Sunday, December 27, 2009

My heart is with Gaza tonight

Photo: Children play in the rubble of their homes in Jabaliya, destroyed by the Israeli offensive in January. Photograph: Ashraf Amra/Polaris/eyevine

A year ago, the bombardment of Gaza began. For 23 horrible days, I watched the small area of Gaza get bombed day and night. In the end, over 1400 people were killed, over 300 of them children. All the dead children were from Gaza.

As always, it is the non-combatants who suffer the most in war. Here is one child’s story:

Childhood in ruins

It was Friday 16 January and Ghiada was studying for exams. Her father, a pharmacist, woke from a nap, demanding tea and shouting at the younger children to be quiet. "Suddenly I could hear my cousin downstairs, screaming 'Dead! Dead!'" A shell had hit the building – a block of five apartments, housing the extended Abu Elaish family – smashing windows and causing extensive damage to the flat below.

In the ensuing panic, Ghiada defied her father and followed him downstairs. "One room was completely black. I saw Aya [my cousin], she was on the ground with wood on top of her. There was a big hole in the wall."

Ghiada tried pulling Aya out from under the furniture. A second shell struck. "There was a big light for a second," she says. "I saw some windows smash and I heard screaming all around. A piece of shrapnel hit me. I started to scream for help and then fell down unconscious."

This particular attack is one I remember very well. The uncle of this child was a physician who worked in an Israeli hospital, and he called into an Israeli TV station pleading for help for his injured children and lamenting the dead children in front of his eyes. Without understanding a word of the phone conversation (on either end), it still left me with a horror at the violence that was being inflicted on this family. Amazingly, this man, Dr. abu Elaish, still is promoting peace and reconciliation. This report says that he has moved to Canada.

And a year after this brutal assault, the people of Gaza are still not allowed to rebuild. More than 20,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. The blockade will not allow in materials to build or repair their homes. This is having a psychological effect, beyond the physical effects.

Overcrowding, lack of privacy and poverty are contributing to what some in Gaza call the "mental siege". Tensions within families are increasing, say Gaza's mental health experts. "Some parents themselves have depression and anxiety. Some become more aggressive towards their children," says Zeyada.

Schools have also suffered from the bombardment and the blockade.

Thirty-two of the UN's 221 schools were damaged in the Israeli assault, plus scores more government ones. None have been repaired because Israel does not allow construction materials into Gaza, saying they could be used to make weapons. "So the schools, where the windows were blown out or other damage was done, have been cleaned up, made safe, and continue in operation today without the physical repairs because we haven't been allowed to bring in one pane of glass or one bag of cement since last January," says Ging.

The policy is promoting extremism inside Gaza, along with destroying hope. More children see their parents as unable to meet their needs, so they look to outside forces that use violence as a role model. The blockade and the bombardment has created more hostility, and will continue to do so as time goes on.

Hunger stalks the children of Gaza. Newborn babies are suffering from malnutrition.

A year after the bombings, one man in Gaza is living among the ruins and among the graffiti written on the walls of the house he is living in.

Gaza one year on: The aftermath of the tragedy

Now Hilmi mainly potters round the house, set amid devastated orchards and chicken coops in the southern Gaza City district of Zeitoun. The graffiti in English and Hebrew on the interior walls, left by the men of the Israeli army's Givati brigade, are the only relics of their two-week occupation of the building – a gravestone drawn beside the words "Gaza we were here"; "One down and 999,000 to go"; "Death to Arabs". Has the family deliberately kept the graffiti visible? "Yes, but anyway we didn't have paint to cover them," he says.

His sister lives with him, and here are some of her memories:

One of Hilmi's duties is to help look after his dauntingly self-possessed 11-year-old sister Mona, who turns the pages of artwork inspired by her memories of the morning of 5 January 2009. "This is me cleaning the face of mother who is dead. This is my father who was hit in the head and his brains came out. This is my dead sister-in-law. This is my sister taking the son from my sister in law..."

A year on, and there are still acres of rubble in Gaza. There are still people living in tents. What little building materials that do come in, come via the tunnels to Egypt.

Surveying the wreckage, tunnel worker Abu Yusef recalls that he once earned 300 shekels (£48) a day as a gardener in Israel when the crossings were open, and would willingly do so again rather than risk his life for a third of that. "If there was other work, I wouldn't look at a tunnel again," he says.

Sixteen human rights groups have made the claim that the world has betrayed Gaza by failing to end the blockade.

World has betrayed Gaza Civilians: rights groups

"The international community has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade which is preventing reconstruction and recovery," said the report.

….. "World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza's ordinary citizens. They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction."

Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said:

"It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there for the acts of a few. World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza's ordinary citizens. They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction, personal recovery and economic recuperation."

The world has turned it’s back on Gaza, and it’s back on justice and ending human suffering. But I remember them, and I totally support the Gaza Freedom March.

REMEMBER THESE CHILDREN - Total killed since 2000

Israelis 124

Palestinians 1,441


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in the Holy Land - December 2009

The Christmas Truce of 1914

By Paul J. Magnarella (reprinted with permission)

Although World War I ranks as one of the most horrific in history, causing about 40 million casualties and up to 20 million military and civilian deaths, it also included a famous and spontaneous peaceful interlude inscribed in chronicles as the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914.

World War I

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, plunged much of Europe into war. The Entente Powers of France, Russia and Britain stood against the Central Powers of the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman Empires. In mid-September, the German, British and French commands ordered their armies to entrench along a 475 mile Western Front that extended from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. Four years of brutal, stalemated trench warfare followed. Most trenches were about seven feet deep and six feet wide topped by a parapet of sandbags. From there barbed wire entanglements extended into No-Man’s land. In many places the No-Man’s Land separating German and British front-line trenches was only 30 to 70 yards wide.

The elements were sometimes more debilitating than the enemy. Standing in the mud and water for days often resulted in feet becoming gangrenous. Excessive exposure to wet and cold caused nephritis, which affected the kidneys. The accumulated rubbish, urine, and excreta in the trenches negatively impacted on health. Food scraps and decaying corpses attracted huge numbers of disease-carrying rats. The unwashed men attracted lice that covered their bodies with bite marks and caused “trench fever.” Artillery bursts caused some men to experience shell shock.

Periodically, the aristocratic generals (safely lodged in the rear) ordered the mostly lower class men in the trenches to make suicidal frontal assaults on enemy trenches. Machine guns and rapid fire rifles simply mowed down attacking men in No-Man’s Land, where their bodies often remained for weeks in a decaying state. The generals never devised a sensible plan to break the cruel stalemate that trench warfare became.

On Christmas Eve the weather cleared. Rain gave way to a clear cold that froze the mud and water, making movement easier and boots and clothing drier. Having received gift packages from home, the men of both sides were in a festive mood. That evening, along the front-line, German troops sang Christmas carols. Many erected candle-lit Christmas trees on their parapets and called out season’s greetings to their enemies opposite them.

Many Entente troops responded with applause, holiday wishes, and songs of their own. Concerned, one British battalion command informed Brigade Headquarters: “Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs, and are wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged, but [I] am nevertheless taking all military precautions...”

Then, an amazing series of events occurred. Along parts of the British, French and Belgian lines, men from both sides went out into No-Man’s Land unarmed to meet, shake hands and fraternize. The First Battalion Royal Irish Rifles reported Germans calling out: “If you Englishmen come out and talk to us, we won’t fire.”

Scotsmen in Flanders, the 2nd Queen’s Battalion near La Chapelle d’Armentieres, and the 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers also reported Germans singing Stille Nacht [Silent Night] and extending invitations to meet in No Man’s Land.

Christmas Day

On the morning of 25 December, the 2nd Battalion Devons reported seeing the Germans hoist a board with the words “You no fight, we no fight.” Opposite the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment, the process began with a German officer emerging from his trench waving a white flag. The 2nd Battalion Wiltshires reported men on both sides waving to each other, and then going out into No-Man’s Land to meet unarmed. After initial greetings both sides agreed to bury their dead comrades who had been laying in No-Man’s Land for weeks. Some Germans and British worked together in burial parties; a British soldier described a joint funeral service as “a sight one will never forget!” Members of the British Rifle Brigade gave the Germans wooden crosses to mark their graves.

The opposing sides exchanged food, drink, cigarettes, photographs, addresses and sincere wishes for peace. A British officer found the scene “absolutely astounding!” The troops found each other to be quite likeable. Many men felt compelled to write home about their experience. A London Rifles Brigade officer: “They [Germans] were really magnificent in the whole thing....I now have a very different opinion of the Germans.” A Scots Guard: “Some of them are very nice fellows and did not show any hatred, which makes me think they are forced to fight.”

Once No-Man’s Land had been cleared of corpses, some men found areas suitable for soccer games with improvised balls. In places, British and Germans ate Christmas dinner together, sharing whatever they had. They entertained each other with singing and instrumental music.

How It Ended

Many who participated in an informal truce hoped to continue it until New Year’s Day or beyond. But the High Commands sternly objected. A German army order dated threatened that fraternization with the enemy would be punished as high treason. A British order warned that “Officers and NCOs allowing [fraternization] would be brought before a court martial.”

In late December the High Commands ordered artillery bombardments along the front. They did the same in following years to ensure that the 1914 Christmas truce would not be repeated. Despite these measures, a few friendly encounters did occur, but on a much smaller scale than in 1914.

Soldiers Express Themselves

The Christmas truce touched the men deeply as evidenced in their letters and diaries. Various British soldiers wrote the following: “The most wonderful day on record!” “The most extraordinary celebration of Christmas any of us will ever experience!” “This experience has been the most practical demonstration I have seen of Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” German troops wrote: “The way we spend Christmas in the trenches sounds almost like a fairy tale.” “It was a Christmas celebration in keeping with the command ‘Peace on earth’ and a memory which will stay with us always.” “Probably the most extraordinary event of the whole year—a soldier’s truce without any higher sanction by officers or generals.”

Speaking in the House of Commons in 1930, Sir H. Kingsley Wood, a former major who had served at the front in 1914 stated: “If we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired. …it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary for us to start trying to shoot one another again.”

Today, the Christmas Truce of 1914 is regarded as evidence of men’s natural desire for peace and friendship, even in the context of a brutal and senseless conflict. However, the 1914 Christmas Truce is not unique in history. During the early 19th century Peninsula War, British and French soldiers at times visited each other, shared rations and played cards. Periodically during the 1854-56 Crimean War French, British and Russian troops gathered around the same fire to smoke and drink together.

In the American Civil War (1861-65) Yankees and Rebels traded coffee and tobacco and peacefully fished from opposite sides of the same rivers. Throughout history, it has been rare for men fighting at close quarters not to extend friendly gestures and establish informal truces with their enemies.

* * *

Paul J. Magnarella is Director of Peace and Justice Studies, Warren Wilson College.

This commentary was distributed by PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Iraqi Christians at Christmas

Photo: Iraqi police stand guard outside the St. Ephrem Syriac Orthodox Church on Christmas eve in the northern city of Kirkuk, 240 kms (150 miles) from Baghdad. Twenty-seven people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a string of attacks across Iraq on Thursday ahead of Christmas and the Shiite commemoration ceremonies of Ashura. (AFP/Marwan Ibrahim)

In Amman, Iraqi Christians are continuing the traditional celebrations of Christmas – trees, nativity scenes, church services, and presents – but they are far from feeling festive. It is estimated that over a million Christians were in Iraq when the US invaded, and that number has been halved. Many are refugees in Syria and Jordan. They face the same hardships as other refugees – lacking jobs, facing poverty, missing their homeland and their families.

Iraqi exiles prepare for a sad Christmas

“Christmas is the new birth but we are not happy. We do not feel it is Christmas,” said the Iraqi, who did not want to give his name.

…..“I did not leave my home in Baghdad because I wanted to. They [armed men] forced me to. They shot at us at home and threw a sound bomb in the kitchen,” he said. His Christmas blues are a feeling shared by many Iraqi Christians. In the past six years, large numbers were either killed, kidnapped or threatened while several churches were bombed, and their clergy murdered.

Inside Iraq, two churches and a church school were bombed earlier this week. Violence in Iraq still continues, and a lot of it is directed towards religious minorities.

Bombs target Iraqi Christians, Shiites

"Instead of performing Christmas Mass in this church, we will be busy removing rubble and debris," Hazim Ragheed, a priest at the church, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The church, called Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas, is more than 1,200 years old. It is located in Mosul. Clearly, there was no significant animosity towards Christians in Iraq before the US military showed up. The age of the church proves that fact. Since the US invasion in 2003, there have been repeated attacks on the Christians in Iraq.

And due to the violence, the celebrations in Iraq itself will be quiet ones. One bishop in Basra called for no public festivities, and several churches have canceled their typical Christmas mass or Christmas services. They are afraid.

A quiet Christmas for Christians in Iraq

In Kirkuk, a sign on the door of the Kirkuk Cathedral for Chaldean Christians read, in part: "We apologize to all the brothers for not conducting celebrations or accepting greetings or guests, but we pray for peace and security in Iraq. We cannot celebrate because of our grief over the victims of the bombings in Mosul and Baghdad."

…. Hundreds of thousands of Christians remain in Iraq, but many live in isolated enclaves, according to church officials. Sako, the Chaldean archbishop, said that 10,000 Christians have fled Kirkuk in the past three months, and church officials in Basra have reported that the Christian community there has halved to about 2,500 people because of militia attacks.

Here are some more comments by Iraqi Christians who are still in Iraq:

"Psychologically, we cannot have a celebration," said Qais Aboudi, a 56-year-old carpenter and member of a Baghdad Chaldean parish. "But we cannot deny we are Christians. It is our religion, and we are proud of it."

"I used to celebrate Christmas with many people, with joy, with visits, with guests," said the pastor at the Virgin Mary church. "Now I am staying here alone."

And here are a few more:

“I’m very sad that we are not able to have our rituals for Christmas this year and not have a sermon, but we do not want any Christians to be harmed,” said Edward Poles, a Christian priest at Sa’a Church in Mosul, which was bombed last week, though no one was killed.

“There will be no celebration or anything of that sort,” said Duraid Issam, a 41-year-old clerk. “We will keep it quiet because things are really bad. We are not targeted only at churches, but even in our houses because they will plant bombs outside our homes as well.”

“Our celebrations will not be open and will be restricted to going to the church in the morning,” said Naeil Victor, a 58-year-old teacher in the southern city of Basra. “My children are upset because they have been waiting for this Christmas for a year now, but my wife and my father understand what is going on around them.”

“We have moved the rituals for Christmas to the town of Qereqush, fearing that the Christians might be harmed in this insecure and unsafe city,” said the Rev. Behnam Asaad of Qahira Church. “We have distributed cards and fliers to the Christian families of this church informing them about the time and place where we will have the celebration, but we fear that assassinations might take place even after Christmas.”

“They are targeting not only us, but all Iraqis,” said Ann Benjamin, 26, after she walked through a phalanx of security personnel to attend Mass this week at Al Qaleb Al Aqdas (Sacred Heart) Church in the Karada district of Baghdad. “I am not afraid of going to church — even if I die there, I will be happy to die in God’s home.”

All of this came about because of the US war and occupation, where we brought them the freedom of the grave and the democracy of death.

A beautiful prayer for Christmas:

Merry Christmas from the Arab Christian Kossacks

Fear of Attacks Against Christians in Iraq

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Building human contact for peace in Afghanistan

Comment on Gaza

December 2009: Of more immediate concern, those under siege in Gaza face another winter of intense personal suffering. I visited Gaza after the devastating January war and observed homeless people huddling in makeshift tents, under plastic sheets, or in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza. The US and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action. – President Jimmy Carter

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowy weekend in Asheville

It started snowing on Friday, late morning. Came down fast, and we had 12 inches on the ground by nightfall (maybe more). On Saturday, it snowed a bit more. Streets were in terrible shape. I just stayed home. On Sunday, Meeting for worship was canceled, except for those who were walking..... the parking lot was full of snow. Sunday afternoon had better streets, but nothing was opened that I wanted to go to, and events had been canceled. Today, I finally went out. Streets are fine, but the drivers are nutso. Even worse, the pedestrians are acting like idiots! They are walking in the middle of the streets because the sidewalks or shoulders are snow covered. Looked like a good way to get hurt.

We had a total of 12 to 16 inches, and today it started to really melt. Tomorrow, I am back to work. Sure am grateful that I did not lose power. Below are some photos I took.

And today, I got a present from my brother Bill - it is a 7" TV that picks up digital signals out of the air - no cable connection needed! It also plugs up in the car, so I can take it camping. It is the coolest little thing, and I get five channels, including three UNC channels (PBS). It is the coolest present I have gotten in a while! Thanks, Bill!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quote from the White Rose Society

“Why do German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? ...The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behaviour he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this ‘government’ which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!

h/t to
Alex Doherty at Information Clearing House

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rethink Afghanistan - and sign petition

What if all your friends died or moved away?

What if – every friend you had was either recently dead or had moved to another country?

In an 800+ word blog post on the NYT website, this horrific reality is brutally explained. It is titled “I have no living friends in Iraq Now”.

It happened in Iraq. The responsible party is the United States.

Riyadh Mohammed starts his piece by saying how at the end of the year, we tend to reminisce about old friends and look back on good times and bad times with them. But for this Iraqi man, the end of the year means a time to update his list of the dead. He started with the American invasion in 2003. In his own words:

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, I had kept a list of every relative or friend killed in violence. As of late 2006, I counted 124 deaths. Suddenly I stopped. No. 125 was my father.

He said he did not cry at his father’s funeral. He had lost the ability to feel pain and sorrow at that point. The latest name on his list is his ex-girlfriend. Here is how he found out:

When I received messages on my cellphone from friends saying, “Please accept my condolences,” I asked one of them, “What happened?” Another message came that explained that my ex-girlfriend was killed in the Dec. 8 bombings in Baghdad.

She was injured in the bombing, and then crushed to death under the feet of the terrified government employees trying to escape the inferno and the carnage.

His list, which has not been updated since late 2006, is kept in this manner:

When I look at my personal phone book now, I read: “X: killed in Al Mustansiriya University bombings in 2007. Y: missing in western Baghdad in 2005. Z: killed in the Justice Ministry 2009. It keeps going on like that for the most of the book. The ones who left Iraq were the only ones who survived. I lost my last friend when he went to the United States as a refugee in June 2009. I have no living friends in Iraq now.

If he does update his list, he will have to add scores of names of people he knew - friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers - who have died since the end of 2006.

Holy mother of God, we have really committed some serious and deep evil. We have committed genocide on the citizens of Iraq.

This man felt on April 9, 2003 that Iraq would have a new beginning….. and as time went by, the reality of what the US had started became the “new” Iraq. As he put it:

For millions of Iraqis, it was the death of a nation.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the violence set off by the violence of the US invasion and occupation. Millions more fled the country as permanent refugees, and millions more are internally displaced inside Iraq. The vast majority of them are desperately poor, while Americans citizens do not notice or care. The rate of cancer in the country of Iraq is exploding. The number of serious birth defects is significantly higher than they have ever been in the modern history of Iraq. The US, both it’s government and it’s citizens, ignore this reality and do nothing to help. Our media enables this by also ignoring the reality.

The rest of the world knows.

Pictures of the carnage that our invasion and occupation have unleashed are presented here. They will be updated tonight.

I tried, like millions of Americans, to stop this invasion and carnage from ever starting. I failed. I tried, ever since the invasion, to get our troops out of there. I failed. Today, we have 120,000+ troops in Iraq, and even more contractors.

In the years 2003 and 2004, I felt frantic trying to get the US troops out of there before the place was destroyed. It seemed that a large number of Americans felt they should stay to “fix” the problems our invasion caused. This is huge pile of horseshit. The point of our military is to kill people and to break things. They are needed to kill our enemy and destroy the enemy’s ability to hurt us. The problem is – Iraq and Iraqis were never our enemy. But we killed them and destroyed their culture, educational system, infrastructure, health care system and even their history.

In my eyes, we are a monstrously evil country.

Today, the US has been in Afghanistan for over 8 years.

Today, Afghanistan is the ‘most dangerous place in the world to be born’ per human rights groups and UNICEF.

The onset of winter means freezing nights, cold-related diseases and more problems for the children at an informal settlement of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the western outskirts of Kabul city. “They lack access to adequate food, shelter, healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation, education, and are vulnerable to forced labour, sexual exploitation and many other problems,” Paola Retaggi, the coordinator of a Child Rights Consortium (CRC) led by Switzerland’s Terre des Hommes in Kabul, told IRIN.

We did not go into Iraq or Afghanistan to help the native people who already lived there. That is total and complete horseshit. That has never been true, and the crap about how bad the Taliban or Saddam is/was, is nothing but a sick, perverted excuse for our monstrous behavior. Our evil far outstripped Saddam’s evil as far as the Iraqi people are concerned. And soon, IF WE DO NOT GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN IMMEDIATELY, our evil will far outstrip the evil done by the Taliban or the warlords prior to our arrival.

And since our citizens are deaf, dumb and blind to the actual reality in Afghanistan (just like they are in Iraq) and are not rising up against our politician’s EVIL decisions to escalate the war and occupation in Afghanistan, one day we will be reading about how some decent man in Kabul made a list of his friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances who were killed by violence as a direct result of our evil intervention.

It is too late for Iraq, but not for Afghanistan. WE MUST GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN NOW.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Peace must come from the ordinary

We thank those who pray that we'll have peace , But prayers wont suffice if one by one, war takes us away from life.‎

Monday, December 07, 2009

Torture continues

Bagram prison has long had a reputation for torture by US agents in the forms of sleep deprivation, beatings, and sexual humiliation. The movie “A Taxi to the Dark Side” covers how one innocent detainee was tortured and killed at Bagram. It is a very ugly picture. The movie “Road to Guantanamo” also shows the horrific criminal reality that US agents have created. Oh, and there was no real accountability for these crimes, as usual.

The Geneva Convention just didn’t apply.

It is now confirmed that torture continues under the Obama administration. And the media still like to call it “abuse”. Obama has spoken out against this, but he has also stopped the release of photos that show our history of torture, and that stopped any accountability or justice for the victims of torture under the Bush administration.

There are hardly any photos from inside Bagram prison, and journalists are not allowed in there.

Prisoner Abuse Continues at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

Azar, who is originally from Lebanon, is the manager of a construction company. He was on his way to Camp Eggers, the American military base near the presidential palace, when 10 armed FBI agents suddenly surrounded him. The men, all wearing bulletproof vests, put him in handcuffs, tied him up and pushed him into an SUV. Two hours later, they unloaded Azar at the Bagram military prison 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Kabul.

As Azar later testified, he was forced to sit for seven hours, his hands and feet tied to a chair. He spent the night in a cold metal container, and he received no food for 30 hours. He claimed that US military officers showed him photos of his wife and four children, telling him that unless he cooperated he would never see his family again. He also said that he was photographed while naked and then given a jumpsuit to wear.

On that day, April 7, 2009, President Barack Obama had been in office for exactly 77 days.

This man was later ‘renditioned’ to the USA. That was covered in a post I wrote the other day.

Also ‘renditioned’ was a Lebanese-American named Ms. Cobos. She lived in Lebanon with her daughter, but was stripped searched, shackled, hooded, had ear phones to mask noise put on her and flown back to the US. She was treated in much the same manner as the man mentioned above, and in court papers, her attorney calls it psychological torture. She had no idea why she was being detained and was repeatedly pressured into a confession. She was not allowed to call her young daughter for several days. She has since been accused of fraud, which is not a terrorism crime. This information came from her court papers.

Here is a copy of her attorney’s motion to dismiss the charges.

Bagram is reportedly worse than Guantanamo. They have no right to an attorney; they live in cages that hold 20-25 men, with one toilet behind a curtain per cage. It smells horrible, according to released inmate’s reports. (Some are now being moved to the new facility.) Some men have been held there for years without knowing why.

In July of this year, the prisoners at Bagram held a protest.

Hundreds of prisoners at the US-run Bagram jail in Afghanistan are refusing basic privileges to protest about their basic rights, officials say. Inmates have refused to participate in a project which allows prisoners to talk to their families via video phone, the Red Cross says. …. 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.

….. A number of former detainees alleged they had been beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs at the base. Of 27 ex-inmates the BBC spoke to around the country over two months, only two said they had been treated well.

Three detainees who were held at the ‘black site’ at Bagram do not claim they were tortured, but they do state this:

None said they had been tortured, though they said they heard sounds of abuse going on and certainly felt humiliated and roughly used. “They beat up other people in the black jail, but not me,” Hamidullah said. “But the problem was that they didn’t let me sleep. There was shouting noise so you couldn’t sleep."

I would think I was being tortured if I was not allowed to sleep.

Other prisoners do claim that they were tortured at Bagram at the ‘black site’. As usual, the NYT terms this as ‘abuse’ when it is done by Americans, and for other countries they call it ‘torture’.

2 Afghans allege abuse at US site

Two Afghan teenagers held in U.S. detention north of Kabul this year said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban.

The accounts could not be independently substantiated. But in successive, on-the-record interviews, the teenagers presented a detailed, consistent portrait suggesting that the abusive treatment of suspected insurgents has in some cases continued under the Obama administration, despite steps that President Obama has said would put an end to the harsh interrogation practices authorized by the Bush administration.

One of them also made the claim that he was forced to look at pornography alongside a photo of his mother. Another one claimed he was stripped naked and underwent a medical evaluation in front of about six US soldiers, who laughed at him and touched him inappropriately. (Why are there so many sexual perverts in the US military? I guess it is just a reflection of our society.)

A recent poll in the US showed that 54% of Americans now say torture is ‘often justified’ or ‘sometimes justified’.

Pretty fricking unbelievable.

Several activists groups are petitioning the Obama administration to stop covering up torture that was done under the Bush administration. They say it is a violation of international law for the Obama administration to suppress the release of photos of torture.

Don’t cover up torture, 29 groups petition Obama

"Your actions ... indicate a troubling willingness to sweep torture under the rug, rather than openly address our nation’s regrettable recent history," the letter (PDF) tells Obama.

It appears, at this time, that the reason for sweeping torture under the rug is to allow torture to continue. Our president, Secretary of Defense and Congress are enabling this. They are suppressing the evidence so that there will be no prosecution under the Obama administration, and it appears that torture will continue under the Obama administration.

Maybe with the next administration we will get some accountability and a return to the rule of law.

h/t to Greenwald:

Convention Against Torture, signed and championed by Ronald Reagan, Article II/IV:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Secret prisons continue

We are still running secret prisons, at least in Afghanistan. This news came out just last month. The prisoners are being held without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. This was confirmed by human rights researchers, according to the NYT. They are held in cells without windows with a single light bulb that is on all day and all night. Their only human contact is with the people who are interrogating them. They were all accused of being Taliban.

Afghans detail detention in ‘Black Jail’ at US base

“The black jail was the most dangerous and fearful place,” said Hamidullah, a spare-parts dealer in Kandahar who said he was detained there in June. “They don’t let the I.C.R.C. officials or any other civilians see or communicate with the people they keep there. Because I did not know what time it was, I did not know when to pray.”

Yes, Obama said he was going to shut down ‘black sites’ run by the CIA, but this particular ‘black site’ is run by the US military by Special Operation forces. And there are no plans to close it. Supposedly, they can only be held for two weeks in these ‘black sites’ under a new policy, but it is not been confirmed that this regulation is actually being followed. How would we know? They are SECRET.

The NYT article (linked above) tells the story of three detainees. Two were captured under the Bush administration, one under the Obama administration. All three were released without charges after being held for up to five or six weeks in the ‘black site’ and for months or years afterwards in Bagram prison. All of them said the worst part of their detention was that their families did not know that they were even alive. One detainee’s family spent a fortune trying to find him. None of them were given any compensation for this months or years of detention.

Jonathan Horowitz, a human rights researcher with the Open Society Institute made this comment:

“Holding people in what appears to be incommunicado detention runs against the grain of the administration’s commitment to greater transparency, accountability, and respect for the dignity of Afghans,”

The ‘black site’ is separate from the larger Bagram prison, which now holds 700 detainees (watch that number grow in the upcoming months and years!). The Bagram prison has a reputation among Afghans as a symbol of US abuse. They are building a new prison at Bagram to house the detainees, which is costing the US taxpayers $60 million. We’re not going to leave that country any time soon. Not all the prisoners are Afghans either – some were brought there from other countries.

The secret sites and the mistaken detention of non-Taliban for months and years will continue…… which, I predict, will increase the number of Taliban. That’s human nature.

Digging a little deeper, I found this comment about secret prisons in an article talking about kidnapping (rendition):

Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool

One provision in one of Obama's orders appears to preserve the CIA's ability to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects as long as they are not held long-term. The little-noticed provision states that the instructions to close the CIA's secret prison sites "do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis."

How very hideous of them. The secret prisons will continue, as long as they are not ‘long-term’ and no one will know where these kidnapped people are held. If they die there, I am assuming the body will just be dumped somewhere.

This past August, human rights groups ask the UN to investigate the case of a disappeared Spanish citizen. The ACLU filed the request. They had gone to the UN because the US would not answer any of their requests for information. He was forcibly disappeared four years ago, and has not been heard from since. He is either dead or in a secret prison to this day.

Human Rights Groups Ask U.N. To Investigate Case Of Disappeared Spanish Citizen

In June 2009, responding to a request from a Spanish judge for information on Nassar's whereabouts, the FBI stated it was not holding him in the United States but failed to address whether Nassar was being held in U.S. custody elsewhere. Asserting that the information is classified, the U.S. government has also refused to answer direct requests for information about Nassar's whereabouts made by his wife, Spanish citizen Helena Moreno Cruz.

So, what happened to this man? Is he still in a secret site, even though the secret sites are supposed to be short-term under the Obama administration? Or is he dead, with his body disappeared? I suspect this prisoner is a violent criminal, but if our country is to stand for the rule of law, then it has to apply to everyone, even criminals. Injustice to one is injustice to all.

Yesterday I covered RENDITION CONTINUES, and tomorrow I will cover TORTURE CONTINUES.