Monthly archives: October 2005

Cheney seeks to legalize torture

From the Herald Today

Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture. This week, Vice President Dick Cheney proposed a novel solution for the moral and legal problems raised by the use of American soldiers to abuse prisoners and the practice of turning captives over to governments willing to act as proxies in doing the torturing. Cheney wants to make it legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to do this wet work.

Cheney’s proposal was made in secret to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who won the votes of 89 other senators this month to require the civilized treatment of prisoners at camps run by America’s military and intelligence agencies. McCain’s legislation, an amendment to the Defense Department budget bill, would ban the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of prisoners. In other words, it would impose age-old standards of democracy and decency on the new prisons.

President Bush’s threat to veto the entire military budget over this issue was bizarre enough by itself, considering that the amendment has the support of more than two dozen former military leaders, including Colin Powell. They know that torture doesn’t produce reliable intelligence and endangers Americans’ lives.

But Cheney’s proposal was even more ludicrous. It would give the president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense Department (the administration has in mind the CIA) to mistreat and torture prisoners as long as that behavior was part of “counterterrorism operations conducted abroad” and they were not American citizens. That would neatly legalize the illegal prisons the CIA is said to be operating around the world and obviate the need for the torture outsourcing known as extraordinary rendition.

McCain was right to reject this absurd proposal. The House should reject it as well.

View with comments

Nobody wants to talk to me’

This site gets ever more readers ‘ I am pretty chuffed about it. But it doesn’t attract dialogue or debate. We have attracted less than a dozen genuine comments in the six months we have been operating.

At first I put this down to the system which required you to sign in before commenting. So we removed this, and found we still didn’t get any comments. What we did get was an incredible amount of spam, adding links to sex sites from the comments slots. The result was a lot of frustrated people who had googled ‘lesbian hot tub’ and ended up here.

Clearing off this spam was a never-ending task, so we are returning to protecting the comments by a registration process. But I do hope people will start to interact on this site. I am getting lonely, and wondering if anyone except me actually cares about this stuff. I lecture all round the country and abroad, and always end up in interesting discussions. The content of this site isn’t uncontroversial. So why do I have to go to Harry’s Place or Registan if I want dialogue? Please, people, talk to me’


View with comments

Canadian Deported by US to Syria was Allegedly Tortured

By Howard Williams writing in (28th October)

Ottawa ( – A Canadian citizen, deported by the United States to Syria even though no charges had been filed against him, was tortured while in Syrian custody, according to testimony at a judicial inquiry Thursday.

The case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born engineer who lives with his family in Ottawa, sparked a diplomatic row between Canada and the United States after it was revealed that the U.S. deported him to Syria without informing Canadian authorities and despite the fact that Arar was traveling on a Canadian passport.

The United States claimed that Arar had links with the al Qaeda terrorist network but never charged him.

After a year of intensive diplomatic efforts, Arar was eventually released by Syria and returned to Canada. After months of trying to dodge the issue, the Canadian government agreed to set up a judicial inquiry.

Officially, the inquiry is to discover what role — if any — Canadian officials had in Arar’s arrest and deportation by the United States. However, many are hoping that the inquiry will also cast some light on why the United States chose to deport a Canadian citizen to a country — Syria — known for allegedly harsh interrogation methods.

Those interrogation methods, the inquiry was told Thursday, included physical and psychological torture.

Stephen Toope, a former dean of McGill University’s law school in Montreal, who was appointed to carry out an independent investigation by Ontario Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor, reported that “Arar’s psychological state was seriously damaged and he remains fragile … Economically, the family has been devastated.”

Toope interviewed Arar about his claims that he was tortured, claims originally denied by Canadian authorities, and other Syrian-Canadians who claim to have been tortured while in custody in their native country.

“I am convinced that [Arar’s] description of his treatment in Syria is accurate,” Toope said in his report which was made public Thursday. “I conclude that the stories they tell are credible. I believe that they suffered severe physical and psychological trauma while in detention in Syria.

Toope concluded that “the treatment of Mr. Arar in Far Falestin constituted torture as understood in international law … In addition, the techniques of humiliation and the creation of intense fear were forms of psychological torture.”

American authorities detained Arar in New York when he was returning from a family vacation in Tunisia in September 2002, accusing him of having terrorist connections.

Canadian consular officials said they were not told of Arar’s deportation until after he had been flown out of the United States and despite assurances from U.S. authorities that he would not be deported without prior consultation with Canada.

Washington has refused to allow State Department or FBI officials to testify at the inquiry, which has already discovered that The Royal Canadian Mounted Police supplied information to U.S. law enforcement officials about Arar.

Canada’s Defense Minister, Bill Graham, who was foreign minister at the time Arar was arrested and deported, claimed at the inquiry that he had no reason to believe Arar was being tortured in Syria.

Dan Livermore, director general of Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department’s security and intelligence bureau, said the United States used a process called extraordinary rendition to deport Arar to Syria.

“I find troubling the entire course of activity the American government has embarked upon since about 2001 with respect to what they call extraordinary rendition, a practice which we knew absolutely nothing about,” Livermore claimed.

O’Connor is expected to wrap up his inquiry soon and could produce his final report before the end of the year.

Although not technically part of his mandate, O’Connor could urge Ottawa to seek greater assurances from Washington about the treatment of Canadian citizens taken into custody while in the United States.

Arar, now 35, has consistently denied any links to any terrorist organization and has never been charged in Canada or in the United States with any criminal offense. He obtained his engineering degree in Ottawa and during his one-man campaign for a public inquiry has impressed many Canadians with his fluency in both English and French.

View with comments

Opposition leader tortured with drugs

Today Sanjar Umarov lies, cold, unclothed, drugged and beaten, on the bare floor of a solitary confinement cell in Tashkent.

Last month I had dinner with Sanjar Umarov at Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, just across from the White House. Sanjar leads Uzbekistan’s newest and best publicised opposition grouping, Sunshine Uzbekistan, which had largely taken over the Peasants and Entrepreneurs’ Party, itself a fairly recent addition to the opposition ranks.

There was a great deal of suspicion about Umarov from longer standing opposition figures. Umarov was an oligarch, from one of the leading regime families. He had made money in oil and cotton trading, both sectors which cannot be accessed without an inside political track. He had also been involved in the Uzdunrobita mobile telephone company, in which the major Uzbek partner was Gulnara Karimova, the President’s daughter. In March 2004 Karimova sold her shares in Uzdunrobita to a Russian company for 212 million dollars, a figure which places a much higher than realistic value on the company.

This transaction was an important stage in the peculiar business dealings between Russia and the Karimov family, which culminated in last November’s deal to allocate the bulk of Uzbekistan’s natural gas reserves to Gazprom. This deal was negotiated between Gulnara Karimova and Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek born Russian oligarch who bought a substantial number of shares in Corus, the British steel company. Usmanov is also a Director of Gazprom responsible for their affairs in the former Soviet Union outside Russia.

Gulnara received a large cash payment – $88 million, according to my sources ‘ on completion of the Gazpron deal, with further payments to come as gas is exported. Alisher Usmanov gave Putin a sweetener of 40% of the shares in Mapo Bank, an important Russian business bank with a close relationship to several blue chip western firms operating in Russia. The shares were made over to Piotr Jastrejebski, Putin’s private secretary who was a college friend of Alisher Usmanov and shared a flat with him.

This web is closely associated with Karimov’s succession strategy. He is desperate for Gulnara to succeed him, and the cash and Russian support is building up her power base. Some sort of Alisher Usmanov/Gulnara Karimova alliance is Karimov’s first choice to take over, in six or seven years time. This is the background to the diplomatic revolution of the last six months, with Karimov abandoning the US and turning back to the embrace of Mother Russia.

It is worth recalling that the Karimov regime had been aggressively anti-Russian, in terms of both propaganda, and of practical measures of linguistic discrimination. Approximately two million ethnic Russians have fled Uzbekistan since independence in 1991; about 400,000 are left.

This reorientation towards Russia went along with fierce anti-enterprise measures designed to stifle any entrepreneurial activity not under direct control of the Karimov family. This explained the physical closures of borders and bazaars, the crackdown on crash transactions and the channelling of all commercial activity through the state banks.

These developments not only brought still greater economic hardship to the poor, they created losers among the wealthy elite. Sanjar Umarov is an archetypal example of such ‘New losers’.

Umarov had studied business administration in Tennessee on a US government scholarship. His trading interests had widened from their Uzbek base. He has a home in Memphis, and a green card. His children are US citizens. Among the Uzbek elite, a class had come into existence of people who could do business with the West. Their business was now being cut off by Karimov.

It would be wrong to credit Sanjar Umarov with purely selfish motives. Unlike so many of his countrymen, he has the education and experience to understand that Karimov’s policies are economically disastrous. Over dinner, we shared our frustration over this: Uzbekistan is not a naturally poor country. It is extremely well endowed with gas, gold, uranium, iron, coal and most rare minerals you can think of. It is historically fertile and could be so again once the government-dictated cotton monoculture is abandoned.

Uzbekistan’s plight is inflicted on it by appalling government. Umarov and I both believe it could recover surprisingly quickly once basic economic freedoms are established, of which the first must be to take the land from the state and give it to the peasant farmers. Over dinner we discussed other ideas, such as voucher privatisation schemes to enable the common people to benefit from Uzbekistan’s mineral wealth. I found Umarov attentive, interested and pro-active.

The outlawed Uzbek opposition has been fractured. There are genuine, historical differences between the Erk and Birlik parties, and those differences are vital to a democracy. But, until we achieve democracy, people need to work together against Karimov. The parties had moved to do that, to their great credit, but there was understandable resentment and suspicion from those who had suffered in opposition for years, towards a ‘Johnny Come Lately’ like Sanjar Umarov.

Well, he is certainly suffering now in his Tashkent cell. And, if Karimov is to be overthrown, in practice some reform-minded ‘insiders’ are going to be needed to build the necessary national unity for reconstruction. That has to be faced. There are several prominent Uzbek opposition leaders, and Umarov now joins such figures as Mohammed Salih, Abdurahim Polat and others. One day let us hope the Uzbek people will freely choose between their politicians. For now, personal ambition needs to be subordinated to the need to end Karimov’s reign of terror.

The urgent need now is for all the opposition parties, including the Sunshine Coalition, to agree a platform of basic reform in the economy, the constitution, the police and judiciary, agriculture, education and many other areas. The broad lines of change need to be ready to roll out once Karimov goes. The most useful thing donors and foreign NGOs could do now would be to set up a programme outside Uzbekistan working with all parties to agree a plan of basic reform.

I found Umarov engaging and enthusiastic. I urged him to be cautious about returning to Uzbekistan, and was rather puzzled by his apparent confidence that he could pursue his political aims inside Uzbekistan without personal danger. Plainly he had good contacts with US official circles ‘ since Karimov turned against the US, a pro-Western oligarch is a saleable commodity in Washington.

That Umarov was arrested at the time of the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to Tashkent is a sign of the strength and ugliness of the current Uzbek/Russian relationship. Umarov is being kept in solitary confinement. Nodira Khidatoyova of his party claims to have been told by an inside source that the Prokurator’s office have been instructed to destroy his mind through psychotropic drugs.

That is certainly feasible. There have been many examples of prisoners being forcibly injected, and Elena Urlaeva, another dissident I know, is currently undergoing such ‘treatment’ in a psychiatric institution. Sanjar Umarov’s lawyer seems to provide some evidence for this. He found him naked, in solitary confinement, making repetitive movements and unable to communicate coherently.

The response of the international community to the brutal treatment of an opposition leader has been pathetic, as always with Uzbekistan. The UK, as EU Presidency, issued a pious statement hoping that ‘International norms of treatment would be respected’, when plainly they are not being.

Umarov is now being charged with ’embezzlement’, and the UK hopes these charges will be ‘properly investigated’. How stupidly, utterly, inadequate! There is no ‘proper’ investigation procedure in Uzbekistan, where 99% of those tried are convicted, and dissidents are framed literally every day, usually with narcotics or firearms offences. To pretend there is a shred of legitimacy to this treatment of Sanjar Umarov is a nonsense. Why is an alleged embezzler naked in solitary confinement?

If corruption is the real concern of the Uzbek authorities, Karimov and his daughter would be the first arrested. The international community, and the UK in particular, needs a much tougher response before Umarov dies in jail.

Craig Murray

View with comments

Hazel Blears responds to Craig Murray’s charge that she made false claims to Parliament

From The Guardian:

Craig Murray makes a number of accusations about me (Hazel Blears made a claim I know to be false, October 19) over the decision to proscribe the Islamic Jihad Union. Readers will understand why I cannot provide full details of all the intelligence available on the IJU or the nature of intelligence operations in central Asia. What I can say is that the home secretary had the full intelligence picture, as presented by UK intelligence agencies, available to him when he took the decision to recommend that the IJU should be proscribed. The decision to proscribe the IJU – and 14 other organisations – was endorsed by both houses of parliament last week with not one member of either house voting against the order.

To assist parliament in coming to a decision, we provided a brief account of the activities of the IJU, including that in July 2004 an IJU cell mounted suicide attacks against the US and Israeli embassies in Tashkent. These attacks were condemned by the UN secretary general. The IJU has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist crimes. The IJU is proscribed by the UN and I believe there was a clear case for the UK to take similar action.

Hazel Blears MP

Home Office minister

View with comments

MPs debate the Terrorism Bill – be careful what you say!

Below we post two excerpts from the parliamentary debate on the second reading of the proposed terrorism bill that took place on the 26th October. First, Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, raises the example of what would transpire if MPs questioned the evidence on a proscribed terrorist organisation. Secondly, John Denham describes how someone vandalising a statute of the President of Uzbekistan could be guilty of terrorism under the proposed UK legislation!

For the full Hansards transcript go here

Alan Simpson: The hon. Gentleman will recall the debate in the House two weeks ago about the extension of the list of proscribed organisations. Included on that list was the Islamic Jihad Union in Uzbekistan. Many Members raised concerns about the inclusion of that organisation and, a matter of days later, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan wrote in The Guardian that there was no basis for substantiating the allegations that had been made about it, that they had come from the Uzbek Government and that we had no embedded intelligence sources of our own in the region. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the provisions relating to encouragement in the Bill would place hon. Members in an invidious position, in that, if we sought to defend an organisation that had been improperly proscribed as a terrorist organisation, we would be committing a terrorist offence under the encouragement provisions?

Mr. Denham : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who makes a powerful case for legislation to deal with the terrorist threat that we face, but does he not acknowledge that this legislation goes far wider than that? It is a question not of someone in this country supporting an action taken somewhere else in the world, but of anyone anywhere in the world supporting any type of violence. If an Uzbek living in Uzbekistan supported the destruction of a statue as a symbol of opposition to the tyrannical regime in his country, he would be guilty of an offence under clause 17, and liable to prosecution and seven years’ imprisonment, should he come to this country. Is it really our intention to do the dirty work for some of the most oppressive and tyrannical regimes in the world?

Mr. Clarke: As my right hon. Friend knows, it is not our intention to do anybody’s dirty work; rather, we intend to do our best to protect this country’and, indeed, the world’against terrorism as a means of political change. All our constituents will want us to do that as best we can. That said, I concede, as I have to my right hon. Friend privately and in his Committee, that we have to look at these definitions in order to avoid such questions arising. I say again’

Finally, a quote from Charles Clarke on the proposed offence of the glorification of terrorism:

The encouragement offence also includes glorification, which was a manifesto commitment. After we published our initial proposals, it was clear that there was considerable unease about the proposal for a self-contained offence of glorification of terrorism. In the spirit of consensus, we have now responded to that concern. Accordingly, glorification is now an offence only if the person who glorifies terrorism believes, or has reasonable grounds for believing, that the remarks will be understood as an incitement to terrorist acts.

Ok, thats incredibly clear and not at all prone to misinterpretation or abuse. Nice work Mr Clarke.

Further, in summing up at the end of the debate, Hazel Blears simply ignored Simpson’s point from above completely. The government made no attempt in the debate to reply to Craig Murray’s point about the fake nature of the so-called March 2004 suicide bombings.

See above for Blear’s response to the criticism from Murray, which she issued in the press.

View with comments

Definitions of terrorism according to Charles Clarke?

Here we post two questions raised during the hearings of ‘The Joint Committee on Human Rights Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights’ on Monday 24 October 2005. The Home Secretary Charles Clarke responds to Baroness Stern. Just what is terrorism according to Mr Clarke, but more importantly, will the ludicrously loose definition be allowed to stand in the new legislation?

Q12 Baroness Stern: Can I ask you about the definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 which is very wide ranging? Any violence, including damage to property, designed to influence the policy of any government anywhere in the world. That being the definition, is it your view that anybody who advocates political violence in any state, no matter how brutal or repressive, will be committing the offence of encouraging terrorism? For example, if somebody in Uzbekistan, for example, said, “Let’s go and pull down the posters of the repressive president” that is presumably damage to property. In your view, is that advocating political violence?

Mr Clarke: No. I do not think pulling down posters is political violence. Blowing up a bus, to give that example again, is political violence. I agree with you — this is where I concede a point to Lord Lester in the question he asked — that the question of where on this spectrum between tearing down a poster and blowing up a bus a particular act falls can in some circumstances be difficult. I do not think it is as difficult as it seems. To suggest that tearing down a poster is terrorism simply would not be substantiated by anybody in any circumstances. To suggest that blowing up a bus is not terrorism, on the other hand, would also be very difficult to argue. Though I agree it is possible in this great range of potential acts that one could conceivably describe to say there are some in the middle of this range where there could be an area of difficulty of judgment, I do not think most acts would have any difficulty of definition at all.

Q13 Baroness Stern: Do you consider that the broadness of this offence — it may not be tearing down posters but suppose it is breaking the windows in the Ministry of the Interior — is going to stop people discussing and debating what to do about trying to restore democracy in oppressive regimes?

Mr Clarke: In most cases it is a question of establishing rather than restoring democracy in the world at the moment because the striking feature of the world over my lifetime has been that, over whole swathes of the world, eastern and central Europe, southern Europe, South Africa, southern Africa, Latin America, central America, a democratic regime is now far more commonplace than was the case 35 years ago. I certainly think it is perfectly reasonable to have discussions about the right way to make change in any given circumstance but then you say to me what is my attitude to inciting changes in terrorist methods and my attitude is against it. I think the law should be against it.

View with comments

Torture to be sanctioned again in Westminster? – et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur

By Martin Bright writing in The New Statesman

In Committee Room 1 in the Commons, the future of our democracy is in the balance. Here the law lords are being asked to sweep aside 250 years of legal precedent, writes Martin Bright

From the scrum of journalists, backbenchers and researchers in the committee corridor of the Commons, you would be forgiven for thinking great matters of state were at issue. But the mob outside Committee Room 14, where the Tories were holding the first ballots in their interminable leadership contest, were jostling for elbow room at a sideshow.

At the same time, a hundred paces along the corridor in Committee Room 1, the future of our democracy was being decided. Here the law lords were meeting to hear an appeal against a high court ruling last August that evidence obtained under torture in other countries could be used in courts in England and Wales.

When I attended, the rest of the media pack was nowhere to be seen and not a single front-bench MP from any party was present. In this small room, with just enough public seats to hold the lawyers, interested parties and a handful of spectators, their lordships were being asked to overturn a decision that sweeps aside 250 years of legal precedent. If last summer’s decision stands, evidence extracted by torture will be admissible in terrorist cases as long as no British official has connived in the abuses.

The form of torture last sanctioned in Britain, peine forte et dure, was abolished in 1772. In this bizarre judicial ordeal, defendants who refused to enter a plea would have heavier and heavier stones placed on their chests until they pleaded guilty or not guilty – or suffocated to death. But even this crude punishment was not designed to extract confessions to be used in evidence. At the time of its use, peine forte et dure was considered an insurance against the abuse of the jury system by defendants who “stood mute” – in other words, asserted their right to silence.

Although convicted criminals were still hanged, drawn and quartered well into the 19th century, there has been a gradual shift away from judicial cruelty since the Bill of Rights outlawed “cruel and unusual punishments” in 1689. The “war against terror” has changed that. Ministers are now persuaded that, in some circumstances, torture is tolerable – as long as it is carried out by foreigners on our behalf. The issue first emerged during hearings for ten Arab terror suspects held without trial under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, when an MI5 officer conceded that some of the evidence used to detain the men might have been obtained under torture.

Ranged against the government are lawyers for groups such as Amnesty International, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and Doctors for Human Rights. They argue that the prohibition of torture in law is absolute and that admission of evidence in a British court would act as a green light to regimes with a poor human rights record.

It is an established principle that international agreements on the prohibition of torture are breached not only in the perpetration but in the tolerance of such acts. Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture is clear on this.

In 1992 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture found that courts accepting evidence obtained by inflicting pain were responsible for “the flourishing of torture”. Even in exceptional circumstances, such as at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, evidence obtained in this way was specifically excluded. Just last year the UN General Assembly restated its plea to states not to use evidence obtained under torture in court.

Although most UN conventions were signed straight after the Second World War, the Convention Against Torture came into force only in 1987. That it exists at all is a tribute to the work of the campaigning organisations that now oppose the government on the use of torture evidence. Signatory governments have a right to be proud of the high principles the document expresses.

What a contrast to the shabby little agreement the British government has just signed with Libya in which Tripoli agrees not to mistreat terror suspects deported from the UK. The spectacle of a British prime minister accepting such assurances from Colonel Gaddafi, in the week that Saddam Hussein went on trial in Baghdad, provided a stark reminder of the inconsistencies of British foreign policy.

Next month marks the 400th anniversary of our most celebrated victim of torture, Guy Fawkes. James I had to make an executive order because torture was, even then, frowned on in common law: “The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke.”

The law lords should perhaps visit the “Gunpowder Plot” exhibition in parliament’s Westminster Hall, a short walk from Committee Room 1, where they can see the crushed, barely legible signature of the tortured Fawkes, before they make their decision on reintroducing this barbaric practice to our courts.

View with comments

‘Bush Lied, 2,000 Died’ – that same slow slide into hell

New Yorkers take to the streets in protest of the war in Iraq

By Sarah Ferguson writing in The Village Voice

With angry chants of ‘Bush lied, 2,000 died!’ several hundred New Yorkers jammed the traffic island that’s home to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square to protest on the day after the Pentagon announced the death of the 2,000th American soldier in Iraq.

That grim milestone brought out an eclectic mix of demonstrators, here and across the nation. In Manhattan, Grandmothers Against the War jostled alongside young anarchists with bandanas masking their faces, Green Party stalwarts, veterans, students, office workers bearing flowers, and a group carrying a dozen large coffins draped in American flags.

They were crammed up against about a half dozen counterprotesters, who came brandishing a remarkable assortment of their own American, British, Israeli, and Iraqi flags. One guy among them identified himself as Tom D. and wore a Union Jack tied around his face. ‘I recognized a few of my college professors in the crowd, and I don’t want this to bias them against me,’ said Tom, who said he’d turned out to ‘stand in solidarity’ with the troops.

‘How many more?!” the antiwar demonstrators demanded. ‘Bush we adore!’ the counterprotesters shouted back.

And yet just about everyone piped down for a moment of silence led by the members of Veterans for Peace, who came bearing a large banner printed with the image of empty boots and rifles planted barrel down into the ground, in honor of the fallen soldiers.

Behind them, the digital screen on top of the recruiting station flashed jazzy images of young recruits training in fighter planes and on submarines with the pitch line ‘Prepare for life.’

‘It’s a bogus mission. There is no ability to win this war,’ said Vietnam vet David Cline. ‘It’s only a matter of time and bodies before the U.S. does what is inevitable, pull out.”

Cline also took issue with supporters of the war’s efforts to minimize the casualties in Iraq relative to past wars. ‘I could look at the 2,000 and say it’s nothing compared to the 58,000 who died in Vietnam. But I think the people are out here now because they learned something from Vietnam and now they see that same slow slide into hell. The 2,000 matters today because we know if we don’t do something, it will be 58,000.’

Other demonstrators sought to highlight the tremendous civilian death toll, estimated by the British group Iraq Body Count at between 26,690 and 30,051. In Union Square, a trio of women sporting black top hats spent two hours reciting the names, ages, and manner of death for some 1,000 Iraqis, pausing for a moment of silence after each name, followed by the chiming of a Tibetan bell. Among the names was that of a three-month-old killed by a U.S. rocket.

And outside the offices of Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, about 70 people gathered for an equally somber reading of the names of the U.S. fallen.

‘We want to put pressure on both senators to come up with some kind of exit strategy and also demand that they hold the Bush administration accountable for misleading the country to war,’ said Gary Weingarten, the owner of the Lower East Side bar Verlaine, who recently helped found a group called to raise awareness about the Bush administration’s manipulation of intelligence to justify the war.

‘It’s obvious Clinton is going to run for president in 2008, and she’s been supporting the war because of that,’ Weingarten added. ‘Does that mean she approves of these kind of tactics’of lying to your country to go to war?’

“Their only criticism is about the management of the war,” complained Chris Tompkins, a 40-year-old attorney from Queens. He cited Schumer’s appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday, when he told Tim Russert he did not regret voting for the U.S. invasion, even knowing now that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction.

“Here’s a Democrat who is supposedly as left as the Democrats can get, and he supports the administration’s policy. It’s a disgrace!” Tompkins said.

Folks turned out for candlelight vigils and streetside demonstrations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, where activists gathered outside the offices of Republican Congressman Vito Fossella’part of a growing national effort to pressure Congress to cut funding for the war.

The New York events were among some 1,500 demonstrations and memorials that took place across the country, from Anchorage, Alaska, to Washington, D.C., where Cindy Sheehan and about two dozen others were arrested for staging a die-in in front of the White House.

The Pentagon did its best to blunt the protests. On Tuesday, the military’s top spokesperson in Iraq, Army Lt. Col Steve Boylan, sent an e-mail to reporters urging them not to make too much of the 2,000th death. “It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives,” wrote Boylan, who implied that calling it a milestone would only hurt troop morale.

“If it was really a false marker, they wouldn’t comment on it,” responded Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice.

‘The fact that the Pentagon is actually commenting on it means that we are tapping into something,’ said Cagan, citing the latest polls, which show the majority of Americans now think going to war was a mistake.

Yesterday’s protests and vigils were broadly organized by United for Peace and Justice, Move On, and the American Friends Service Committee, which used online portals to enable people to post events in their own communities.

Debra Anderson of Staten Island, whose husband returned home a month ago after spending 18 months in Iraq with the National Guard, said she felt a bit uncomfortable commemorating the 2,000th death, as if the soldiers who died before were somehow less important. Still, she said, the message needs to get out.

‘People need to be reminded that the war is still going on, because otherwise it’s like a movie to them,’ said Anderson, who has been hosting weekly vigils with the Staten Island chapter of Peace Action since July. ‘They have to realize that our people are still going over there, and this war is not going away.’

“My husband’s unit lost 19 members when they were in Baghdad,” added Anderson. “I’m very grateful that he’s home and he’s safe, but he will never be the same. We’re forever changed by this.”

View with comments

The reality of Britain’s reliance on torture

Craig Murray writes today in The Independent on the reality of Britain’s reliance on torture

“Torture means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle, and died after 10 days of agony”

The Government has been arguing before the House of Lords for the right to act on intelligence obtained by torture abroad. It wants to be able to use such material to detain people without trial in the UK, and as evidence in the courts. Key to its case is a statement to the Law Lords by the head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. In effect she argues that torture works. It foiled the famous ricin plot.

She omits to mention that no more ricin was found than is the naturally occurring base level in your house or mine – or indeed that no poison of any kind was found. But let us leave that for now. She argues, in effect, that we need to get intelligence from foreign security services, to fight terrorism. And if they torture, so what? Her chief falsehood is our pretence that we don’t know what happens in their dungeons. We do. And it is a dreadful story. Manningham-Buller is so fastidious she even avoids using the word “torture” in her evidence. Let alone the reality to which she turns such a carefully blind eye.

Manningham Buller also fails to mention that a large number of people have been tortured abroad to provide us with intelligence – because we sent them there to be tortured. The CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programme has become notorious. Under it, detainees have been sent around the world to key torture destinations. There is evidence of British complicity – not only do these CIA flights regularly operate from UK airbases, but detainees have spoken of British intelligence personnel working with their tormentors.

So the UK receives this intelligence material not occasionally, not fortuitously, but in connection with a regular programme of torture with which we are intimately associated. Uzbekistan is one of those security services from whose “friendly liaison” services we obtained information. And I will tell you what torture means.

It means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle in both vagina and anus, and who died after ten days of agony. It means the old man suspended by wrist shackles from the ceiling while his children were beaten to a pulp before his eyes. It means the man whose fingernails were pulled before his face was beaten and he was immersed to his armpits in boiling liquid.

It means the 18-year-old whose knees and elbows were smashed, his hand immersed in boiling liquid until the skin came away and the flesh started to peel from the bone, before the back of his skull was stove in.

These are all real cases from the Uzbek security services which we viewed as friendly liaison, and from which we obtained regular intelligence, in the Uzbek case via the CIA.

A month ago, that liaison relationship was stopped – not by us, but by the Uzbeks. But as Manningham-Buller sets out, we continue to maintain our position as customer to torturers in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and many other places. The key point is that none of the these Uzbek victims were terrorists at all.

The great majority of those who suffer torture at the hands of these regimes are not terrorists, but political opponents. And the scale of this torture is vast. In Uzbekistan alone thousands, not hundreds, of innocent men, women and children suffer torture every year.

Across Manningham-Buller’s web of friendly intelligence agencies, the number may reach tens of thousands. Can our security really be based on such widespread inhumanity, or is that not part of the grievance that feeds terrorism?

These other governments know that our security services lap up information from their torture chambers. This practical condoning more than cancels out any weasel words on human rights which the Foreign Office may issue. In fact, the case for the efficacy of torture intelligence is not nearly as clear-cut as Manningham-Buller makes out. Much dross comes out of the torture chambers. History should tell us that under torture people would choke out an admission that they had joined their neighbours in flying on broomsticks with cats.

We do not receive torture intelligence from foreign liaison security services sometimes, or by chance. We receive it on a regular basis, through established channels. That plainly makes us complicit. It is worth considering, in this regard, Article 4 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires signatories to make complicity with torture a criminal offence.

When I protested about these practices within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was told bluntly that Jack Straw and the head of MI6 had considered my objections, but had come to the conclusion that torture intelligence was important to the War on Terror, and the practice should continue. One day, the law must bring them to account.

A final thought. Manningham-Buller is arguing about the efficiency of torture in preventing a terrorist plot. If that argument is accepted, then in logic there is no reason to rely on foreign intermediaries. Why don’t we do our own torturing at home? James VI and I abolished torture – New Labour is making the first attempt in English courts to justify government use of torture information. Why stop there? Why can’t the agencies work over terrorist suspects?

The Security Services want us to be able to use information from torture. That should come as no surprise. From Sir Thomas Walsingham on, the profession attracts people not squeamish about the smell of seared flesh from the branding iron. That is why we have a judiciary to protect us. I pray the Law Lords do.

View with comments

‘Harassment’ forces BBC out of Uzbekistan

By Nick Paton Walsh writing in The Guardian

The BBC yesterday said it would close its World Service operation in the central Asian state of Uzbekistan, citing harassment by local officials. The foreign media have been under increasing pressure in the authoritarian state since the massacre of at least 500 protesters by Uzbek troops in the southern town of Andijan.

Fifteen men went on trial last month for organising the unrest. Prosecutors yesterday asked the alleged “terrorists” to be sentenced for up to 20 years, and at the start of the trial had claimed the men had been advised during the unrest by the BBC.

A BBC statement said: “The BBC World Service’s office in Tashkent is being suspended and all local staff withdrawn with immediate effect for six months pending a decision on their longer-term future. We are doing this over concerns of security.” The BBC World Service regional head, Behrouz Afagh, said that during the four months since Andijan, staff had been subjected to “a campaign of harassment and intimidation”.

In June, the BBC added, its correspondent, Monica Whitlock, was forced to leave the capital “under government pressure” after she was accused of breaking unspecified laws for her reports on Andijan.

Six other staff members have since left, two of whom have been classified as refugees by the UN. The BBC retains a monitoring office but has no correspondents in the country.

Yesterday it also emerged that Sanjar Umarov, chairman of the opposition Sunshine Coalition, who was arrested on Sunday for alleged embezzlement, had shown signs of having been tortured in jail. His lawyer said that he saw Mr Umarov naked, swaying back and forth in his cell. “He threw all his clothes out into the feeding slot and didn’t react to my words,” Valery Krasilovsky told Associated Press.

View with comments

Andijan five months on

The bullet holes and bloodstains are gone, but for Uzbeks life is even worse

By Nick Paton Walsh in Andijan writing for The Guardian

Repression on a huge scale follows massacre of at least 500 protesters

Plaster covers up the bullet holes in the walls of Andijan, a city whitewashed into denial. Builders clamber around buildings, hastily repairing blast damage. Residents talk in code on the phone; the less cautious sometimes disappear. Thick-set men in sunglasses band together on street corners, their silver saloons conspicuously tailing outsiders. The veneer of normality, here in the authoritarian state of Uzbekistan, is brittle. Ola picks at her ice cream in one of Andijan’s pristine parks and says: “Everyone here has amnesia. Didn’t you know?”

In the centre, the tranquil Bobur Square yields no suggestion that five months ago it was, in the words of witnesses, awash with blood. Here troops shot dead at least 500 people protesting in support of 23 local businessmen charged with “extremism” but freed in a jailbreak. The troops walked among the wounded, finishing them off with a single shot to the head, before hoarding their corpses in a nearby school.

But while locals say between 1,500 and 2,000 people died on the square, the regime of President Islam Karimov insists that only 187 criminals were killed. They have tried to recast the massacre as a measured response to a coup by Islamists, a version of events repeated daily in the Uzbek supreme court in the capital, Tashkent.

In the court, 15 of the 23 businessmen are on trial for terrorism and may be executed. They have said they opened fire first, that the US embassy helped finance their attack, and the foreign media, including the BBC, advised them. Officials have testified that the militants refused an offer of safe passage, battered their captives and began shooting each other. State TV has replayed confessions from similarly repentant “organisers”.

This Orwellian conceit lapsed only once when a woman said troops had shot at people waving white flags. Makhbuba Zakirova, 33, who was interrupted by the judge, said: “Even Hitler did not do it that way.”

The charade is shattered behind the closed doors of Andijan’s homes. Survivors and relatives told the Guardian, the first western newspaper to gain access to Andijan since the massacre, of months of repression, arrest, and torture. Hundreds of survivors have been forced into confessing their “military involvement” to bolster the state’s case.


Many are in jail, up to 200 awaiting trial; others have disappeared from hospital. One police officer said 300 people had been arrested in Andijan since the massacre; Human Rights Watch suggests up to 4,200 have at some point been detained in the surrounding region. Knock on doors in a street in Andijan and it is clear the repression that hit the town of 450,000 after May 13 may eclipse the horrors of the massacre itself.

Udgarbek, 16, sits on a bed in his mother’s courtyard. On May 13 he was shot twice in the back. The first cut just past his upper spinal cord. The second is lodged in his lower back. He walks stiffly as if his back and thighs were strapped to a plank; urine stains his trousers, his nerve endings still damaged.

That day, he was left for dead near Bobur Square. Soldiers dragged him into the grounds of a school where he lay among hundreds of corpses. He saw nine injured people die before they put him on a bus to hospital at dawn. There, the security services visited him. “They beat me on the legs and the soles of my feet to make me sign a confession saying I was sniper,” he said. “They yelled at me: ‘Where are your guns and your friends?’ But I refused, fearing what they would do to me if I confessed.”

After 26 days, he was discharged. But at home convalescing and unable to walk, he was still seen as a threat. “They came again in June and took me to the regional police station,” he said. “They did not beat me that time, but fingerprinted, photographed and filmed me.”

Many did not return home from hospital. Saidkhan Saidhojayev, 27, left home excitedly on the morning of May 13. The businessmen had been busted out of prison. The local government building had been taken over. The town’s life would start anew. The president was coming to negotiate and so Mr Saidhojayev dressed in his best white shirt and trousers. By 8pm, he was staggering home after being shot in the left arm. He did not enter his mother’s house, but lay outside on a pile of gravel until 11pm, when friends took him to hospital. There his infected arm was cut off. Three days later he was moved by the police and has not been seen again.

No return

On the same day, Anvar Todjihanov,a father of four, was taken from hospital. His wife declined to be interviewed but told friends how her husband, 36, who was shot in the back on Bobur Square, had lost 10kg (22lb) in weight and is “on the borders of death” in jail. Plain-clothed security men, who last searched her flat 15 days ago, have told her to get a job as Mr Todjihanov won’t be returning.

The authorities’ reputation has heightened the anguish. The US state department says Uzbek police use “torture as a routine investigation technique”. Methods include crushing limbs, electric shocks, raping relatives before the accused, sexual abuse with a broken bottle, and in one case the boiling to death of a suspect. Others have been arrested by the National Security Service, as “hostages” to persuade relatives to give themselves up. Shurat Nuridinov, 24 and a student, was jailed for terrorism on May 26. His father Avas said the case was probably aimed at forcing his relative, one of the businessmen, Burkhoni Nuridinov, to return to Uzbekistan. Burkhoni is one of 400 Uzbeks who fled to Europe and gained asylum.

A human rights activist, Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, who spoke out about the death toll, was arrested on the Uzbek border after taking a wounded protester to Kyrgyzstan. He has been charged with criminal defamation and distributing leaflets that threaten national security. “We don’t know where he’s being held,” said his son, Ilhom. “I doubt they’ll release him. His lawyer says he’s already confessed and asked for the president’s forgiveness.” Ilhom was beaten up days after meeting the Guardian, a human rights worker said.

The crackdown has continued across Uzbekistan, as Mr Karimov hurries to ensure that any repeat of Andijan will not be as well publicised. Two weeks after the massacre, in the town of Jizzakh, a human rights worker was attacked at home by 70 people who gave him 24 hours to leave town. “They were all state employees,” Bakhtiyor Khamraev said. “They hit me over the head with a stick. For 50 minutes they screamed: ‘You are an American spy, a terrorist. You have sold yourself.'”

The next day they came back, but Mr Khamraev was with a US researcher from Human Rights Watch. The threat of publicity caused the crowd to flee, he said. Since then telephone calls have threatened his family, warning: “We will kill you. No foreigner can help you.”

View with comments

Outing CIA Agents

Valerie Plame Meets Philip Agee

By Steve Weissman, posted at TomDispatch

As we approach the week when Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury will undoubtedly issue indictments against White House officials, the seldom considered 1982 CIA shield law under which the Plame case was first launched deserves some attention. When Karl Rove, I. Lewis Libby, and possibly others decided to reveal the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, they clearly wanted to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, for undermining administration claims that Saddam Hussein sought “yellowcake” uranium from Niger to build nuclear weapons. But by publicly ruining Plame’s undercover career, they were undoubtedly also sending a very personal message to CIA types and other insiders not to question Mr. Bush’s rush to war in Iraq.

As despicable as this White House treachery may have been, those of us who oppose it need to regain some lost perspective. Being bashed by Team Bush does not turn the Central Intelligence Agency into the home team or necessarily make Valerie Plame a modern-day Joan of Arc; nor should her outing stop journalists or anyone else from blowing the cover of her fellow agents when they are found engaging in kidnappings, torture, or attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments.

CIA Torturers

Among its many sins, the CIA has played a central role in the American torture machine. The agency created its “stress and duress” torture methods back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and then passed the techniques to the Pentagon and client regimes around the world. Now, to complete the circle, CIA squads kidnap those they consider terrorist suspects and secretly disappear them into the prisons and torture chambers of countries like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, and Uzbekistan.

The antiseptic name for this outsourcing of torture is “extraordinary rendition,” and — to be fair — the CIA does not do it on its own say-so. “Renditions were called for, authorized and legally vetted not just by the N.S.C. [National Security Council] and the Justice Department, but also by the presidents — both Mr. Clinton and George W. Bush,” former CIA official Michael Scheuer wrote last March in an op-ed in the New York Times (scroll down). “I know this because, as head of the C.I.A.’s bin Laden desk, I started the Qaeda detainee rendition program and ran it for 40 months.”

Author of the best-selling Imperial Hubris, Scheuer has become a leading critic of the war in Iraq, which he rightly sees as counterproductive in the fight against terrorists. Still a spook at heart, though, he rushes to defend the agency’s “snatch and grab” program, calling those of us who want to outlaw it either “woefully uninformed” or “horse’s asses.”

The program was “tremendously successful,” he told reporter Randy Hall of Cybercast News. “The amount of information we received that helped us better understand al Qaeda and formulate additional operations against them was invaluable, and the simple fact that, for example, we put one of bin Laden’s main procurers of weapons of mass destruction in prison is a good thing.”

Yes, jailing terrorists is good, but not by sidestepping formal charges, habeas corpus, independent judges, and fair trials — and certainly not by using torture. To trash civilization’s hard-won legal safeguards and let our secret police become judge, jury, and executioner is to do bin Laden’s work for him.

For CIA veterans, the ends too often justify the means, as long as the whole business does not become public (as it now has). The belief that an elite corps of CIA officers — and they alone — can keep self-corrupting means both under wraps and in check seems to be part of the job description.

The U.S. Senate appears to agree. In their admirable, bipartisan amendment to stop the American military from using torture, the Senators carefully refrained from extending the ban to cover the CIA, which continues to run its own secret prisons elsewhere. If torture is wrong for uniformed GIs, it should certainly be no less wrong for undercover agents.

But what does all this have to do with Valerie Plame?

I hope nothing at all. The CIA is a sizeable, complex bureaucracy, and only a relatively small number of its employees have anything to do with kidnapping, torture, and the like. The problem is that we know very little about what Ms. Plame did, and she has told us nothing about her views on anything at all. Her supporters — like former CIA and State Department officer Larry Johnson — tell us only that she worked undercover to protect Americans from nuclear proliferation.

As it happens, I was chief investigator on the BBC television team that first exposed the world’s worst nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb. We pursued Khan’s story back in 1980, and many of our best leads came from intelligence operatives like Ms. Plame — and not just on the American side.

The information invariably came through “cut-outs,” or intermediaries, and we took great pains to check every lead for ourselves, knowing that intelligence agencies miss few opportunities to spread disinformation. After we broadcast our film and published a book called The Islamic Bomb, one of our cutouts passed word from the CIA that our expos’ had set back the Pakistani nuclear program by three years.

I mention this to make clear how much I value the kind of intelligence work Ms. Plame is said to have done. But there’s a dark side to CIA work that none of us should ignore. A significant part of the Agency’s recent efforts against proliferation has rightly focused on stopping terrorists from getting nuclear materials. Given the history of the last few years, there can be little doubt that the Agency would be sorely tempted to ship off any credible suspects to be interrogated under torture in some foreign hellhole. As a result, we need to take a long, hard look at anyone who has worked in CIA covert operations, especially in the area of nuclear proliferation.

None of this should weaken our opposition to the way Team Bush has treated Ms. Plame. But eternal suspicion of our legal, military, and intelligence professionals is one of the prices we will increasingly have to pay if our government continues to insist on relying on torture.

Enter Philip Agee

The current scandal over Plame’s outing raises an even tougher issue for those of us who work as journalists. Do we have any obligation to refrain from publishing the identity of undercover CIA operatives engaged in such activities? Or, when we write about their dirty work, do we tell the whole story without leaving out the leading characters?

Back in 1975, former CIA officer Philip Agee published Inside the Company: CIA Diary, an international best seller in which he revealed what the CIA was doing, especially in Latin America where he had worked. He also named every CIA officer he knew — an indication of just how complete a break he had made with the Agency. The contrast with Michael Scheuer or Valerie Plame is obvious.

It was hardly surprisingly, then, that Agee’s former comrades saw what he had done as an utter betrayal, much as old lefties viewed the staged performances of those who named names for Senator Joseph McCarthy and other Congressional investigators. (The difference between the two situations was immense, of course, as Agee made his decision to go public without coercion and solely for reasons of conscience.)

A young idealist with a Jesuit education, he had believed all the apple-pie myths of American democracy and had joined the CIA to do what he thought was right. After twelve years “inside the Company,” he ended up loathing the dirty work he had seen and did, and so tried to disrupt the Agency’s operations by blowing the cover of its operatives. This clearly put CIA officers at increased risk, but — so he felt — the more time they had to spend ensuring their own safety, the less time they would have to put other people elsewhere on Earth at risk.

Several journalists in London at the time — and I was one of the most active — joined Agee in publishing the names of large numbers of CIA officers in dozens of countries, often as lead stories in widely read newspapers and magazines. Contrary to media accounts, however, Agee did not provide the names, as he had already named everyone he knew. The identifications came from the U.S. government’s Foreign Service Lists and its yearly Biographic Registers, using a time-consuming method that former State Department officer John Marks described in the November 1974 Washington Monthly. Marks called his method “How to Spot a Spook.”

No midnight mail drops from the Soviet KGB. No whispered messages from some Cuban Mata Hari. Just the hard slog of journalistic investigation.

Then came the crisis. Two days before Christmas in 1975, assassins shot and killed Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. The agency quickly used the killing to escalate its attacks on Agee, even though he had never known Welch or identified him in his book (or anywhere else). No doubt Agee would have, but he played no part in the outing, as the CIA knew.

His only contact was peripheral. In January 1975, the American magazine CounterSpy identified Welch as the CIA station chief in Lima, and also carried an essay by Agee. But the magazine, which was funded by author Norman Mailer and his Organizing Committee for a Fifth Estate, had found Welch’s identity in a Peruvian journal and then confirmed it with the spook-spotting techniques from the Washington Monthly.

Welch’s name also appeared in the English-language Athens News in November 1975, along with nine other CIA officers working in Greece. Many months later, the press revealed that the killers had stalked Welch even before the list appeared. The CIA had reportedly warned him not to move into the house which the stalkers knew as the CIA chief’s residence. For whatever reason, Welch refused to heed the warning.

But Agee’s vindication came nearly twenty years later when former First Lady Barbara Bush repeated the old libel that he had played a role in Welch’s death in her memoirs. Agee sued, and Mrs. Bush was forced to remove the passage from the paperback edition of the book. She also had to send him a letter of apology, acknowledging that her accusation had been false.

Now, with the outing of Valerie Plame, many pundits are again blaming Agee for revealing Welch’s identity. No doubt, they will check the facts and send their apologies as well.

The CIA Fights Back

In the meantime, the CIA continued to do to Agee far worse than Team Bush has done to Valerie Plame, using his notoriety to turn the spotlight away from the dirty work he was protesting. First they persuaded Britain to deport him; then they convinced France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Germany to keep him on the run. Though Germany later relented and let him live there, none of the countries ever presented a public case with specific charges that Agee could contest.

Then, in 1982, the CIA and its former director George Bush, who was by then Vice President, persuaded Congress to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, one of several laws that the current Bush Administration appears to have broken in outing Valerie Plame. Often called “the Anti-Agee Act,” the law targeted those with authorized access to classified information, past or present. It also criminalized journalists and others who showed “a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents.”

Though poorly drafted and hard (but not impossible) for prosecutors to use, the “Anti-Agee law” acts as a gag on whistleblowers, journalists, scholars, and activists who might want to expose covert wrongdoing. Worse, in the wake of the Plame outing, several members of Congress want to extend the law, creating even more of a British-style Official Secrets Act.

Whatever Karl Rove or Lewis Libby did to reveal Plame’s identity, they should be punished, as should the President and Vice President they serve. But let’s not jump overboard. Making a bad law worse would prove exceedingly shortsighted, especially for anyone who cherishes a free press or fears the unchecked power of the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon.

View with comments

U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq

From the American Civil Liberties Union (24.10.05)

CIA, Navy Seals and Military Intelligence Personnel Implicated

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

‘There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths,’ said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. ‘High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.’

The documents released today include 44 autopsies and death reports as well as a summary of autopsy reports of individuals apprehended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents show that detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy Seals, Military Intelligence and ‘OGA’ (Other Governmental Agency) — a term, according to the ACLU, that is commonly used to refer to the CIA.

According to the documents, 21 of the 44 deaths were homicides. Eight of the homicides appear to have resulted from abusive techniques used on detainees, in some instances, by the CIA, Navy Seals and Military Intelligence personnel. The autopsy reports list deaths by ‘strangulation,’ ‘asphyxiation’ and ‘blunt force injuries.’ An overwhelming majority of the so-called ‘natural deaths’ were attributed to ‘Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.’

While newspapers have recently reported deaths of detainees in CIA custody, today’s documents show that the problem is pervasive, involving Navy Seals and Military Intelligence too.

The records reveal the following facts:

A 27-year-old Iraqi male died while being interrogated by Navy Seals on April 5, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. During his confinement he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood. The exact cause of death was ‘undetermined’ although the autopsy stated that hypothermia may have contributed to his death. Notes say he ‘struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.’ Some facts relating to this case have been previously reported. (In April 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the use of ‘environmental manipulation’ as an interrogation technique in Guant’namo Bay. In September 2003, Lt. Gen. Sanchez also authorized this technique for use in Iraq. Although Lt. Gen. Sanchez later rescinded the September 2003 techniques, he authorized ‘changes in environmental quality’ in October 2003.)

An Iraqi detainee (also described as a white male) died on January 9, 2004, in Al Asad, Iraq, while being interrogated by ‘OGA.’ He was standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died. The cause of death was asphyxia and blunt force injuries. Notes summarizing the autopsies record the circumstances of death as ‘Q by OGA, gagged in standing restraint.’ (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Abdul Jaleel.)

A detainee was smothered to death during an interrogation by Military Intelligence on November 26, 2003, in Al Qaim, Iraq. A previously released autopsy report, that appears to be of General Mowhoush, lists ‘asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression’ as the cause of death and cites bruises from the impact with a blunt object. New documents specifically record the circumstances of death as ‘Q by MI, died during interrogation.’

A detainee at Abu Ghraib Prison, captured by Navy Seal Team number seven, died on November 4, 2003, during an interrogation by Navy Seals and ‘OGA.’ A previously released autopsy report, that appears to be of Manadel Al Jamadi, shows that the cause of his death was ‘blunt force injury complicated by compromised respiration.’ New documents specifically record the circumstances of death as ‘Q by OGA and NSWT died during interrogation.’

An Afghan civilian died from ‘multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso and extremities’ on November 6, 2003, at a Forward Operating Base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Abdul Wahid.)

A 52-year-old male Iraqi was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment facility on June 6, 2003, in Nasiriyah, Iraq. His autopsy also revealed bone and rib fractures, and multiple bruises on his body. (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Nagm Sadoon Hatab.)

The ACLU has previously released autopsy reports for two detainees who were tortured by U.S. forces in Bagram, Afghanistan, believed to be Mullah Habibullah and an Afghan man known as Dilawar.

‘These documents present irrefutable evidence that U.S. operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations,’ said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. ‘The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.’

The documents were released by the Department of Defense in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

As part of the FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a federal judge recently ordered the Defense Department to turn over photographs and videotapes depicting the abuse of prisoners held by the United States at Abu Ghraib. That decision has been stayed until October 26. The government has not yet indicated whether it is going to appeal the court’s decision.

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Singh, Jameel Jaffer, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

To date, more than 77,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at

The documents released today are available online at

View with comments

Police to probe US ‘torture flights’ landing in Scotland

In a follow-up to his previous series of articles Neil Mackay looks at attempts by the Scottish police to confront the CIA

SCOTTISH police are to launch an investigation into CIA ‘torture flights’ which fly in and out of Glasgow and Prestwick airports, ferrying kidnapped war on terror suspects around the world.

The police action is a result of last week’s disturbing investigation by the Sunday Herald into the so-called ‘extraordinary rendition flights’, which see suspects kidnapped overseas by the CIA, drugged and then flown to ‘friendly states, such as Egypt, Uzbekistan and Morocco, where they are tortured on behalf of British and American intelligence.

Following our reports , the Green Party wrote to the chief constable of Strathclyde Police, Sir William Rae, asking for a full inquiry into the torture flights. A police spokesperson confirmed that the force would now launch an investigation.

Last week, we revealed that the British government was to be sued by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith for complicity in the torture of his client Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi.

Also exposed was the fact that international human rights experts and lawyers believe the UK is breaking the Geneva Conventions by collaborating with the USA on the transit of the flights through Britain.

Further, the UK allows British airports to be used for refuelling by the CIA’s jets ferrying suspects around the world. Glasgow and Prestwick airports are the two most favoured CIA stop-overs.

Chris Ballance, the Green Party MSP who represents the Prestwick area, said he lodged the complaint with Strathclyde Police after reading the Sunday Herald’s investigation because it appeared that ‘Scotland is complicit in these gross acts of torture’.

Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said : ‘Once these planes land on British soil, they have no immunity. If they touch down at a civilian airport they are under civilian jurisdiction. This would allow the police to do their job fully and to board the plane and question those on board.’

Beyond saying that an investigation would take place, Strathclyde Police said it could not comment on how the inquiry would proceed.

The CIA refused categorically to comment. One CIA official merely laughed when told that Scottish police were to investigate.

View with comments


MediaLens describe themselves as a “response to the unwillingness, or inability, of the mainstream media to tell the truth about the real causes and extent of many of the problems facing us, such as human rights abuses, poverty, pollution and climate change.” A recent article looks at why ‘Real Men go to Tehran

You can visit them at Medialens

View with comments

Amnesty International Alert

Amnesty International have issued an alert for Student Marsel Isaev who was forcibly returned to Uzbekistan on 12 October, from Tatarstan, in the Russian Federation. He has not been seen or heard from since he was put on the plane, and the authorities in Uzbekistan have refused to confirm or deny that he is in custody. He is thought to be held incommunicado in a detention centre in the capital, Tashkent, and he is at grave risk of torture.

AI Index: EUR 62/029/2005

If you wish to help with the appeal please contact your local AI office.

View with comments

Sanjar Umarov arrested in Tashkent?

PRESS-RELEASE from Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition

October 23, 2005 (13:55 Tashkent time)

Sanjar Umarov gone missing in Tashkent

Yesterday, October 22 a massive attack by General-Prosecutor’s Office was unleashed on members of Sunshine Coalition.

As the result 5 people were detained by the General-Prosecutor’s Office, including the Coordinator of Sunshine Uzbekistan, Ms. Nadira Khidoyatova.

That same day, since 10pm October 22nd, Chairman of Sunshine Coalition Sanjar Umarov has gone missing. Although unconfirmed reports have pointed that he is being detained in the General Prosecutor’s Office in Tashkent, officials from General-Prosecutor’s office have told that he is held in Tashkent City Police Department. Search is continuing.

This attack by Uzbekistan’s authorities came right after Sanjar Umarov wrote a letter of compassion to Russian Foreign Minister during his visit to Tashkent.

Update Pravada has published an article today which says that the government has arrested Sanjar Umarov on embezzlement charges.

View with comments

Minister ‘misled Commons’ over attacks by Islamic group

By Jon Ungoed-Thomas writing in the Times Online

HAZEL BLEARS, the Home Office minister, has been accused of misleading parliament by presenting ‘false’ intelligence over the threat posed by an alleged Islamic terrorist group. Blears told MPs this month that an Uzbek organisation, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), was a threat to British interests overseas and announced that it was to become a proscribed organisation.

MPs questioned the wisdom of banning a group with the stated aim of bringing democracy to Uzbekistan, a dictatorship with one of the worst human rights records in central Asia.

It was pointed out that in May Uzbek government troops killed about 700 people when they opened fire on crowds in the eastern city of Andijan following an uprising.

To make her case against the IJU, Blears told MPs that information on the group had been received directly from British intelligence sources which showed it to have been responsible for a series of bombings in Uzbekistan in March 2004.

Her account was accepted at the time by MPs but has now been challenged by Craig Murray, who was British ambassador in Uzbekistan until 2004.

He said that while he was ambassador he had warned the British government over accounts of bomb attacks connected to the IJU. He suspected they may have been concocted by the Uzbek government to justify local police killing a number of dissidents.

‘The official accounts were not credible,’ he said. ‘I went to one of the sites where a suicide bomber was meant to have launched an attack. It was a triangular courtyard and not one of the windows was blown out and there was no sign of significant damage.

‘I sent a telegram to London ‘ copied to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) in MI5, to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence ‘ about the inconsistencies of the accounts.

‘JTAC agreed with my assessment that the official version of events was not credible. I am amazed to find it being repeated in the House of Commons by Hazel Blears.’

Murray said an organisation calling itself IJU also claimed responsibility in 2004 for attacks on the Israeli and American embassies, but there was no convincing evidence that such a group existed.

The former ambassador was squeezed out of his post by the Foreign Office after criticising the human rights record of the Uzbek government. He says MI6 has no staff in central Asia and was relying on information from other sources ‘ possibly the Uzbek government itself.

MPs were concerned at the inclusion of IJU when its name first appeared on the list of banned groups. Blears was repeatedly questioned in parliament whether it was right to ban the organisation.

Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP, said: ‘Should we not tread very carefully before proscribing an organisation that has less blood on its hands than a government with whom we still maintain diplomatic relations?’ Blears assured MPs she had taken a ‘particular look’ at the IJU. She said she was satisfied that it posed a threat and cited the attacks in 2004.

A Home Office spokeswoman said Charles Clarke, the home secretary, who took the final decision to ban the IJU, had been provided with a detailed intelligence assessment.

‘IJU is a proscribed organisation by the United Nations and there was a clear case for the government to follow suit,’ she said. Blears had presented accurate information to parliament and was drawing on the ‘full intelligence picture’.

View with comments

White House seeks exception to allow CIA to continue abuse

By Eric Schmitt writing in the New York Times

“They are explicitly saying, for the first time, that the intelligence community should have the ability to treat prisoners inhumanely”

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 – Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists.

The Senate defied a presidential veto threat nearly three weeks ago and approved, 90 to 9, an amendment to a $440 billion military spending bill that would ban the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of any detainee held by the United States government. This could bar some techniques that the C.I.A. has used in some interrogations overseas.

But in a 45-minute meeting last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney and the C.I.A. director, Porter J. Goss, urged Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who wrote the amendment, to support an exemption for the agency, arguing that the president needed maximum flexibility in dealing with the global war on terrorism, said two government officials who were briefed on the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the discussions.

Mr. McCain rejected the proposed exemption, which stated that the measure “shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack.”

Spokesmen for Mr. McCain, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Goss all declined to comment on the matter Monday, citing the confidentiality of the talks.

Human rights organizations said Monday that it was unclear whether the language in the changes proposed by the White House meant that the president would decide exemptions case by case or whether there would be more of a blanket authority. But they said the administration’s proposal would seriously undermine Mr. McCain’s measure.

Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said the administration had interpreted an international treaty banning torture to mean that a prohibition against cruel and inhumane treatment did not apply to C.I.A. actions overseas.

“That’s why the McCain amendment is important, and that’s why this language they’re floating now would gut it,” said Ms. Massimino, who provided a copy of the administration’s proposed changes to The New York Times.

Human rights advocates said that creating parallel sets of interrogation rules for military personnel and clandestine intelligence operatives was impractical in the war on terrorism, where soldiers and spies routinely cross paths on a global battlefield and often share techniques

“They are explicitly saying, for the first time, that the intelligence community should have the ability to treat prisoners inhumanely,” Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said. “You can’t tell soldiers that inhumane treatment is always morally wrong if they see with their own eyes that C.I.A. personnel are allowed to engage in it.”

Mr. McCain’s provision faces stiff opposition in the House, which did not include similar language in its version of the spending bill.

The White House has threatened to veto any bill that includes the McCain provision, contending that it would bind the president’s hands in wartime.

But Mr. McCain has kept the pressure on as the issue moves to a House-Senate conference committee, perhaps later this week or next. Shortly after the Senate vote on Oct. 5, Mr. McCain’s staff sent members of the conference committee letters endorsing the provision signed by more than two dozen retired senior military officers, including former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and John M. Shalikashvili, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The matter will probably be settled in a private meeting in the next week or two among four senior lawmakers: Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, both Republicans; and Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, both Democrats. All are on the conference committee.

Mr. McCain originally offered his measure earlier this year, when the Senate was working on a bill setting Pentagon policy. But Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, scuttled that bill, partly because of White House opposition to the amendment.

Now it appears that senators have struck a deal to revive the budget bill for Senate floor debate and action. One of the principal amendments that Democrats are expected to offer, sponsored by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, would create an independent commission to review accusations of prisoner abuse by American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere. The White House has also threatened a presidential veto if any bill comes to Mr. Bush’s desk that contains the provision.

View with comments