Obama in Afghanistan

Stephen Lendman

Torturer-in-Chief Barack Obama, right, is greeted by US
Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, center,
and Marine General Joseph Dunford, commander of the
US-led International Security Assistance Force, after
arriving at Bagram Air Field for an unannounced visit,
on Sunday, May 25, 2014, north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

He left Washington Saturday. He arrived in Afghanistan Sunday. It was his fourth visit. He stayed less than four hours. Earlier trips were in March 2010, December 2010 and May 2012. Obama addressed US troops. He did so at Bagram Air Base.

It houses one of America's notorious torture prisons. Dozens of others operate globally. Guantánamo is the tip of the iceberg. Bagram is called the Parwan Detention Facility (aka Bagram Theater Internment Facility). It's next to Bagram's air field. It was formerly called the Bagram Collection Point.

In mid-2011, it held 1,100 political prisoners. Maximum during Bush years was 600. None have POW status. All are political prisoners. They illegally held.

Abuse continues. It's notorious. It's not reported. It's out of sight and mind. Former detainees describe horrendous treatment. Not far from where Obama spoke. It includes:

painful extended period shackling;
exposure to extreme heat and cold;
abusive treatment while naked, hooded or blindfolded;
waterboarding numerous times;
isolation in tiny cells;
other times in overcrowded ones forcing detainees to sleep in shifts;
hung from steel bars in cells or metal hooks in interrogation rooms for extended periods;

Expanding Guantánamo

Stephen Lendman

BBC torture experiment replicates Guantánamo and secret
prisons: how to lose your mind in 48 hours.
Source: A.W.

In 2008, candidate Obama promised to close Guantánamo. Straightaway as president, he issued Executive Order titled "Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities." Sec. 3 states:

"Closure of Detention Facilities at Guantánamo. The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order."

"If any individuals covered by this order remain, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States."

Obama ordered an "immediate review of all" detainees within 30 days. He halted all proceedings in the "United States Court of Military Commission Review to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered." He mandated "humane standards of confinement" be observed in accordance with international humanitarian laws.

11 Secret Documents Americans Deserve to See

David Wallechinsky

Many documents produced by the U.S. government are confidential and not released to the public for legitimate reasons of national security. Others, however, are kept secret for more questionable reasons. The fact that presidents and other government officials have the power to deem materials classified provides them with an opportunity to use national security as an excuse to suppress documents and reports that would reveal embarrassing or illegal activities.

I’ve been collecting the stories of unreleased documents for several years. Now I have chosen 11 examples that were created—and buried—by both Democratic and Republican administrations and which cover assassinations, spying, torture, 50-year-old historical events, presidential directives with classified titles and…trade negotiations.

1. Obama Memo Allowing the Assassination of U.S. Citizens

When the administration of George W. Bush was confronted with cases of Americans fighting against their own country, it responded in a variety of ways. John Walker Lindh, captured while fighting with the Taliban in December 2001, was indicted by a federal grand jury and sentenced to 20 years in prison. José Padilla was arrested in Chicago in May 2002 and held as an “enemy combatant” until 2006 when he was transferred to civilian authority and, in August 2007, sentenced to 17 years in prison for conspiring to support terrorism. Adam Gadahn, who has made propaganda videos for al-Qaeda, was indicted for treason in 2006 and remains at large.

Trials Without Crimes Or Evidence

Paul Craig Roberts

Andy Worthington is a superb reporter who has specialized in providing the facts of the US government’s illegal abuse of “detainees,” against whom no evidence exists. In an effort to create evidence, the US government has illegally resorted to torture. Torture produces false confessions, plea bargains, and false testimony against others in order to escape further torture.

For these reasons, in Anglo-American law self-incrimination secured through torture has been impermissible evidence for centuries. So also has been secret evidence withheld from the accused and his attorney. Secret evidence cannot be confronted. Secret evidence is distrusted as made-up in order to convict the innocent. The evidence is secret because it cannot stand the light of day.

The US government relies on secret evidence in its cases against alleged terrorists, claiming that national security would be threatened if the evidence were revealed. This is abject nonsense. It is an absurd claim that presenting evidence against a terrorist jeopardizes the national security of the U.S.

To the contrary, not presenting evidence jeopardizes the security of each and every one of us. Once the government can convict defendants on the basis of secret evidence, even the concept of a fair trial will disappear. Fair trials are already history, but the concept lingers.

Secret evidence murders the concept of a fair trial. It murders justice and the rule of law. Secret evidence means anyone can be convicted of anything. As in Kafka’s The Trial, people will cease to know the crimes for which they are being tried and convicted.

This extraordinary development in Anglo-American law, a development demanded by the unaccountable Bush/Obama Regime, has not resulted in impeachment proceedings; nor has it caused an uproar from Congress, the federal courts, the presstitute media, law schools, constitutional scholars, and bar associations.

Having bought the government’s 9/11 conspiracy theory, Americans just want someone to pay. They don’t care who as long as someone pays. To accommodate this desire, the government has produced some “high value detainees” with Arab or Muslim names.

But instead of bringing these alleged malefactors to trial and presenting evidence against them, the government has kept them in torture dungeons for years trying to create through the application of pain and psychological breakdown guilt by self-incrimination in order to create a case against them.

Bush’s Torture Program Began Ten Years Ago

Andy Worthington

Last month was the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and as this year progresses it is appropriate to remember that there will be other grim 10-year anniversaries to note.

This week, one of those 10-year anniversaries passed almost unnoticed. On February 7, 2002, as Andrew Cohen noted in the Atlantic, in the only article marking the anniversary,

President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees” (PDF). The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib: that marked our descent into torture — the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul.

That is no exaggeration. Depriving prisoners seized in wartime of the protections of the Geneva Conventions was a huge and unprecedented step, and thoroughly alarming. And yet, despite criticism from Secretary of State Colin Powell (PDF), the administration pushed forward remorselessly towards the creation of an America that practiced arbitrary detention and torture.

Powell had been included in the paper trail that led to Bush’s memorandum of February 7, 2002, and he was particularly upset by a memo on January 25, 2002 (PDF), signed by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, but written by Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, which claimed that the “new paradigm” that the “war on terror” presented “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

In his memorandum, just two weeks later, Bush declared that “none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere through the world, because, among other reasons, al-Qaeda is not a High Contracting Party to Geneva.” He added, “I determine that the Taliban detainees are unlawful combatants and, therefore, do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva. I note that, because Geneva does not apply to our conflict with al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”

Obama administration asserts "right" to assassinate Americans

Patrick Martin

Today the “commander-in-chief” targets an Islamic preacher, claiming he is a terrorist. Tomorrow, he may simply target the Islamic preacher because he is “anti-American.” And the day after, he can target any individual, organization or party that opposes the policies of American imperialism.

The Obama administration drafted a secret legal memorandum last year claiming that the president had the power to order the killing of an American citizen without a trial, a power that was exercised ten days ago with the drone missile murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic radical cleric born in the United States of Yemeni parents.

Awlaki and three other men—one of them also an American citizen, Samir Khan—were blown to pieces by a missile fired from a CIA-operated drone in northern Yemen. The Obama administration claimed, without providing any evidence, that Awlaki was a high-level “operational leader” of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and justified the killing as a preemptive military action, using almost the same language as the Bush administration before it.

It Could Be You: The Sad Story of Jose Padilla, Tortured and Denied Justice

Andy Worthington

For nine and a half years — almost as long as the “war on terror” has been providing an excuse for paranoia about Muslims in general — the case of US citizen Jose Padilla has demonstrated, to those willing to pay attention, that something has gone horribly wrong in the United States of America.

A former gang member and a convert to Islam, Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, in connection with an alleged “dirty bomb plot” that never existed, on May 8, 2002, as he returned from Pakistan. Held for a month as a material witness, he was then designated an “enemy combatant” by President George W. Bush, and held in complete isolation in a military brig for the next three and half years — a process that also involved prolonged sensory deprivation. According to the psychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty, who spent 22 hours with Padilla in 2006, “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind.”

In November 2005, fearing that Padilla might successfully challenge the government’s argument that it had the right to hold a US citizen indefinitely without charge or trial on the US mainland, and subject him to torture, the Bush administration suddenly indicted Padilla on charges of conspiracy “to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas,” and transferred him out of the brig. However, the injustice did not come to an end, as the courts then took over.

The charges against Padilla were based on the Bush administration’s claim that, along with alleged facilitators Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, he was part of a Florida-based plot to aid Islamic extremists in holy wars abroad, and his trial took place in the summer of 2007. However, the judge, Marcia Cooke, refused to allow Padilla or his lawyers to make any mention of what had happened in the three and a half years that he was held in a legal black hole.

In Afghanistan, Former Guantánamo Prisoners Reflect on Their Ruined Lives

Andy Worthington

Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Washington Post provided a powerful insight into the human cost of Guantánamo, and the problems created in Afghanistan through the intelligence failures that led to innocent people being seized by mistake, and even through the unforeseen knock-on effects of America’s reconstruction efforts.

In Kabul, Staff writer Ernesto Londoño met two former prisoners, Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil (discussed below) and Haji Shahzada, a village elder in Kandahar province. About 50 years of age, Shahzada, who is a father of six, was seized in a raid on his house in January 2003, with two house guests, and held at Guantánamo for over two years until his release in April 2005.

Shahzada’s story (and that of the men seized with him) was one that had struck me as particularly significant when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files, as it was a clear demonstration of how easily US forces in Afghanistan were deceived, seizing innocent people after tip-offs from untrustworthy individuals with their own agendas. In Shazada’s case, it has not been confirmed whether the tip-off came from a rival or from members of his family seeking to seize his assets, but the entire mission was a disgrace.

One of the men seized with him, Abdullah Khan, had sold Shahzada a dog, as both men were interested in dog-fighting, but he was regarded by the soldiers involved in the raid (and, subsequently, by US interrogators) as Khairullah Khairkhwa, a senior figure in the Taliban. The problem with this scenario was not only that Khan was not Khairkhwa, but also that Khairkhwa had been in US custody since February 2002 and was held at Guantánamo (where he remains to this day).

In addition, Shahzada, a landowner who had never liked the Taliban, endured numerous aggressive interrogations in which he was obliged to repeat, over and over again, that his friend Khan was not a Taliban commander, and that he had not been supporting the Taliban. He was also particularly eloquent in warning his captors that seizing innocent people like him was a sure way of losing hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

Creating a Military State

Andy Worthington

[Photo: U.S. “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla’s losing his mind in a U.S. military brig during his ordeal of solitary confinement and torture.]

“Some issues,” the New York Times declared in an editorial on June 25, “require an unwavering stand. Preserving the role of law enforcement agencies in stopping and punishing terrorists is one of them. This country is not and should never be a place where the military dispenses justice, other than to its own.”

Fine words, indeed, although the Times itself has, over the last ten years, in common with most, if not all of the American establishment, failed to thoroughly and repeatedly condemn efforts, first by George W. Bush, and then by the Obama administration, to hold military trials for the mixed bag of soldiers and terrorist suspects held at Guantánamo.

This is where the rot set in, for which everyone in a position of authority, whether in politics or the media, bears responsibility. However, the failure to stem the poison flowing from this wound to the established order — in which terrorists are criminals and soldiers are not terrorists — has led to an outrageous situation in which lawmakers (both Republicans and Democrats) have decided that the aberrations introduced by the Bush administration, which should, by now, have been thoroughly discredited, were, instead, just the first steps in the creation of an all-encompassing military state.

In this dystopian future, coming to America within months, if lawmakers are successful, anyone regarded as a terrorist must be held in military detention, where, it is planned, they may be subjected to abuse with impunity, and, if required, held forever without a trial and without any rights.

This was the aberration initially dreamt up by Bush and his close advisors for their “war on terror” and implemented at Guantánamo, throughout the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and around the world in a network of secret prisons. Although it should have died as an enduring concept when President Obama took office, it took less than a year for supporters of military detention for terror suspects to start proposing its continuation and expansion, suggesting that no foreign terror suspect should ever receive a federal court trial.

Spanish Torture Investigation into Gitmo to Continue

Andy Worthington
Andy Worthington's Blog

On Friday, the Spanish National Court gave hope to those seeking to hold accountable the Bush administration officials and lawyers who authorized torture by agreeing to continue investigating allegations made by a Moroccan-born Spanish resident, Lahcen Ikassrien, that he was tortured at Guantánamo, where he was held from 2002 to 2005.

Spanish courts are empowered to hear certain types of international cases, but following a limitation placed on the country's universal jurisdiction laws in 2009 (very possibly with pressure from the United States), the cases in question must have a “relevant connection” to Spain. The National Court concluded that it was competent to take the case because Ikassrien had been a Spanish resident for 13 years prior to his capture, and it will be overseen by Judge Pablo Ruz, who, in June 2010, replaced the colorful and controversial Judge Baltasar Garzón, who initiated the proceedings, after Garzón fell foul of political opponents in Spain.

This is exceptionally good news, as the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been involved in this case (and in another ongoing case, aimed at the six senior Bush administration lawyers who authorized the U.S. torture program), explained in a press release:

This is a monumental decision that will enable a Spanish judge to continue a case on the “authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill treatment” by U.S. officials at Guantánamo. Geoffrey Miller, the former commanding officer at Guantánamo, has already been implicated, and the case will surely move up the chain of command. Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity. The Center for Constitutional Rights applauds the Spanish courts for not bowing to political pressure and for undertaking what may be the most important investigation in decades.

CCR's reference to WikiLeaks is important, as it was revealed in a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on December 1 last year that, in April 2009 Obama administration officials, with the help of a seemingly unlikely ally — Sen. Mel Martinez (R–Fla.), who had recently been chairman of the Republican Party — met with their Spanish counterparts in an attempt to persuade them to call off the investigation into “the Bush Six,” because “the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the U.S. and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” between Spain and the United States.

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