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Private contractors paid by US firms outnumber US troops in Iraq, according to newly released figures from the State and Defense departments. Over 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreign citizens, and Iraqis, are working under US contracts in Iraq, compared to about 160,000 soldiers and several thousand civilian government employees stationed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq—a mission criticized as being undermanned.” The Brookings Institute’s Peter Singer says, “These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.” The numbers of contractors include:
43,000 foreign contractors;
about 118,000 Iraqis.
These numbers are not complete; private security contractors, hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey. According to some firms’ figures, about 30,000 security personnel work in Iraq, sometimes fighting alongside—or independent of—military forces. All these employees working for private contractors are paid with US tax dollars. Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks. “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter,” says Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.” But some are critical, noting that the US government has relied far more heavily on contractors in the Iraq war than in any other conflict in American history. Critics note that troops and their missions can be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire. Just such an occurrence happened in 2004, when US forces were forced to endure food rationing after delivery drivers refused to ferry supplies into a combat zone. And the government does not keep centralized track of the number or location of contractors operating in Iraq, though the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has recently bowed to pressure from Congress and begun a census of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water, and shelter is needed. The corporation with the single largest presence in Iraq is KBR, which was the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root until early 2007. KBR provides logistical support to US and Iraqi troops, and holds the single biggest contract in Iraq, employing nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include L-3 Corporation, which provides translators to troops, and engineering firm ITT. The companies that have drawn the most attention are the private security firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Erinys. Military policy experts say these contractors’ jobs should be done by servicemen, and point out the number of times security forces have engaged in firefights with Iraqi insurgents. “We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” says William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.” Others point to the almost-complete lack of governmental accountability; the Times notes that “[a]lthough scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2004] (See July 3, 2007 and July 5, 2007.)
Entity Tags: USAID, US Department of Labor, William Nash, Triple Canopy, ITT Corporation, Halliburton, Inc., Gary Motsek, Erinys, Blackwater USA, Kellogg, Brown and Root, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, L-3, Peter Singer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the Taliban’s top military commander, is killed in Afghanistan. The Telegraph claims that, “Since the Taliban’s ousting in late 2001, Dadullah emerged as probably the militant group’s most prominent and feared commander.” He often appeared in videos and media interviews. [Daily Telegraph, 5/14/2007] He is only the second high-ranking Taliban leader captured or killed since 9/11 (see December 19, 2006). ABC News claims that 36 hours before he was killed, Dadullah said in a videotaped interview that he was training US and British citizens to carry out suicide missions in their home countries. US officials claim to have tracked him from this interview in Quetta, Pakistan, back to a Taliban hiding base in Afghanistan, then carried out a helicopter assault against his base. [ABC News, 5/14/2007] The Taliban immediately announce that his younger brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, will be his replacement as the chief military strategist (see June 5, 2007). [CBC News, 5/14/2007]
Fort Huachuca [Source: Army]An FBI advisory is distributed in May 2007 to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the nation warning that up to 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists are to be smuggled into the US through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack an Arizona Army base. The alleged target, Fort Huachuca, is the nation’s largest intelligence-training center. It lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border and has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. Security measures are swiftly changed at the base in response to the threat, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times. The advisory warns that “a portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States [and]…the Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.” The FBI report on which the advisory is based points to the involvement of Mexican drug cartels, stating that each operative paid drug lords $20,000 “or the equivalent in weapons” for assistance in smuggling them and their weapons , including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, through tunnels along the border into the US. The advisory further warns that a number of the operatives are already in a safe house in Texas and some weapons have already been successfully smuggled into the US. The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to a “sub-source” in the drug cartels. This “sub-source” is allegedly “a member of the Zetas,” the military arm of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel, who identified the Sinaloa cartel as the organization involved in the plot. However, the advisory states that “this information is of unknown reliability,” while the DEA warns that the Gulf Cartel may be attempting to manipulate the US into acting against their rivals. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson says that the report is based on “raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted.” A Department of Homeland Security document on the possible attack states “based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible [and]…the identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated.” [Washington Times, 11/26/2007] The threat later proves to be unfounded. The attack never occurs and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, based in Phoenix, admits in November that the warning was the result of bad information. He says “a thorough investigation was conducted and there is no evidence showing that the threat was credible.” [Arizona Daily Star, 11/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Manuel Johnson, US Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Gulf Cartel, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Bresson, Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]
A high-ranking Taliban leader says that Osama bin Laden is alive and well. Mullah Bakht Mohammed (a.k.a. Mansoor Dadullah) says in an interview with Al Jazeera: “Sheikh Osama bin Laden is alive and active. He’s carrying out his duties. The latest proof that he is alive is that he sent me a letter of condolences after the martyrdom of my brother.” Bakht’s brother, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, was the Taliban’s top military commander, but was killed in May 2007 (see May 13, 2007), and Bakht immediately took his place. [Al Jazeera, 6/5/2007] In December 2007, the Taliban will announce that Bakht has been replaced as military commander due to insubordination. He will continue fighting for the Taliban however, and will be injured and captured by Pakistani forces near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in February 2008. [Associated Press, 2/11/2008]
Dan McNeill. [Source: US Department of Defense]Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticizes the rising number of civilians killed by NATO and US-led troops. “Innocent people are becoming victims of reckless operations,” he says. He says his Western allies are using “extreme” force without coordinating with his government first. He says, “You don’t fight a terrorist by firing a field gun [24 miles] away into a target. That’s definitely, surely bound to cause civilian casualties.” It is believed more civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in 2007 so far by Western allies than have been killed by the resurgent Taliban. [BBC, 6/23/2007] The Observer reports that senior British soldiers have expressed concerned that Gen. Dan McNeill, the new head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, is “‘a fan’ of the massive use of air power to defeat insurgents and that his favoured tactics could be counter-productive.” He has been dubbed “Bomber McNeill” by his critics. One British officer who recently returned from Afghanistan says, “Every civilian dead means five new Taliban. It’s a tough call when the enemy are hiding in villages, but you have to be very, very careful.” [Observer, 7/1/2007]
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan says in an interview: “Iraq was more than just a major distraction to Afghanistan. Huge resources were devoted to Iraq, which focused away from nation building in Afghanistan. The billions spent in Iraq were the billions that were not spent in Afghanistan.” Annan was the UN secretary general from 1997 until the end of 2006. [Rashid, 2008, pp. xli, 401]
It is reported that over 1,000 civilian private contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of hostilities in those countries. An additional 13,000 have been wounded. The casualty figures come from the Department of Labor. Civilians work in a number of areas in Iraq, from providing security and servicing weapons systems, to more mundane tasks such as logistics, construction, truck driving, and maintenance (see April 4, 2007). [Reuters, 3/7/2004] Roughly one contractor dies for every four members of the armed forces. But despite the risks, Americans are lining up for jobs in the two war zones, lured by the prospects of high pay and, for some, adventure. As of the end of April 2007, 224 of the killed contractors were US citizens. [Reuters, 3/7/2004]
Philip Kensinger. [Source: AP]According to Army officials, retired Lieutenant General Phillip Kensinger could face demotion for misleading testimony and false reporting in the case of Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan (see April 23, 2004). [Associated Press, 7/31/2007] In a memorandum condemning Kensinger’s administration of the Army’s investigation into Tillman’s death, Army Secretary Pete Geren states that Kensinger “compromised his duty to the acting secretary of the Army by providing a report including information he knew to be false.” He further accuses Kensinger of adding to the Tillman family’s grief in not carrying out the procedural policies of the Army and the Department of Defense regarding investigations into suspected friendly fire deaths. [Associated Press, 7/31/2007]
In October 2007, Fox News military commentator Col. David Hunt claims that in August 2007, the US military had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden, but did not. “We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty—which is huge in the world of intelligence” that bin Laden was in a convoy heading south from Tora Bora. He claims that bin Laden was seen on satellite imagery and heard through communications intercepts. “We had the world’s best hunters/killers—SEAL Team 6—nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist.” But, “[u]nbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Osama bin Laden.” He blames risk-aversion and incompetence for the failure to act. His account has not been corroborated by other sources. [Fox News, 10/23/2007]
A secret US government document from this month called the “Joint Task Force Guantanamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants” calls the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, a terrorist organization. The ISI is listed with al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah as threats. The document is meant for interrogators at the Guantanamo prison who are trying to determine which detainees to release. It suggests that any link to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist activity, and evidence the detainee poses a future threat. The US has never officially declared the ISI a terrorist group, suggesting its public posture differs from its private one for political reasons. After this and other Guantanamo documents are leaked to The Guardian in 2011, The Guardian will report: “The revelation that the ISI is considered as much of a threat as al-Qaeda and the Taliban will cause fury in Pakistan. It will further damage the already poor relationship between US intelligence services and their Pakistani counterparts, supposedly key allies in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants in south Asia.” The newspaper will further note that although the document is from 2007, it is unlikely the ISI’s status at Guantanamo has changed by 2011. Other Guantanamo documents leaked to The Guardian describe instances where the ISI helped US efforts, but also instances where the ISI was seen helping Islamist militants. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
The Washington Post reports, “Today, al-Qaeda operates much the way it did before 2001. The network is governed by a shura, or leadership council, that meets regularly and reports to bin Laden, who continues to approve some major decisions, according to a senior US intelligence official. About 200 people belong to the core group and many receive regular salaries, another senior US intelligence official said.” This second official adds, “They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organization and not just as a loose bunch of guys.” Most of this core group is believed to be in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] It has been estimated that there were roughly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives around 9/11, but only a core of about 200 had pledged loyalty to bin Laden (see Just Before September 11, 2001).
Alexis Debat. [Source: PBS]Conservative security consultant Alexis Debat, a former French military official often used by ABC News and other US media outlets, admits that he published an interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama that he never conducted. In the interview, Obama supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” and that the US has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat claims that he signed off on the article, published in the Summer 2007 issue of the French magazine Politique Internationale, but did not write it, instead farming it out to a freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, and having it published under Debat’s name. Sherman concocted the interview, says Debat, who says both he and Obama are victims. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007] “Rob Sherman asked me to remove his name from the interview, and my mistake was to put my name on it,” says Debat. [ABC News, 9/12/2007] “I was scammed. I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.” [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
Greenspan: No Such Interview - Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on September 7 that an interview with him, conducted by Debat and published in the same magazine, also never happened. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
Many US Officials Also Not Interviewed - Hours after Obama’s campaign disavowed the Debat interview, numerous other US politicians and business figures also say they were victimized by fake interviews supposedly conducted by Debat. Those figures include former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Politique Internationale editor Patrick Wajsman says “This guy is just sick,” and says his magazine is removing all of Debat’s work from its Web site. Annan’s deputy communications director, Stephane Dujarric, says he warned the magazine that the Annan interview was a fabrication back in June 2005, and said that if the magazine published it—which it did—Annan’s office would “denouce the interview as a fake. This was not some obscure guy. This was the sitting secretary-general of the UN, and the magazine was told it was a fake.” Nevertheless, ABC News and Politique Internationale continued to rely on Debat as a source of information and a regular contributor of “interviews” with a variety of influential Americans. The magazine published a second interview with Annan earlier this year, but it, too, was a fabrication, apparently culled from a speech Annan gave at Princeton University. Wajsman calls the publications of the Annan interviews either a “technical” error or a misunderstanding. “I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman says. So why did Wajsman continue to rely on Debat after the UN protests? “Everybody can be trusted once,” Wajsman says. “He seemed to be well-connected in Washington, working for ABC and the Nixon Center.” Debat admits he never interviewed any of the above-named figures, but explains: “The magazine asked me to send questions. They got the answers, and then I edited and translated them and put my name on it.” Wajsman retorts, “That is an outright lie.” [ABC News, 9/13/2007]
Debat Frequent Source of Unreliable Information on Iran - Debat has been a frequent source of incendiary information and commentary about the US’s need to invade Iran; on September 2, The Times of London published commentary from Debat in which he claimed the US is planning massive, systematic air strikes against Iran, and called it a “very legitimate strategic calculus” (see Late August, 2007). Recent reports have claimed that an organized campaign to insert reports and commentary in the US and European media drumming up support for a US attack against Iran is being orchestrated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
Debat Falsified University Record - Debat’s other reports are now being scrutinized for possible fabrications. ABC News fired Debat in June 2007 after finding that Debat lied about his background: Debat claimed he has a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, when in fact he does not. (Debat claims he earned his Ph.D, but the university hasn’t granted him the degree because of an “administrative issue.”) ABC’s chief investigative reporter Brian Ross, who has worked closely with Debat and has high praise for his work, now says: “I was angry with him because it called into question, of course, everything he had done. He could never satisfy us that he had the Ph.D.… I was very upset.” Debat has specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the last six years. ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schnieder says that while it has so far verified all of Debat’s reporting: “There are some very serious questions about exactly who he is and how he works. We want nothing more than to get to the absolute bottom of that.” Debat directed the terrorism and national security program from Washington’s Nixon Center, a conservative think tank set up by former President Richard Nixon. He wrote for the conservative political journal National Interest, which is chaired by Henry Kissinger. Debat has now resigned both positions. His position as a regular contributor to Politique Internationale has also probably ended, Debat admits. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
'Never Spoke with Your Alexis What's-His-Name' - The French magazine Rue 89 exposed Debat earlier this week, calling him a “strange character” and questioning his credibility. It interviewed the purported freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, who is not a journalist but a radio talk show host in Chicago; according to Sherman, he “never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name.” It also reports that Debat once claimed to have earned a Ph.D from Edenvale University, in Britain, an institution that does not exist. He has also claimed to be the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, which denies Debat ever worked with it; he has appeared on French television news claiming to be a former social worker and to be a former French commando who fought against Serbian soldiers in Yugoslavia, claims which have not been confirmed. As for his service in the French military, the French government confirms that Debat indeed held a desk job in its Ministry of Defense for a few months. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
'Lone Wolf' or Disinformation Source? - Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch observes: “[T]here are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.” [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
ABC News Also to Blame - Reporter Laura Rozen, a regular contributor to numerous high-end US media outlets such as the Boston Globe and Mother Jones, is unforgiving of both Debat and ABC News: “My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter… is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too.… Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex-NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.… [D]id ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose ‘consultant?’ How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? [If] Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I find it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it’s kosher.” [Laura Rozen, 9/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Politique Internationale, Philadelphia Daily News, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Will Bunch, Stephane Dujarric, Patrick Wajsman, William Gates, Nixon Center, Richard M. Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, Brian Ross, Barack Obama, ABC News, Alexis Debat, Alan Greenspan, French Ministry of Defense, Colin Powell, Nancy Pelosi, Laura Rozen, London Times, Jeffrey Schnieder, Henry A. Kissinger, Kofi Annan
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
David Miliband (L), Manouchehr Mottaki (R). [Source: Press TV]Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticizes ongoing talks between British officials and the Taliban in Afghanistan, characterizing them as the wrong approach. “Such moves indicate the continuation of the wrong policies which will only strengthen the Taliban and undermine Afghanistan’s government,” he says at a meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband in New York. He also slams Britain’s counter-narcotics efforts, pointing out that the production of narcotics has been increasing in Afghanistan despite British presence in areas of the country central to opium production, such as Helmand province. [Press TV, 10/2/2007]
After almost five years in US custody, Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002) is charged with attempted murder in violation of the law of war and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Jawad is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade into a US military vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, but denies the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former United Nations high representative and European Union special representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, says that international forces are unlikely to win the war in Afghanistan, risking to set off a regional conflict that could match the scale and magnitude of World Wars I and II. “I think we are losing in Afghanistan now, we have lost I think and success is now unlikely,” Ashdown says in an interview with Reuters. “Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this (failure) to match this magnitude,” he says. Ashdown warns that failure of international forces in Afghanistan would have wider repercussions than any loss in Iraq. “I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite, Sunni regional war on a grand scale.” Ashdown then ties impending catastrophe in Afghanistan with the lack of a powerful, high-level coordinator to lead the foreign mission there. “Unless somebody has the power genuinely to coordinate and unify the international approach, we will lose and I think that is happening,” he says. Ashdown, who currently heads the EU-Russia Centre think tank in Brussels, has been tipped and promoted for such a role by some US and UK officials, but says he has ruled himself out of the job. [Reuters, 10/17/2007] Ashdown will later interview for the position of United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan. However, Afghan president Hamid Karzai will oppose Ashdown’s candidacy, forcing him to withdraw his name from consideration, something he will say he did “reluctantly.” [UN Elections.org, 1/30/2008]
Administration of Torture book cover. [Source: Public domain]American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh publish the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. In their book, Jaffer and Singh use over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to detail the sometimes-horrific conditions under which suspected terrorists are detained by the US government. The book spans detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The book’s central thesis is, according to the ACLU’s press release for the book, “that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior US officials, both military and civilian,” including President Bush himself. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007] “[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jaffer and Singh. Some of the prisoners “abused, tortured, and killed” were not even terror suspects, the authors show. [Raw Story, 10/22/2007] The book grew out of a long, difficult battle by the ACLU and several other such organizations to secure records pertaining to detainees held by the US in other countries (see October 7, 2003). The book shows a starkly different reality than the picture painted by the Bush administration’s repeated disavowals of torture, a reality established by the government’s own documentation. The administration has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that the torture and abuse so well documented at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated, unusual set of incidents that was not repeated at other US detention facilities. The documentation compiled by Jaffer and Singh prove that claim to be a lie: “This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” Beatings, kickings, and all manner of abuses have routinely occurred at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book states. Autopsy reports show that numerous prisoners in US custody have died due to strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force trauma. Documents from Guantanamo, a facility where Bush officials have repeatedly claimed that the “excesses” of Abu Ghraib were never implemented, show that Guantanamo detainees were regularly “shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.” And, perhaps most damningly for the administration, government documents show that top White House and Pentagon officials were not only well aware of the scope of the abuse months before the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were broadcast to the public, but that torture and abuse are part of the administration’s policy towards detainees. “[T]he maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,” Jaffer and Singh write. “These decisions… were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the face of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners… were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.… The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy—sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”
The book presents a number of damning claims, all backed by extensive documentation, including the following: [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
General Michael Dunlavey, who oversaw prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and considered former camp commander Brigadier General Rick Baccus too soft on the detainees [BBC, 10/16/2002] , and who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for the camp, claimed that he received his “marching orders” from Bush.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner named Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). Al-Khatani was “stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks.” It is not clear just what being “personally involved” entails. Rumsfeld did not himself authorize such methods, but according to the investigator who documented the al-Khatani abuse session, Rumsfeld “failed to place a ‘throttle’ over abusive ‘applications’ of the ‘broad techniques’ that he did authorize….”
Interrogators who used abusive ‘SERE’ (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods (see December 2001).
FBI personnel complained of abuses at Guantanamo; these instances of abuse were authorized by the chain of command within the Defense Department.
Some of the most disturbing interrogation methodologies displayed in photos from Abu Ghraib were used at Guantanamo, with the endorsement of Rumsfeld, and that Major General Geoffrey Miller’s aggressive plan to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense officials.
Bush and his senior officials have always insisted that abuse and torture was limited to a few unauthorized soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Yet a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos appeared in the press, the US Army knew of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which had no relation to Abu Ghraib.
The Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old.
The Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. Special Forces units held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Rick Baccus, Mohamed al-Khatani, Michael E. Dunlavey, Geoffrey D. Miller, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
On November 25, 2007, the London Times publishes an article about Luai Sakra, an al-Qaeda leader imprisoned in Turkey who allegedly was also a CIA informant before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). The Times reports, “According to Sakra, [9/11 hijacker] Nawaf Alhazmi was a veteran operative who went on to pilot the plane that hit the Pentagon [Flight 77]. Although this is at odds with the official account, which says the plane was flown by another hijacker, it is plausible and might answer one of the mysteries of 9/11,” namely, why the FBI claims Hani Hanjour was the pilot of that plane, when many reports suggest Hanjour was a bad pilot. [London Times, 11/25/2007] Although none of the official accounts such as the 9/11 Commission report claim that Alhazmi was a pilot, there is considerable evidence to suggest that he was:
In December 1999, Alhazmi was taught how to use a computer flight simulator program while in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see Early December 1999).
On April 4, 2000, Alhazmi took one day’s worth of flying lessons, and his instructor later claims he did quite well and was already almost capable of taking off and landing on his own (see April 4, 2000).
One month later, he took a second one day flying lesson, however his instructor will later call him “dumb” and unskilled (see May 5 and 10, 2000).
Near the end of 2000, he told two unconnected associates that he was in Arizona and learning to fly with Hanjour (see (December 2000-January 2001)).
On March 19, 2001, he bought flight deck videos for Boeing 747s and a Boeing 777 (see November 5, 2000-June 20, 2001).
On March 23, 2001, he bought an aeronautical chart covering the northeastern US (see March 23, 2001).
In July 2001, he and Hanjour appear to have rented an aircraft together in New Jersey. Alhazmi’s credit card was used to pay for the aircraft rental, as well as fuel in Maryland (a072001haninawafflight).
Neighbors will later claim that just days before the 9/11 attacks, Alhazmi was practicing flying on a computer flight simulator program. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/14/2001]
In 2002, al-Qaeda associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh will claim in an interview several months before his arrest that Alhazmi was one of the 9/11 pilots.
The Taliban’s former chief spokesman, Mullah Mohammad Is’haq Nizami, reveals that talks are being held between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and key lieutenants of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mullah Nizami says that he has been relaying messages for months from Kabul to Mullah Omar’s aides in the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s ruling council based in Pakistan. The Quetta Shura is thought to be responsible for orchestrating attacks across the border in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan. The disclosure contradicts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s carefully worded statement to Parliament a day earlier insisting that no negotiations would be held with Taliban leaders. “We are not negotiating with the leadership, but we want to support President Karzai in his efforts at reconciliation. If he is successful in bringing across those members of the insurgency who then declare that they will give up fighting and support democracy and be part of the system, then these are efforts at reconciliation that are important to the future of the whole country,” Brown states during a session of prime minister’s questions. Mullah Nizami, who also ran the regime’s radio station Voice of Sharia until 2001, says that the negotiations aim to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. “Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taliban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate,” he says. Nizami fled to Pakistan in 2001 when the Taliban regime collapsed, but returned to Kabul under an ongoing reconciliation programme in an effort to open talks. Mullah Nazimi further explains that the Taliban want to take part in the Afghan government, want sharia law instituted, and want the withdrawal of international forces. The Belfast Telegraph reports that talks will continue “under the table” until the two sides can agree on something warranting a public announcement. The Independent reports that the British government was prepared to admit that the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had taken place and that dialogue should be opened with Taliban leaders, but Gordon Brown changed his mind just before prime minister’s questions on December 12, denying any negotiations with Taliban leadership. Brown’s denial is further contradicted by a report that British MI6 agents had engaged in secret talks with the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent leaders in Helmand Province earlier this summer (see Summer 2007). [Independent, 12/12/2007; Belfast Telegraph, 12/13/2007]
British military sources tout the success of secret meetings and negotiations held with elements of the Taliban, claiming that direct contact has led insurgents to change sides and has provided intelligence leading to the deaths of key insurgent commanders. But critics, such as officials within the Afghan government, argue that the tactics—including the use of bribes for information—undermine democracy and allow the Taliban a back door back into power. In addition, Afghan military sources claim that insurgents are using coalition forces to settle scores with rivals. American officials say the policy of engagement by the British has led to serious mistakes, such as the agreement reached in Musa Qala in February under which British forces were withdrawn in return for tribal elders pledging to keep the Taliban out. The Taliban quickly occupied the town and held it for seven months. The Independent also reports that the Taliban has killed and tortured insurgents, children included, who were seen to be collaborating with British and the Afghan governments. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government continues to officially deny Britain has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban. [Independent, 12/14/2007]
An eight year old boy killed by a drone strike in Makeen, South Waziristan. He is covered in flowers for his funeral. [Source: Noor Behram / Associated Press]Noor Behram, a local photographer, begins to document the effects of the US campaign of drone attacks in North and South Warizistan in 2008. His work involves arriving at the site of an attack, helping any search for survivors, and then documenting what has happened by photographing bodies or their remains. According to Behram, who has reached the sites of 60 attacks, the amount of civilian casualties is high. “For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant,” he will say in a 2011 interview with The Guardian. “I don’t go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed.” This number is in conflict with claims made by US and Pakistani authorities. Behram adds that the strikes are radicalizing the locals, saying: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims. The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.” An exhibition of Behram’s work will be put on in London in mid-2011. [Guardian, 7/11/2011]
The Canadian press reports that the casualty rate among Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is far higher than that of American and British soldiers in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Canadian troops are stationed in and around the city of Kandahar, one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers die at a rate of 2.6 to four times higher than their British and American counterparts in Afghanistan, and at a rate 2.6 times higher than American soldiers in Iraq. Proportionately, Canadians are dying at a faster rate in Afghanistan than through most of World War II. Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Robertson, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says, “Kandahar province is very different from even Helmand province next door,” where British troops are stationed. “It’s a totally different threat environment. We are in the former heartland of the Taliban, and obviously they have resorted to tactics designed to force casualties among civilians and security forces whenever possible.” Some experts believe that the heavy casualty rates among Canadians is partly traceable to the Canadians’ lack of heavy-transport helicopters; as a result, they are forced to rely more on ground transportation, where the threat of roadside bombs and ambushes is constantly present. Canada has lost a total of 74 soldiers since joining the US and Britain in Afghanistan. [Canada National Post, 1/4/2008]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. [Source: TV2 Norway]Militants attack a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, with machine guns and a suicide bomber. Six people are killed and six more are injured. The suicide bomber blows himself up and one of the machine gunners is killed, and two other attackers apparently escape. The target is the Serena Hotel, a heavily guarded five-star hotel frequented by Westerners. A Norwegian journalist and a US citizen are among those killed. A Taliban spokesperson immediately takes credit for the attack. [BBC, 1/15/2008] Months later, the New York Times will report that the attack was actually masterminded by a leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, which is largely based in Pakistan. The leader is not named, but Sirajuddin Haqqani will later boast in an interview that he planned the attack (see March 25, 2009). According to the Times: “Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, [top leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence [the ISI] and still enjoys their protection.” In a video, Jalaluddin boasts of his role in an attack on a hotel, which presumably is the Serena Hotel attack, as well as boasting of other attacks. Jalaluddin is Sirajuddin’s father. [New York Times, 6/17/2008]
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. [Independent, 2/12/2008] The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Entity Tags: Vincent Warren, US Department of Defense, Khallad bin Attash, Daniel Pearl, Clive Stafford Smith, John McCain, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Thomas Hartmann, Center for Constitutional Rights, Ramzi Yousef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), is arraiged before a military commission. Jawad refuses to accept the assistance of his military counsel, Air Force Major David Frakt, says he knows of no civilian lawyer who would represent him, and says he does not wish to represent himself. Jawad tells the court he has no desire to continue the proceedings. The judge rules that Frakt will continue to represent Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
President Bush, in a videoconference with US military and civilian personnel on the problems in Afghanistan, says that he is “envious” of those working in the war-torn country. “I must say, I’m a little envious,” he says. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.… It must be exciting for you… in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.” [Reuters, 3/13/2008] As of March 12, 2008, at least 418 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostilities there. [Associated Press, 3/12/2008]
The US is unable to find more troops to send to Afghaninstan, due to the war in Iraq. On April 10, 2008, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tells a Congressional committee: “I’m deeply concerned. In this economy of force operation, we do what we can. Requirements exist that we simply cannot fill and won’t likely be able to fill until conditions improve in Iraq.” The US would like to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the growing Taliban resistance there, but the US is unwilling to divert forces from Iraq due to renewed violence there, and NATO allies remain unwilling to send more troops as well. A study by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group funded by the European Commission, reports that there were 704 insurgent attacks causing 463 civilian deaths from January through March of 2008, compared with 424 attacks causing 264 civilian deaths during the same months in 2007. US officials privately admit that their estimates are similar. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/15/2008]
Speaking before a public hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, “We were attacked from Afghanistan in 2001 and we are at war in Afghanistan today in no small measure because of mistakes this government made—mistakes I, among others, made—in the end game of the anti-Soviet war there some 20 years ago.” [US Department of Defense, 4/10/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that confirm the military’s use of illegal interrogation methods on detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, are from an Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a stop to these systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” In the CID reports, Special Operations officers in Gardez, Afghanistan, admitted to using what are known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques, which for decades American service members experienced as training to prepare for the brutal treatment they might face if captured (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). At least eight prisoners in custody at Gardez were beaten, burned, and doused with cold water before being placed into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in US custody (see March 16, 2003). Subsequent investigations ignored numerous witness statements describing torture; Naseer was eventually declared dead due to a “stomach ailment.” The documents also provide evidence showing that prisoners were sodomized. “These documents raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse,” says Singh. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2008]
The Washington Post reports that at least two dozen current and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay claim that they were given drugs against their will, or witnessed other inmates being drugged. These detainees believe that they were drugged in order to force confessions of terrorist ties from them (see 2002-2005). The CIA and the Defense Department deny using drugs in their interrogations, and suggest that such claims are either lies or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.
Claims Bolstered by Justice Department Memo - But the claims are bolstered by the recent revelation of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees (see March 14, 2003). The memo, written by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, reversed a decades-old US ban on the use of “mind-altering substances” on prisoners. Instead, Yoo wrote, drugs could indeed be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or “profound” psychological damage. US law “does not preclude any and all use of drugs,” Yoo wrote. The claims are also given weight by a 2004 statement from the commander of a detention facility in Afghanistan, who alluded to the CIA drugging detainees (see February 2004).
Drugging Detainees a Gross Violation of Anti-Torture Treaties - Legal experts and human rights groups are calling for a full accounting, including release of detailed prison medical records. They say that forcing drugs on detainees for non-medical reasons is a particularly serious violation of international treaties banning torture. Medical ethics expert Leonard Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, says: “The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical. These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice.” Scott Allen, the co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, says that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to interrogate or subjugate prisoners. Any such use “would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine.… The involvement of physicians and other health professionals in such a program would be a profound betrayal of medical trust and needs to be investigated further.” The Geneva Conventions do not specifically refer to drugs, but they ban any use of force or coercion in interrogating prisoners of war. Law professor Barbara Olshansky, the author of a book on military tribunals, says: “If you’re talking about interrogations, you’re talking about very specific prohibitions that mean you cannot use any force, at all, to interrogate someone. The law is beyond clear.”
Team of Guards Present - When inmates were injected or forced to take pills, former detainees claim, the personnel administering the drugs were always accompanied by a squad of specially equipped guards known as the “Immediate Reaction Force” to handle any possible violent reactions from the drugged inmates. One former detainee who was later released without charge, Ruhel Ahmed, recalls that the guards wore padded gear and “forced us to have injections.” Ahmed recalls, “You are not allowed to refuse it and you don’t know what it is for.” He says he was given about a dozen injections, which “had the effect of making me feel very drowsy.”
No Solid Evidence of Claims - No evidence of such drugging is known to the public, outside of detainee claims of effects from the injections that range from unnatural drowsiness to full-blown hallucinations. Former US intelligence officials have acknowledged giving sedatives to terror suspects before transporting them from one facility to another (see May 1, 2002). Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who attempted without success to resist the Bush administration’s decision to use harsh interrogation tactics against detainees (see December 17-18, 2002), says he knows of no instances where detainees were drugged as part of their questioning. However, he adds, the detainees “knew they were being injected with something, and it is clear from all accounts that some suffered severe psychological damage.” Emi MacLean, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization which represents dozens of current and former detainees, says that many former detainees have clear and disturbing memories of being forcibly drugged. “Many speak about forced medication at Guantanamo without knowledge about what medication they were being forced to take,” MacLean says. “For some released [military] detainees, the forced medication they experienced was the most traumatic part” of their captivity. Other detainees have claimed, in interviews and statements provided by their lawyers, to have had injections and/or pills forcibly administered to them. One former detainee, French national Mourad Benchellali, says that during his three years at Guantanamo he was given treatments that were described to him as antibiotics or vitamins, yet they left him in what he describes as a mental fog. “These medicines gave us headaches, nausea, drowsiness,” Benchellali recalls. “But the effects were different for different detainees. Some fainted or threw up. Some had reactions such as pimples.” Other injections, often administered by force, left him and other detainees nauseated and light-headed, he says. “We were always tired and always felt groggy.” Detainee Moazzam Begg says that he believes he was given legitimate medications, but in improper dosages by poorly trained prison workers. Once, while being treated with pills for a panic attack, he began to hallucinate. “I saw things moving when they were not,” he recalls. “I talked to myself. I cried, laughed and sat immobile in a corner for hours. All of this was noted by the MPs and recorded.”
Use of Hallucinogens on Recalcitrant Prisoners? - Benchellali says that a different type of injection was used on detainees who were particularly uncooperative. His recollections are echoed by statements from four other detainees. “The injection would make them crazy,” he recalls. “They would have a crisis or dementia—yelling, no longer sleeping, soiling themselves. Some of us suspected they were given LSD.” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney J. Wells Dixon says the government seems to have given drugs to detainees whose extended captivity made them distraught or rebellious. “Many of these men have become desperately suicidal,” Dixon says. “And the government’s response has been to administer more medication, often without the consent of the prisoners.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, Alberto Mora, Emi MacLean, J. Wells Dixon, Mourad Benchellali, Scott Allen, Physicians for Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Moazzam Begg, US Department of Justice, Leonard Rubinstein, US Department of Defense, Rhuhel Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Hamid Karzai on parade, April 27, 2008. [Source: massoud_hossaini_afp_getty]On April 27, 2008, there is an attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as assailants fire guns and mortars towards him, scores of senior officials, and foreign diplomats during a military parade in downtown Kabul. Karzai escapes unharmed, but three Afghans are killed, including a member of parliament. Two months later, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency accuses the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of organizing the assassination. The agency claims that phone calls from the cell phones of those arrested show a Pakistan link. Investigators suspect one assassin tried to call his supervisor in Pakistan from a nearby hotel to ask for instructions because he could not get a clear shot at Karzai from the hotel window. Investigators believe Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader based in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan with long-time ISI ties, instigated the plot. Karzai’s spokesman makes the same accusation against the ISI more obliquely, “Evidence shows the hallmark of a particular foreign intelligence agency which we believe was behind this attack.” [Agence France-Presse, 6/25/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Regardless of the intention of the military to “minimize” its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002 and January 19, 2007), which forces US soldiers to remain deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan for months after their term of duty has expired, the number of soldiers affected by the policy has increased by 43 percent in the last year, and Army officials say the stop-loss program will remain in effect through at least the fall of 2009. Some officials say that the number of troops affected by stop-loss orders will fall as “surge” troops (see January 10, 2007) redeploy. Currently, over 12,230 soldiers are being prevented from returning home even though their commitments to the Army have expired. That number was 8,540 in May 2007. Since 2002, about 58,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss policies. “As the [war zone] demand comes down, we should be able to get us weaned off stop-loss,” says Lieutenant General James Thurman. Stop-loss policies forbid active-duty soldiers within 90 days of retirement or obligated service from leaving the Army if they are in units alerted for deployment. Reservists and National Guard members are barred from leaving if their units have been alerted for mobilization. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Army and other branches of service to “minimize” their use of stop-loss, the number of soldiers affected has increased since Gates’s orders were issued in January 2007. [Army Times, 5/5/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, who has been detained at Guantanamo since age 16 (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), is beaten so badly by guards that weeks later he still has what Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will describe as “extreme bruises on his arms, knees, shoulders, forehead, and ribs.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), agrees to participate in his trial (see March 12, 2008), but authorizes his defense counsel, Major David Frakt, only to represent him for the purpose of challenging the legitimacy of the military commission system. Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been punished for his behavior at his arraignment (see March 12, 2008) by the loss of certain “comfort items,” including his only blanket. Frakt asks that the blanket and other items be returned to Jawad, asks for a mental health evaluation (see December 2003), and for changes in Jawad’s conditions of confinement. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] At some point in May, presumably after the hearing, Jawad will be severely beaten by his guards (see May 2008).
UN rights envoy Philip Alston says that foreign intelligence agents leading Afghan units are operating with impunity in Afghanistan and are responsible for killing innocent civilians in numerous secret raids. Alston, a special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council, slams the operations as “absolutely unacceptable,” and says that foreign officials have dodged responsibility when confronted on the allegations. “It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” says Alston. While not specifying the intelligence agencies involved, Alston implies American involvement, mentioning one raid in January conducted by Afghans and personnel from US special forces based in Kandahar that killed two Afghan brothers. Alston’s sources of information include senior government ministers, the chief justice, the Afghan intelligence chief, international military commanders, members of civic groups, and tribal elders. “Based on my discussions, there is no reason to doubt that at least some of these units are led by personnel belonging to international intelligence services,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/15/2008]
In a panel discussion hosted by PBS’s Bill Moyers, journalist Jonathan Landay, discussing the US war in Afghanistan, notes that the vast majority of media coverage has been granted to the Iraq occupation. The war in Afghanistan is largely forgotten by the media, or merely rolled into Iraq coverage. Landay notes that Afghanistan is “a far more serious threat for US national security than Iraq is.” Similarly, the media rarely reports on the dire terrorist threats centered in the tribal areas of Pakistan. “[T]his is a black hole virtually which the United States is deeply involved in that we don’t see a lot of meaningful, I mean, in-depth coverage of,” he says. [PBS, 6/6/2008]
A group of German civil rights lawyers files a lawsuit against the German government, demanding that the government attempt to extradite 13 CIA agents named in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen. Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). He was flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and abused for months. El-Masri says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and told that he was the victim of mistaken identity (see May 29, 2004). No government or body has yet taken responsibility for el-Masri’s kidnapping and brutalization. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials have refused to address the case, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the US acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
Accountability - “We are demanding accountability” with the lawsuit, says attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. For himself, el-Masri says, “I just want the German government to acknowledge what happened to me.” An American judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by el-Masri against the CIA and three US corporations in 2006 (see May 18, 2006). In January 2007, German prosecutors issued warrants for the arrests of 13 CIA agents, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm. The US Justice Department refused the requests, citing “American national interests,” and the German Ministry of Justice dropped the request. The lawsuit seeks to force the German government to reconsider extradition for the CIA agents.
Extraordinary Rendition - According to human rights organizations, el-Masri’s case is an example of “extraordinary rendition,” where the US takes suspected terrorists to foreign countries where they are subjected to abuse and torture. A criminal lawsuit against CIA officers in conjunction with the el-Masri case is also ongoing in Macedonia; that case could end up before the European Court of Human Rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a petition on el-Masri’s behalf through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body that seeks to establish international laws. [Associated Press, 6/9/2008]
A blasted vehicle in front of the prison. [Source: Allauddin Khan / Associated Press]A suicide truck bomber hits the front gate of the Sarposa Prison, south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. A second suicide bomber on foot hits the back wall of the prison a short time later. Then, about 30 Taliban on motorbikes rush into the prison, killing nine guards and freeing the prisoners. Between 900 to 1,100 prisoners escape, including about 400 Taliban militants. Minibuses waiting at the front of the prison then drive many of the escaped prisoners away, while the rest flee on foot. [Associated Press, 6/14/2008] A US official says no internationally recognized Taliban leaders were in the prison, but some significant mid-level fighters did escape. Officials also say the attack is noteworthy “because of the evident planning behind it and the skill with which it was carried out—a demonstration of the Taliban’s ability to carry out complex and bold operations with modest manpower.” [Newsweek, 6/17/2008] The provincial police chief of Kandahar, the local head of the intelligence agency, and the head of police criminal investigations are fired several days later for negligence. It is not alleged that any of them helped stage the escape. [BBC, 6/26/2008]
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed. Major David Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been subjected to a harsh regime of sleep deprivation nicknamed the “frequent flyer program.” Records show that Jawad was moved from one cell to another 112 times over the period of two weeks, with guards shackling, moving, and unshackling him for an average of once every two hours and 50 minutes. Frakt tells the court that Jawad had attempted suicide months before. The military commission judge refuses to dismiss the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Members of the Frontier Corps near Shakai, in the region of South Waziristan, in August 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir / Reuters / Corbis]The British newspaper The Observer reports that the Frontier Corps, a Pakistani government paramilitary force operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan, sometimes join in attacks on US-led forces in Afghanistan. The article alleges there are “box loads” of after-action reports compiled after armed clashes near the border, detailing the Frontier Corps working with the Taliban and other allied militants. Some attacks are launched so close to Frontier Corps outposts that Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban is assumed. There has been a dramatic increase in cross-border incidents compared to the same time the year before. An anonymous US official says: “The United States and NATO have substantial information on this problem. It’s taking place at a variety of places along the border with the Frontier Corps giving direct and indirect assistance. I’m not saying it is everyone. There are some parts that have been quite helpful… but if you have seen the after-action reports of their involvement in attacks along the Afghan border you would appreciate the problem.” The US government continues to downplay such incidents, worried about its relationship with the Pakistani government. A NATO spokesman says: “The real concern is that the extremists in Pakistan are getting safe havens to rest, recuperate and retool in Pakistan and come across the border. The concerns have been conveyed to the Pakistan authorities.” [Observer, 6/22/2008]
US intelligence allegedly discovers that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and a faction of the Taliban are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan. US intelligence is intercepting Pakistani government communications in an attempt to find out if the Pakistani government is still supporting militants fights US soldiers in Afghanistan. Communications intercepts already revealed an active link between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani (see May 2008). According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, new intercepts at this time show that the ISI is working to carry out a spectacular bombing in Afghanistan. But apparently, the exact target is not known. Two weeks later, the Indian Embassy in Kabul will be bombed (see July 7, 2008). Afterwards, the US will accuse the ISI and the Haqqani network of plotting the bombing, mostly based on these intercepts from before the bombing (see July 28, 2008 and August 1, 2008). [London Times, 2/17/2009]
Polish intelligence warns India and the US that the Taliban are likely to attack the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The embassy will be bombed one week later, killing 54 (see July 7, 2008). The document giving the warning is entitled, “Threat Report… Threat to Indian Embassy.” It is based on information received one day earlier. It states, “Taliban are planning to carry out an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul.” It goes on to describe how a suicide bomber plans to use a stolen Afghan government car and stolen uniform to get past security. The document will be publicly leaked in 2010 as part of a massive WikiLeaks release of US documents relating to the US war in Afghanistan. [Press Trust of India, 7/27/2010] It is unclear how or where Polish intelligence got this information. US intelligence apparently learns around this time that the Taliban and ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan (see Late June 2008). However, it appears that India acts on at least one of the warnings, because the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan will later say that India took extra security measures in the weeks before the bombings because “we were expecting trouble.” Most importantly, sand-filled blast barriers are placed around the main embassy building. That, plus the quick action of security guards, will prevent the bomber from getting closer to the building, and thus reduce the number of lives lost. [Associated Press, 7/9/2008]
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org. [Source: New York Times] (click image to enlarge)It is reported that June 2008 was the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the US invaded that country in late 2001. There were 28 US combat deaths there that month, which nearly equals the 29 US combat deaths in Iraq in the same month. A total of 46 soldiers in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed in June, the highest monthly total of the war. There have been 533 US combat deaths since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, began in late 2001 (but this number includes deaths in the region outside of Afghanistan). Top US commanders say that the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with the previous year. US officials and Afghanistan experts say the increasing soldier death toll is a sign of the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says: “What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective. It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved.” [Washington Post, 7/2/2008] The same day as the new peaks of soldier deaths in Afghanistan is front-page news in most US newspapers, President Bush announces that the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be increased by the end of 2008. However, he gives no details on exactly when or by how many. [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
A suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 54 people and injures 140 others. The main target appears to be a diplomatic convoy that had just entered the embassy gate, directly followed by the suicide truck. Among the dead are two senior Indian diplomats, including the military attaché, Brigadier Ravi Mehta. Many of those killed are people standing in line waiting for visas. [London Times, 8/3/2008] The Indian government received at least one warning about an attack on the embassy, and it took extra security precautions that helped reduce the loss of lives (see July 1, 2008). The Afghan interior ministry quickly asserts that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped the Taliban with the attack. A presidential spokesman states at a news conference, “The sophistication of this attack and the kind of material that was used in it, the specific targeting, everything has the hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past.” The Afghan government has asserted that the ISI is responsible for other attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in late April 2008 (see April 27, 2008). The Indian government also quickly blames the ISI and the Taliban. [Financial Times, 7/8/2008; Taipei Times, 7/9/2008] The Taliban deny involvement in the attack, but the New York Times notes that the Taliban usually deny involvement in attacks with a large number of civilian casualties. [New York Times, 7/8/2008] Less than a month later, US intelligence will accuse the ISI of helping a Taliban-linked militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani to plan the bombing (see August 1, 2008). President Bush will even directly threaten Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack is linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Aafia Siddique in Afghan custody on July 17, 2008. [Source: Associated Press]Aafia Siddiqui, a female Pakistani neuroscientist and alleged al-Qaeda operative, is arrested by Afghan police in the town of Ghazni, Afghanistan. Police reportedly also find bomb-making instructions, substances in bottles and jars, and papers describing US landmarks. There are conflicting accounts about what happens next:
US Government's Version - The next day, a group of US agents come to visit her, but she is being held unsecured in a room, hiding behind a curtain. One of the US agents puts his rifle down. She allegedly picks up the rifle to shoot at the group. She shoots twice and misses, while a US agent shoots back and hits her at least once. [CNN, 8/4/2008; Reuters, 8/5/2008]
Afghan Police Version - According to Reuters, “Afghan police in Ghazni however, [tell] a different story.” They claim that they find Siddiqui in Ghazni after reports of her behaving suspiciously. They find maps of the town, including one of the governor’s house, and arrest her and a teenage boy. US troops then request that she be handed over to them, but Afghan police refuse, according to a senior police officer there. US soldiers then disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approaches the US soldiers complaining of mistreatment by the police. The US soldiers, under the impression that she could have explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shoot her and take her away. The boy remains in Afghan police custody. [Reuters, 8/5/2008]
She is extradited to the US a couple of weeks later, where she is due to stand trial for attempting to murder the US agents. Siddiqui had lived and studied in the US for many years. She was in Pakistan in March 2003 when it was announced that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been arrested. She disappeared several days later (see Late September 2001-March 2003). The FBI issued an alert for her arrest, alleging that she had been an al-Qaeda sleeper agent in the US. There has been speculation that she had been secretly arrested by the US or Pakistan, and what happened to her since 2003 still remains a mystery. [CNN, 8/4/2008]
The 500th US soldier is killed in Afghanistan since the start of US military involvement there in late 2001. During the first three years of the war, about two-thirds of the US casualties were caused by non-hostile conditions such as illnesses and crashes. But since 2005, about 70 percent of casualties have taken place under hostile conditions. One hundred and eleven US soldiers were killed in 2007. This is the highest annual toll so far, but the rate for 2008 is much higher on average. Afghan security forces have suffered many more fatalities, but exact numbers are difficult to obtain. The Afghanistan Defense Ministry says nearly 600 Afghan soldiers were killed from March 2005 to March 2008. The Afghan Interior Ministry says 1,119 police officers were killed from March 2007 to March 2008. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
The New York Times reports that US intelligence agencies have concluded that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped plan the July 7, 2008, bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The attack was initially blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, and 54 people were killed (see July 7, 2008). It is said US intelligence intercepted communications between ISI officers and militants who took part in the attack. The communications were intercepted before the bombing, but apparently were not specific enough to stop the attack. Anonymous US officials would not specifically tell the Times what kind of assistance the ISI gave the bombers. However, it was noted that the ISI officers involved were not renegades, suggesting their actions could have been authorized by superiors. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] The US also claims to have arrested an ISI officer inside Afghanistan, apparently for a role in the attack, but who this person is and what their role exactly allegedly was remains unclear. India and Pakistan have been traditional enemies, and Pakistan is concerned about India’s influence in Afghanistan. Many Western intelligence officials have long suspected that the ISI gets aid from the US and its allies and then uses this support to help the militants the US is fighting. However, solid proof has been hard to find. However, one British official tells the London Times, “The Indian embassy bombing seems to have finally provided it. This is the smoking gun we’ve all been looking for.” [London Times, 8/3/2008] One State Department official similarly says of the bombing evidence, “It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held. It was sort of this ‘a-ha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.” US officials believe that the embassy bombing was probably carried out by members of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who in turn has close alliances with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US officials also say there is new evidence that ISI officials are increasingly providing militants with details about the US military campaign against them. In some cases, this has allowed militants to avoid US missile strikes in Pakistan. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] Several days before these accusations against the ISI were leaked to the press, British and US officials privately confronted Pakistani officials about the charges. President Bush even directly threatened Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack were linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s information minister, admits to journalists that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, still contains pro-Taliban operatives. She says, “We need to identify these people and weed them out.” However, she later changes her statement, claiming that the problems were in the past and there will be no purge. [London Times, 8/3/2008] Her comment comes right as US intelligence accuses the ISI of involvement in a recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008).
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), again attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed (see June 19, 2008). Major David Frakt shows evidence that General Thomas Hartmann, the military commission’s chief legal adviser, had pressured Guantanamo prosecutors to charge his client (see January 13, 2009 and January 18, 2009). Judge Stephen Henley finds that Hartmann had indeed brought undue pressure to prosecute Jawad, and bars Hartmann from any further involvement in the case as Hartmann has demonstrated his inability to stay neutral. Henley also orders a top-level review of the charges against Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Henley will throw out the evidence against Jawad, ruling that Jawad’s confession was obtained through torture (see November 22, 2008).
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]
Angry Afghani citizens march in protest against the US air strike at Azizabad. [Source: Reuters]A series of US airstrikes kills over 90 civilians, mostly women and children, in the western Afghani province of Herat, according to an Afghan government investigation. Most of the deaths take place in and around the village of Azizabad. Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan Religious Affairs Minister, says the strikes, carried out by US, NATO, and Afghan forces, were planned to strike at a Taliban commander, but were not coordinated and did not kill any Taliban fighters. The US-led coalition claims 30 militants and no civilians died, a claim repudiated by Afghan officials and the United Nations. “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children, and elders have died,” says Shahrani. “Most are women and children.” President Hamid Karzai fires two senior Afghan army commanders in the area over the strikes, and sharply criticizes American and NATO military commanders for the errant air strikes. Shahrani says he intends to meet with US Special Forces commanders who were involved in the operation. “They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” he says. “So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.” Local residents engage in angry, grief-stricken demonstrations outside the blast zones. Such incidents, Shahrani says, have a “very bad impact” on the local populace. “It causes the people to distance themselves from the government.” The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, agrees, saying that such operations undermine the “trust and confidence of the Afghan people.” Karzai has ordered Shahrani’s team to pay 100,000 afghanis ($2,000) for each person killed. [Agence France-Presse, 8/24/2008; Financial Times, 8/26/2008] Karzai later says that the raid did not kill “a single Taliban” but caused serious harm to US-Afghan relations. A government spokesman will say that the US acted on false information provided by a rival tribe. A UN investigation later finds that 92 civilians died in the strikes. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008] Karzai says he will launch a “full review” of the agreements allowing US and NATO forces to operate in his country. “The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped,” the government says in a statement. “The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids.” [Financial Times, 8/26/2008]
Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, believes the US war strategy there is doomed to failure and that public opinion should primed for “an acceptable dictator” to be installed in Kabul, according to a leaked diplomatic cable sent by a French diplomat who met with Sir Sherard. The ambassador’s comments are recounted in a coded diplomatic dispatch sent by deputy French Ambassador to Kabul François Fitou to President Sarkozy and the Foreign Ministry. They are later published by the French investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. Claude Angeli, the veteran Canard journalist who reports the cable, says that he has a copy of the two-page decoded text, which is partially printed in facsimile in his newspaper. “It is quite explosive,” he tells the London Times. According to the leaked memo, Sir Sherard, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, tells Fitou that the only realistic outlook for Afghanistan would be the installation of “an acceptable dictator” within five or 10 years, and that public opinion should be primed for this. He says that Britain had no alternative to supporting the United States in Afghanistan despite the fact that the US-led NATO military operation was making things worse. “We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one,” he is quoted as saying. “In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan.… The American strategy is doomed to fail.” The French Foreign Ministry does not deny the existence of the cable but denounces its publication by Le Canard Enchaîné. Acknowledging that the meeting between Sir Sherard and Fitou did take place, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that the cable does not accurately reflect the ambassador’s views. Sources in the British government say the French account is a parody of the British Ambassador’s remarks. The exact date of the meeting is unclear. The Times reports that Sir Sherard imparts his thoughts to Mr Fitou on September 2, but The Guardian and the New York Times clarify that Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the cabled dispatch was sent to the Élysée Palace and the French Foreign Ministry on September 2, relating a meeting that had just happened. [Guardian, 10/2/2008; London Times, 10/2/2008; New York Times, 10/3/2008]
A US Special Operations unit, possibly together with an Afghan unit, raids a remote Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan and kills at least 15 people including women and children, according to sources, eyewitnesses, and officials in Pakistan. One eyewitness to the attack, area resident Habib Khan Wazir, will tell the Associated Press that the assault happens before dawn, after an American helicopter lands in the village of Musa Nikow in South Waziristan. He says “American and Afghan soldiers starting firing” at the owner of a home who had stepped outside with his wife. Khan says the troops then enter the house and kill seven other people, including women and children. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] (Geo TV reports that the owner of the house is local tribesman Taj Muhammad, and that “coalition forces” kill nine members of his family, with five women and four children among the dead.) [Geo TV, 9/3/2008] Khan says the troops also kill six other residents. Two local intelligence officials will confirm the account on condition of anonymity. Another official says that 19 people die in total. Major Murad Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Army, will confirm that an attack did occur on a house near the Pakistan-Afghan border, but does not specify if Americans are involved. “We are collecting details,” he says. The US embassy in Islamabad declines to comment, and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan says it has not received any report on such an operation. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] Long War Journal reporter Bill Roggio suggests that the Special Operations unit alleged to be involved in the assault may be the secretive “hunter-killer” team known as Task Force 88. He suggests that such units can operate freely outside of any regular command in Afghanistan, giving the US military the option of plausibly denying that its forces are involved in such raids. Roggio writes that a raid of this nature—the insertion of a US Special Operations team inside Pakistani territory—is rare, and if confirmed, the assault would be the fourth cross-border attack since August 20, and the 10th confirmed attack this year, marking an overall increase in such raids. He notes that 10 such raids were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined. [Long War Journal, 9/3/2008] Journalists Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann will later refer to this incident, writing that US Navy SEALS are involved and that 20 people are killed. [New Republic, 6/3/2009]
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes almost tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A spate of recent airstrikes has exacerbated the problem and is fueling a public backlash, the report says. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields,” a direct violation of the laws of war. The report is titled “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan.” It analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations.
Different Types of Strikes - The vast majority of civilian deaths occur during unplanned, impromptu airstrikes, the report finds; planned airstrikes result in far fewer civilian casualties. “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” says HRW official Brad Adams. “Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans.”
Deaths Escalate from 2006 to 2007 - In 2006, 116 Afghan civilians died during US/NATO airstrikes; in 2007, 321 died during US/NATO airstrikes. In both years, the number of civilians dying due to Taliban strikes far outnumbered those killed by US or NATO forces. All of these trends continue during the first seven months of 2008.
'Poor Response by US Officials' - HRW is highly critical of what it calls “the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.” The report finds: “Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”
Demanding Solutions - Adams says that the US must work to curtail the unplanned airstrikes that kill so many Afghan civilians, and when civilians are killed, the US must take the proper responsibility and provide “timely compensation.” He adds: “While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.” HRW also notes that in many instances, civilian deaths are accompanied by destroyed villages, causing that entire village’s population to become refugees. Afghanistan has a large and ever-growing number of what HRW calls “internally displaced persons.” Adams says: “The recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghans make clear that the system is still broken and that civilians continue to pay the ultimate price. Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.” [Human Rights Watch, 9/7/2008]
Jalaluddin Haqqani. [Source: New York Times]A US drone attack targets the Haqqani network in the tribal region of Pakistan. Pakistani officials will say that five missiles kill 23 people and wound 18 more. The missiles hit a compound in North Waziristan run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani. It appears they are targeted, since family members arrived at the compound just a half hour before. However, neither Haqqani network leader is killed. Officials say one of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s two wives, his sister, sister-in-law, and eight of his grandchildren are killed. The Haqqani network is considered a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. The US believes the Haqqani network has been involved in recent attacks in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul (see July 7, 2008) and a failed assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). The Haqqani network is widely believed to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 9/10/2008]
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008]
Ahmed Alghamdi in his martyr video. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda releases a martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi. In the ten-minute video, in Arabic with English subtitles, Alghamdi says, “There are many proofs which clarify and encourage martyrdom operations. They are one of the ways of massacring the enemies of Allah, so you must carry them out.” The video was most likely recorded in Afghanistan in March 2001, at the same time most of the other hijackers recorded martyr videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)). This is the seventh one released. [Sun, 9/22/2008] Alghamdi’s speech is part of a 90-minute video featuring speeches by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and others. Al-Qaeda promised through the Internet to release the video in time for the 9/11 anniversary, as it did with other 9/11 hijacker videos each year, but the video appears one week late. Some counterterrorism experts say the delay could be a sign that al-Qaeda’s propaganda efforts are faltering. [Associated Press, 9/19/2008; Sun-Herald (Sydney), 9/21/2008] Al-Qaeda will not release any hijacker videos in 2009 or 2010.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former Taliban official for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network that the US is supplying arms to the Taliban to “jeopardize the security situation” as a justification to stay in Afghanistan. According to Iranian Press TV, Mujda says the US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism, but actually wanted to create a base to exercise pressure on rivals in the region. He also says that NATO-led forces are even encouraging cross border attacks by the Taliban from Pakistan. Alluding to meetings held in the United Arab Emirates, Mujda further suggests that the US has begun direct talks with the Taliban to secure results in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election, implying the possibility of negotiations on an important role for the Taliban in the next Afghan government. [Press TV, 9/28/2008]
Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s national security adviser, visits India and meets with Indian officials. He tells them that neither the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, nor any other part of the Pakistani government had a role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year (see July 7, 2008). The Indian government and other governments have blamed the ISI working with the Taliban for the bombing (see August 1, 2008). However, Durrani does admit, “We have some contacts with bad guys and perhaps one of them did it.” This comment is not made publicly, but it is mentioned in a US State Department cable about the meeting that is leaked by WikiLeaks in 2011. According to the cable, Durrani later repeats the comment to a US official. [Hindu, 5/20/2011]
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
The Pentagon Inspector General (IG) issues a report warning that serious problems with controls and accounting for US weapons and explosives supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could lead to the diversion of arms to insurgents. A later GAO audit will expand on this assessment (see February 12, 2009). The IG report identifies the following failures in the $7.4 billion program to equip and train Afghan security forces:
The Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) did not issue instructions or procedures governing the accountability, control, and physical security of arms the US is supplying to ANSF, nor did it clearly define the missions, roles, and responsibilities of US training teams and mentors advising the ANSF and the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior.
The CSTC-A did not record the serial numbers of weapons that were issued to the ANSF and did not report these serial numbers to the Department of Defense Small Arms Serialization Program. The report warns, “weapons that fall into enemy hands may not be traceable to the responsible individual[s], if recovered.”
The US office charged with overseeing the foreign military sales program to Afghanistan is too small and its staff lack the rank, skills, and experience to monitor whether arms are being diverted. The report finds that only nine people, led by an Army major, were assigned to oversee a program that disbursed more than $1.7 billion in 2007.
The program to arm and equip Afghan forces is hindered by delays in the Foreign Military Assistance program. Military commanders want the processing time for the military aid requests cut from 120 days to 30 days. “We believe that the strategic importance to the United States of standing up the ANSF merits establishing a reduced [foreign military sales] case processing time standard for the wartime conditions it faces in Afghanistan,” the report says. [Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General, 10/24/2008 ; Washington Times, 10/31/2008; Washington Post, 2/12/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
The judge in the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002 and October 7, 2007) throws out the evidence against Jawad, saying that it was obtained under coercion. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade at two US soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan. The judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, finds that the sole evidence against Jawad, a confession he signed while in the custody of Afghan police, was, as the American Civil Liberties Union says, “gathered through coercive interrogations.” [Ottawa Citizen, 11/22/2008]
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Cover of ‘How to Break a Terrorist.’ [Source: Military (.com)]Former Iraq interrogator “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym) publishes his book How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander has just published an editorial in the Washington Post detailing his success in using non-coercive interrogation techniques to locate terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and denouncing the use of torture by US interrogators in Iraq and Guantanamo (see November 30, 2008). Time’s Gilbert Cruz writes, “Structured around a series of interrogations, [Alexander’s book] details the battle of wills between ‘gators [Alexander’s term for interrogators] and suspects as well as the internal fight between Alexander’s team and the old-school military inquisitors used to more brutal methods of questioning.” In his book, Alexander writes that these “old-school” interrogation tactics not only failed to elicit useful information, they “led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal.” Cruz calls the book “a claustrophobic read,” bringing the reader into the interrogation rooms with him, his partner, and the detainee during marathon questioning sessions. However, “Alexander scarcely discusses the theories behind his interrogation strategy, its derivation, or whether the US military continues to use it.” He concludes, “[A] fuller epilogue could have broadened the story beyond this single set of circumstances.” [Time, 12/2/2008]
'Times Where You Have to be Harsher' - In an interview about the book, Fox News host Sean Hannity attempts to assert that there will be times when torture is necessary to gain critical information. Alexander refuses to agree. Hannity says: “But I do think there’s going to be times where you have to be harsher. That’s an outsider’s view. Never? It never will work?” Alexander replies: “No.… I don’t say that torture doesn’t work; it does work on occasion. But what I say is that there’s better ways to do it.” [Fox News, 12/3/2008]
'Extremely Ineffective and Counter-Productive' - In another interview the same evening, Alexander tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that torture is “extremely ineffective and counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish in both the short-term and the long-term.” He explains: “In the short-term, when you torture somebody, it hardens their resolve, the information that you get is unreliable. And if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al-Qaeda is then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members, and then we’re going to have to deal with a whole new wave of terrorists.” In the MSNBC interview, Alexander calls for an outright ban on torture and the retraining of US interrogators in non-coercive methods of questioning. [MSNBC, 12/4/2008]
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. [Reuters, 12/7/2008; Hindu, 12/9/2008]
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). [Reuters, 12/7/2008] Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. [Reuters, 12/7/2008] The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
US Special Forces and the CIA come to an agreement that improves cooperation on overseas operations. CIA Director Leon Panetta and Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, sign a secret agreement that sets out rules for joint CIA-Special Forces missions. This deal will be the basis for dozens of joint operations in the next couple of years in Afghanistan. By the time of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the CIA and Special Forces will have a good working relationship. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011]
Taliban presence map: January-September 2009. [Source: International Council on Security and Development]An international research and policy group reports that the Taliban have attained a permanent presence in about 80 percent of Afghanistan, up from 72 percent in November 2008 and 54 percent in November 2007. The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), formerly known as The Senlis Council, also reports that another 17 percent of Afghanistan is seeing “substantial” Taliban activity. Furthermore, it reports a recent sharp rise in Taliban activity in the north, a formerly peaceful area. “The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets,” states Alexander Jackson, a policy analyst at ICOS. Spokeswoman Jane Francis says ICOS’s data is based on reports from a team in Afghanistan and was gathered from daily insurgent activity reports between January and September 2009. “The unrelenting and disturbing return, spread, and advance of the Taliban is now without question,” says Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher for ICOS. [International Council on Security and Development, 9/10/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009]
Darrel Vandeveld, in a photo from 2001. [Source: Go Erie (.com)]Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union’s position that Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad should be released. Vandeveld was the lead prosecutor on the military commission trying Jawad, who has been held for over six years. Vanderveld says in a declaration that there is “no credible evidence or legal basis” to justify Jawad’s detention or prosecution. “There is, however, reliable evidence that he was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo,” says the declaration, which Vandeveld files in a Washington court in support of the ACLU’s habeas corpus petition. Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 16, was accused of throwing a hand grenade at two US soldiers and their interpreter. Jawad and fellow detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, are the last two detainees to face charges based on acts they allegedly committed while they were juveniles. The ACLU maintains that Jawad was tortured to force him to confess. Vandeveld resigned from the military commissions in September 2008, saying he could not ethically proceed with Jawad’s case. In his declaration, Vandeveld says the “chaotic state of evidence” in the military commissions “make it impossible for anyone to harbor the remotest hope that justice is an achievable goal” (see January 20, 2009). [Agence France-Presse, 1/13/2009]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says that he finds it “insulting” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned with civilian casualties from US military strikes in his country. Karzai has criticized the US for a recent air strike that he says killed 16 Afghani civilians (see January 26, 2009). O’Reilly tells his listeners: “US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But President Karzai does not seem to get that. Once again, he has condemned American forces after a raid killed some civilians. In that raid, a top Taliban commander and some of his cronies were also killed, but apparently, Karzai doesn’t understand that in war, collateral damage is constantly present. US military is investigating the situation, but Check [a segment on O’Reilly’s show] believes Karzai is making a political grandstand play, and it is insulting. Without us, his head is on a stick.” [Think Progress (.org), 1/27/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemns a US attack that he says killed 16 civilians in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan villagers protested the raid, which the US military says killed 15 Taliban militants. Karzai says no Taliban were killed, but among the civilian dead were two women and three children. Karzai says killing innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists” and requests that Afghanistan be given more oversight of US military operations in the country. Vice President Joseph Biden says that the situation in Afghanistan will not improve any time soon. “We’ve inherited a real mess,” Biden says. “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.” [New York Daily News, 1/26/2009] In 2008, Human Rights Watch condemned the US and NATO for killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, mostly in impromptu “rapid response” airstrikes (see September 7, 2008). Casualties in 2008 were higher than ever, according to a UN report (see September 16, 2008).
Secret negotiations backed by the British government are under way to bring warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into Afghanistan’s political process, according to Al Jazeera. The talks between Taliban-linked mediators, Western officials, and the Afghan government are believed to involve a proposal for the return to Afghanistan of Hekmatyar, granting him immunity from prosecution there. Hekmatyar would first be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia under the proposal. The meetings recall earlier Afghan negotiations involving Hekmatyar and a Saudi role (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Ghairat Baheer, a Hektmatyar son-in-law released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is reported to be involved in the negotiations. Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to London by British authorities last month. Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and another son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said to have been involved. This is consistent with a report published late last year of Hekmatyar family members being engaged in negotiations with the Afghan government in coordination with Britain (see November 13, 2008). James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, adds that the plan is to widen these talks and bring in elements of the Taliban. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Al Jazeera, 2/27/2009]
A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
The US Defense Department admits that it lacks a strategy for victory in Afghanistan even as it prepares to deploy 17,000 additional troops to that beleaguered country, but it has made some recommendations to change the US strategy there. Last week, during President Obama’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama asked, “What is the end game” in the military’s strategy for Afghanistan? According to one military official present in the briefing, the response was, “Frankly, we don’t have one.” Senior military officials confirm that the Joint Chiefs have delivered a classified memo to Obama that recommends refocusing the military’s mission in Afghanistan to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and leaving the “hearts and minds” aspect of the war to other US agencies—particularly the State, Justice, and Agriculture Departments—and NATO. “This is a classic counnterinsurgency strategy, but the military cannot do it alone,” says one official. The officials admit that the Taliban “has definitely gained the upper hand” in some areas of Afghanistan, particularly the south, because there’s just too much territory and too few American forces to “clear and hold” an area. “The Taliban is no match” for US forces, the officials say, but once the Americans drive the Taliban from a region, then leave, the Taliban immediately filter back in and regain control. “In many remote areas, the Taliban have established ‘shadow governments’ and in some cases gained the confidence and support of the locals,” says an official. “We need a strategy that will convince the Afghan people [in the remote areas] that the Taliban’s extremism is no longer attractive as a government or a career,” the officials say. Such a strategy must increase Afghan security, then establish strong, fair local governments and create jobs and educational opportunities. “But that is not the military’s job,” one military official says. “We can build the schools, we can build the courthouses, but we cannot help them establish the good governance, justice and educations systems” that are needed. The new strategy also targets the Afghani drug trade, and loosens the previous rules of engagement that only allowed for eradication of poppy fields and confrontation with drug lords after it had been established that those activities were directly connected to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The new rules assume any drug activities help the insurgency and are, therefore, “fair game.” [MSNBC, 2/4/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presents its report on weapons accountability problems in Afghanistan to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressionally ordered audit reveals that the US military did not track hundreds of thousands of weapons—over half of the total procured for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—between 2004 and 2008. The report expands on an earlier assessment produced by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (see October 24, 2008). The Washington Post quotes subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) as saying that the failures could lead to American soldiers being killed by insurgents using a weapon purchased by US taxpayers. “That’s what we risk if we were to have tens of thousands of weapons we provided washing around Afghanistan, off the books,” Tierney says in a written statement. [Washington Post, 2/12/2009] The audit finds that American military officials did not keep complete records on about 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons the United States sent to Afghan soldiers and police, nor did they keep reliable records on 135,000 more weapons donated to Afghanistan by 21 countries. The GAO audit also finds:
Inventory controls were lacking for more than a third of the 242,000 light weapons donated to Afghan forces by the United States—a stockpile that includes thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Until June 2008, the military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of some 46,000 weapons the United States provided to the Afghans, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands. Serial numbers for the 41,000 other weapons from the United States were recorded, but American military officials had no idea where those weapons were.
American trainers were not following their own rules, finding that weapons were issued to Afghans even when there were concerns about—or evidence of—poor security at weapons depots and corruption by Afghan officials.
Afghan security procedures were so inadequate that weapons supplied to Afghan forces were at “serious risk of theft or loss.” Many of the weapons were left in the care of Afghan-run military depots with a history of desertion, theft, and sub-par security systems that sometimes consist of a wooden door and a padlock. [Government Accountability Office, 2/12/2009 ]
British Military commanders and officers brief Foreign Secretary David Miliband during his 2-day fact-finding visit to Helmand province on their discovery that British-made electronic components have been found in remote controls and roadside bombs used by the Taliban and other insurgents against coalition troops in Afghanistan. The British military concludes that British Muslims are providing the Taliban with these electronic devices, which they claim are either sent to sympathizers in the region or smuggled into Pakistan en route to Afghanistan. Brigadier Gordon Messenger, the Royal Marine commander of the British battlegroup in Helmand, leads the briefing in which the devices are displayed and details of their origin are explained. “We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain,” a British explosives officer tells Miliband. The electronic devices range from basic remote control units that are normally used to fly model airplanes, mobile phones filled with explosives, and more sophisticated devices that can be used against military vehicles and for remote attacks from up to a mile away. The Telegraph, however, does not report any evidence the military may have to substantiate these claims. [Daily Telegraph, 2/20/2009]
President Obama orders 17,000 additional US troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. He says that nation must be stabilized, and the US-led offensive there has suffered from years of neglect. The move effectively doubles the number of US combat brigades in the country, though both White House and Pentagon officials have been careful not to call the increase a “surge,” as the 2007 increase in US troops in Iraq was called (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007).
Answering Request from Months Before - Obama notes that a request for more troops had been made months before, by General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama says. [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009] “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Obama recognizes “the extraordinary strain this deployment places on our troops and military families,” but the deteriorating security situation in the region requires “urgent attention and swift action.” [Australian, 2/19/2009] Some 3,000 soldiers have already arrived in Afghanistan, where they are seeing combat near Kabul. [Associated Press, 2/17/2009]
Refocus on Afghanistan, Away from Iraq - During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to refocus American efforts onto Afghanistan and away from Iraq. A full strategic review of the US’s war plans in Afghanistan is still pending (see February 4, 2009). Military officials warn that without a commensurate reduction in troops deployed in Iraq, the already-critical strain on US troops will only increase. One Pentagon official says: “All we are doing is moving demand from Iraq to Afghanistan. This sustains and, to some degree, increases the demands on soldiers.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009]
Afghans Welcome Additional Troops - Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Is’haq Payman calls the deployment “a positive move,” and adds: “[W]e have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists.” [Taipei Times, 2/19/2009] Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomes the deployment; after discussing the move with Obama via telephone, he says that former tensions between the US and Afghanistan over the issue of US-inflicted civilian casualties (see August 22, 2008, September 7, 2008, September 16, 2008, and January 26, 2009) are finished. “The tension was over civilian casualties and uncoordinated operations by foreign troops,” he says. “From now on, no foreign troop operations will be uncoordinated with Afghan forces. The tension the Afghan government had with the US government is now over.” [Reuters, 2/18/2009]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2009]
Mullah Agha Jan Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, tells al-Samoud magazine that the Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace. “We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mutassim is quoted as saying in an interview translated by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi web sites. Mutassim, thought to be close to Mullah Omar, stresses that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved only if foreign troops withdraw from the country. “If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he says. Despite harsh words for the West, Mutassim praises the government of Saudi Arabia, according to the report. Saudi Arabia, which has allegedly been a source of funding for the Taliban (see 1996) and was one of only three states to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 (see May 26, 1997), has hosted talks between former Taliban, Afghan government officials, and others (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Mutassim adds that the Taliban are not seeking to share power in an “agent government,” but want the institution of an Islamic Emirate in which “educating women is as necessary as educating men.” [Site Intelligence Group, 2/25/2009; Reuters, 2/26/2009]
Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]
The Afghan government initiates preliminary negotiations with the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, considered one of the most dangerous insurgent factions in the region. In return, the Haqqani network, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally that has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001), tentatively agrees to discuss a peace proposal with government-backed mediators, according to a Christian Science Monitor report. In the talks, mediators draft a road map for an eventual settlement in which the first stage would ensure that the Haqqani network stops burning schools and targeting reconstruction teams, while the US military stops house raids and releases Haqqani-network prisoners. The draft proposal states that if these conditions are met on both sides, the next step would be to agree on a system of government. The Haqqani network and the Taliban say they want an “Islamic Emirate” based solely on their interpretation of Islamic law. The final stage would set a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign military forces, which Jalaluddin Haqqani and other leaders of the Haqqani network would require before accepting any Afghan government posts. Analysts say that the American concessions or changes to their counterinsurgency strategy are unlikely; they are more likely to give political concessions, rather than military ones. “If the Haqqanis can be drawn into the negotiation process, it would be a serious sign that the insurgents are open to one day making a deal,” says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. “Ultimately, the US will have to come to a political settlement, and that may mean a situation where insurgent leaders are brought into the government.” The Christian Science Monitor notes that initial contact between the Afghan government and the Haqqani network may have begun in the months after meetings were held the previous year between the Afghan government and representatives of various insurgent groups under Saudi auspices in Mecca (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/19/2009]
Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” [TomDispatch (.com), 3/5/2009]
The head of Canada’s Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, tells the Canadian Senate that Canada’s Army has been so strained by its participation in the Afghanistan war that it may need a one-year “pause” to regroup and rebuild after Canada withdraws troops from that region in 2011. Canada has suffered disproportionately large losses in Afghanistan in comparison with both American and British troops (see January 4, 2008). According to Leslie, the Canadian Army has suffered huge losses in both personnel and equipment, and is dealing with a shortage of experienced officers and soldiers as well as a shortage of functional armored vehicles and mechanics to effect repairs. “We will always be prepared to carry out our various national and international tasks,” he tells the Senate, but emphasizes the need to rebuild and retool the Army. [Toronto Star, 3/9/2009] General Walter Natynczyk, chief of defense staff of the Canadian Forces, agrees, telling a reporter, “It’s an army that’s undergoing an incredible operational tempo right now.” [CTV, 3/10/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
Greg Gutfeld of Fox’s ‘Red Eye’ during the March 17 broadcast. [Source: CTV]The host and panelists on Fox News’s satirical news show Red Eye devote a segment of their broadcast to mocking and denigrating Canadian soldiers’ service in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers have died in disproportionately higher numbers than either their US or British counterparts (see January 4, 2008), and the head of the Canadian Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, has recently testified as to the terrific strain that service has placed on the military branch (see March 9, 2009), facts the Red Eye panelists do not share with their audience. (Progressive media watchdog site News Hounds will note than none of the Red Eye panelists have themselves served in the military of any country.) Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld opens the segment by mocking Leslie’s name, observing that “Leslie” is “an unusual name for a man.” He then says that the Canadian military would prefer to “do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants.” Gutfeld then asks panelist Doug Benson, “Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country?” Benson retorts, “I didn’t even know that they [Canada] were in the war,” and notes that he thought of Canada as a nation where people went to avoid fighting. Gutfeld asks, “Would Canada be able to get away with this if they didn’t share a border with the most powerful country in the universe?” Panelist Bill Schulz answers: “No, they probably wouldn’t. Does this surprise any of us? We have police officers and they have Mounties. Our cops ride heavily armored cars. They ride horses. We have bullet-proof vests. They have wonderful little red jackets that can be seen a mile away. This is not a smart culture, Greg.” [News Hounds, 3/22/2009; Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Canadian Outrage - The video quickly becomes well known after four Canadian soldiers die in two separate explosions near Kandahar, and many Canadians respond with indignation and outrage. Toronto’s National Star calls the remarks “shockingly ignorant.” Dan Dugas, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says: “We want an apology from this so-called comedian [Gutfeld] and his panel. These are despicable, hurtful, and ignorant comments. No one is laughing and they owe Canada, and more importantly the families of each one of our fallen heroes, an apology for their ill-informed mistakes.” Steve Staples of Ottowa’s Rideau Institute calls the performance a “shameful display” at the expense of Canadian families who have lost family members, and adds, “The dismissal of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan simply rubs salt in the wounds of Canadian families whose sons and daughters have been injured or killed in the war.” MP Denis Coderre calls the performance “a disgrace.” [Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Apology - Days after the broadcast, Gutfeld e-mails an apology. He says the segment “was in no way an attempt to make light of troop efforts,” and adds: “I realize that my words may have been misunderstood. It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women, and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize. Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous, and ridiculous manner.” Gutfeld had made a statement on Twitter hours before that read, “My apologies to the Canadian military, they probably could at least beat the Belgians.” [Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Fox News, Dan Dugas, Canadian Ministry of National Defense, Doug Benson, Canadian Forces Land Force Command, Andrew Leslie, Steve Staples, Greg Gutfeld, Bill Schulz, Denis Coderre
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
Senior White House and Pentagon officials tell the New York Times that President Obama is expected to approve a Pentagon plan to vastly expand Afghanistan’s security forces to about 400,000 troops and national police officers: more than twice the forces’ current size. The officials say the plan is part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to fill a void left by the weak central government and to do more to promote stability. The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army to 260,000 soldiers in addition to around 140,000 police officers, commandos, and border guards. The Times notes that presently the army has 90,000 troops and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers.
Program Costs a Concern for Administration Officials - The Times reports that members of Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections which dwarf the budget currently provided to the Afghan government; cost projections to establish and train the forces range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, and officials have yet to determine costs to sustain the security forces over the long term. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorses the goal and justifies the costs of expanding Afghan security forces saying, “The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it—of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it.”
Concerns over the Power of an Expanded Security Force Dismissed - The former commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General David Barno, now the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismisses concerns that either the Afghan army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of the central government in Kabul. Other military analysts cite Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey as models where the United States supports civilian governments in which military and security forces are at least as powerful as those governments. [New York Times, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Obama administration, Carl Levin, Afghan National Army, Afghan Ministry of Defense, Afghan Government, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Security Forces, Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, David Barno
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
American Delta Force commandos in Afghanistan reportedly net a “high ranking al-Qaeda official” in a secret raid that leaves five people dead, upsetting German military officials and intelligence sources who later tell Der Spiegel magazine that the US forces are actually used by a drug clan to execute an underworld rival. The secret raid, which the Germans describe as “unilateral,” takes place in Kunduz province where German forces are assisting with security and reconstruction. According to the Der Spiegel report, the operation commences when a US liaison officer asks a German reconstruction team to guard the Kunduz airport without informing the Germans of the impending operation. A Hercules transport aircraft then lands at the airfield together with a fleet of combat and transport helicopters, which then take off for the nearby town of Imam Sahib. There, the American commandos reportedly storm a guesthouse owned by the local mayor, killing his driver, cook, bodyguard, and two of his guests. According to the US military, one of those captured is the target of the operation, a “high-ranking” member of al-Qaeda, but Der Spiegel reports that the tip-off to the person’s location comes from a source in a rival drug clan close to a member of the Afghan government reputed to be deeply involved in the drug trade. High-ranking German commanders in Afghanistan are later understood to have alerted Der Spiegel to the mission and intelligence sources explain how the Americans are “set up.” There will be no immediate comment from the American military regarding the allegations. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3/30/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/30/2009]
NATO wants to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) from a force of 80,000 to 270,000 by 2016, an effort described as the heart of Afghan nation-building. “We’re building an army on an industrial scale,” British Brigadier Neil Baverstock tells The Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. This target closely resembles Pentagon proposals for massively increased ANA numbers (see March 18, 2009), but has not been publicly mentioned or explicitly endorsed by the Obama Administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009). Kaplan reports that the American military is leading an effort to establish the Afghan equivalents of West Point and the National Defense University, in addition to basic training and advanced combat schools, a noncommissioned officer academy, an officer candidate school, and a counterinsurgency academy.
Brain Drain and the Threat of Future Coups - Kaplan writes that the budding Afghan military complex threatens to funnel Afghanistan’s educated elite away from civilian and government jobs, thus weakening the state’s capacity to maintain authority and control over the security forces. He suggests that this equation in Afghanistan increases the risk of the country facing African and Latin American-style coups in the future. When this possibility is raised with American generals, they tell Kaplan that the threat of a coup is a risk worth taking if it means more stability in the short term.
Afghan Public Protection Program - While the coalition builds an army from the top down, they also hope to improve security in the provinces and villages from the bottom up through the Afghan Public Protection Program (APPFP). American Brig. Gen. Mark Milley explains that the program recruits, trains, and arms locals across tribal and ethnic lines, making them answerable to provincial governors. A pilot APPFP is being developed in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Kaplan notes that Wardak’s pro-American governor, Mohammed [Halim] Fidai, is one of a group of governors with whom the Americans are working, in effect, “to circumvent total reliance on Karzai.” [The Atlantic, 3/24/2009]
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