Just Obstructed at Bagram as at Guantanamo

by Brian Terrell

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

Despite ten years of occupation and untold millions of dollars spent on rebuilding Afghanistan’s broken judicial and criminal justice system, the Afghan courts are “still too weak,” the Washington Post reported on August 12, for the United States to relinquish its control over the Parwan Detention Center on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. On September 21, the same paper reported that the U.S. military is seeking contractors to significantly increase the capacity of the prison there.

The number of Afghans detained at Bagram has tripled over the past three years to more than 2,600 and the new construction will raise the capacity to 5,500 prisoners. Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the U.S. task force that oversees detention operations in Afghanistan, told the Post that the expansion was necessary to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations, which we conduct with our Afghan partners.”

Many of those held at Bagram have been there since the U.S. occupied the former Soviet air base in 2001, and some two thirds of prisoners there have not been charged with or convicted of any crime. Corruption is rampant in Afghan courts and among police there as it is in many other places but the major fear of the United States is not that the Afghan courts will not function according to their constitution and accepted norms of law, but that they will. In order for Afghanistan to take sovereignty over its own judiciary and prison system, the Afghans must first fix the “cracks of an undeveloped legal system” and adopt essential “reforms,” including adoption of the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial.

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What we are Forgetting to Remember: The Social Context of 9/11

by Mike King

September 11, 2001 is a world historic moment, a historical signpost – “9/11” – marking more than a deadly attack, but a moment that truly changed history, one that can help us understand both the past and the present.  This week marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  Of the memorials given, documentaries aired and news stories published this week, few will address the causes and effects of 9/11 in a way that gives a sense of the root causes, social context and contradictions that surround that moment and continue to define our present.

9/11 grew out of everything from Cold War contradictions to longstanding political grievances and anti-imperialism in the Muslim world.  9/11 propelled two unending wars, Afghanistan being the longest in US history, bankrupting both State finances and global moral legitimacy.  Despite the killing of Osama bin Laden, and his mysterious burial at sea, and despite the fact that there have been no successful terror attacks in the US since 9/11, the US has lost the “War on Terror” in every other conceivable way.  Whether in terms of lost economic hegemony or in terms Federal budget deficits (and their social effects), largely caused by the costs of wars, or in terms of a loss of geopolitical control over much of the Western hemisphere or North Africa, the US leveraged its Empire to fund a new Crusades which has them clutching to their global thrown with one hand, munitions with the other, as the other world powers and financiers wait for the right moment to pull the rug out from under them, as multiple occupations meet persistent resistance.

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Staying in Afghanistan

by Ross Eventon

A US soldier keeps watch at the site of an explosion in Logar Province south of Kabul Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Reports that the US is determined to maintain a presence in Afghanistan will surprise no one except 99% of foreign policy analysts.  Responding to the announcement that the US is in negotiations to maintain a presence until 2024, Mahdi Hassan, senior editor at the New Statesman, writes “the US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure” because “the presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented.”

Regardless, Obama escalated the conflict on coming to office.  Citing research that outlines the primary goal of suicide terrorism is to end foreign military occupations, Hassan asks, “Why does an intelligent politician such as Barack Obama have such difficulty understanding this?”

The Afghan and Iraq invasions were launched on the expectation they would increase the terrorist threat to domestic populations, as they duly did.   It is a remarkable example of extreme naivety or intellectual subservience that claims the US is concerned with reducing terror not be met with widespread ridicule.

As Julien Mercille, a lecturer at University College Dublin, points out in the journal Critical Asian Studies, the War on Drugs is equally vacuous.

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The Straight Line from the Seminole Wars to the War on Terror

from Indian Country Today Media Network, via Antiwar.com

Did the GWOT start with him?

by Gale Courey Toensing

Andrew Jackson’s illegal and heavily censured actions during the First Seminole War in 1817 were cited recently during the military trial of a Guantanamo prisoner and was used as a precedent for the $690 billion defense authorization bill recently passed by Congress that would give the president unilateral authority to wage war at home or abroad and detain anyone suspected of terrorism or “providing material aid to terrorism” anywhere in the world, indefinitely and without trial. Although there is no direct connection between the Guantanamo case and that legislation, the right of free speech is threatened by both and raises fears that the legislation could be used to squelch any kind of dissension or resistance to government policies or actions. And coming on the heels of the government’s use of “Geronimo” as the code name for Osama bin Laden, the man who epitomized global terrorism, indigenous peoples fear that the legislation could be used against them for asserting their right to self determination, sovereignty and the protection of their lands and resources against exploitation by governments or corporations.

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Kharotabad killings and the cover up

In an in-depth investigation, Mehreen Zahra-Malik reveals the sordid details behind the May 17th murder of five Russian/Tajik civilians by Pakistani security forces near Kharotabad in Baluchistan. This article first appeared on Al Jazeera.

One wounded woman makes an appeal for surrender moments before her body is riddled with more bullets.

Jamal Tarakai had barely sat down to a late lunch on May 17 when he heard gunshots. Leaving his food untouched, he jumped on his motorbike and drove towards the source of the noise. About 200 metres from his home in Kharotabad on the outskirts of the capital of Balochistan, Quetta, was a Frontier Corps (FC) check post. As Tarakai pulled up on the chowk, he saw at least five FC guards shooting into a pile of sandbags, the firing so intense it created a whirlwind of dust, making it difficult for the cameraman to see who, or what, was being shot at so fiercely.

Pulling out his camera, the journalist started filming the scene. At some point, there was a pause in the firing. The dust settled, somewhat, and the lower portion of a woman in a red shalwar-kameez could be seen lying on the ground. She slowly raised an arm and waved it in the air, fingers stretched out – to signal surrender? To seek mercy? The outstretched hand prompted two of the men in fatigues to start firing again, until it was certain anything living on the receiving end was now almost certainly dead.

TV channels immediately began to pump out congratulatory stories, cheering the FC guards for a job well done. Five alleged Chechen suicide bombers, including three women, had been killed in an encounter with security forces, it was reported. The Balochistan Home secretary quickly issued a statement saying the suspects were wearing suicide vests and had hurled hand grenades at the FC, killing one FC guard, Naik Mohommad Sajjad. The Capital City Police Officer, Daud Junejo, said the five foreigners were Chechen militants linked with Al Qaeda; that they had been planning to carry out attacks in Quetta; and that the women had showed the officers suicide vests and threatened to blow themselves up.

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Bureau of Investigative Journalism exposes CIA lies on drone casualties

An investigation by a Bureau of Investigative Journalism team led by Chris Woods conclusively shows that the US government has been lying about civilians casualties in its illegal drone war inside Pakistan. The story was recently covered by the BBC’s Newsnight.

Our friend, the great Gitmo lawyer Clive Stafford Smith is now suing the CIA’s former legal chief John Rizzo for murder.

Gunboats and gurkhas in the American Imperium

My new piece on the complicity of the Pakistani elite in the US drone war is up on Al Jazeera‘s website.

Pakistanis are enraged by ongoing US drone strikes in their country

Meet Resham Khan. The 52-year-old shepherd was brought on a stretcher to a psychiatric hospital in Islamabad in January, traumatized and unable to speak. The father of six witnessed 15 members of his extended family perish last June when a US drone attacked a funeral procession in his native North Waziristan. The atrocity has left him mute and emotionally paralyzed, his vacant eyes staring into the distance. He gave up on food and drink in the months following the attack; shortly afterward, the pious Muslim gave up on prayer too. His condition also prevented him from looking after his ailing mother who died soon thereafter. And his surviving children have suffered. When the Reuters journalist finally got him to talk, one of the few things he said was ‘Stop the drone attacks.’

Kareem Khan, too, has suffered. On December 31, 2009, his son Zaenullah Khan and his brother Asif Iqbal were among the three people killed in a US drone attack which destroyed their home in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Kareem’s absence spared him the sight of his mutilated family; and unlike the helpless shepherd, he had the wherewithal to demand justice. In November 2010, his lawyer, Barrister Shahzad Akbar served legal notices to the CIA station chief Jonathan Banks, former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and former Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta for $500 million in damages.  Banks, who was in Pakistan on a business visa, took fright and soon fled the scene, and the US government was so terrified of the legal challenge that last month it denied a visa to Barrister Akbar to travel to the US. More survivors have since come forward demanding justice.

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The Virtue-less war of the nintendo bomber

My second article in the drones series is now online at Al Jazeera.

Drone pilots pilot the craft from an air conditioned office thousands of miles away. War has never before been so like a video game.(GALLO/GETTY)

In April, the British Ministry of Defence published a study which for the first time gave serious consideration to the moral, ethical and legal aspects of the drone wars. The study advises defense planners that ‘before unmanned systems become ubiquitous’ they must ‘ensure that, by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely.’ The report is particularly concerned that the low risks of using drones were enabling policy makers to consider military action in places where they would otherwise be hesitant: ‘the use of force is totally a function of the existence of an unmanned capability,’ it suggests.

The conclusions of the report are sobering. So is the fact that it was produced by a British military think tank rather than a US Congressional committee. In the US, the media and political establishment are still romancing the drone with the kind of giddy attention that sometimes borders on the inappropriate. In a May 10, 2009 segment on the Predator drone, Lara Logan of CBS’s 60 Minutes was positively breathless. Two years later, at a New America Foundation conference on drones, Professor Thomas Nachbar of the University of Virginia School of Law declared drones ‘fun’ and argued ‘against more transparency’ in their use.

Drones are attractive to US militarists and their courtiers because they are politically liberating. In their battle against public opinion and institutional inertia, politicians have often found technology an ally. The drones must therefore be understood in the context of a long-standing US desire to develop the technological means for achieving global Pax Americana. And for a century, airpower has been a key component of this vision.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era

Steve Walt, co-author of the ground-breaking The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, gave a keynote address on “Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era” at an event is co-hosted by the IIEA and UCD’s Clinton Institute for American Studies. You can download the Post Event Notes from this event here.

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