Thursday, May 20, 2004


May 20, 2004
What Prison Scandal?

Maybe anyone who was once married to Liz Taylor — at a time when she favored tiger-striped pantsuits and Clyde's chicken wings — would not flinch at wrangling with another aging sex symbol and demanding diva: Rummy.

Or maybe, at 77, Senator John Warner is at a stage in life where he can't be intimidated into putting a higher value on Republican re-election prospects than on what he sees as the common good.

In a bracing display of old-fashioned public spiritedness, the courtly Virginian joined up with the crusty Arizonan, John McCain, to brush back Rummy and the partisan whippersnappers in Congress who are yelping that the Senate Armed Services Committee's public hearings into prison abuse by American soldiers are distracting our warriors from taking care of business in Iraq.

"I think the Senate has become mesmerized by cameras, and I think that's sad," said a California Republican, Representative Duncan Hunter.

Then Senator John Cornyn of Texas weighed in, suggesting that Mr. Warner, a Navy officer in World War II, a Marine lieutenant in the Korean War and a Navy secretary under Nixon, and Mr. McCain, who lived in a dirt suite at the Hanoi Hilton for five years, were not patriotic. Their "collective hand-wringing," Mr. Cornyn sniffed, could be "a distraction from fighting and winning the war."

Rummy had a dozen Republican senators over to the Pentagon for breakfast on Tuesday, and Mr. Cornyn said the secretary was exasperated by the "all-consuming nature" of the Congressional hearings.

The man who David Plotz of Slate says is widely "considered one of the dumbest members of Congress" chimed in, dumbly. Following up on his inane rant defending the soldiers accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib and whingeing about "humanitarian do-gooders," Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma wondered whether Mr. Warner was trying to help the Democrats with public hearings.

The most absurd cut was delivered by Speaker Dennis Hastert, who responded to Mr. McCain's contention that Congress should not enact tax cuts during wartime because it prevented a sense of shared sacrifice by barking: "John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There is sacrifice in this country."

It just shows how completely flipped out the Republicans are about how the Iraq occupation is going that they are turning on a war hero and P.O.W., and on a man who enlisted in not one war, but two.

It's hard to believe that even if the generals weren't testifying here, they could do much to stop the spiral into anarchy there, with each day bringing some new horror.

Gen. John Abizaid told the panel that the hearing helped establish an image in the Arab world that Americans face up to their problems and handle them in the open. Certainly, he wasn't echoing the often Panglossian view of Donald Rumsfeld yesterday. He predicted that "the situation will become more violent" after the June 30 transfer of power and that he might then require more than the 135,000 troops now in Iraq.

Senator McCain, who has long advocated more troops, said that the Pentagon and its cheerleaders were silly to think they could throw a blanket over incendiary developments. "It's only a matter of time before the Pentagon's new disc of abuse pictures starts bouncing around the Internet," he said.

When I asked about Mr. Hastert's crack about visiting Walter Reed, the man whose temper used to be so close to the surface just laughed. "My," Mr. McCain murmured, "they certainly are angry. There has been some obvious resentment because of my `independence' for a long time."

He reiterated that he would never run with John Kerry. "I'm a loyal Republican," he said. "A lot of their resentment goes back to campaign finance reform."

I asked whether Mr. Warner, who helped Mr. McCain, as a shattered P.O.W., reorient to America after Vietnam, was a good example of the exemplars he writes about in his new meditation, "Why Courage Matters."

Agreeing that his colleague had shown strength, Mr. McCain concluded: "I believe from my experience that the only way you get one of these things behind you is to get everything out as quickly as possible."

Open and sharing Bushies. Now there's a novel concept.


More News About Our Prisons

Secret U.S. Jails Hold 10,000
By Andrew Buncombe and Kim Sengupta
New Zealand Herald

Saturday 15 May 2004

Washington - Almost 10,000 prisoners from President George W. Bush's so-called war on terror are being held around the world in secretive American-run jails and interrogation centres similar to the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.

Some of these detention centres are so sensitive that even the most senior members of the United States Congress have no idea where they are.

From Iraq to Afghanistan to Cuba, this American gulag is driven by the pressure to obtain "actionable" intelligence from prisoners captured by US forces.

The systematic practice of holding prisoners without access to lawyers or their families, together with a willingness to use "coercive interrogation" techniques, suggests the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib now shocking the world could be widespread.

Iraq has become a holding pen for America's prisoners from 21 countries, according to a report from the international campaign group Human Rights Watch.

The US military is keeping prisoners at 10 centres, most of which were used by Saddam Hussein's regime. The total in January was 8968, and is thought to have increased.

Prisoners are being held from, among other countries, Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Yemen.

A report in the Washington Post has revealed that up to 8000 Iraqi prisoners are being held at Abu Ghraib, the jail west of Baghdad also known as the Baghdad Central Correctional Facility or BCCF, and nine other facilities inside Iraq.

It is impossible to know for sure because the Pentagon refuses to provide complete information.

Officials say prisoners range from those accused of petty crimes to detainees believed to be involved in attacks on US forces, though it is increasingly clear that many hundreds are simply Iraqi civilians swept up in raids by US and British soldiers.

Military and diplomatic sources say a number of detainees were taken to Iraq from Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the US military still holds 300 or more prisoners at Bagram, north of Kabul, and at facilities in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Asadabad.

The CIA, meanwhile, runs an interrogation centre in Kabul that is known by special forces and others simply as "The Pit".

At Guantanamo Bay, more than 600 prisoners remain incarcerated more than two years after they were captured in the aftermath of the US operation against the Taleban.

Last week the US admitted that two guards at the camp had been disciplined for using "excessive force" against prisoners.

Michael Ratner, vice-president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which has represented many of the Guantanamo prisoners, said yesterday it was clear that a pattern was emerging.

"To me it means they are breaching international law as well as domestic law. The treatment is obviously illegal," he said.

"It puts what is happening in Iraq into perspective. The idea that just a few soldiers came up with this is inconceivable. It has come from very high up in the Administration."

From interviews with relatives and lawyers for the seven US soldiers facing courts-martial for the Abu Ghraib abuse, there is growing evidence that their actions were encouraged and even ordered by Military Intelligence and privately contracted interrogators to "soften up" the prisoners. Major General Geoffrey Miller, formerly the warden at Guantanamo Bay, took control of Abu Ghraib last year with a plan to turn it into a hub of interrogation.

He placed the military police under the tactical control of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

The lawyers representing Lynddie England, the 21-year-old woman from the 372nd Military Police Company who was caught in photographs sexually humiliating hooded Iraqi prisoners and leading one by a lead, insisted she was following orders.

The pictures were a deliberate part of the humiliation, they said.

"People told Pfc England, 'Hold that leash' ... told her to smile, so they can show the photos to subsequent prisoners," said lawyer Carl McGuire. Another member of her legal team, Rose Mary Zapor, said: "They picked her to get the smallest, youngest, lowest-rank woman they could find and that would increase the humiliation for an Iraqi man."

This claim is supported by two members the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, assigned to Abu Ghraib, who on their arrival immediately realised what was taking place was illegal.

The soldiers said beatings were meted out with the full knowledge of intelligence interrogators, who let military police know which prisoners were co-operating with them and which were not.

A leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only outside body permitted to visit the prison, also confirmed widespread ill-treatment and abuse that the authorities failed to stop.

It estimated that up to 90 per cent of the prisoners had been "arrested by mistake".


Go to Original

U.S. Military Vows to Keep Afghan Jails Secret
By Mike Collett-White

Wednesday 19 May 2004

Kabul - Accused of failing to tackle prison abuses in Afghanistan while rushing to contain the scandal in Iraq, the U.S. military in Kabul said it would review its secretive jails but vowed to keep them shut to the outside world.

The families of two Afghans who died from wounds sustained in a U.S. detention center at Bagram, just north of Kabul, 18 months ago, are still waiting for the outcome of a U.S. investigation.

In Baghdad Wednesday, the first court-martial began of U.S. soldiers who abused inmates at the Abu Ghraib jail, weeks after an international outcry over mistreatment first broke.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Barno, has ordered a "top-to-bottom" review of conditions and methods used at a network of around 20 detention centers where Islamic militant suspects are held in Afghanistan.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tucker Mansager told reporters Wednesday the review would be carried out by a general and completed within a month.

"The appointed general will visit every facility to ensure internationally accepted standards of handling detainees are being met," he told a regular news briefing in Kabul.

Mansager said the U.S. military had yet to respond to a May 10 request from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which has collected more than 40 recent complaints of mistreatment, for access to the main jail at Bagram.

He also said journalists would not be allowed to see it, despite reporters being given access this month to Abu Ghraib, depicted in images of abuse of prisoners by American soldiers that sparked a backlash across the Arab world.

"It's the coalition's continued policy to treat persons under confinement in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.

"Part of that spirit is to ensure that the persons under confinement are not subject to any kind of exploitation. It is the coalition's position that allowing media into the facilities would compromise that protection."

Growing Pressure
The U.S. military, which leads 20,000 troops in the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban, has come under intense scrutiny since the prisoner abuse scandal broke in Iraq and fresh allegations of mistreatment surfaced in Afghanistan.

A former police officer from near the city of Gardez said he was beaten and sexually abused during around 40 days in U.S. custody last year, and Human Rights Watch has called the mistreatment of detainees "systemic" in Afghanistan.

Two new investigations have been launched this month into prisoner abuse. A third, into the death in custody of two Afghans 18 months ago, has yet to be completed, to the dismay of family and friends of the men who died.

Both suffered "blunt force injuries" to the legs at Bagram, according to press reports quoting their death certificates.

Mansager said a large number of changes were made to procedures at Bagram in the wake of the deaths, and the U.S. military had nothing to hide.

"We're very comfortable with what we're doing, but nonetheless we are always in search of improvements and changes."

But the involvement of Barno, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is a clear sign of unease at the potential fallout from complaints of abuse.

"Certainly the situation in Iraq has brought some more focus to this," Mansager said.