, the Obama administration has set a new tenor on the war on terrorism. But the continuing operation of CMUs that began under Bush is reminiscent of anti-Japanese policies and McCarthy era witch hunts. National security is a real concern but it can never justify the practices reportedly involved at CMUs. To do so would be a betrayal of the nation’s commitment to core civil liberties and freedoms.

John C. Trang is currently a law student at UCLA School of Law in the Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy Program with a Critical Race Studies Specialization.

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Assassinations Anyone?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

CIA claims of cancelled campaign are hogwash

By Eric Margolis

CIA director Leon Panetta just told Congress he cancelled a secret operation to assassinate al-Qaida leaders. The CIA campaign, authorized in 2001, had not yet become operational, claimed Panetta.

I respect Panetta, but his claim is humbug. The U.S. has been trying to kill al-Qaida personnel (real and imagined) since the Clinton administration. These efforts continue under President Barack Obama. Claims by Congress it was never informed are hogwash.

The CIA and Pentagon have been in the assassination business since the early 1950s, using American hit teams or third parties. For example, a CIA-organized attempt to assassinate Lebanon’s leading Shia cleric, Muhammad Fadlallah, using a truck bomb, failed, but killed 83 civilians and wounded 240.

In 1975, I was approached to join the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress investigating CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Add to America’s hit list Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Chile’s Marxist leaders and, very likely, Yasser Arafat.

Libya’s Moammar Khadaffy led me by the hand through the ruins of his private quarters, showing me where a 2,000-pound U.S. bomb hit his bedroom, killing his infant daughter. Most Pakistanis believe, rightly or wrongly, the U.S. played a role in the assassination of President Zia ul-Haq.

To quote Josef Stalin’s favourite saying, “No man. No problem.”

Assassination was outlawed in the U.S. in 1976, but that did not stop attempts by its last three administrations to emulate Israel’s Mossad in the “targeted killing” of enemies. The George W. Bush administration, and now the Obama White House, sidestepped American law by saying the U.S. was at war, and thus legally killing “enemy combatants.” But Congress never declared war.

Washington is buzzing about a secret death squad run by Dick Cheney when he was vice-president and his protege, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This gung-ho general led the Pentagon’s super secret Special Operations Command, which has become a major rival to the CIA in the business of “wet affairs” (as the KGB used to call assassinations) and covert raids.

Democrats are all over Cheney on the death squad issue, as are some Republicans — in order to shield Bush. But the orders likely came from Bush, who bears ultimate responsibility.

Americans are now being deluged by sordid scandals from the Bush years about torture, kidnapping, brutal secret prisons, brainwashing, mass surveillance of American’s phones, e-mail, and banking.

In 2001, as this column previously reported, U.S. Special Forces oversaw the murder at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, of thousands of captured Taliban fighters by Uzbek forces of the Communist warlord, Rashid Dostum.

CIA was paying Dostum, a notorious war criminal from the 1980s, millions to fight Taliban. Dostum is poised to become vice-president of the U.S.-installed government of President Hamid Karzai. Bush hushed up this major war crime.

America is hardly alone in trying to rub out enemies or those who thwart its designs. Britain’s MI-6 and France’s SDECE were notorious for sending out assassins. The late chief of SDECE told me how he had been ordered by then-president Francois Mitterrand to kill Libya’s Khadaffy. Israel’s hit teams are feared around the globe.

History shows that state-directed murder is more often than not counterproductive and inevitably runs out of control, disgracing nations and organizations that practise it.

But U.S. assassins are still at work. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. drones are killing tribesmen almost daily. Over 90% are civilians. Americans have a curious notion that killing people from the air is not murder or even a crime, but somehow clean.

U.S. Predator attacks are illegal and violate U.S. and international law. Pakistan’s government, against which no war has been declared, is not even asked permission or warned of the attacks.

Dropping 2,000-pound bombs on apartment buildings in Gaza or Predator raids on Pakistan’s tribal territory are as much murder as exploding car bombs or suicide bombers.

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US to Iraq: You Need Uncle Sam

July 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Interpress Service

2008-07-24T083933Z_01_DSI19_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ

A U.S. soldier from the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment holds his weapon next to a villager during a joint operation with Iraqi police near Muqtadiyah in Diyala province July 24, 2008.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

WASHINGTON – Instead of moving toward accommodating the demand of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a timetable for United States military withdrawal, the George W Bush administration and the US military leadership are continuing to pressure their erstwhile client regime to bow to the US demand for a long-term military presence in the country.

The emergence of this defiant US posture toward the Iraqi withdrawal demand underlines just how important long-term access to military bases in Iraq has become to the US military and national security bureaucracy in general.

From the beginning, the Bush administration’s response to the Maliki withdrawal demand has been to treat it as a mere aspiration that the US need not accept.

The counter-message that has been conveyed to Iraq from a multiplicity of US sources, including former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander William Fallon, is that the security objectives of Iraq must include continued dependence on US troops for an indefinite period. The larger, implicit message, however, is that the US is still in control, and that it – not the Iraqi government – will make the final decision.

That point was made initially by State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos, who stated flatly on July 9 that any US decision on withdrawal “will be conditions-based."

In a sign that the US military is also mounting pressure on the Iraqi government to abandon its withdrawal demand, Fallon wrote an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on July 20 that called on Iraqi leaders to accept the US demand for long-term access to military bases.

Fallon, who became something of a folk hero among foes of the Bush administration’s policy in the Middle East for having been forced out of his CENTCOM position for his anti-aggression stance, takes an extremely aggressive line against the Iraqi withdrawal demand in the op-ed. The piece is remarkable not only for its condescending attitude toward the Iraqi government, but for its peremptory tone toward it.

Fallon is dismissive of the idea that Iraq can take care of itself without US troops to maintain ultimate control. “The government of Iraq is eager to exert its sovereignty,” Fallon writes, “but its leaders also recognize that it will be some time before Iraq can take full control of security.”

Fallon insists that “the government of Iraq must recognize its continued, if diminishing reliance on the American military." And in the penultimate paragraph he demands “political posturing in pursuit of short-term gains must cease”.

Fallon, now retired from the military, is obviously serving as a stand-in for US military chiefs for whom the public expression of such a hardline stance against the Iraqi withdrawal demand would have been considered inappropriate.

But the former US military proconsul in the Middle East, like his active-duty colleagues, appears to actually believe that the US can intimidate the Maliki government. The assumption implicit in his op-ed is that the US has both the right and power to preempt Iraq’s national interests to continue to build its military empire in the Middle East.

As CENTCOM chief, Fallon had been planning on the assumption that the US military would continue to have access to military bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan for many years to come. A July 14 story by Washington Post national security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus said that the army had requested US$184 million to build power plants at its five main bases in Iraq.

The five bases, Pincus reported, are among the “final bases and support locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the US military presence is reduced."

Funding for the power plants, which would be necessary to support a large US force in Iraq within the five remaining bases, for a longer-term stay, was eliminated from the military construction bill for fiscal year 2008. Pincus quoted a congressional source as noting that the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete.

The plan to keep several major bases in Iraq is just part of a larger plan, on which Fallon himself was working, for permanent US land bases in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Fallon revealed in congressional testimony last year that Bagram air base in Afghanistan is regarded as “the centerpiece for the CENTCOM master plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."

As Fallon was writing his op-ed, the Bush administration was planning for a video conference between Bush and Maliki, evidently hoping to move the obstreperous Maliki away from his position on withdrawal. Afterward, however, the White House found it necessary to cover up the fact that Maliki had refused to back down in the face of Bush’s pressure.

It issued a statement claiming that the two leaders had agreed to “a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals” but that the goals would include turning over more control to Iraqi security forces and the “further reduction of US combat forces from Iraq” – but not a complete withdrawal.

But that was quickly revealed to be a blatant misrepresentation of Maliki’s position. As Maliki’s spokesman Ali Dabbagh confirmed, the “time horizon” on which Bush and Maliki had agreed not only covered the “full handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi forces in order to decrease American forces” but was to “allow for its [sic] withdrawal from Iraq."

An adviser to Maliki, Sadiq Rikabi, also told the Washington Post that Maliki was insisting on specific timelines for each stage of the US withdrawal, including the complete withdrawal of troops.

The Iraqi prime minister’s July 19 interview with the German magazine Der Speigel, in which he said that Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s 16-month timetable “would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes”, was the Iraqi government’s bombshell in response to the Bush administration’s efforts to pressure it on the bases issue.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack emphasized at his briefing on Tuesday that the issue would be determined by “a conclusion that’s mutually acceptable to sovereign nations."

That strongly implied that the Bush administration regarded itself as having a veto power over any demand for withdrawal and signals an intention to try to intimidate Maliki.

Both the Bush administration and the US military appear to harbor the illusion that the US troop presence in Iraq still confers effective political control over its clients in Baghdad.

However, the change in the Maliki regime’s behavior over the past six months, starting with the prime minister’s abrupt refusal to go along with General David Petraeus’ plan for a joint operation in the southern city of Basra in mid-March, strongly suggests that the era of Iraqi dependence on the US has ended.

Given the strong consensus on the issue among Shi’ite political forces of all stripes, as well as Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shi’ite spiritual leader, the Maliki administration could not back down to US pressure without igniting a political crisis.

[Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.]

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