Friday, October 16, 2009

What War Brings: unending imprisonment

Photo: From ACLU

WHAT WAR BRINGS: unending imprisonment and disregard for the rule of law

Well, technically, people who are thrown into prison are not there indefinitely. If nothing else, one day they will die. But I think it feels UNENDING to those who are held for years and years without charges, trials, juries, sentences or even any idea why they are being detained. (Rather like a kidnapping, isn’t it? Except you may have some idea why the kidnapping happened, which is often not true with imprisonments during wars and occupations. ) They have no idea when their nightmare might end.


In Iraq, most of the prisons that America has run over the last six and a half years are being shut down. However, there are still thousands imprisoned. Camp Bucca was shut down in September. Camp Cropper (near Baghdad airport) is due to be shut down by the end of the year. There will still be over a thousand prisoners next year being held by US forces in Iraq. Here is some history:

Largest of America’s two prisons in Iraq to shut

At its peak Camp Bucca held about 26,000 inmates, many of whom were thought to be Islamic extremists and factional leaders in the sectarian war that ravaged Iraq in 2006 and 2007. The sprawling desert compound, near the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, was described by prisoners as harsh.

Here’s one story from Camp Bucca, from the same article:

"I was there for 18 months," said Mohaamed al-Janabi, 20, a Sunni Muslim from the outskirts of Sadr City in Baghdad. "I was arrested by the Americans at my uncle's house because one of their trucks had been blown up the day before. They fed me well and they trained me in woodwork and I only ever did four nights in isolation. But I should not have been there in the first place. My story was similar to almost everyone else I met there."

There are claims that Camp Bucca became a terrorist training facility, with a fertile ground found among the resentful inmates. This article also says that 1,000 prisoners will remain in joint Iraqi-American control in 2010, likely at a newly built prison in Taji airbase. There are also several other non-declared prisons run by the US government, according to this article.

Another prisoner at Camp Bucca was Ali Omar al-Mashhadani, a cameraman who worked for BBC, NPR and Reuters. Here is his story.

US prison’s closure offers no solace for one Iraqi

Mashhadani says he suffered psychological abuse at Camp Bucca, where Shiites and Sunnis were knowingly housed together, and where prisoners were forced to stay in small, dark holding cells. The rooms had many air conditioners, and prisoners were only give one blanket. "It was freezing there. Every eight hours, the guards would take us out for just 10 minutes. The prisoners were given food twice a day, but their hands and feet were chained. They had to use the bathroom right there in the cell. This went on for weeks, or even up to a month," he says. ….."Until this moment," Mashhadani says, "they have not told me what my crime is."

So, the good news is that most of the prisoners detained by the US in Iraq are going to be released, except for a thousand prisoners or so. (Unless there happens to be prisons in Iraq that we don’t know about. There is that possibility.) The prisoners were often released to Iraqi custody. The Iraqis are now in charge of Abu Ghraib prison, In July 2009, they had some trouble there, and the Iraqi military and police responded with US helicopters monitoring the area.

Riot at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison

The unrest began on Thursday, when three inmates started a fire in their cell "and tried to overpower guards in an apparent escape attempt", US military spokesman Master Sgt Nicholas Conner said. A local council member for the Abu Ghraib district, which is in western Baghdad, said the inmates had set fire to mattresses while the prison was being searched for mobile phones and banned drugs.

…..Some Iraqi media said there had been fatalities, but Master Sgt Conner said the Iraqi authorities reported that three guards and three inmates had been injured. It was not clear what sparked the incident, although some reports said inmates were unhappy about jail conditions.

One cute thing about this BBC article is the claim that Saddam did torture and executions at Abu Ghraib, while the American troops engaged in abuse and humiliation. Since inmates died under US troops at Abu Ghraib (we saw the photos!), does that mean they died of humiliation or abuse? Somehow, I don’t think so. Funny how Obama does not want the world to see the pictures of what was done in these prisons, considering it was only “humiliation and abuse”. (The hypocrisy is astounding.)


Well, the prisons are running full steam ahead in Afghanistan, notably Bagram. They are building new wings of the Bagram prison complex. The Obama administration is bringing rendition to Bagram, but not the Geneva Conventions. The article below reports that the prisoners are being rendered from other countries. Standards for reviewing prisoners in Bagram do not even meet the standards set for Guantanamo prisoners.

Obama brings Guantanamo and rendition to Bagram

Until 2007, there was, as the Post explained, “no formal process to review prisoner status,” and, as District Court Judge John D. Bates noted in April, the system that was then put in place — consisting of Unlawful Enemy Combatant Review Boards (UECRB) — “falls well short of what the Supreme Court found inadequate at Guantánamo” (in Boumediene v. Bush, the June 2008 ruling granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights), being both “inadequate” and “more error-prone” than the notoriously inadequate and error-prone system of Combatant Status Review Tribunals that was established at Guantánamo to review the prisoners’ cases.

This review board did not allow the prisoners to have personal representation, and the prisoners had to represent themselves without information on what they were being held for. Judge Bates said this about the system there:

Detainees cannot even speak for themselves; they are only permitted to submit a written statement. But in submitting that statement, detainees do not know what evidence the United States relies upon to justify an “enemy combatant” designation — so they lack a meaningful opportunity to rebut that evidence. [The government’s] far-reaching and ever-changing definition of enemy combatant, coupled with the uncertain evidentiary standards, further undercut the reliability of the UECRB review. And, unlike the CSRT process [which was followed by annual review boards], Bagram detainees receive no review beyond the UECRB itself.

There are changes coming – which on the surface do address the deficiencies noted by Judge Bates – without actually meeting the standards of the Geneva Convention. The return to the rule of law is looking dimmer every day under the Obama administration.

US says rendition to continue, but with more oversight

The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday. Human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying that continuing the practice, known as rendition, would still allow the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture. They said that promises from other countries of humane treatment, called “diplomatic assurances,” were no protection against abuse.

And in a Daily Kos diary by Amnesty International USA, it was reported that a detailed review showed that 400 of 600 detainees at Bagram were detained without any compelling evidence that they pose a threat. This means that people who have not done a thing are being sent to prison indefinitely, often abused or tortured, and then likely being radicalized into wanting to attack Americans. At least, that is what most men would do after such an experience.

Conditions in Bagram are reportedly horrible. Prisoners there held a protest in July 2009. They refused to leave their cells for over two weeks to protest their indefinite imprisonment.

Bagram prisoner protest

The prisoners are reported to be protesting against what they say are a lack of basic rights such as access to lawyers or independent reviews of their status. The Washington Post newspaper recently reported that prisoners in Bagram have been protesting against their "indefinite detention". The protest is said to have started at the beginning of July.

"During our last regular visit at the beginning of July, the detainees told us they did not want to participate in the family video phone call and family visit," Jessica Barry, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told told the AFP news agency. The prisoners are also reported to have declined family visits and outside recreation time.

I have not read of any follow up to this prisoner riot, so I don’t know if it still continues or if the prisoner’s complaints have been addressed. The above article also mentions the BBC report on how prisoners were treated at Bagram. The BBC report is in the You Tube video below. The BBC spoke to 27 prisoners, and only two of them said they were treated well. The others complained of beatings, being sleep-deprived, and threatened with dogs. The usual, I guess.

And the problems extend into the Afghan-run prison systems. Which actually sound a lot like the American-run prisons.

….. conditions worsened in the larger Afghan-run prison network, which houses more than 15,000 detainees at three dozen overcrowded and often violent sites. The country’s deeply flawed judicial system affords prisoners virtually no legal protections, human rights advocates say. “Throughout Afghanistan, Afghans are arbitrarily detained by police, prosecutors, judges and detention center officials with alarming regularity,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report in January.

Some Afghan prisoners are held at a new prison built with American money and run by American-trained Afghan soldiers. It holds 4,300 prisoners, including some 360 from Bagram or Guantanamo. Last December, eight inmates DIED at this prison during a security sweep. An interesting comment in that same article, about the photos of torture of detainees from Admiral Mullen:

“We are better than what I saw in those pictures.”

We are, huh? Then who was in those pictures? Space aliens who invaded US troop’s bodies? How come the people who ordered and approved these torture events are not facing criminal charges, if we are better than that? And how come we can’t see those photos? This is a report from Spiegel, a German magazine. It was released in September 2009.

Prisoner Abuse Continues at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

To this day, there are hardly any photos from inside Bagram, and journalists have never been given access to the detention center. Although exact numbers are unknown, there are believed to be about 600 detainees at Bagram, or close to three times as many as there currently are at Guantanamo. According to an as-yet-unpublished 2009 Pentagon report, 400 of the Bagram inmates are innocent and could be released immediately.

A recent report by Spiegel claims that the Obama administration has completely failed in reversing the human rights violations of the Bush administration.

Human Rights Lawyer on Bagram Prison

Unfortunately, the US government did not change its position on Bagram when Obama took office. The government still claims that our clients are not entitled to any legal protections under US law. It maintains that even those individuals who they brought to Bagram from other countries, and have held without charge for more than six years, are still not entitled to speak with their attorney, and they are arguing now that they are not entitled to have their cases heard in US courts.

…..There is absolutely no difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration's position with respect to Bagram detainees' rights. They have made much ado about nothing, in the hope that the courts and the public will not examine the issue more closely.

……… Amin Al Bakri -- a Yemeni gem trader who was kidnapped while on a business trip in Thailand, rendered to secret prisons, tortured and finally ended up at Bagram -- is still being held incommunicado and without access to his attorneys. We believe he was tortured in CIA secret prisons before being transferred to Bagram, which is why I believe the government does not want to allow us to speak with him. It's a cover up. Amin has been at Bagram for more than six years. It's hard to imagine any other reason why the government would not allow him a simple hearing in a US court.

………. Our client Jawed "Jojo" Ahmad was a young journalist working for the Canadian television network CTV. He was also taken into custody by the military and held without charge for more than a year before the US government finally released him. This all happened in 2007-2008 -- in other words, fairly recently. That "mistake" by the US government cost Jojo his life. We were eventually able to convince the US government that he was innocent, and happily he was released. Jojo committed his time after he got out of prison to exposing other injustices at Bagram and beyond in Afghanistan. He helped us with the cases of other innocent people who are currently being held at Bagram, and was essentially our star witness in this litigation. This was all cut short earlier this year, when Jojo was shot and killed in broad daylight. His assassins have never been identified.

There is more information on Jawed Ahmad under my diary WHAT WAR BRINGS: the killing of journalists. All the above is not going to stop this.

A new $60 million prison complex is planned for Afghanistan – paid for by the US taxpayers.

And, guess what? We are also paying their government to do stupid, freedom-stomping things like this:

What are we fighting for?

Sentenced to death for reportedly downloading an article on women's rights and showing it to classmates, Parvez Kambash could be forgiven for believing little progress has been made since the international community first arrived in Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. Appearing before a court of mullahs in the government-controlled city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the 22-year-old received the harshest punishment for blasphemy. He has spent the last eighteen months behind bars. Panorama's Jane Corbin went to visit him in Kabul's detention centre. He told her that his case was controversial but he only had a 3-minute hearing. "They announced I would receive the death penalty," he said. "I can't ever explain what I felt when I heard the decision. I couldn't even begin to understand why that was happening to me and where the decision was coming from."

His sentence was commuted to a 22 year prison term, all for downloading an article on women’s rights. This is what we are doing there in Afghanistan – building prisons, filling them up, and helping the corrupt Afghan government fill up prisons for stupid shit. That is what we are spending all those billions on.


And then there is Guantanamo, still holding prisoners after all these years – unending imprisonment for them, with not a single one convicted in a court of law. We have heard that Obama intends to close this prison. So far, that has not happened. And transferring them to Bagram may fulfill the promise he made without actually giving the prisoners their rights under the Geneva Conventions.

Human Rights Lawyer on Bagram Prison

What most people don't realize is that Bagram has always been far worse than Guantanamo. One thing that has not been stressed enough in media accounts regarding Guantanamo is that much of the abuse that the Guantanamo prisoners suffered actually happened at Bagram. Many of our former clients were subjected to sexual humiliation and assault akin to Abu Ghraib-style torture. In terms of torture and abuse, Bagram has a far worse history than Guantanamo. There are at least two detainees who died there after being tortured by US interrogators.

Meanwhile, back here in the USA, war has brought unending imprisonment for some Americans. Here is one story.

A thousand little Gitmos

Defendants who have never been tried or convicted of anything are locked in solitary confinement, sometimes for years. Evidence is routinely kept secret from the defense. Attorneys are forbidden to reveal classified information even if it's already in the public domain. (Among the materials deemed too hot for public consumption in Hashmi's case is a college term paper titled "How Did 9/11 Change the World?") In some cases, the prosecutors are not permitted to view the most sensitive classified evidence in their own cases—instead, intelligence agencies present this critical information to the judge alone. Many of these cases involve US citizens or legal residents; in many instances, they are setting precedents that degrade legal standards across the system.

This, according to the government, is how Hashmi ended up behind bars: In 2004, while in graduate school in London, he allowed an acquaintance from Queens named Mohammed Junaid Babar to crash at his apartment for two weeks. Babar stashed his luggage at Hashmi's place—luggage that, the government says, contained "military gear" for Al Qaeda. (Babar eventually pled guilty to handing the gear—a bunch of raincoats and waterproof socks—off to Al Qaeda's No. 3 man.) The government says Hashmi knew the contents of the luggage and their destination, so he knowingly aided someone who was aiding terrorists. Babar is now the government's star witness against Hashmi, a role he has played in other cases in an effort to whittle down his own sentence; he may ultimately get off with time served. Meanwhile Hashmi, who is not accused of any direct connection to Al Qaeda, faces 70 years in prison.

I would call a possible 70 years in prison for hosting a house guest ‘unending imprisonment.’ He has already been in prison for three years, in a windowless cell, in solitary confinement. He is not allowed TV or radio, and few visits with his family. His lawyer says he is going mad from the isolation.

To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom. But confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to gaol, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten; is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government. ~ William Blackstone

(h/t/ to Jay Elias’s diary “Bush Appointee Eviscerates Ashcroft in 9th Circuit Decision” for the above quote.)

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: unending imprisonment and disregard for the rule of law.

BBC Report on continued torture at Bagram AFB

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