Friday, September 22, 2006
The three senators have contended that the administration was undermining Geneva Convention protections in a way that could leave Americans vulnerable in the future, and that its plan for military tribunals of terror suspects would allow evidence obtained coercively, and information they were not allowed to see to be used against them.
Another fantastic Legislative/Executive compromise: The congress does everything exactly as George wants, and in return he'll pretend that he's the one giving in so they can claim they tried to stand up against his unpopular policies. Our government at work.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 — President Bush and three Republican senators said this afternoon that they had reached an agreement on legislation to clarify which interrogation techniques can be used against terror suspects and to establish trial procedures for those in military custody.
“We did our duty,” said Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, one of the three. He noted that the legislation would still need close study by both houses of Congress.
Mr. Warner and the other two rebellious Republicans, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, met at the White House with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, who stood behind Mr. Warner’s shoulder as the senator announced the agreement.
“It is good news and a good day for the American people,” Mr. Hadley said.
Mr. McCain said the agreement means “that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.” The senator said the agreement “gives the president the tools that he needs to continue to fight the war on terror and bring these evil people to justice.”
But Mr. Hadley added a note of conditionality, calling it a “framework for compromise,” and Mr. Warner said that only President Bush’s signature on the bill would complete the agreement.
Mr. Bush welcomed the accord, which he said met his key test of allowing the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terror suspects to continue.
“I’m pleased to say this agreement preserves the most single, the most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks,” he said, adding, "The agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do — to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them.”
Mr. Bush urged the Congress to send him legislation before it goes into recess next week before the fall elections.
Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said the agreement had two key points. “Classified information will not be shared with the terrorists” tried before the tribunals, he said. And "the very important program of interrogation continues.”
US Threatened to Bomb Pakistan, Musharraf Says
The Associated Press
Friday 22 September 2006
Washington - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the U.S. threatened to bomb his country back to the Stone Age if he did not assist the administration's war on terrorism.
The threat was delivered after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of State, to Musharraf's intelligence director, the Pakistani leader told CBS' "60 Minutes" for Sunday's broadcast.
Musharraf said the intelligence chief quoted Armitage as saying, "Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age."
It was insulting, Musharraf said. "I think it was a very rude remark."
Armitage told CNN on Thursday that he never threatened to bomb Pakistan, wouldn't say such a thing and didn't have the authority to do it.
Armitage said he delivered a tough message to Pakistan, saying the Muslim nation was either "with us or against us," CNN reported. But he said he didn't know how his message had been recounted so differently to Musharraf.
The White House and State Department declined to comment.
Musharraf said he reacted responsibly to Armitage's remarks.
"One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation, and that is what I did," he said.
In January 2002, four months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Musharraf gave a speech in which he came down on the side of reform at home and opposition to Islamic fundamentalism.
Pakistan is considered a close ally of the United States, but it has been accused of being reluctant to go after members of the Taliban, which controlled neighboring Afghanistan until 2001.
Musharraf is scheduled to meet with President Bush today at the White House. He will see Bush again next week in a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Bush blocks campaign to put pressure on Sudan over Darfur
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
Published: 19 September 2006
The Bush administration and big business interests have been accused of undermining efforts to exert financial pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the killing in Darfur.
A bill that passed the US Congress endorsing state legislation to force publicly owned entities to sell off holdings in companies that do substantial business with Sudan, or sell Khartoum weapons, has now been blocked in the Senate, with campaigners blaming the White House. They say the long-delayed draft put forward last week by the Foreign Relations Committee had removed a clause known as Section 11 that would have thrown its weight behind a celebrity-backed campaign requiring publicly owned entities to dump stock.
"If the federal government is for divestment outright, they should publicly state so," said Jason Miller, a US-based Darfur campaigner. " If they are against divestment, they should publicly state so. If there's some middle ground where they agree with certain types of divestment but not others, they should have been open to compromise on Section 11 language. Instead, they gave us complete ambiguity."
The half dozen states that have already passed such measures, and the 15 more said to be studying them, now face the prospect of legal action from a big business pressure group with a track record of lobbying against economic sanctions.
The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) has already sued the state of Illinois, which has enacted the most sweeping such measure. Despite the Senate action, California has become the latest state to draft a bill that would require state pension funds to identify companies in which they invest, and are involved with Sudan. These would then have 90 days to end the association. Failing that the funds would be obliged to sell the stock.
The move in California, which was inspired by a divestment initiative of the University of California, is another vivid sign of how individual states, academic bodies and celebrities such as George Clooney are now taking the action that the US government is unable or unwilling to take itself.
In fact, Washington was one of the first to identify the scale of the atrocities in Darfur, with the then Secretary of State Colin Powell declaring back in September 2004 that "genocide has been committed" in the south-western Sudanese province. Since then however, efforts have stalled.
Mr Bush himself has blown hot and cold on the issue, but last night finally named a special envoy to try to end the violence.
The envoy was not named but Andrew Natsios, a former Bush administration aid official, was considered the front-runner. The envoy would likely be named at the UN today.
Mr Bush will address the General Assembly today as the international community tries to persuade Khartoum to drop its objections to a UN peacekeeping force in the territory.
The US Congress has also been criticised, for failing to deliver a bill that would back up the individual state measures to step up financial pressure on Khartoum, by protecting individual states from being sued by companies affected.
In April, the House of Representatives approved a Darfur Peace and Accountability Act by an overwhelming 416 votes to three, containing such a provision. But the Senate has dragged its feet on moves to reconcile the House bill with its own version, passed in November 2005, so that an agreed measure can be sent to President Bush.
In fact, the prime targets of the legislation by the states are not American companies already barred from doing business with the government of Sudan but Chinese concerns helping the development of the country's oil industry, and various European companies including Siemens, Shell, and Finmeccanica of Italy.
Sudan is also considered an important intelligence ally in the "war on terror".
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Browne admits 'we underestimated Taliban'
By Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent
Britain and Nato seriously underestimated the resilience of the Taliban when sending troops into Afghanistan, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary has admitted.
Addressing the Royal United Services Institute in London, he said the task had proved “harder than we expected”.
But he urged Nato countries who are now resisting sending extra troops to think again.
The Taliban’s tenacity in the face of massive losses has been more than we expected,” Mr Browne said. Referring to Nato’s attempts to assemble another 2,500 more troops, he said some nations had “doubts that the mission could ever succeed” while others were concerned about “the level of risk” their soldiers would be exposed to.
“Nato nations must decide whether to back their investment, re-affirm their original intent and send a clear signal that Nato as an alliance is strong and determined to see the task through,” he said.
“All partners should be prepared to face equal risk. No-one has a monopoly on determination and courage.”
“Success won’t be what we understand to be security and prosperity and proper governance, but it will be progress and it will be massively worth it,” he added.
He stressed that Nato’s Afghan foes had been “fought to a standstill” and added: “They cannot beat us.”
But that was only the first step, the Defence Secretary said. There remained a “hard core” of possibly 1,000 Taliban who were “implacable, irreconcilable and determined to keep their impunity in the south and possibly reclaim control of the whole country”.
They were adept at forming alliances with the drugs barons and at recruiting footsoldiers from among ordinary Afghan tribesmen.
Mr Browne said it was essential that Nato was able to demonstrate to such recruits that it would not be defeated in combat and that the Taliban lacked the strength to impose their vision of the future on the country.
“These tribesmen are persuaded to fight not because they hate us, or because of an Afghan culture of resistance, but simply because they are paid - often with money made from drugs,” he said.
“We don’t want to kill them, or defeat them - we want to convince them to back peace, to back the view of the future represented by the Afghan government, rather than by the Taliban or the drug lords.
“I fully acknowledge that if we cannot do this, if we cannot persuade them to put down their guns, then we will struggle to make progress, and there will be a real danger that their deaths will motivate others to join the fight, and potentially turn ends.”
Monday, September 18, 2006
Big Brother is not only watching you - now he's barking orders too. Britain's first 'talking' CCTV cameras have arrived, publicly berating bad behaviour and shaming offenders into acting more responsibly.
The system allows control room operators who spot any anti-social acts - from dropping litter to late-night brawls - to send out a verbal warning: 'We are watching you'.
Middlesbrough has fitted loudspeakers on seven of its 158 cameras in an experiment already being hailed as a success. Jack Bonner, who manages the system, said: 'It is one hell of a deterrent. It's one thing to know that there are CCTV cameras about, but it's quite another when they loudly point out what you have just done wrong.
'Most people are so ashamed and embarrassed at being caught they quickly slink off without further trouble.
'There was one incident when two men started fighting outside a nightclub. One of the control room operators warned them over the loudspeakers and they looked up, startled, stopped fighting and scarpered in opposite directions.
'This isn't about keeping tabs on people, it's about making the streets safer for the law-abiding majority and helping to change the attitudes of those who cause trouble. It challenges unacceptable behaviour and makes people think twice.'
The Mail on Sunday watched as a cyclist riding through a pedestrian area was ordered to stop.
'Would the young man on the bike please get off and walk as he is riding in a pedestrian area,' came the command.
The surprised youth stopped, and looked about. A look of horror spread across his face as he realised the voice was referring to him.
He dismounted and wheeled his bike through the crowded streets, as instructed.
Law-abiding shopper Karen Margery, 40, was shocked to hear the speakers spring into action as she walked past them.
Afterwards she said: 'It's quite scary to realise that your every move could be monitored - it really is like Big Brother.
'But Middlesbrough does have a big problem with anti-social behaviour, so it is very reassuring.'
The scheme has been introduced by Middlesbrough mayor Ray Mallon, a former police superintendent who was dubbed Robocop for pioneering the zero-tolerance approach to crime.
He believes the talking cameras will dramatically cut not just anti-social behaviour, but violent crime, too.
And if the city centre scheme proves a success, it will be extended into residential areas.
The control room operators have been given strict guidelines about what commands they can give. Yelling 'Oi you, stop that', is not permitted.
Instead, their instructions make the following suggestions: 'Warning - you are being monitored by CCTV - Warning - you are in an alcohol-free zone, please refrain from drinking'; and Warning - your behaviour is being monitored by CCTV. It is being recorded and the police are attending.'
Mr Bonner said: 'We always make the requests polite, and if the offender obeys, the operator adds 'thank you'. We think that's a nice finishing touch.
'It would appear that the offenders are the only ones who find the audio cameras intrusive. The vast majority of people welcome these cameras.
'Put it this way, we never have requests to remove them.'
But civil rights campaigners have argued that the talking cameras are no 'magic bullet', in the fight against crime.
Liberty spokesman Doug Jewell said: 'None of us likes litterbugs or yobs playing up on a Saturday night, but talking CCTV cameras are no substitute for police officers on the beat.'
US War Prisons Legal Vacuum for 14,000
By Patrick Quinn
The Associated Press
Sunday 16 September 2006
In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.
Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.
"It was hard to believe I'd get out," Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi told The Associated Press after his release - without charge - last month. "I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell."
Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq.
Many say they were caught up in U.S. military sweeps, often interrogated around the clock, then released months or years later without apology, compensation or any word on why they were taken. Seventy to 90 percent of the Iraq detentions in 2003 were "mistakes," U.S. officers once told the international Red Cross.
Defenders of the system, which has only grown since soldiers' photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib shocked the world, say it's an unfortunate necessity in the battles to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan, and to keep suspected terrorists out of action.
Every U.S. detainee in Iraq "is detained because he poses a security threat to the government of Iraq, the people of Iraq or coalition forces," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a spokesman for U.S.-led military detainee operations in Iraq.
But dozens of ex-detainees, government ministers, lawmakers, human rights activists, lawyers and scholars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the United States said the detention system often is unjust and hurts the war on terror by inflaming anti-Americanism in Iraq and elsewhere.
Building for the Long Term
Reports of extreme physical and mental abuse, symbolized by the notorious Abu Ghraib prison photos of 2004, have abated as the Pentagon has rejected torture-like treatment of the inmates. Most recently, on Sept. 6, the Pentagon issued a new interrogation manual banning forced nakedness, hooding, stress positions and other abusive techniques.
The same day, President Bush said the CIA's secret outposts in the prison network had been emptied, and 14 terror suspects from them sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to face trial in military tribunals. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the tribunal system, however, and the White House and Congress are now wrestling over the legal structure of such trials.
Living conditions for detainees may be improving as well. The U.S. military cites the toilets of Bagram, Afghanistan: In a cavernous old building at that air base, hundreds of detainees in their communal cages now have indoor plumbing and privacy screens, instead of exposed chamber pots.
Whatever the progress, small or significant, grim realities persist.
Human rights groups count dozens of detainee deaths for which no one has been punished or that were never explained. The secret prisons - unknown in number and location - remain available for future detainees. The new manual banning torture doesn't cover CIA interrogators. And thousands of people still languish in a limbo, deprived of one of common law's oldest rights, habeas corpus, the right to know why you are imprisoned.
"If you, God forbid, are an innocent Afghan who gets sold down the river by some warlord rival, you can end up at Bagram and you have absolutely no way of clearing your name," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch in New York. "You can't have a lawyer present evidence, or do anything organized to get yourself out of there."
The U.S. government has contended it can hold detainees until the "war on terror" ends - as it determines.
"I don't think we've gotten to the question of how long," said retired admiral John D. Hutson, former top lawyer for the U.S. Navy. "When we get up to 'forever,' I think it will be tested" in court, he said.
The Navy is planning long-term at Guantanamo. This fall it expects to open a new, $30-million maximum-security wing at its prison complex there, a concrete-and-steel structure replacing more temporary camps.
In Iraq, Army jailers are a step ahead. Last month they opened a $60-million, state-of-the-art detention center at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad's airport. The Army oversees about 13,000 prisoners in Iraq at Cropper, Camp Bucca in the southern desert, and Fort Suse in the Kurdish north.
Neither prisoners of war nor criminal defendants, they are just "security detainees" held "for imperative reasons of security," spokesman Curry said, using language from an annex to a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the U.S. presence here.
Questions of Law, Sovereignty
President Bush laid out the U.S. position in a speech Sept. 6.
"These are enemy combatants who are waging war on our nation," he said. "We have a right under the laws of war, and we have an obligation to the American people, to detain these enemies and stop them from rejoining the battle."
But others say there's no need to hold these thousands outside of the rules for prisoners of war established by the Geneva Conventions.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared last March that the extent of arbitrary detention here is "not consistent with provisions of international law governing internment on imperative reasons of security."
Meanwhile, officials of Nouri al-Maliki's 4-month-old Iraqi government say the U.S. detention system violates Iraq's national rights.
"As long as sovereignty has transferred to Iraqi hands, the Americans have no right to detain any Iraqi person," said Fadhil al-Sharaa, an aide to the prime minister. "The detention should be conducted only with the permission of the Iraqi judiciary."
At the Justice Ministry, Deputy Minister Busho Ibrahim told AP it has been "a daily request" that the detainees be brought under Iraqi authority.
There's no guarantee the Americans' 13,000 detainees would fare better under control of the Iraqi government, which U.N. officials say holds 15,000 prisoners.
But little has changed because of these requests. When the Americans formally turned over Abu Ghraib prison to Iraqi control on Sept. 2, it was empty but its 3,000 prisoners remained in U.S. custody, shifted to Camp Cropper.
Life in Custody
The cases of U.S.-detained Iraqis are reviewed by a committee of U.S. military and Iraqi government officials. The panel recommends criminal charges against some, release for others. As of Sept. 9, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq had put 1,445 on trial, convicting 1,252. In the last week of August, for example, 38 were sentenced on charges ranging from illegal weapons possession to murder, for the shooting of a U.S. Marine.
Almost 18,700 have been released since June 2004, the U.S. command says, not including many more who were held and then freed by local military units and never shipped to major prisons.
Some who were released, no longer considered a threat, later joined or rejoined the insurgency.
The review process is too slow, say U.N. officials. Until they are released, often families don't know where their men are - the prisoners are usually men - or even whether they're in American hands.
Ex-detainee Mouayad Yasin Hassan, 31, seized in April 2004 as a suspected Sunni Muslim insurgent, said he wasn't allowed to obtain a lawyer or contact his family during 13 months at Abu Ghraib and Bucca, where he was interrogated incessantly. When he asked why he was in prison, he said, the answer was, "We keep you for security reasons."
Another released prisoner, Waleed Abdul Karim, 26, recounted how his guards would wield their absolute authority.
"Tell us about the ones who attack Americans in your neighborhood," he quoted an interrogator as saying, "or I will keep you in prison for another 50 years."
As with others, Karim's confinement may simply have strengthened support for the anti-U.S. resistance. "I will hate Americans for the rest of my life," he said.
As bleak and hidden as the Iraq lockups are, the Afghan situation is even less known. Accounts of abuse and deaths emerged in 2002-2004, but if Abu Ghraib-like photos from Bagram exist, none have leaked out. The U.S. military is believed holding about 500 detainees - most Afghans, but also apparently Arabs, Pakistanis and Central Asians.
The United States plans to cede control of its Afghan detainees by early next year, five years after invading Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaida's base and bring down the Taliban government. Meanwhile, the prisoners of Bagram exist in a legal vacuum like that elsewhere in the U.S. detention network.
"There's been a silence about Bagram, and much less political discussion about it," said Richard Bennett, chief U.N. human rights officer in Afghanistan.
Freed detainees tell how in cages of 16 inmates they are forbidden to speak to each other. They wear the same orange jumpsuits and shaven heads as the terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, but lack even the scant legal rights granted inmates at that Cuba base. In some cases, they have been held without charge for three to four years, rights workers say.
Guantanamo received its first prisoners from Afghanistan - chained, wearing blacked-out goggles - in January 2002. A total of 770 detainees were sent there. Its population today of Afghans, Arabs and others, stands at 455.
Described as the most dangerous of America's "war on terror" prisoners, only 10 of the Guantanamo inmates have been charged with crimes. Charges are expected against 14 other al-Qaida suspects flown in to Guantanamo from secret prisons on Sept. 4.
Plans for their trials are on hold, however, because of a Supreme Court ruling in June against the Bush administration's plan for military tribunals.
The court held the tribunals were not authorized by the U.S. Congress and violated the Geneva Conventions by abrogating prisoners' rights. In a sometimes contentious debate, the White House and Congress are trying to agree on a new, acceptable trial plan.
Since the court decision, and after four years of confusing claims that terrorist suspects were so-called "unlawful combatants" unprotected by international law, the Bush administration has taken steps recognizing that the Geneva Conventions' legal and human rights do extend to imprisoned al-Qaida militants. At the same time, however, the new White House proposal on tribunals retains such controversial features as denying defendants access to some evidence against them.
In his Sept. 6 speech, Bush acknowledged for the first time the existence of the CIA's secret prisons, believed established at military bases or safehouses in such places as Egypt, Indonesia and eastern Europe. That network, uncovered by journalists, had been condemned by U.N. authorities and investigated by the Council of Europe.
The clandestine jails are now empty, Bush announced, but will remain a future option for CIA detentions and interrogation.
Louise Arbour, U.N. human rights chief, is urging Bush to abolish the CIA prisons altogether, as ripe for "abusive conduct." The CIA's techniques for extracting information from prisoners still remain secret, she noted.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government's willingness to resort to "extraordinary rendition," transferring suspects to other nations where they might be tortured, appears unchanged.
Prosecutions and Memories
The exposure of sadistic abuse, torture and death at Abu Ghraib two years ago touched off a flood of courts-martial of mostly lower-ranking U.S. soldiers. Overall, about 800 investigations of alleged detainee mistreatment in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to action against more than 250 service personnel, including 89 convicted at courts-martial, U.S. diplomats told the United Nations in May.
Critics protest that penalties have been too soft and too little has been done, particularly in tracing inhumane interrogation methods from the far-flung islands of the overseas prison system back to policies set by high-ranking officials.
In only 14 of 34 cases has anyone been punished for the confirmed or suspected killings of detainees, the New York-based Human Rights First reports. The stiffest sentence in a torture-related death has been five months in jail. The group reported last February that in almost half of 98 detainee deaths, the cause was either never announced or reported as undetermined.
Looking back, the United States overreacted in its treatment of detainees after Sept. 11, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a noted American scholar of international law.
It was understandable, the Princeton University dean said, but now "we have to restore a balance between security and rights that is consistent with who we are and consistent with our security needs."
Otherwise, she said, "history will look back and say that we took a dangerous and deeply wrong turn."
Back here in Baghdad, at the Alawi bus station, a gritty, noisy hub far from the meeting rooms of Washington and Geneva, women gather with fading hopes whenever a new prisoner release is announced.
As she watched one recent day for a bus from distant Camp Bucca, one mother wept and told her story.
"The Americans arrested my son, my brother and his friend," said Zahraa Alyat, 42. "The Americans arrested them October 16, 2005. They left together and I don't know anything about them."
The bus pulled up. A few dozen men stepped off, some blindfolded, some bound, none with any luggage, none with familiar faces.
As the distraught women straggled away once more, one ex-prisoner, 18-year-old Bilal Kadhim Muhssin, spotted U.S. troops nearby.
"Americans," he muttered in fear. "Oh, my God, don't say that name," and he bolted for a city bus, and freedom.