Daily archives: November 20, 2006

Missing presumed tortured

By Stephen Grey (author of Ghost Plane) in the New Statesman

More than 7,000 prisoners have been captured in America’s war on terror. Just 700 ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Between extraordinary rendition to foreign jails and disappearance into the CIA’s “black sites”, what happened to the rest?

Sana’a, Yemen. By the gates of the Old City, Muhammad Bashmilah was walking, talking, and laughing in the crowd – behaving like a man without a care in the world. Bargaining with the spice traders and joking with passers-by; at last he was free.

A 33-year-old businessman, Bashmilah has an impish sense of humour; his eyes sparkled as he chatted about his country and the khat leaves that all the young men were chewing. But when I began my interview by asking for the story of his past three years, his mood shifted. His face narrowed, his eyes calmed, and he stared beyond me – as if looking directly into the nether world from which he had so recently emerged.

For 11 months, Bashmilah was held in one of the CIA’s most secret prisons – its so-called “black sites” – so secret that he had no idea in which country, or even on which continent, he was being held. He was flown there, in chains and wearing a blindfold, from another jail in Afghanistan; his guards wore masks; and he was held in a 10ft by 13ft cell with two video cameras that watched his every move. He was shackled to the floor with a chain of 110 links.

From the times of evening prayer given to him by the guards, the cold winter temperatures, and the number of hours spent flying to this secret jail, he suspected that he was held somewhere in eastern Europe – but he could not be sure.

When he arrived at the prison, said Bashmilah, he was greeted by an interrogator with the words: “Welcome to your new home.” He implied that Bashmilah would never be released. “I had gone there without any reason, without any proof, without any accusation,” he said. His mental state collapsed and he went on hunger strike for ten days – until he was force-fed food through his nostrils. Finally released after months in detention without being charged with any crime, Bashmilah was one of the first prisoners to provide an inside account of the most secret part of the CIA’s detention system.

On 6 September, President George W Bush finally confirmed the existence of secret CIA jails such as the one that held Bashmilah. He added something chilling – a declaration that there were now “no terrorists in the CIA programme”, that the many prisoners held with Bashmilah were all gone. It was a statement that hinted at something very dark – that the United States has “disappeared” hundreds of prisoners to an uncertain fate.


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One more war crime

By Nick Egnatz in nwitimes

The esteemed British Medical Journal Lancet has just published a new study, compiled by a team of physicians from Johns Hopkins University and Iraqi doctors, on civilian deaths in Iraq. The study estimates 600,000 additional civilian deaths because of violence since we invaded 3 1/2 years ago.

The president pooh-poohs the study, saying, “The methodology is pretty well discredited.” One wonders if a president whose only veto in six years was to prevent federally funded stem cell research, who does not believe in global warming and has attacked the rampant spread of HIV-AIDS in Africa with an abstinence-only program knows the meaning of the word “methodology.”

Cluster sampling is the methodology used, and it has been used around the world to measure deaths from tsunamis, earthquakes, famines and other disasters. Did President Bush question the number of deaths from the tsunami, earthquake in Pakistan or the genocide in Darfur? They all used similar methodology, with the exception there was probably not the attention to detail used in the Iraq study.

The president’s policy was voiced by General Tommy Franks’ machismo, “We don’t do body counts.”

The Geneva Conventions, which under previous administrations were considered the gold standard for international behavior, call for invading armies to use the utmost care to minimize civilian casualties. Not even attempting to count them would seem to qualify as just one more war crime for this sorry bunch.

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