Posts Tagged ‘U.S. government’

U.S. government withholds information about Bagram detainees

August 16, 2009

By Danielle Kurtzleben, Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (IPS) – The U.S. government continues to withhold even the most basic information about prisoners in the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a New York-based legal rights organisation.

An April 2009 ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents and information about the detainment of prisoners at Bagram has yielded dead ends with both the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The ACLU wants the Obama Administration to make these records public, including information about “the number of people currently detained at Bagram, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention, as well as records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as ‘enemy combatants.’”

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POLITICS: Rights Groups Appeal For UN Investigation of Rendition

August 7, 2009

By William Fisher, Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Aug 6 (IPS) – Charging that the U.S. government was complicit in the forced disappearance of an influential Muslim scholar four years ago, human rights groups in the U.S., the U.K., and Switzerland have asked the U.N. to investigate.

In a letter to the U.N., the organisations say Mustafa Setmariam Nassar, a Spanish citizen, was arrested by Pakistani officials and handed over to U.S. officials in Oct. 2005 and has not been heard from since.

The letter was sent to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, Martin Scheinin, and the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the London-based legal charity Reprieve, and Alkarama in Geneva.

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Senior Obama Official Backs Cheney and CIA, Says Concealment of Assassin Program Legal

July 19, 2009
by Jeremy Scahill,, July 18, 2009

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are preparing to hold hearings to investigate the role of vice president Dick Cheney in allegedly ordering the CIA to conceal a secret assassination program from Congress. As I reported yesterday, there are two crucial issues at play: the nature of the U.S. assassination program and the role of former vice president Dick Cheney in concealing aspects of it from Congressional oversight. On the broader issue of U.S. government assassination, it is very unlikely that will become a central focus given that there has long been a bipartisan assassination program that continues under President Obama. Indeed, most legislators frame their opposition to this program through the lens of the concealment issue, not the assassinations.

Early moves, however, by the Obama administration indicate that it is backing Cheney and the CIA In May, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was under fire over allegations she had been briefed on U.S. torture tactics, she publicly accused the CIA of misleading her. In what many viewed as a response to Pelosi, CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote CIA staff a memo, saying, “Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values… My advice — indeed, my direction — to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country. We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication.”

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Bagram is Now Obama’s Guantanamo

June 25, 2009
By William Fisher | The Public Record, June 25, 2009

While millions know that the administration of George W. Bush has left Barack Obama with the job of closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, relatively few are aware that the new president will also face a similar but far larger dilemma 7,000 miles away.

That dilemma is what to do with the what has become known as “the other GITMO” – the U.S.-controlled military prison at Bagram Air Base near Kabul in Afghanistan – and the estimated 600-700 detainees now held there.

The “other GITMO” was set up by the U.S. military as a temporary screening site after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban. It currently houses more than three times as many prisoners as are still held at Guantanamo.

In 2005, following well-documented accounts of detainee deaths, torture and “disappeared” prisoners, the U.S. undertook efforts to turn the facility over to the Afghan government. But due to a series of legal, bureaucratic and administrative missteps, the prison is still under American military control. And a recent confidential report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reportedly complained about the continued mistreatment of prisoners.

The ICRC report is said to cite massive overcrowding, “harsh” conditions, lack of clarity about the legal basis for detention, prisoners held “incommunicado” in “a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells” and “sometimes subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions”. Some prisoners have been held without charges or lawyers for more than five years. The Red Cross said that dozens of prisoners have been held incommunicado for weeks or even months, hidden from prison inspectors.

“When prisoners are in American custody and under American control, no matter the location, our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake,” said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project in response to a new report published by the BBC documenting the torture of more than two-dozen former detainees. “Torture and abuse at Bagram is further evidence that prisoner abuse in U.S. custody was systemic, not aberrational, and originated at the highest levels of government. We must learn the truth about what went wrong, hold the proper people accountable and make sure these failed policies are not continued or repeated.”

In April, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at Bagram, including the number of people currently detained, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention. The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”

“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The American people have a right to know what’s happening at Bagram and whether prisoners have been tortured there.”

In a related case, the ACLU is representing former Bagram prisoner Mohammed Jawad in a habeas corpus challenge to his indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay. The Afghan government recently sent a letter to the U.S. government suggesting Jawad was as young as 12 when he was captured in Afghanistan and taken to Bagram, where he was tortured. Despite the fact that the primary evidence against Jawad was thrown out in his military commission case at Guantánamo because it was derived through torture, the U.S. government continues to rely on such evidence – including evidence obtained during interrogations at Bagram – in Jawad’s current habeas case to justify holding him indefinitely.

According to Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Bagram appears to be just as bad as, if not worse than, Guantanamo. When a prisoner is in American custody and under American control, our values are at stake and our commitment to the rule of law is tested”.

She told us, “The abuses cited by the Red Cross give us cause for concern that we may be failing the test. The Bush administration is not content to limit its regime of illegal detention to Guantanamo, and has tried to foist it on Afghanistan.”

She added: “Both Congress and the executive branch need to investigate what’s happening at Bagram if we are to avoid a tragic repetition of history.”

But most observers believe the solution is more likely to come in the courts and to be inextricably linked to recent judicial decisions affecting prisoners at Guantanamo.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that foreign nationals held as terrorism suspects by the U.S. military at Guantanamo have a constitutional right to challenge their captivity in U.S. courts in Washington. Last week, a federal judge began exploring whether this landmark decision also applies to Bagram.

Like Guantanamo, Bagram was set up as a facility where battlefield captives could be held for the duration of the “war on terrorism” under full military control in an overseas site beyond the reach of U.S. courts.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly thwarted the campaign to insulate Guantanamo from the courts’ review.  But the Justice argument is that none of those rulings has any application to Bagram, and that the federal judge should dismiss the legal challenges by Bagram detainees by finding that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over them.

But lawyers for four Bagram prisoners who have been held in detention since at least 2003 contend that recent Supreme Court Guantanamo decisions also apply to Afghanistan. They are also arguing that another Supreme Court decision — Munaf v. Geren — extended habeas rights to a U.S. military facility in Baghdad.

Barbara Olshansky of the Stanford Law School represents three of the four men who brought the court action. She said “there is no more complete analogy or mirror to Guantanamo than this (case).”

While U.S. District Judge John D. Bates has not ruled on the government’s motion to dismiss the four Bagram cases, he said during the court hearing, “These individuals are no different than those detained at Guantanamo except where they’re housed.”

In its motion to dismiss the cases, the Justice Department argued that Bagram is so much a part of ongoing military operations that there simply is no role for U.S. courts to play. “To provide alien enemy combatants detained in a theater of war the privilege of access to our civil courts is unthinkable both legally and practically,” the government’s brief claimed.

The government claims the U.S. does not have nearly the control over the Bagram Airfield as it does over Guantanamo Bay, and thus the reasoning of the Supreme Court in extending habeas rights to Guantanamo should not apply to Bagram.

It also noted that Bagram is in the midst of a war zone; Guantanamo is not.  It asserted that civilian court review of Bagram detentions would actually compromise the military mission in Afghanistan.

The Munaf decision also has no application to Bagram, the government’s motion contended, because that involved U.S. citizens, not foreign nationals.

Lawyers for the Bagram detainees noted that some of them have been held for more than six years, so any argument the Justice Department might have made against habeas rights abroad has now lost its force “after so much time has passed.”

They say the issue “is whether the Executive can create a modern-day Star Chamber, where it can label an individual an ‘enemy combatant’ or ‘unlawful enemy combatant,’ deny him any meaningful ability to challenge that label, and on that basis, detain him indefinitely, virtually incommunicado, subject to interrogation and torture, without any right of redress.”

The lawyers note that the Supreme Court has rejected such efforts at Guantanamo on three occasions.  But it added that the government is now seeking “to revive their effort to create a prison beyond judicial scrutiny by arguing that habeas does not extend to Bagram because they have deliberately located their Star Chamber in an airfield they contend is outside their ‘realm,’ for the express purpose of avoiding compliance with domestic civil, criminal, military, and international law.”

Bagram, their brief contended, “is not a temporary holding camp, intended to house enemy soldiers apprehended on the battlefield, for the duration of a declared war, finite in time and space.”  It said the “war on terror” as conceived by the government is “unlimited in duration and global in scope.”

It also noted that, unlike Guantanamo, Bagram is a permanent prison. Thousands of individuals from all over the world have been taken to the airfield prison, and nearly 700 remain there now, and it is being expanded with a new prison to hold more than 11,000. Moreover, they argued, Bagram detainees do not even have the minimal procedural guarantees to have their captivity reviewed that Guantanamo prisoners have in the so-called “Combatant Status Review Tribunals.” The military does not operate CSRTs as Bagram.

Lawyers for the four men — two Yemeni, one Tunisian and one Afghan – said none was captured while in battle or otherwise directly aiding terrorist groups.

The Justice Department argued that releasing alleged enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

“What evidence is there to believe they would return to the battlefield?” Judge Bates asked Deputy Assistant Attorney General John O’Quinn. “They were not on the battlefield to begin with.”

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now writes on a wide-range of issues, from human rights to foreign affairs, for numerous newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

Terrorism Is a Crime

June 4, 2009

Sheldon Richman | The Future of Freedom Foundation, June 2, 2009

Contrary to the U.S. government’s position, acts of terrorism are crimes that have little in common with acts of war. The terrorists whom Americans worry about are not trying to overthrow the U.S. government or conquer and occupy the United States. Instead, they are trying to obtain vengeance for U.S. government intervention in the Middle East. Historically, terrorism has been the tactic of the weak against the strong.

A military response is both disproportionate and unnecessary — and it inflicts suffering on innocents. Occupying and bombing a country because a group of terrorists might have plotted there is itself terrorism. Moreover, when the government assumes a war footing, it flings the doors open to violations of domestic liberty. “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” James Madison said.

The Obama administration’s early signals on these matters have not been encouraging. The president is escalating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his intention to close Guantanamo is undercut by his plans to continue military commissions for terrorist suspects in lieu of real criminal trials and to seek authority for indefinite preventive detention of suspects whom the government fears could not be convicted.

However, the administration has now indicated that the normal criminal justice system may play more of a role in investigations of terrorism. A report in the Los Angeles Times states, “The FBI and Justice Department plan to significantly expand their role in global counter-terrorism operations, part of a U.S. policy shift that will replace a CIA-dominated system of clandestine detentions and interrogations with one built around transparent investigations and prosecutions.

“Under the ‘global justice’ initiative, … FBI agents will … expand their questioning of suspects and evidence-gathering to try to ensure that criminal prosecutions are an option, officials familiar with the effort said.”

It’s too soon to know how much of an improvement this policy will be over the Bush administration’s war policy, but if the government is thinking more in terms of traditional criminal trials, with the presumption of innocence and the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, that is indeed an improvement.

Of course former Vice President Dick Cheney wouldn’t approve. He recently said the Clinton administration wrongly treated the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as a crime. The government tried some of the suspected bombers, won convictions, and imprisoned the offenders for life. Cheney pointed out, however, that since the Twin Towers were brought down some eight years later, the criminal-justice approach to terrorism was an obvious failure. As he put it in a recent speech,

“The first attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a law enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact — crime scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed.

“That’s how it seemed from a law enforcement perspective, at least — but for the terrorists the case was not closed. For them, it was another offensive strike in their ongoing war against the United States.”

But Cheney left out an important part of the story. One of the planners of the 1993 bombing, Ramzi Yousef, explained that the 1993 bombing was a response to the decades-long U.S. interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. While that policy cannot justify attacks on innocents, Yousef was right to object to the intervention. For decades the U.S. government has supported Middle East despotisms (sometimes instigating coups) and unconditionally supported Israel against legitimate Palestinian grievances. In the 1990s the U.S. embargo on Iraq took the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, while American bombings terrorized the Iraqis. And the U.S. military kept troops near holy Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. government acknowledges that such conduct created Muslim resentment. Yet that aggressive policy did not change after the 1993 bombing — quite the contrary. So Cheney cannot reasonably conclude that it was the criminal-justice approach to terrorism that failed. Rather, continued intervention produced “blowback” on 9/11.

Sooner or later, all empires are targets of terrorism. If Americans are really serious about keeping safe, the first step must be to renounce interventionism and adopt a foreign policy of peace and free trade. Treating terrorism as a crime is consistent with that policy.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine. Visit his blog “Free Association” at Send him email.

Is North Korea the real threat?

June 2, 2009

Alan Maass looks at the role of the U.S. government in setting the stage for escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Alan Maass | Socialist Worker, May 29, 2009

Hillary Clinton (Marc Nozell)Hillary Clinton (Marc Nozell)

THE U.S. government has nuclear weapons pointed at North Korea, a fleet of Navy vessels permanently positioned off its coast, and close to 100,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea and Japan. Successive U.S. administrations have reneged on promises made over two decades to provide humanitarian aid to the North’s impoverished population.

But you wouldn’t know any of that from the international response when the North Korean regime carried out a nuclear bomb test May 25.

Instead, U.S. and international political leaders, cheered on by the media, all heaped blame on North Korea alone for the escalating threat of war.

The nuclear test was North Korea’s second. This bomb, set off underground, was far more powerful, estimated at between 10 and 20 kilotons–approximately the same destructive power of each of the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War.

The North Korean military announced the same day that it had test-fired three short-range missiles, and the government reportedly restarted a nuclear reactor it had promised to dismantle as part of an aid-for-disarmament agreement reached two years ago at so-called “six-party talks” involving China, Russia, Japan, the U.S. and the two Koreas.

Featured at Socialism 2009

Hear Alan Maass at Socialism 2009 in Chicago, speaking on “Abraham Lincoln and the Abolitionists,” and in San Francisco on “Media as a Weapon: Speaking Truth to Power.” Check out the Socialism 2009 Web site for more details. See you at Socialism!

The U.S. and ally South Korea, in turn, put their military forces on a state of high alert–and American officials were pressing the United Nations Security Council for sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised North Korea would face “consequences” for what she called “provocative and belligerent actions.”

The idea that North Korea represents a military threat to the U.S. is absurd. The country is desperately poor, with a per capita income of less than $2 a day. Its military is years away from developing a long-range missile that could reliably reach the continental U.S., much less a nuclear device that could be carried on such a missile.

But on the Korean peninsula, the threat of horrific carnage is far more immediate. North Korea has an estimated 750 missiles and 13,000 artillery tubes pointed toward South Korea. Some 21 million people live in metropolitan Seoul, which is just 35 miles from the border with the North. And, of course, U.S. and South Korean forces have a far more destructive arsenal at their command. A war could leave 1 million civilians dead in a matter of days.

The North Korean regime’s militaristic rhetoric–and, even more so, its police-state methods for repressing dissent–makes it easy for the media to dismiss its leaders as crazed fanatics. But when North Korean officials say their attempts to develop nuclear weapons have been a deterrent against U.S. attack, they’re right.

When the Bush administration launched its “war on terror,” North Korea was included among the “axis of evil” list of possible targets after Afghanistan was conquered. But it never faced even preparations for a U.S. war. “The Iraqi war taught the lesson that…the security of the nation can be protected only when a country has a physical deterrent force,” a North Korean official said a few weeks after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BEHIND THE conflict between the U.S. and North Korea lies more than a century of colonial occupation and imperialist domination.

Before the 20th century, rulers of China and Japan had fought over who would control the Korean peninsula. After defeating Russia in a 1905 war, Japan made Korea into its colony, which it ruthlessly exploited, with help from U.S. investors.

After Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, the U.S. and the former USSR–previously wartime allies–began their Cold War rivalry, with Korea serving as an early battleground. The peninsula was “temporarily” partitioned.

Communist forces in the North backed by the USSR launched an offensive with the aim of reuniting Korea in 1950. The U.S. responded with a wholesale slaughter. With the authority of the United Nations as a cover, the U.S. used napalm to firebomb every Northern city, reducing them to ruins.

Four years of war ended in a stalemate, at a cost of some 3 million dead; the previous partition line was reconfirmed in a 1953 armistice agreement.

Following the war, South Korea was run by its military, backed up by the U.S. Only after more than three decades of dictatorship did this regime finally crack, in the face of a mass democracy movement fueled by workers’ struggles.

North Korea adopted the repressive Stalinist system of its patrons in Russia and China. Though its leaders still claim to be presiding over “communism,” North Korea is the polar opposite of a socialist society of workers’ power and democracy. The state apparatus directs the economy and society with an iron hand, and the regime promotes a cult of personality, first around Kim Il-sung, and now his son Kim Jong-il.

But if North Korea has always been highly militarized, it has also faced half a century of military threats from the U.S. and its clients in the South. The U.S. introduced nuclear weapons to the peninsula in the late 1950s, in violation of the armistice that ended the war. It also maintains, to this day, a huge military force stationed in both South Korea and nearby Japan as a constant threat against the North.

North Korea was economically ahead of the South until the mid-1970s. But its increasing impoverishment intensified after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration stoked tensions by restarting war games on the peninsula and retargeting nuclear weapons once aimed at the USSR toward North Korea. According to a South Korean government official, the U.S. had drawn up plans for the overthrow of the North and its takeover by the South.

In 1994, the Clinton White House agreed to a deal in which the North Korean government promised to halt its nuclear weapons program, and the U.S. would lift its embargo on trade and credit, and also help with the building of a civilian nuclear power program, with shipments of fuel oil as a stopgap measure for producing electricity.

Clinton broke all these promises, except for the delivery of fuel oil and some food aid. The economic crisis grew worse. Severe flooding in the 1990s led to a famine that killed as many as one in 10 people in the country. In other words, in spite of the agreement, the Clinton administration was continuing to up the pressure on the regime, in the hopes that it would break.

When George W. Bush came to power, he made matters worse by rejecting further direct negotiations. The state of relations between the two countries was symbolized by Bush’s racist rants about Kim Jong-il being a “pygmy.”

Now the Obama administration is in charge, and its top foreign policy officials show no sign of wanting to pursue a different path. Thus, Obama’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice said she wanted to be sure North Korea would “pay a price” for its nuclear test.

No sane person wants to see the spread of nuclear weapons. But when it comes to the arms race and war threats in East Asia, the driving force is the U.S. government. Real disarmament would start with the American soldiers and weapons that have been pointed at North Korea for more than half a century.

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