Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Welcome to Camp Slappy 

Via our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor: In their rush to gush over the prescience of Mr. Bush's (retroactively-announced, if not retroactively-conceived) scheme to spread democracy throughout the Middle East domino by domino, many commentators inexplicably neglect to mention the domino that preceded Iraq. Just as the newly-democratic Iraq provides us with a home for fourteen permanent military bases proximate to the oil we crave, the newly-democratic Afghanistan provides us with a convenient dumping ground for the thousands of undocumented "ghost detainees" we kidnap from countries all over the globe. By comparison, the puny facility at Guantanamo Bay is small beer indeed:
Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is bleaker, its provinces more inaccessible and lawless, than it was under the Taliban. If anyone leaves town, they do so in convoys. Afghanistan is a place where it is easy for people to disappear and perilous for anyone to investigate their fate. Even a seasoned aid agency such as Médécins Sans Frontières was forced to quit after five staff members were murdered last June. Only the 17,000-strong US forces, with their all-terrain Humvees and Apache attack helicopters, have the run of the land, and they have used the haze of fear and uncertainty that has engulfed the country to advance a draconian phase in the war against terror. Afghanistan has become the new Guantánamo Bay.

Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights activists and Afghan politicians have accused the US military of placing Afghanistan at the hub of a global system of detention centres where prisoners are held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture. The secrecy surrounding them prevents any real independent investigation of the allegations. "The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely outside international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and more sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to understand," Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human Rights First, told us . . . .

At his office in central Gardez, [Dr Rafiullah Bidar, regional director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission] showed us a wall of files. "All I do nowadays is chart complaints against the US military," he said. "Many thousands of people have been rounded up and detained by them. Those who have been freed say that they were held alongside foreign detainees who've been brought to this country to be processed. No one is charged. No one is identified. No international monitors are allowed into the US jails." He pulled out a handful of files: "People who have been arrested say they've been brutalised - the tactics used are beyond belief." The jails are closed to outside observers, making it impossible to test the truth of the claims.

Prisoner transports crisscross the country between a proliferating network of detention facilities. In addition to the camps in Gardez, there are thought to be US holding facilities in the cities of Khost, Asadabad and Jalalabad, as well as an official US detention centre in Kandahar, where the tough regime has been nicknamed "Camp Slappy" by former prisoners. There are 20 more facilities in outlying US compounds and fire bases that complement a major "collection centre" at Bagram air force base. The CIA has one facility at Bagram and another, known as the "Salt Pit", in an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. More than 1,500 prisoners from Afghanistan and many other countries are thought to be held in such jails, although no one knows for sure because the US military declines to comment . . . .

One minister, who asked not to be named, said, "Washington holds Afghanistan up to the world as a nascent democracy and yet the US military has deliberately kept us down, using our country to host a prison system that seems to be administered arbitrarily, indiscriminately and without accountability."

What has been glimpsed in Afghanistan is a radical plan to replace Guantánamo Bay. When that detention centre was set up in January 2002, it was essentially an offshore gulag - beyond the reach of the US constitution and even the Geneva conventions. That all changed in July 2004. The US supreme court ruled that the federal court in Washington had jurisdiction to hear a case that would decide if the Cuban detentions were in violation of the US constitution, its laws or treaties. The military commissions, which had been intended to dispense justice to the prisoners, were in disarray, too. No prosecution cases had been prepared and no defence cases would be readily offered as the US National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers had described the commissions as unethical, a decision backed by a federal judge who ruled in January that they were "illegal". Guantánamo was suddenly bogged down in domestic lawsuits. It had lost its practicality. So a global prison network built up over the previous three years, beyond the reach of American and European judicial process, immediately began to pick up the slack. The process became explicit last week when the Pentagon announced that half of the 540 or so inmates at Guantánamo are to be transferred to prisons in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Since September 11 2001, one of the US's chief strategies in its "war on terror" has been to imprison anyone considered a suspect on whatever grounds . . . . The US army came to Afghanistan as liberators and now are feared as governors, judges and jailers. How many US marines know what James Madison, an architect of the US constitution, wrote in 1788? Reflecting on the War of Independence in which Americans were arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial by British forces, Madison concluded that the "accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
The most interesting part of the article is a section that describes in concrete detail how the torture of innocent detainees leads to the extraction of bogus "intelligence," which leads to the capture (and torture) of more innocent detainees, which leads in turn to the extraction of more bogus "intelligence," and so on, in an endless daisy chain. And the Pentagon knows it.

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