Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Danielle Kurtzleben, was distributed by the Inter Press Service News Agency, August 14, 2009
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (IPS) - The U.S. government continues to withhold even the most basic information about prisoners in the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a New York-based legal rights organisation.
An April 2009 ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents and information about the detainment of prisoners at Bagram has yielded dead ends with both the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The ACLU wants the Obama Administration to make these records public, including information about "the number of people currently detained at Bagram, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention, as well as records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as ‘enemy combatants.’"
The Bagram detention facility, located on an air base north of Kabul, reportedly houses around 600 detainees. These detainees comprise a mixture of suspected terrorists from outside Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Afghanis captured while fighting American soldiers.
In a letter responding to the ACLU’s FOIA request, the CIA said it could "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence" of records containing the information requested by the ACLU.
The DOD’s response said that the department has a list containing basic detainee information, including names, capture dates and circumstances, and length of detainment. However, the DOD said that this list is classified, and cannot be released for national security and personal privacy reasons.
Bagram is a major topic of interest for several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Justice Network, which have criticised the Obama Administration’s record on promoting justice in its overseas prisons, comparing conditions at Bagram to those at the much- criticised U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"There are serious concerns that Bagram is another Guantanamo - except with many more prisoners, less due process, no access to lawyers or courts and reportedly worse conditions," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a statement issued on Thursday.
"As long as the Bagram prison is shrouded in secrecy, there is no way to know the truth or begin to address the problems that exist there," said Goodman.
Several former and current Bagram detainees have accused U.S. soldiers at Bagram of holding them without charge, conducting harsh interrogations, and engaging in abusive practices such as beatings and sleep deprivation. While many agree that abusive practices towards prisoners at Bagram have stopped, denial of legal rights remains a major problem.
"The chief complaint [among Bagram detainees] is lack of meaningful process to challenge their detention," said Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Associate with the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy organisation headquartered in New York. She said that many prisoners at Bagram do not know why they are being detained.
Muhammedally has travelled to Afghanistan to interview 30 Bagram detainees, most recently in April. She told IPS that the capacity does not currently exist to process all of the prisoners and bring them all to fair trials.
The question of fair trials for Bagram detainees was raised in April, when the Obama Administration appealed a federal judge’s decision to allow three Bagram detainees to challenge their detention in U.S. courts - a move that drew heavy criticism.
However, despite the current lack of transparency and due process at Bagram, Muhammedally told IPS that she remains hopeful that the Obama Administration will create meaningful changes at Bagram, citing a task force created in January to review and potentially change policies and procedures at the facility.
AFP reported in July that the Pentagon’s proposed "overhaul" of practices in Bagram is in response to a report by Marine Major General Douglas Stone, who helped to reform U.S. detention practices in Iraq. Ideas for new programmes at the facility include training "more moderate inmates" in job skills and de-radicalisation before their release.
Muhammedally thinks that these potential changes show that the Obama Administration remains committed to justice at Bagram. "I’m not ready to completely write off the administration’s policy on this issue, because I think they are concerned about what is going on there," she told IPS.
She added, "They are seriously looking at reforming the detention regime in Afghanistan. I’m just waiting to see what some of those reforms are going to be."
This article, by Jack Goldsmith, was psted to e-Arianna, June 01, 2009
The revelation last weekend that the United States is increasingly using foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain terrorist suspects points up an uncomfortable truth about the war against Islamist terrorists. Demands to raise legal standards for terrorist suspects in one arena often lead to compensating tactics in another arena that leave suspects (and, sometimes, innocent civilians) worse off.
The U.S. rendition program -- which involves capturing suspected terrorists and whisking them to another country, outside judicial process -- began in the 1990s. The government was under pressure to take terrorists off the streets and learn what they knew. But it could not bring them to the United States because U.S. law made it too hard to effectively interrogate and incapacitate them here. So instead it shipped them to Egypt and other places to achieve the same end.
A similar phenomenon has occurred with the U.S. detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay. The Gitmo facility was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because the Bush administration believed it needed to apply a different detention and interrogation regime than would be allowed at home. Over the past eight years, courts have exported U.S. legal standards to the island, and now President Obama has promised to close the detention facility.
But closing Guantanamo or bringing American justice there does not end the problem of terrorist detention. It simply causes the government to address the problem in different ways. A little-noticed consequence of elevating standards at Guantanamo is that the government has sent very few terrorist suspects there in recent years. Instead, it holds more terrorists -- without charge or trial, without habeas rights, and with less public scrutiny -- at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Or it renders them to countries where interrogation and incarceration standards are often even lower.
The cat-and-mouse game does not end there. As detentions at Bagram and traditional renditions have come under increasing legal and political scrutiny, the Bush and Obama administrations have relied more on other tactics. They have secured foreign intelligence services to do all the work -- capture, incarceration and interrogation -- for all but the highest-level detainees. And they have increasingly employed targeted killings, a tactic that eliminates the need to interrogate or incarcerate terrorists but at the cost of killing or maiming suspected terrorists and innocent civilians alike without notice or due process.
There are at least two problems with this general approach to incapacitating terrorists. First, it is not ideal for security. Sometimes it would be more useful for the United States to capture and interrogate a terrorist (if possible) than to kill him with a Predator drone. Often the United States could get better information if it, rather than another country, detained and interrogated a terrorist suspect. Detentions at Guantanamo are more secure than detentions in Bagram or in third countries.
The second problem is that terrorist suspects often end up in less favorable places. Detainees in Bagram have fewer rights than prisoners at Guantanamo, and many in Middle East and South Asian prisons have fewer yet. Likewise, most detainees would rather be in one of these detention facilities than be killed by a Predator drone. We congratulate ourselves when we raise legal standards for detainees, but in many respects all we are really doing is driving the terrorist incapacitation problem out of sight, to a place where terrorist suspects are treated worse.
It is tempting to say that we should end this pattern and raise standards everywhere. Perhaps we should extend habeas corpus globally, eliminate targeted killing and cease cooperating with intelligence services from countries that have poor human rights records. This sentiment, however, is unrealistic. The imperative to stop the terrorists is not going away. The government will find and exploit legal loopholes to ensure it can keep up our defenses.
This approach to detention policy reflects a sharp disjunction between the public's view of the terrorist threat and the government's. After nearly eight years without a follow-up attack, the public (or at least an influential sliver) is growing doubtful about the threat of terrorism and skeptical about using the lower-than-normal standards of wartime justice.
The government, however, sees the terrorist threat every day and is under enormous pressure to keep the country safe. When one of its approaches to terrorist incapacitation becomes too costly legally or politically, it shifts to others that raise fewer legal and political problems. This doesn't increase our safety or help the terrorists. But it does make us feel better about ourselves.
This article, by Patrick Cockburn, was originally published in The Independent, May 9, 2009
One of the four soldiers killed on a day that will go down as among the bloodiest for the British in Helmand was described last night as "the bravest of warriors and a selfless hero".
Corporal Sean Binnie, 22, was shot as he went to the aid of the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring, said his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, adding: "With no thought for his own safety, he went forward to engage the enemy and get his comrades out of danger."
Cpl Binnie, of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was killed on Thursday during a battle with the Taliban near Musa Qaleh. He died on the same day as three more soldiers from other regiments were killed in incidents across the southern Afghan province.
Last night his wife Amanda said: "My husband, my hero – you have been so strong and brave. Our married life has been a short six months and I'm speaking for both of us in saying it was the best six months ever. I know you have died a happy married man in doing what you loved. We're so proud of you. God bless you babe." While his mother Janette said the family were proud but devastated, Cpl Binnie's friends spoke of an enthusiastic, determined man for whom "second best just wasn't good enough".
Since joining the Army as a teenager, the "excellent junior non-commissioned officer" had already served in Iraq – where The Black Watch endured some of the harshest fighting of the British forces' time in the country when deployed north to support the Americans in 2004.
Remembering his love of chess and chocolate, his friends said that his selfless courage on the day he died was typical of the man.
"He was not just a soldier but a hero to the end. I am proud to say I knew him; a comrade, a friend fearless in battle, and a true leader of men. The bravest of warriors, our fallen brother," said Lance Corporal Charles Brady.
Three separate attacks on Thursday brought the total British death toll in Afghanistan to 157.
Two of the dead – one from the1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles and one from the 3rd Regiment, the Royal Military Police – were killed when their patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber in the town of Gereshk on the main Herat to Kandahar road.
The bomber detonated his explosives close to a military vehicle in the bazaar in Gereshk and killed 21 Afghan civilians as well as the British soldiers.
The Taliban are increasingly using suicide bombers and one of their spokesmen said early this week that in some provinces they already had enough volunteers to carry out bombings for three or four months. Gereshk, one of the most heavily-populated parts of Helmand, lies on flat well-watered land north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. It is not considered a Taliban stronghold by Afghans from the area. Most of its people are farmers who grow opium poppies as well as wheat and corn.
The fourth British soldier to die was from the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles and was killed by a mine in the road or and improvised explosive device near Sangin. The Taliban is now in the habit of utilising mines, detonated by a command wire or electronically, to attack military patrols.
Meanwhile the US military has strenuously denied that its aircraft killed 147 Afghan civilians on Monday in three villages in Farah province, saying that the number was "extremely over-exaggerated". Abdul Basir Khan, a member of the provincial council, says he collected the names of 147 dead villagers from relatives. Local officials all cite the number of villagers killed as being well over 100.
The American explanation has been that the Taliban killed many villagers with grenades. This is denied by local people and photographs of the ruins of the villages show large craters and shattered mud brick walls, which look as if they had been destroyed by the blasts of large bombs. Many of the bodies have been buried in mass graves, but those pictured before burial show that many had been blown apart by the explosions. There are no signs of bullet holes in the walls of the villages or any spent cartridges on the ground, which suggests that bombs alone inflicted the damage.
This article, by William Fisher, was originally distributed by IPS, February 26, 2009
NEW YORK, Feb 26 (IPS) - In a stunning reversal, Britain’s government admitted Wednesday that it participated in the ‘extraordinary rendition’ to Afghanistan of two terror suspects captured in Iraq.
British Defence Secretary John Hutton told Britain's House of Commons that the two individuals were captured by British forces in Iraq, transferred to U.S. detention and later moved to a U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan.
His admission contradicts the British government’s earlier assertions that there were only two cases involving detainee rendition. That statement involved the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a British territory, which the government admitted had twice been used by the U.S. as a refueling stop for the secret transfer of terrorism suspects.
Apologising to lawmakers for the error, Hutton said, "I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department," Hutton told lawmakers. "I must stress that this was based on the information available to ministers and those who were briefing them at the time."
At the time, the U.S. denied using the island for extraordinary rendition flights, but later acknowledged that it had misled the British government. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband later released a statement declaring that the U.S. had studied a list of 391 flights compiled by British human rights groups and lawmakers and that no other cases had been found.
Hutton told lawmakers that the two men are still being held in Afghanistan. He said the U.S. has given assurances that they are being held "in a humane, safe and secure environment."
It was unclear if the men were being held along with some 600 others at the U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Force Base, near Kabul. That base has been the target of recent charges from human rights groups that it has become Afghanistan’s Guantanamo Bay, that many prisoners have been locked up there for years without charges or access to lawyers, and that some have been tortured and abused.
Hutton’s disclosure comes on the heels of a firestorm caused by a lawsuit brought in Britain by British resident Binyam Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, and who charged that British intelligence was complicit with the CIA in rendering him to Morocco, then to Bagram, and finally flying him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mohamed was held there since 2004 before his release and return to Britain earlier this week. No charges were ever filed against him. Until shortly before his release, he had been on a hunger strike at the Caribbean military prison.
The lawsuit he filed in Britain - similar to a separate suit brought in the U.S. - has caused a furor there, where officials asked the British High Court not to make public documents that Mohamed’s lawyers say substantiate his treatment. Opposition spokesmen there claimed the U.S. had threatened to stop sharing intelligence with Britain if the documents were made public. Secretary Miliband denied there was any threat.
Mohamed’s U.S. lawyer, Steven Watt, a staff attorney in the Human Rights programme of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told IPS, "It’s about time the U.K. came clean. News of Britain’s complicity with the CIA has been slowly leaking out for several years. We now know more than enough to conclude that the U.K. has played a role."
"Both countries are still trying to keep this information secret, either to avoid political embarrassment or to cover up some egregious human rights abuses," he said.
Asked by an IPS reporter about the timing of the Defense Minister’s announcement and apology, Watt said, "Maybe they finally want to make a clean breast of it."
In a related development, newly-confirmed CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday that President Barack Obama may limit the countries to which the U.S. sends alleged terrorists to those with good human rights records, and will ensure they are not tortured or abused.
"If it's someone we are interested in, there is no purpose to rendering anyone, particularly if it's a high-value target," Panetta said.
Panetta added that he believes prisoners should only be handed over to countries that have a legitimate legal interest in them, such as their home country or a country where charges are pending against them.
Panetta seemed to be trying to distance himself from statements he made during his congressional confirmation hearing earlier this month. He told lawmakers that the Obama administration intended to continue rendering prisoners captured in the war on terrorism.
Panetta said the administration would rely on a long-standing policy to first secure "diplomatic assurances" from the country that the prisoner would not be tortured or have his human rights violated. But human rights groups point out that such assurances have proved to be virtually worthless in the past, when suspects have been flown to countries with egregious human rights records.
Panetta said the Obama administration would "make very sure" that prisoners are not mistreated after they are rendered. Asked by the Associated Press exactly how that would be done, Panetta said, "Well, I guess, you know, A, make sure, first of all, the kind of countries that we render will tell us an awful lot about that," he said. "No. 2, I think diplomatically we just have to make sure that we have a presence to ensure that that does not happen."
The White House is currently reviewing the extraordinary rendition policy and programme.
Panetta said he does not believe additional prisoners will be sent to Guantanamo this year. In his first week in office, Obama ordered the prison closed within a year, but no decision has yet been made public on what to do with the roughly 250 inmates still there. Only a handful have been charged with a crime, and those trials have been suspended while the Obama administration reviews its legal options.
This article, by William Fisher, was published by IPS, February 15, 2009
NEW YORK, Feb 15 (IPS) - Three human rights groups have released documents that they say reveal close cooperation between the U.S. Defence Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in rendering terrorism suspects to secret prisons, creating 'ghost prisoners' by concealing their identities from the Red Cross, and delaying their release to counter negative publicity about their treatment at Guántanamo Bay.
Close to a thousand pages of documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and New York University's Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ). The suit, dating from 2004, seeks the disclosure of government documents relating to secret detention, extraordinary rendition, and torture.
At a press conference earlier this week, the groups revealed that the newly released documents confirm the existence of 'black site' prisons at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and in Iraq; affirm the Defence Department (DOD's) cooperation with the CIA's "ghost" detention programme; and show one case where the DOD sought to delay the release of Guantánamo prisoners who were scheduled to be sent home in order to avoid bad press.
"These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA's abusive programme reached across agency lines," said Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the CHRGJ. "In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA's activities."
"A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don't continue under a different guise," she said.
While most of the documents simply contain news articles, there were several significant disclosures from the DOD.
A February 2006 email to members of the DOD's Transportation Command discusses how to deal with the bad press the U.S. was receiving over its detention facilities. It said the U.S. was "getting creamed" on human rights issues sparked by "coverage of the United Nations Rapporteur's report on Guantanamo, plus lingering interest in Abu Ghraib photos." These developments add up to "the U.S. taking a big hit on the issues of human rights and respect for the rule of law, the email said." It cited criticism of the U.S. in blogs and discussion boards.
"America has lost its prestige," a blogger from Yemen wrote. "Every year the world waits for the annual U.S. State Department report on human rights. Today, it is America that awaits the world's opinion of its human rights policy. From Gitmo, to Abu Ghraib, to secret prisons in Europe, the world accuses America of not respecting human rights."
To temper the bad PR, the email suggests delaying the release of prisoners at Gitmo "for 45 days or so until things die down. Otherwise we are likely to have a hero's (sic) welcome awaiting the detainees when they arrive."
The email adds, "It would probably be preferable if we could deliver these detainees in something smaller and more discreet than a T tail (a larger aircraft with a T-shaped tail wing)."
"It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men from Guantánamo in order to avoid bad press," said CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez, who represents many of the men held in Guantánamo and has made 30 trips to the base since 2004. "Proposing to hold men for a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent individuals with all due haste."
In a second document, one heavily redacted page mentions an "undisclosed detention facility" at Bagram.
Another highlights how the Geneva Conventions can be interpreted to allow the CIA and the DOD to 'ghost' detainees' identities so they can be denied a visit from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The organisations charged that the document, entitled "Applicability of Geneva Conventions to 'Ghost Detainees' in Iraq", shows that the DOD interpreted the 'security internee' provisions of the Geneva Conventions to allow for 'ghosting' of detainees by prohibiting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from visiting.
It also shows that the DOD recognised that indefinitely prohibiting the ICRC from visiting or failing to notify the ICRC of the existence of detainees was illegal under the Geneva Conventions, the groups said.
A 2005 document labeled a "Detainee Update" presentation dealt with "Internment Serial Number Policy (ISN). The organisations said, "It shows that the DOD did not, as a matter of course, register detainees with the ICRC until they had been in custody for up to 14 days and that authorisation was sought to hold some individuals for up to 30 days without ISN/registry with ICRC to 'maximise intelligence collection'," even though "there is some disagreement as to legal basis to go beyond 14 days."
The groups said these policies "demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as 'sorting facilities' without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee programme."
Records from a Detainee Senior Leadership Oversight Council meeting contain references to a previously unreleased section of the Church Report and discuss the need for the DOD to develop and enforce guidelines governing their relationship with 'Other Government Agencies', including the CIA, in order to regulate interrogation and other operations overseas.
The organisations claimed that these documents demonstrate that the DOD and CIA were in an ad hoc relationship, "apparently unconstrained by formal guidelines".
The lawsuit is based on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests dating back to 2004. Previous government releases also included documents largely already in the public record, including, in one instance, a copy of the Geneva Conventions. This is the first time the DOD has provided any documents in response.
"Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted," said Tom Parker, policy director for Counterterrorism, Terrorism and Human Rights at AIUSA.
"While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama's memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests."
In his first week in office, President Obama signed an order closing the Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba within a year and prohibiting CIA secret prisons. However, the order allows the CIA to detain people temporarily. Obama also pledged increased openness and transparency during his administration.
It is not known whether the Pentagon or the CIA still holds 'ghost detainees,' Satterthwaite said, referring to people housed at secret facilities.