Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What the world sees: is collateral murder better than torture?


      In the last post here, I discussed the unreality of official foreign policy consensus on ensuring the flow of oil and establishing military bases through wars in the Middle East. This imperial emphasis is proclaimed among “policy-influential” academics and military “experts,” despite its acknowledged failures (it has brought in oil and 17 military bases in Iraq but at what cost?) as an exercise in “realism,” an oxymoron which defies explication.  In the article, I briefly praised Obama for knowing that Palestinians are human  and being comparatively thoughtful and decent, vis-à-vis American politicians, for instance about trying to stop the settlements or about avoiding, so far, the military-neocon-Netanyahu push to bomb Iran.  Writing in the Guardian below, however, Asim Qureshi makes an extraordinary point about what Al-Jazeera rightly calls “collateral murder.”  The use of unmanned drones, fired or targeted  by the CIA in Langley, West Virginia has, to some extent, replaced grabbing innocents denounced by others – two as young as 12 and 13, one as old as 92 - for indefinite detention and torture in Guantanamo.  See the courageous testimony of Lawrence Wilkerson, a 31 year military officer and assistant to Colin Powell, a decent public official sickened by crimes.  He gave testimony on behalf of a Pakistani victim of Guantanamo.   He stands against Cheney and Rumsfeld.  (One might say of Rumsfeld that he knew, by projection, that  the “worst of the worst” were in Guantanamo: he had looked in the mirror…).

      But Obama is a decent man and a constitutional lawyer.  He started out abolishing, by executive order, the worst forms of torture.  But he also started out permitting the  firing of  drones at Pakistan, 10 civilians murdered there the first week he was in office.  The world, as Qureshi says, gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize – this was a hope.   The black President with the Islamic (African) name of the democracy which had been built slavery and segregation and yet…

         Quereshi suggests that instead of torturing along with some murder as in the case of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld  – 100 prisoners have been the victims of homicide, according to the Pentagon, in American custody, and if these were civilian jails, a lot of guards and wardens would be on trial for their lives – Obama now permits the CIA to shoot off unmanned missiles, taking out a wedding party in Yemen – 100 people, including 50 women and children, and other countries on whom the United States has not declared war.  These are acts of aggression, unprovoked attacks of one state on the people of another (barred by Article 2 section 4 of the United Nations Charter and Article 6, section 2, the Supremacy Clause of the American Constitution). 

         Qureshi cites the administration lawyer Howard Koh who produces a crude apology for aggression  – “we are at war,” (though not with Yemen), “we have been attacked” (though not by Yemen)  – no different from John Yoo (he just doesn’t quite choose Yoo’s examples of crushing the testicles of a child to get a terrorist to talk, or wiping out a village).

       But Qureshi’s profound point, almost like reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish is that Obama (comparable to the  modern Panopticon as opposed to ripping Damiens apart) is actually worse, in principle, than Bush.*  Qureshi’s case is straightforward.  Obama is killing innocent people (an American think tank estimate, 3 innocents to 1 suspect; note that the Taliban, whom the US is hoping to break up through negotiations in Afghanistan, does not just contain the “guilty” and one might wonder if  the CIA who can’t find Bin Laden or catch Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber, despite his father’s warning the American Embassy in Nigeria, ever manages to find serious targets even under Obama.  The Pakistani government says 5 in 44 drone sorties hit their targets last year; 760 innocents killed.  Probably more accurate…).

        Actually one collateral murder is enough.  Consider the story of the slaughter of the passengers on a bus – a bus! – near Kandahar this week.  Afghanis are in the streets (other drivers and passengers) screaming “Death to America!”  14 months before the election, Andrew Sullivan wrote in the Atlantic about how wonderful it would be to have Barack Hussein Obama presenting American foreign policy in the Middle East.  All the world – every decent person – would do a double take and be thrilled with America or even in the Middle East, at least give America a hearing.  But Obama’s caving to the military and use of drones to take out innocents has created a situation where Afghanis cannot differentiate collateral murderers, Democrat or Republican.  Obama has become the thing he campaigned so eloquently against.

         “Collateral murder” – the term is from Al-Jazeera, whose stories are written by BBC-trained journalists (arguably better journalists on the face of it than the people who now work for the Times or the Washington Post).  “Oh, but New York Times reporters are Americans, the best in the world,” a critic might say.  No, the New York Times is a war paper, issuing all the news “that’s fit to print” as a “patriotic” servant of the unipower.   The real democratic patriotism in journalism is to speak truth to power. The likelihood that the Times gets it right, versus Al Jazeera or the Guardian (UK) and  the Globe and Mail (Toronto – below), is unfortunately slight.  What we have around the world is moral revulsion against sheer U.S. murderousness in three countries the United States is not at war with but which it aggresses against (not to mention the cowardice – firing off missiles from half away across the planent…).

          Against Awlaki, an imam who once went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, an American citizen, Obama has ordered murder.  One article below suggests that the Bush administration treated Americans whom it suspected better than foreigners (as opposed to Obama who has no double standard – he will murder Americans, too).  It is hard to draw a fine distinction in favor of Bush here: Jose Padilla, an American, was arrested at Chicago airport for supposedly plotting to blow up a “dirty bomb” (that charge was never pursued, because of course, Ashcroft & Co were incompentent).  He was detained 3 1/2 years in a West Virginia brig, tortured, and, according to his attorneys, has become a “chair” (when he speaks, he is desperately afraid of any harm coming to the United States, a little like Renfield under the influence of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel).  Innocent until proven…- not here.  Obama thus has a policy which is worse than Bush.  The President can order the murder of American citizens without any judicial review,  inquiry or permission.  He is considering nominating to the Supreme Court Elena Kagan who just might help the authoritarian 4 destroy the rule of law entirely, see Greenwald here.

         It would be ironic if Obama who is a far more intelligent and decent man than Bush (and has many comparatively decent initiatives), ends up not just barring the prosecution of war criminals and permitting the next Republican (or Democratic) administration to reinstitute torture, but perfuming murder and abolishing the distinction between a system of law – habeas corpus, the Magna Carta – and tyranny. That is what at its stake – and as a matter of politics, to position himself as tough in two party competition with authoritarian opponents bellowing for more torture, bigger secret prisons, more war and backed by the war complex – Obama has lost his way.  He had the potential for genuine toughness, that of  a statesperson, to offer leadership which would exhibit, though perhaps with occasional lethality, the “nonviolence of the strong” (Gandhi).  But now, he has made himself with regard to drones and if he assassinates Awlaki, a war criminal.  Sad.

         The articles below on today’s news unmistakably bring home these points and how the world rightly sees Americans.  One would not want to be American abroad – an anthropologist say or a peace corps volunteer – with the taint of such murderousness and the long reach of a US government casting a pall over each of us.  How do the people know anthropologists or peace corps workers aren’t also informants or targeters for the CIA?  Maybe the information they collect will be connected to the missile that takes out the next wedding party of terrorists in Malaysia, or gets the next person grabbed and sent off  to Bagram or Illinois…

         The third article from the Nation brings out how President Karzai of Afghanistan recently lifted in his arms a 4 year old boy crippled from American fire from the air, took him outside, asked who had hurt him and he pointed to the sky.  People thought Karzai, a corrupt oil man, his brother a drug dealer, brought to power in half of Kabul by Bush, was just a bad actor.  Obama and Biden have been pushing Karzai around, trying  to “shape him up” from the President’s standpoint.  And now he talks last weekend of joining the Taliban (he has seen what happened to Diem in Vietnam...).  

         I must confess that I have never seen a story which made me empathize with Karzai before.  But I read the last words of this Nation piece and did.  The Afghani Taliban is a horrific organization.  But it is Afghani.  And American murder from the skies –  low cost in terms of American sacrifice, “high tech” slaughter of innocents - is hard to bear.  All that is good about Obama and his Presidency doesn’t alter this.

        David Price, an anthropologist, has recently been publishing on renewed CIA involvement and recruitment in American Universities – see "Silent Coup" here - and its dangers.  Anthropologists have recently spoken out against such programs as part of a larger criticism of aggressions.  The stakes are high.  It is time that all of us emulate them.

Published on Monday, April 12, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

The 'Obama Doctrine': Kill, Don't Detain

George Bush left a big problem in the shape of Guantánamo. The solution? Don't capture bad guys, assassinate by drone

by Asim Qureshi

In 2001, Charles Krauthammer first coined the phrase "Bush Doctrine", which would later become associated most significantly with the legal anomaly known as pre-emptive strike. Understanding the doctrine with hindsight could lead to a further understanding of the legacy that the former administration left - the choice to place concerns of national security over even the most entrenched norms of due process and the rule of law. It is, indeed, this doctrine that united people across the world in their condemnation of Guantánamo Bay.

Some CIA officials want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include tribal areas in Pakistan. (Photograph: James Lee Harper Jr./AFP/Getty Images)

The ambitious desire to close Guantánamo hailed the coming of a new era, a feeling implicitly recognised by the Nobel peace prize that President Obama received. Unfortunately, what we witnessed was a false dawn. The lawyers for the Guantánamo detainees with whom I am in touch in the US speak of their dismay as they prepare for Obama to do the one thing they never expected - to send the detainees back to the military commissions - a decision that will lose Obama all support he once had within the human rights community.

Worse still, a completely new trend has emerged that, in many ways, is more dangerous than the trends under Bush. Extrajudicial killings and targeted assassinations will soon become the main point of contention that Obama's administration will need to justify. Although Bush was known for his support for such policies, the extensive use of drones under Obama have taken the death count well beyond anything that has been seen before.

Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the US state department, explained the justifications behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when addressing the American Society of International Law's annual meeting on 25 March 2010:

"[I]t is the considered view of this administration ... that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war ... As recent events have shown, al-Qaida has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks ... [T]his administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles ... "[S]ome have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meeting. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law."

The legal justifications put forward by Koh are reminiscent of the arguments that were used by John Yoo and others in their bid to lend legitimacy to unlawful practices such as rendition, arbitrary detention and torture. The main cause for concern from Koh's statements is the implication that protective jurisdiction to which the US feels it is entitled in order to carry out operations anywhere in the world still continues under Obama. The laws of war do not allow for the targeting of individuals outside of the conflict zone, and yet we now find that extrajudicial killings are taking place in countries as far apart as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Pakistan. From a legal and moral perspective, the rationale provided by the State Department is bankrupt and only reinforces the stereotype that the US has very little concern for its own principles.

Despite the legalities of what is being conducted, the actuality of extrajudicial killings, especially through UAVs is frightening. The recent revelations by WikiLeaks on the killing of civilians by US Apache helicopters in Iraq has strongly highlighted the opportunities for misuse surrounding targeting from the air. In the Iraq case, there were soldiers who were supposed to be using the equipment to identify so-called combatants, and yet they still managed to catastrophically target the wrong people. This situation is made even worse in the case of UAVs, where the operators are far removed from the reality of the conflict and rely on digital images to see what is taking place on the ground.

Conservative estimates from thinktanks such as the New American Foundation claim that civilian causalities from drone attacks are around one in three, although this figure is disputed by the Pakistani authorities. According to Pakistani official statistics, every month an average of 58 civilians were killed during 2009. Of the 44 Predator drone attacks that year, only five targets were correctly identified; the result was over 700 civilian casualties.

Regardless of the figures used, the case that extrajudicial killings are justified is extremely weak, and the number of civilian casualties is far too high to justify their continued use.

A further twist to the Obama Doctrine is the breaking of a taboo that the Bush administration balked at - the concept of treating US citizens outside of the US constitutional process. During the Bush era, the treatment of detainees such as John Walker Lindh, Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla showed reluctance by officials to treat their own nationals in the way it had all those of other nationalities (by, for instance, sending them to Guantánamo Bay and other secret prisons). The policy of discrimination reserved for US citizens showed that there was a line the US was not willing to cross.

At least, today, we can strike discrimination off the list of grievances against the current president. The National Security Council of the US has now given specific permission to the CIA to target certain US citizens as part of counter-terrorism operations. Specifically, Anwar al-Awlaki has been singled out for such treatment, as it has been claimed that he was directly involved in the planning of the Major Hasan Nidal killings and the Christmas Day bomber attacks. Indeed, it is claims such as this that bring the entire concept of targeted assassinations into question. The US would like us to believe that we should simply trust that they have the relevant evidence and information to justify such a killing, without bringing the individual to account before a court.

The assumption that trust should be extended to a government that has involved itself in innumerable unlawful and unconscionable practices since the start of the war on terror is too much to ask. Whatever goodwill the US government had after 9/11 was destroyed by the way in which it prosecuted its wars. Further, the hope that came with the election of Barack Obama has faded as his policies have indicated nothing more than a reconfiguration of the basic tenet of the Bush Doctrine - that the US's national security interests supersede any consideration of due process or the rule of law. The only difference - witness the rising civilian body count from drone attacks - being that Obama's doctrine is even more deadly.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited 

Published on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 by Globe and Mail

Anti-American Anger Grows in Afghanistan

Protesters take to the streets after U.S. troops open fire on passenger bus outside Kandahar city, killing four civilians

by Sonia Verma

U.S. troops fired on a crowded passenger bus on the outskirts of Kandahar city, killing four civilians and injuring 18 others, stoking anti-American protests that promised to complicate a massive offensive against Taliban insurgents this summer.

Afghan police and onlookers gather around the bus that U.S. forces opened fire on in Kandahar city on Mon., April 12. Four civilians were killed in the incident. Ahmad Nadeem/Reuters

Although the military command issued an apology, saying it “deeply regrets the tragic loss of life,” Monday’s incident cast fresh doubts on Operation Omid, billed as the pivotal offensive of the war, which will see tens of thousands of NATO troops attempt to seize control of Kandahar.

NATO officials were already struggling to win support for the offensive from ordinary Afghans and tribal elders who had expressed concern over the potential for “collateral damage.”

Monday’s shooting appeared to confirm those fears, with angry Afghans spilling into the streets, burning tires and chanting “Death to America.”

“People brought the bus to Kandahar bus station and drivers and ordinary people protested against Americans,” said a man named Naqibullah who attended the protest, which he said “showed the anger of the people against the Americans.”

The shooting occurred before dawn when a bus carrying about 50 passengers travelling west on the main highway from Kandahar city approached a military convoy on a road-clearing mission, sweeping for land mines and improvised explosive devices.

Military officials said in a statement that “an unknown, large vehicle” drove “at a high rate of speed” toward the convoy.

Troops signalled the driver to stop with flares, flashlights and hand signals before firing, according to the statement.

“Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped,” the statement read. Later, NATO forces “discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus.”

Rozi Mohammad, a 40-year-old man from Zabul province who was injured in the shooting, suggested the darkness caused confusion.

“I was in the front seat when we were faced with the convoy. It was dark. I only saw fire from the Americans. … Many people were injured and killed. After some time helicopters landed and took us … for treatment,” he recounted in an interview at Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital where he was being treated for his wounds.

It was unclear what effect, if any, the shooting would have the timing of Operation Omid, which is set to launch in June.

On a visit to Kandahar city two weeks ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed the offensive would not take place without the people’s consent.

His comments were puzzling to many observers, because tens of thousands of U.S. troops have already arrived in the region in preparation for the mission.

However, they also underscored the importance of local consent in NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy, which relies on locals to supply coalition troops with intelligence ahead of any military offensive.

Anger over civilian deaths has hobbled Western efforts to draw support away from the insurgency.

The latest United Nations report suggests militants were responsible for 55 per cent of war-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2008, the last year for which figures were available. However, 39 per cent were killed by coalition or Afghan forces.

U.S. officials have said Mr. Karzai’s support will be crucial for the offensive to be successful.

The Afghan leader condemned the shooting and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

With a report from Globe and Mail staff in Kandahar

© 2010 Globe and Mail

Published on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 by The Nation

War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

by Robert Dreyfuss

War crimes, massacres, and, as Al Jazeera properly calls it, "collateral murder," are all part of the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

The release last week of the Wikileaks video, thirty-eight grisly minutes long, of US airmen casually slaughtering a dozen Iraqis in 2007 -- including two Reuters newsmen -- puts it into focus not because it shows us something we didn't know, but because we can watch it unfold in real time. Real people, flesh and blood, gunned down from above in a hellish rain of fire.

The events in Iraq, nearly three years old, were repeated this week in Afghanistan, when trigger-happy US soldiers slaughtered five Afghans cruising along on a huge, comfortable civilian bus near Kandahar.

As the New York Times reports:

"American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing and wounding civilians, and igniting angry anti-American demonstrations in a city where winning over Afghan support is pivotal to the war effort."

The Kandahar incident is only one of many, of course. Over the past year, dozens of Afghans have similarly died in checkpoint and roadside killings. Not one, not a single one, of these murders involved hostile forces. In other words, when the smoke and dust cleared, in all of the cases over the past year the bodies recovered were those of innocents.

As General McChrystal himself recently said:

"We really ask a lot of our young service people out on checkpoints because there's danger, they're asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it."

My question is: if so, then why aren't the rules of engagement altered? Why is it that US forces can fire wildly at an approaching vehicle, if in none of the cases that have happened thus far were there hostile forces involved?

In the Iraq case, as revealed in the stunning Wikileaks video, a group of eight men on a Baghdad street, in plain sunlight, is shot to pieces under withering fire from above. Then, when a van carrying four or five other men arrives to pick up a wounded man who is crawling painfully along the gutter, the van too is blasted to smithereens when the airmen request permission to "engage."

An analysis by Politifact takes apart Secretary of Defense Gates' callous assertion that the murders were "unfortunate" and "should not have any lasting consequences." We've already investigated this, he said, so what's the big deal?

The military's rationale for the slaughter is that US forces a few hundred yards away had taken small arms fire, and so the airmen in the copters circling above concluded that the men they'd seen carrying what they thought were weapons and RPGs -- although the "RPG" turned out to be a cameraman's telephoto lens -- were bad guys who could be shot to pieces at will. There was, of course, no evidence at all that the dozen or so Iraqis butchered were involved in what may or may not have been a shooting incident nearby. But, you know -- war is hell.

Politifact, to its discredit, defends Gates on these grounds, quoting David Finkel, a Washington Post reporter and author of The Good Soldiers, who writes in blase defense of the slaughter:

"What's helpful to understand is that, contrary to some interpretations that this was an attack on some people walking down the street on a nice day, the day was anything but that. It happened in the midst of a large operation to clear an area where U.S. soldiers had been getting shot at, injured, and killed with increasing frequency. What the Reuters guys walked into was the very worst part, where the morning had been a series of RPG attacks and running gun battles.

"More context. You're seeing an edited version of the video. The full video runs much longer. And it doesn't have the benefit of hindsight, in this case zooming in on the van and seeing those two children. The helicopters were perhaps a mile away. And as all of this unfolded, it was unclear to the soldiers involved whether the van was a van of good Samaritans or of insurgents showing up to rescue a wounded comrade. I bring these things up not to excuse the soldiers but to emphasize some of the real-time blurriness of those moments.

"If you were to see the full video, you would see a person carrying an RPG launcher as he walked down the street as part of the group. Another was armed as well, as I recall. Also, if you had the unfortunate luck to be on site afterwards, you would have seen that one of the dead in the group was lying on top of a launcher. Because of that and some other things, EOD -- the Hurt Locker guys, I guess -- had to come in and secure the site. And again, I'm not trying to excuse what happened. But there was more to it for you to consider than what was in the released video."

Finkel, who apparently is not going to write a sequel to his book called The Bad Soldiers, cavelierly dismisses the deaths of a dozen Iraqis as something that happens in the "real-time blurriness of those moments."

In Afghanistan, the repeated killings of innocent civilians has angered an embittered President Karzai, who has strongly and repeatedly condemned the killings of Afghan citizens by American troops. In a Washington Post story today, "Shooting by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan fuels Karzai's anger," the paper reports:

"Twelve days before President Hamid Karzai denounced the behavior of Western countries in Afghanistan, he met a 4-year-old boy at the Tarin Kowt civilian hospital in the south.

"The boy had lost his legs in a February airstrike by U.S. Special Operations forces helicopters that killed more than 20 civilians. Karzai scooped him up from his mattress and walked out to the hospital courtyard, according to three witnesses. 'Who injured you?' the president asked as helicopters passed overhead. The boy, crying alongside his relatives, pointed at the sky.

"The tears and rage Karzai encountered in that hospital in Uruzgan province lingered with him, according to several aides. It was one provocation amid a string of recent political disappointments that they said has helped fuel the president's emotional outpouring against the West and prompted a brief crisis in his relations with the United States. It was also a reminder that civilian casualties in Afghanistan have political reverberations far beyond the sites of the killings."

But I suppose Finkel can justify that one, too.

© 2010 The Nation

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones. 

Ex-Bush Official Willing to Testify Bush, Cheney Knew Gitmo Prisoners Innocent

Friday 09 April 2010

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report 

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once declared that individuals captured by the US military in the aftermath of 9/11 and shipped off to the Guantanamo Bay prison facility represented the "worst of the worst."

During a radio interview in June 2005, Rumsfeld said the detainees at Guantanamo, "all of whom were captured on a battlefield," are "terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, [Osama Bin Laden's] body guards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th hijacker, 9/11 hijacker."

Click here to listen to Truthout's Jason Leopold discuss this story on The Peter B. Collins show (mp3).

But Rumsfeld knowingly lied, according to a former top Bush administration official.

And so did then Vice President Dick Cheney when he said, also in 2002 and in dozens of public statements thereafter, that Guantanamo prisoners "are the worst of a very bad lot" and "dangerous" and "devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort."

Now, in a sworn declaration obtained exclusively by Truthout, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell during George W. Bush's first term in office, said Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld knew the "vast majority" of prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror were innocent and the administration refused to set them free once those facts were established because of the political repercussions that would have ensued.

"By late August 2002, I found that of the initial 742 detainees that had arrived at Guantánamo, the majority of them had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review," Wilkerson's declaration says. "Secretary Powell was also trying to bring pressure to bear regarding a number of specific detentions because children as young as 12 and 13 and elderly as old as 92 or 93 had been shipped to Guantánamo. By that time, I also understood that the deliberate choice to send detainees to Guantánamo was an attempt to place them outside the jurisdiction of the US legal system."

He added that it became "more and more clear many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military."

For Cheney and Rumsfeld, and "others," Wilkerson said, "the primary issue was to gain more intelligence as quickly as possible, both on Al Qaeda and its current and future plans and operations but increasingly also, in 2002-2003, on contacts between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s intelligence and secret police forces in Iraq."

"Their view was that innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror and the capture of the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks, or other acts of terrorism," Wilkerson added. "Moreover, their detention was deemed acceptable if it led to a more complete and satisfactory intelligence picture with regard to Iraq, thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country."

Documents have been released over the past year that showed how in 2002 several high-value detainees were tortured and forced to make statements that linked Iraq to al-Qaeda and 9/11, which the Bush administration cited as intelligence to support its invasion of the country in March 2003. But the confessions were utterly false.

Wilkerson's declaration was made in support of a lawsuit filed by Adel Hassan Hamad, a 52-year-old former Guantanamo detainee who is suing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Joint Chief of Staff Richard Myers, and a slew of other Bush administration officials for wrongfully imprisoning and torturing him.

Hamad was arrested in his apartment in Pakistan in July 2002, rendered to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for three months, where he says he was tortured, and then transferred to Guantanamo, where he was interrogated daily and subjected to even more torture by US military personnel.

At Bagram, according to Hamad's lawsuit, "dogs were set upon [him] while watching United States military personnel laughed and mocked him." Moreover, he was forced to stand for three days without "sleep or food" and eventually collapsed. He was then sent to a hospital where it took him two weeks to recover.

"Mr. Hamad was not given notice of the basis for his detention until more than two years after first being detained, when a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) was convened in November 2004," according to the lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle earlier this week. "Not until March 2005, nearly three full years after initially being detained, was Mr. Hamad officially labeled an 'enemy Combatant' by the flawed CSRT process," according to the lawsuit.

"However, this determination drew a rare dissenting opinion that acknowledged his enemy combatant status determination was unwarranted and, as such, would have 'unconscionable results,'" the lawsuit states. "The basis for Mr. Hamad's enemy combatant determination was simply because of his association as an employee of two organizations for whom he had done humanitarian and charity work (one of which he had left years before), and nothing more.

"In fact, a second CSRT was ordered for Mr. Hamad in November of 2007, one month before he was ultimately released to the Sudan. This was unusual, and indicates that the government recognized that the initial CSRT determination of Mr. Hamad was not accurate."

While Hamad was detained, his wife gave birth to a daughter who died some time later because the family did not have any money to pay for medical care. He has five other children.

Since he has been released, Hamad says he suffers from emotional, physical and psychological injuries and he is seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages. Similar lawsuits against former Bush administration officials, however, have been dismissed in other jurisidictions.

Wilkerson said he "made a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred because knowledge that I served in an Administration that tortured and abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the record clear on what occurred."

"I am also extremely concerned that the Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes. I am willing to testify in person regarding the content of this declaration, should that be necessary," he added.

Gwynne Skinner, an assistant professor of clinical law at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon and a member of Hamad's legal team, said WIlkerson's declaration was originally intended to be filed in support of Hamad's habeas corpus case, which was still pending in federal court in Washington, DC, along with more than 100 others, even though Hamad and the other former Guantanamo prisoners have already been released.

But US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed the cases, stating the former prisoners' transfers rendered their habeas lawsuits moot. Attorneys for the detainees were upset because they had hoped the court would make a decision that would ultimately clear the peitioners' names, lift travel restrictions, and the stigma that comes from being detained at Guantanamo.

Still, Skinner said Wilkerson's declaration is signficant because it marks the first time a Bush administration official is willing to state, under oath, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others knew many of the prisoners were innocent when they were sent to Guantanamo.

Wilkerson said detainees like Hamad were of little concern to Cheney.

The Office of Vice President Dick Cheney "had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent, or that there was a lack of any useable evidence for the great majority of them," Wilkerson said in the 9-page declaration. Cheney's position, Wilkerson asserted, "could be summed up as 'the end justifies the means.'"

Cheney, and his daughter Liz, have been vocal critics of President Obama's efforts to shut down Guantanamo. Obama signed an executive order immediately after he was sworn into office and set a one-year deadline to close the facility. But he missed the date, due in part, to Congress' refusal to earmark funds that would have allowed the administration to close the prison and move some detainees to a supermax prison in Illinois.

Cheney said last year that the only alternative the Bush administration had to setting up Guantanamo was to kill the prisoners detained there.

"If you don't have a place where you can hold these people, the only other option is to kill them, and we don't operate that way," Cheney said.

It is not news that the majority of the initial 742 prisoners who were detained at Guantanamo were innocent of the crimes that they were accused of.

Indeed, in February of 2006, the National Journal reviewed the case files of 132 prisoners who filed habeas corpus petitions and the redacted CSRT transcripts of 314 others and concluded that "most of the 'enemy combatants' held at Guantanamo... are simply not the worst of the worst of the terrorist world" as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush had claimed.

"Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies," according to an investigative report published by the National Journal. "Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time. And much of the evidence -- even the classified evidence -- gathered by the Defense Department against these men is flimsy, second-, third-, fourth- or 12th-hand. It's based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars."

The Journal noted that a common thread among many of the detainees is that a  majority of them "were not caught by American soldiers on the battlefield. They came into American custody from third parties, mostly from Pakistan, some after targeted raids there, most after a dragnet for Arabs after 9/11."

That's a point Wilkerson made in his declaration and said it likely applied to Hamad's case as well.

"With respect to the assertions by Mr. Hamad that he was wrongfully seized and detained, it became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all," Wilkerson said in his declaration. "I soon realized from my conversations with military colleagues as well as foreign service officers in the field that many of the detainees were, in fact, victims of incompetent battlefield vetting.

"There was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan. The vetting problem, in my opinion, was directly related to the initial decision not to send sufficient regular army troops at the outset of the war in Afghanistan, and instead, to rely on the forces of the Northern Alliance and the extremely few US Special Operations Forces (SOF) who did not have the necessary training or personnel to deal with battlefield detention questions or even the inclination to want to deal with the issue.

"A related problem with the initial detention was that predominantly US forces were not the ones who were taking the prisoners in the first place. Instead, we relied upon Afghans, such as General [Abdul Rashid] Dostums forces, and upon Pakistanis, to hand over prisoners whom they had apprehended, or who had been turned over to them for bounties, sometimes as much as $5,000 per head.

"Such practices meant that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to US forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money. I recall conversations with serving military officers at the time, who told me that many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives." 

In Hamad's case, Wilkerson said that he has "no reason to believe that any more thorough process was used to determine whether his seizure or transfer to Guantanamo was justified."

Wilkerson said that he discussed the Guantanamo detainees issue regularly with Powell and, based on those discussions, Wilkerson discovered that "President Bush was involved in all of the Guantanamo decision-making."

"My own view is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so," Wilkerson said. "Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell called the president’s 'cowboy instincts,' Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President's acquiescence."

Wilkerson said issues revolving around efforts to repatriate individuals wrongfully detained at Guantanamo came up during the morning briefings chaired by Powell that he and about 50 to 55 senior State Department officials attended beginning in August 2002 after the prison facility was opened.

"At the briefing, Secretary Powell would question Ambassador Pierre Prosper (Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes), Cofer Black (Coordinator for Counter Terrorism), and Beth Jones (Assistant Secretary for Eurasia), or other senior personnel for information about specific progress in negotiating detainee releases," Wilkerson said. "A number of these conversations arose because Secretary Powell received frequent phone calls from British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who had consulted with Secretary Powell frequently about repatriating the British Guantánamo detainees ...

"I also know that several other foreign ministers spoke with Secretary Powell urging him to repatriate their countries' citizens. During these morning briefings, Secretary Powell would express frustration that more progress had not been made with detainee releases."

During one particular meeting, Wilkerson said, Ambassador Prosper, the point person on negotiating the transfer of detainees to other countries, "would discuss the difficulty he encountered in dealing with the Department of Defense, and specifically Donald Rumsfeld, who just refused to let detainees go." 

Wilkerson said it was "politically impossible" to release detainees, even the ones Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other senior officials knew were innocent.

"The concern expressed was that if they were released to another country, even an ally such as the United Kingdom, the leadership of the Defense Department would be left without any plausible explanation to the American people, whether the released detainee was subsequently found to be innocent by the receiving country, or whether the detainee was truly a terrorist and, upon release were it to then occur, would return to the war against the US," he said. "Another concern was that the detention efforts at Guantánamo would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were. Such results were not acceptable to the 
Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DOD."

A spokesman for Rumsfeld said Wilkerson's claims are untrue. Peggy Cifrino, Powell's spokeswoman, said the former Secretary of State, "has not seen Colonel Wilkerson's declaration and, therefore, cannot provide a comment."

Still, what Wilkerson described may have very well been an issue in Hamad's case, although as Jim White pointed out in a blog post, the Pentagon appears to have had a policy in place to "justify the long-term detention and interrogation of innocent civilians."

According to Hamad's lawsuit, the Pentagon had cleared him for release in November 2005, according to a redacted copy of his clearance decision his attorneys cited in their complaint.

But he was not freed from Guantanamo until December 2007. His attorneys said they were notified via email in March 2007 that Hamad was eligible to be sent back home to Sudan and it was during negotiations with the Sudanese government that they discovered he was eligible for release a full two years earlier.

About 183 detainees, many of whom have already been cleared for release, remain at Guantanamo. A majority of them have never been charged with a crime.

* Foucault wants to say this though his epistemological account makes his presentation of this point confusing. 

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