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 Colin Halinan, was published by Foreign Policy in Focus, September 30, 2009
"We deeply regret" are words that almost always end with something terrible. They were uttered by German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung in the wake of a September 4 airstrike that left upwards of 100 Afghans dead. He followed it with a boilerplate phrase that invariably makes such apologies suspect: "We had reliable intelligence that our soldiers were in danger."
Jung had nothing of the sort. But the minister's deception had less to do with the military's standard instinct to lie than with the arithmetic of Germany's federal elections.
The Afghans, most of them farmers from a local village, were incinerated to make sure that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDP) and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party (SDP) did not overly suffer for their support of the war.
The tale is a chilling one. Bombing the Fuel Trucks
According to Der Spiegel, at 8 p.m. on the night of September 4 a German intelligence officer in the northern province of Kunduz took a call from Afghan security forces with information that the local Taliban had hijacked two fuel tankers. His commander, Col. Georg Klein, asked for air reconnaissance, and a U.S. B-1B long-range bomber spotted the trucks stuck in the sand of the Kunduz River. The B-1B sent pictures, but apparently they were grainy, dark, and hard to read.
At 10 p.m. a local Afghan informant told Klein there were no civilians around the vehicles, but lots of Taliban, including four leaders. At a little past 1 a.m., two F-15 fighters showed up.
Under the General Rules of Engagement and Standard Operations Procedures — the military loves to wrap mayhem in the language of maintenance manuals — the trucks could not be attacked. One, there were no NATO troops on the scene. Two, a single informant is not enough to initiate an attack. And three, it was not a "time sensitive" target; that is, one that was going somewhere. The trucks had been stuck for four hours.
But Klein called for an airstrike anyway, even after the F-15 pilots asked him to confirm that German forces were involved and that the tankers posed an "imminent threat." Assured on both points, the planes released two GBU-38 radar guided bombs, each with a 500-pound warhead. The target dissolved in an enormous fireball.
From all accounts, Bundeswehr Col. Klein is no gung-ho heir of the Wehrmacht. He drinks tea, goes to the opera, and worries about his men. When a local Afghan boy was shot at a roadblock, he personally apologized to the family.
So what made him launch an attack that violated every rule of engagement? Political Considerations
"Klein knew that in a past incident the insurgents had detonated a tanker truck in Kandahar, killing dozens of civilians," wrote Der Spiegel. "He had also received visits from a number of leading politicians, from Merkel and Steinmeier as well as Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung (CDU) and his predecessor Peter Struck (SDP). Klein knows that they fear nothing more than an attack on German troops shortly before the upcoming parliamentary elections."
According to the German paper, Afghan informants told Klein back in August that the Taliban were planning an assault on the German camp using trucks. But Klein should have known that it was unlikely that such an attack would be tried with huge, slow-moving fuel tankers.
Indeed, Mullah Shamsuddin, the commander of the Taliban forces who seized the trucks, had no intention of using the trucks as suicide bombs. "Fuel tankers are far too impractical in terrain like this," he told Der Spiegel in a phone interview. "We simply planned to drive them to Chahar Dara and unload the fuel there. We can always use supplies."
Instead the trucks got bogged down, and the Taliban recruited local farmers — many at gunpoint — to try to pull them out of the sand. The locals also brought fuel cans to fill. "We knew the fuel was stolen, but we were forced to go there," says a young farmer, Mohammed Nur. When the bombs hit, he was badly wounded. His two brothers died.
When the story broke, the Germans went into full spin mode. Defense ministry flak Captain Christian Dienst told the media, "According to our knowledge at present, no civilians were present," and then scolded the press for speculating while sitting "in their warm chairs in Berlin." The ministry also leaked a false story that Klein had used reconnaissance drones and that there was a second intelligence source.
But as the evidence piled up, the ministry's denials began to unravel. Interviews by the group Afghan Rights Monitor found that the dead included 12 Taliban members and 79 villagers. Soon the defense ministry found itself under assault not just from its own media, but also from its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Almost before the fires went out on banks of the Kunduz River, out came the long knives. Allied Arguments
The United States struck first. U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal arrived at Kunduz with a Washington Post reporter. When the Germans objected, McChrystal said the journalist was just collecting background material for a book. But on September 6 the Post printed a story blaming the whole thing on the Germans and using quotes from the meeting.
German commanders angrily accused the United States of "deliberately leaking misinformation."
The French and the British piled on next. The bombing was "a big mistake," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and British Foreign Minister David Miliband called for an "urgent investigation."
Afghan President Harmid Karzai blasted the attack as a "major error," adding that McChrystal had apologized and said that he had not "given the order to attack."
The underlying resentment among the NATO allies is beginning to surface. When Labor MP Eric Joyce recently resigned his position as parliamentary aide to the British defense minister because he could no longer support the war, he leveled a broadside at other NATO countries. "For many, Britain fights, Germany pays, France calculates, Italy avoids."
Even some in the United States have begun to rail at what they see as a lack of commitment by NATO. While the "American people are supporting this [the war]," U.S. Rep. John Murtha, the powerful Democratic chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told The Cable, "The Europeans are not doing a damn thing." As of September 17, the United States had lost 830 soldiers in Afghanistan, Britain 216, Canada 130, Germany 38, France 31, Denmark 27, Spain 25, Italy 21, and the Netherlands 21. The overall allied losses in the war are 1,403. Deaths among Afghan civilians, according the United Nations, have risen 24% over last year, one-third of them from airstrikes.
The allied gang-up was a shock to the Germans, who have long touted their expertise in Afghanistan and sharply criticized other NATO nations for being indifferent to civilian casualties. "German bashing" was suddenly in vogue. As one diplomat told Der Spiegel, it was "Schadenfreude against the eternal know-it-alls." War Comes Home
The massacre at Kunduz has suddenly brought the war home to the Germans. The parties that collaborated in sending the troops — the Green Party, the CDU, and the SDP — have long tried to keep Afghanistan off the radar screen. Jung won't use the word krieg (war), Merkel has yet to attend a soldier's funeral, and Steinmeier has suddenly embraced a "10 step program for Afghanistan," as if a solution in that war-torn country was akin to drying out at a health spa.
Following the attack, the Left Party, the only party that opposes the war, called for a major anti-war protest at the Brandenburg Gate. In the recent elections, the Left Party increased its share of the votes by 3.7% and the Greens by 2%, while the Social Democrats took a shellacking, dropping 11.1%. The only winner on the right was the Free Democratic Party that increased its vote total by 4.9%. Merkel's CDU went down 1.4%.
In the end, Kunduz may be the tipping point for NATO, the incident that shattered the myth that the Afghan campaign was about digging wells, building schools, and bringing peace.
"Simple villagers were killed. They were not Taliban," Dr. Saft Sidique of Kunduz Hospital said. "The German airstrike has changed everything. The sympathy for the Germans is gone. Would it be any different for you if your homeland was bombed?"
According to the old saying, there is no better recruiting sergeant than an airstrike. This was a truism on display at a meeting of the Kunduz provincial government shortly after the attack. A number of people there praised the airstrike. But at the end of the gathering Maulawi Ebadullah Ahadi of Chahar Dara, a town where the Taliban rule, raised his hand: "Brothers, each of those killed has a hundred relatives who will then fight against the government. Bombs sow the seeds of hate."
This article, by Peter Finn, was published by the Washington Post, September 30, 2009
A group of retired senior military officers on Tuesday backed the Obama administration's troubled effort to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying that those who oppose transferring detainees to the United States for trial are engaging in fear-mongering.
At a forum on Capitol Hill, the retired generals and admirals argued that shuttering the facility in Cuba is in the strategic interest of the United States because it will destroy a potent propaganda and recruitment tool used by terrorists.
But, they said, the president's goal has nearly been overwhelmed by fear and misinformation.
"It appears to us that a campaign to ratchet up fear has taken off," John D. Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral and former judge advocate general, said ahead of the forum, which was organized by Human Rights First, a New York-based advocacy group.
Added Hutson: "We believe the people going to be prosecuted are not warriors. They are criminals and thugs. . . . We ought to be using the criminal justice system."
The Obama administration has been reviewing the files of the 223 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay, but Congress is weighing amendments to legislation that would block transferring any of them to the United States for trial. Various administration officials have hinted that they may not be able to make their own January deadline for the facility's closure.
Hutson was particularly dismissive of the bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill toward closing the military prison.
"We're trying to encourage more responsible leadership on this issue," he said. "But some don't want to hear it. They seem more comfortable with the politics of fear."
The group of more than two dozen retired officers opposes the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects, but the administration appears determined to employ the commissions to try some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
Congress is finalizing language on a series of reforms to military commissions intended to provide more rights to defendants. All legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay have been suspended pending the adoption of new rules.
The military officers, who also met with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., said they were opposed to any form of prolonged detention that would allow the government to continue to hold detainees without charge.
The administration has said that it has cleared 75 detainees for transfer to third countries and could prosecute 65 inmates. But officials are still struggling with how to dispose of about 80 detainees. Obama has said there may be a category of detainees who cannot be prosecuted because of problems with evidence or risks to intelligence methods but who are too dangerous to release.
"We need to drive that number down to zero -- prosecute them or transfer them," said David A. Maddox, a retired Army general.
Maddox dismissed arguments that bringing detainees into the United States was a security risk, noting that U.S. prisons already hold dozens of international terrorists.
"They say they don't want them in my city," he said. "Have they checked who's there now?"
This article, by Mark Mazzetti, was posted to Common Dreams, August 20, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.
Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.
The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.'s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said.
It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program. American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.
Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. Blackwater's work on the program actually ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program.
Blackwater, which has changed its name, most recently to Xe Services, and is based in North Carolina, in recent years has received millions of dollars in government contracts, growing so large that the Bush administration said it was a necessary part of its war operation in Iraq.
It has also drawn controversy. Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating license.
Several current and former government officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a still classified program.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to provide details about the canceled program, but he said that Mr. Panetta's decision on the assassination program was "clear and straightforward."
"Director Panetta thought this effort should be briefed to Congress, and he did so," Mr. Gimigliano said. "He also knew it hadn't been successful, so he ended it."
A Xe spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, also declined to give details of the program. But she praised Mr. Panetta for notifying Congress. "It is too easy to contract out work that you don't want to accept responsibility for," she said.
The C.I.A. this summer conducted an internal review of the assassination program that recently was presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. The officials said that the review stated that Mr. Panetta's predecessors did not believe that they needed to tell Congress because the program was not far enough developed.
The House Intelligence Committee is investigating why lawmakers were never told about the program. According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told C.I.A. officers in 2002 that the spy agency did not need to inform Congress because the agency already had legal authority to kill Qaeda leaders.
One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.
"It's wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin," the official said. "It went well beyond that."
Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.'s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.
Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company's training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.
An executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 barred the C.I.A. from carrying out assassinations, a direct response to revelations that the C.I.A. had initiated assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba and other foreign politicians.
The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the United States and has pledged to attack it again, was no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, and that therefore the agency was not constrained by the assassination ban.
But former intelligence officials said that employing private contractors to help hunt Qaeda operatives would pose significant legal and diplomatic risks, and they might not be protected in the same way government employees are.
Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.
But Republicans have criticized Mr. Panetta's decision to cancel the program, saying he created a tempest in a teapot.
"I think there was a little more drama and intrigue than was warranted," said Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Officials said that the C.I.A. program was devised partly as an alternative to missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have accidentally killed civilians and cannot be used in urban areas where some terrorists hide.
Yet with most top Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Pakistan, the drones have remained the C.I.A.'s weapon of choice. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has embraced the drone campaign because it presents a less risky option than sending paramilitary teams into Pakistan.
This article, by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, was posted to antiwar.com August 01, 2009
JERUSALEM — Six months after Israel’s devastating assault on Hamas, its south-western border with Gaza has not been as quiet in a decade — only two rockets in the past six weeks on Israeli towns. Yet, the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza continues to haunt Israel.
The World Health Organization is charging that Gazans have limited access to proper medical supplies because of the continuing Israeli blockade. In a detailed report Thursday on the dire medical situation in the Hamas controlled area, the WHO report notes that equipment now in use is often broken or outdated.
While some medicines are allowed in for humanitarian reasons, import of spare parts or new medical devices into Gaza is limited, WHO says. The UN agency also said well-meant donations are not helping. Equipment like X-ray machines and batteries are particularly difficult to get through the Israeli blockade which was imposed two years ago when Hamas took control of Gaza.
Israeli officials brushed off the criticism. A Foreign Ministry spokesman called the WHO contentions "dubious," and denied there are restrictions on medical equipment reaching Gaza.
In broader terms, Israel argues that it is because of Hamas’s obstinate refusal to agree to a long-term cease-fire and to an exchange of prisoners that Israel feels compelled to keep its siege of Gaza intact: How can you expect us to deal with Hamas as if this was a normal border when they don’t even accept our right to exist, is the standard official Israeli argument.
Until recently, Israeli officials have also blithely dismissed concerns voiced by both Arab and international human rights groups that Israel may have perpetrated war crimes during the 22-day January campaign.
Suddenly, this Israeli aloofness is beginning to change.
Speaking at the induction of a new group of army draftees this week, Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, refrained from attacking the authors of a recent report compiled by the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence, in which soldiers reported numerous abuses carried out by troops during the Gaza campaign.
Ashkenazi said that wherever complaints were not anonymous, they were investigated thoroughly: "We have appointed special commissions to review complaints. It is important to us that our military ethics remain pure," he said.
Alongside this declared new position of the top military command, and in advance of two UN reports on the conduct of Israeli troops during the Gaza offensive, a top-level team of legal experts from the Israeli foreign and justice ministries has compiled an exhaustive defense brief. Israel anticipates that the UN reports will be highly critical, especially in terms of the extent of civilian suffering during the campaign, code-named Operation Cast Lead.
Israel expects to receive drafts of the reports for its review before the end of August, prior to their public release in the middle of September. The fact that the UN General Assembly convenes later in the month augments the Israeli concerns.
One report — expected to be the more critical — is being compiled by an investigative committee chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The second report, based on a UN investigation into Israeli responsibility for the destruction of UN property in Gaza and handed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May, is now set to be made public.
Israel did cooperate with the team compiling that report. In contrast, it resolutely boycotted the Goldstone Commission, arguing that its mandate was "one-sided," that the results would inevitably be "biased," and that therefore, "any cooperation by Israel would simply legitimize the conclusions and recommendations of the report."
Foreign Ministry officials note specifically that the Goldstone Commission hearings in both Gaza and Geneva were reduced to a platform for accusations against Israel of "war crimes". Most of the witnesses were Palestinians; Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, was among the few Israelis who testified. They were treated "with contempt," Israeli officials said. "We were shocked at that," one official told IPS.
In respect of the other report, even though a senior Israeli foreign ministry official met last week in Geneva with UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, he is said to have asserted that the report "had no basis in reality" since it was being "written by Arab UN personnel who were basing themselves on Palestinian newspaper accounts." A similar Israeli reaction was published following the preliminary release of the internal report to Ban Ki- moon when it was found that Israel was culpable for damaging UN property and asked for over 11 million dollars in damages.
In a pre-emptive attempt to counter the UN reports, Israel issued a defense brief on Thursday, saying that the offensive against Hamas was a "proportionate response" to attacks by the Islamist group. "Israel’s resort to force in the Gaza operation was both a necessary and a proportionate response" to more than 12,000 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza between 2000 and 2008, said the ministry’s 160-page document. The document contends that "Israeli commanders and soldiers were guided by International Humanitarian Law."
The document entitled, ‘The Operation in Gaza — Legal and Factual Aspects’, details what is called "Israel’s humanitarian efforts" during the operation despite "Hamas attempts to launch attacks during truces…hijack aid and assistance and hide within and behind medical and international facilities."
The Israeli report says Hamas is to blame for Palestinian civilian casualties by deploying its fighters in residential neighborhoods, and that Israeli forces destroyed buildings only to protect themselves.
The document also gives previously unpublished details of Israeli army investigations into alleged violations of the law during the operation. The brief says that investigators are examining some 100 complaints, and 13 criminal probes have been opened.
A Hamas spokesman described the Israeli report as "ridiculous," and said it did not "merit" a full response. He repeated the Hamas position that Israel has committed war crimes.
Despite their forceful arguments, Israeli legal experts have bluntly told a special government ministerial committee they fear the two UN reports could lead to legal proceedings being initiated against Israel, or to war crimes charges being leveled against individual Israeli public figures in the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, both based in The Hague.
"From the point we’re at now, the road to international courts could be only a short one," said one foreign ministry legal expert.
In recent years, criticism of harsh military actions by Israel in combating the Palestinian Intifadah uprising had made several top Israeli military and security officials refrain from visiting Britain or Spain for fear they would face prosecution there on the basis of complaints launched by Palestinian and human rights activists.
The threat from Britain was quietly dispelled. Recently, the Spanish parliament passed new legislation which, in effect, makes it impossible for a judge to entertain a prosecution charge leveled against Israeli officials.
This review, by Steven Lendman, was posted to Global Research, July 7, 2009.
Marjorie Cohn is a Distinguished Law Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where she's taught since 1991 and is the current President of the National Lawyers Guild. She's also been a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels, is an author, and writes many articles for professional journals, other publications, and numerous popular web sites.
Her record of achievements, distinctions, and awards are many and varied - for her teaching, writing, and her work as a lawyer and activist for peace, social and economic justice, and respect for the rule of law. Cohn's previous books include "Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice" and "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."
Her newest book just out, co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd (a recognized expert on military administrative law), is titled "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent." It explores why US military personnel disobey orders and refuse to participate in two illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also explains that US and international law obligate them to do so.
Cohn and Gilberd write:
"Rules of engagement limit forms of combat, levels of force, and legitimate enemy targets, defining what is legal in warfare and what is not. (They're also) defined by an established body of international (and US) law" that leave no ambiguity.
Nonetheless, in past and current US wars, virtually no "Rules" whatever are followed. Soldiers are trained to fire at "anything that moves," place no value on enemy lives, and often treat civilians no differently from combatants. It results in massive civilian casualties, dismissively called "collateral damage." It also gets growing numbers in the ranks to resist - to challenge so-called "Rules" they believe are illegal and immoral.
"Rules of Disengagement" "discuss(es) the laws and regulations governing military dissent and resistance - the legal rules of disengagement (and offers) practical guidelines (that include) political protest to requesting discharge from the service."
Today, growing Iraq and Afghanistan casualty counts are enormous as well as the disturbing toll on the GIs involved - including long and repeated deployments, often leaving permanent debilitating effects, physical and/or psychological.
US soldiers have a right and duty to dissent and resist, and today it's easier than ever through all the modern ways of communicating, including blogging, sharing stories, photos, videos, and "developing new ways to speak out to fellow soldiers and civilians online and in the media."
"Rules of Disengagement" goes into courtrooms where military personnel "have spoken out, arguing that (today's) wars are illegal (and immoral) under international (and US) law." It's a "practical guide" providing "specific discussion(s) of applicable regulations and laws" for readers "to form their own conclusions and consider their own options." Above all, it's a way for honorable young men and women to dissent, resist, and disengage from two illegal, immoral wars, in hopes many others will follow their example. Resisting Illegal Wars
Every US war since WW II has been illegal. Article 51 of the UN Charter only permits the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
In addition, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 (the war powers clause) authorizes only both houses of Congress, not the president, to declare war. Nonetheless, that process was followed only five times in our history and last used on December 8, 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Yet many judges won't apply "the law to the wars, and then to service members' refusal to take part" in them. They say it's "not their role, not a matter under their jurisdiction, or not 'relevant.' " In case studies the authors use, court-martial judges, juries, and the public increasingly accept these arguments but also recognize that "men and women of conscience have put their futures on the line for their opinions and actions against illegal wars (and) orders."
It hasn't shown up in court-martial decisions except in more lenient sentences, indicating growing respect for those brave enough to resist on matters of conscience and their opinions regarding the law. Pablo Paredes for one.
The Navy petty officer third class and weapons-control technician refused duty on the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf on December 6, 2004 to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was charged with unauthorized absence and willfully missing his ship's deployment. On May 10, 2005, Paredes avoided jail and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge when the court-martial judge dismissed the former charge, convicted him on the latter one, sentenced him to two months restriction, three months of hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank from E-4 to E-1.
Lt. Cdr. Robert Klant denied expert testimony on the war's illegality, but let Cohn testify as an expert witness, at the sentencing hearing. At its conclusion, Klant astonished attending spectators by saying:
"I believe the government has successfully demonstrated a reasonable belief for every service member to decide that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal to fight in." Paredes benefitted from that view. Others have as well, but not often or easily. Modern Conscientious Objectors (COs)
They're persons who refuse to perform military service, and request noncombatant status or discharge on grounds of religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs with regard to wars and killing. Objecting on the basis of conscience is 'a long and honorable" tradition going back to the beginning of the republic. It was used frequently during the Vietnam war.
Objectors help others by expanding the right to resist and dissent. Under DOD regulations, "the military must grant CO status to any service member who (consciously opposes all) war(s) in any form, whose opposition is founded on religious training and beliefs, and whose position is sincere and deeply held." This position "must have developed or become central to the CO's beliefs after entry into the military," and applicants must provide "clear and convincing evidence that he or she is a CO."
US Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was the first Iraq War veteran to refuse further involvement on matters of conscience after serving in it earlier from April - October 2003. Following leave, he failed to rejoin his National Guard unit and filed for discharge as a CO on grounds that the invasion and occupation were illegal and immoral. The Army then charged him with desertion to send a strong message to others who resist.
His May 2004 court-martial was a kangaroo-court show trial, widely broadcast to all military personnel worldwide on internal Pentagon television, radio and newspaper outlets. At trial, the military judge disallowed prepared defense testimony under Army Field Manual 27-10, the Constitution, and established international law.
Mejia was found guilty of desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty. He was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, one year's forfeiture of pay, and a bad conduct discharge after which Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, its highest honor.
After the verdict, international law expert Francis Boyle was allowed to testify during the sentencing phase - but under strict limitations imposed by the judge. He cited relevant domestic, international, and military law, reviewed crimes of war and against humanity under them, and explained the culpability of commanders and government officials to the highest levels for abusing and torturing prisoners.
Mejia served nine months in prison and in August 2007 was elected chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hundreds of others have filed for CO status while many more go AWOL or refuse deployment to combat zones. The military never makes it easy, yet the illegitimacy of two illegal wars and the immense hardships on young GIs and their families makes growing numbers resist and dissent. Still many others aren't aware that they qualify for CO status.
Current CO stereotypes stem from the Vietnam era when they were viewed as subversives and cowards. Other myths are that wars must be ongoing for those in the military to apply, the process is lengthy, discharges, if granted, won't be honorable, and federal benefits will be lost as well as eligibility for government jobs. "Needless to say, these myths are not true," but exist to discourage applicants and impede the process.
Various civilian organizations provide good information on CO rights, regulations on them, and procedures on how to apply. Also, the "CO process is one of the most legally protected of discharge proceedings - COs have greater rights than those who seek discharge for family hardship or similar reasons." Yet command hostility exists and rights are often denied. "Success rates vary among the services." Some COs are discharged for other reasons. Many applications are rejected. Some go AWOL as a result, and others do or don't succeed through court intervention. Imperial America doesn't make it easy, so applicants have to persist all the harder. Winter Soldier
Iraq and Afghan veterans willing to come forward provide the most compelling evidence of "war crimes beyond imagination." Yet those familiar with Vietnam, WW II, and other US wars have heard it before. John Dower's powerful WW II book, "War Without Mercy," documented how both sides in the Pacific war depersonalized the opposition, abandoned the rules of war, and fought with equal savagery.
Later examples include:
Winter Soldier 1971 - the Vietnam My Lai massacre killing around 500 civilians was a mere skirmish compared to death squad campaigns like Operation Phoenix that contributed to an estimated 80,000 deaths from around 1968 - 1971. Numerous other stories documented mass murder, torture, rape and other atrocities - the same kinds committed earlier and today;
Winter Soldier 2008 - "traumatized" veterans today tell similar horrors stories to ones from past wars, including Vietnam, Korea, and WW II; Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) offer testimonies as ammunition for their three unifying principles:
immediately ending the Iraq and Afghan wars and occupations and withdrawing all troops;
paying reparations to Iraqis; and
providing proper medical care for all US war veterans.
Short of these, all imaginable atrocities will continue, including mass killings, torture, rape, destruction, and much more. Wars are ugly business, and laws or no laws, the worst of abuses happen routinely by a military command teaching rank and file soldiers to commit them with impunity. And they're besides the harm done to GIs, many of whom are never the same from the experience - if they survive. Vietnam destroyed an entire generation of American youths, and today's wars are doing it again.
The rules of engagement are stipulated in various laws of war - the Constitution, Hague and Geneva Conventions; UN Charter; Nuremberg Charter, Judgment and Principles; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Supreme and lower Court decisions; US Army Field Manual 27-10; and the Law of Land Warfare (1956). They state that nations must abide by the laws of war. No exceptions are ever allowed, and failure comply constitutes a crime of war and/or against humanity.
At the Nuremberg Tribunal, chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson cited wars of aggression as the "supreme international crime against peace differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Yet this standard indicts America on all its wars since WW II.
And young GIs are affected. Winter Soldiers 2008 say "they were subject to amorphous and contradictory rules of engagement - often free-fire zones where they could shoot at anything that moved (including noncombatants). These rules, or lack thereof, led to the commission of atrocities and war crimes," not occasionally but often.
Aside from the 2001 Afghanistan bombings and March 2003 "shock and awe" attack, the worst of them took place in April and November 2004. In retaliation for the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater mercenaries, the first and second Fallujah Battles waged some of the fiercest urban combat since the 1968 Battle of Hue in Vietnam. Several thousand or more were killed, mostly civilians. Major war crimes were committed. Illegal weapons were used. Vast destruction was inflicted. The city was held under siege. Free-fire zone rules applied. A "shoot-to-kill" curfew was imposed, and according to Adam Kokesh: "we changed our rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear."
Winter Soldiers 2008 speak out publicly over what they saw and did in their tours, including in testimonies to Congress. "So far (none of them) have been prosecuted for their testimony, though some active duty witnesses were harassed by superiors." Dissent and Disengagement
Resistance includes refusing illegal orders, objecting on the basis of conscience, requesting a discharge, demonstrating, picketing, dissenting as the Constitution allows, attending rallies, petitioning Congress, going underground, taking refuge abroad, speaking out publicly, and through the media. It's acting according to one's principles and morality and not backing down when the going gets tough.
Lt. Ehren Watada's case is instructive. In June 2006, he refused to deploy to Iraq and publicly said why - that "as an officer of honor and integrity, (he could not participate in a war that was) manifestly illegal....morally wrong (and) a horrible breach of American law." He became the first US military officer to face court-martial for his action and was charged with:
one specification under UCMJ article 87 - missing movement;
two specifications under article 99 - contempt toward officials (for making public comments about George Bush); and
three specifications under article 133 for conduct unbecoming an officer.
If convicted on all charges, he faced possible dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and seven years in prison. A military equivalent of a grand jury convened on August 17, 2006 to review the charges and rule on their justification. Watada called three expert witnesses in his defense:
former UN Iraq Humanitarian Coordinator (1997 - 1998) Denis Halliday who resigned under protest because he was "instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide (and already) killed well over one million individuals, children and adults;"
US Army Colonel Ann Wright who resigned her commission as a State Department foreign service officer in March 2003 to protest a "war of aggression (in) violat(ion) of international law;" and
Professor Francis Boyle, international law and human rights expert, activist, and author of numerous books, papers, and articles on these topics.
On August 22, the Army reported on the proceeding and recommended all charges be referred to a general court-martial. It began in February 2007 under very constricted rules - denying a First Amendment defense, disallowing one's questioning the legality of the war, and refusing to allow expert testimony, including from Cohn.
However, legal issues couldn't be excluded as they directly related to charges brought, so the prosecution introduced them at trial. In addition, Watada firmly stated before testifying that he refused to deploy because of the war's illegality.
Unable to stop him from saying this, judge John Head declared a mistrial. He'd lost control of the proceeding, knew Watada was on solid ground, and had to prevent his evidence from being introduced to avoid the embarrassing possibility of an acquittal on one or all charges. If it happened, the war's illegality would be exposed and its continuation jeopardized.
Under the Fifth Amendment's "double jeopardy" clause, Watada can't be retried on the same charges. It states no person shall be "subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Watada's triumph by mistrial was a powerful tribute to his convictions and spirit. It's also an inspiration to civil resisters and all members of the military to follow in his footsteps.
On October 22, 2008, US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed with Watada's double jeopardy claim and dismissed three of the five counts against him. In mid-May, beyond the timeline of Cohn and Gilberd's book, the Department of Justice dropped plans to retry him on two remaining counts, but his legal problems continue as the Army is still weighing further action. Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said the base's leadership is considering "a full range of judicial and administrative options that are available, and those range from court-martial on those two remaining specifications, to nonjudicial punishment, to administrative separation from the Army."
If they can't win one way, they may keep harassing Watada and make him pay by attrition. Millions of war resisting Americans may have other ideas, and organizations like Project Safe Haven, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War are united with others in demanding an end to Watada's persecution as well as two illegal wars and occupations.
They also support "high-visilbility demonstrations, protests and street theater," along with the right to resist and dissent. The law supports them "to speak out on a broad range of issues" using all means of technology to do it. Military regulations also "can be powerful weapons for service members who choose to dissent."
DOD Directive 1325.6 Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Activities among Members of the Armed Forces describes basic rights for "dissident and protest activities" with guidelines pertaining to:
possession and distribution of printed materials;
off-base locations allowed;
publishing underground newspapers and materials;
off-base demonstrations and protests; and
rules for military personnel participation.
Resisters have the law and regulations on their side if they conform to their provisions therein - "consistent with good order and discipline and the national security." But going up against the Pentagon and Department of Justice is never easy, and even winning exacts a great toll.
But fundamentally, "GIs do in fact have the right to express their opposition to the wars verbally and in writing, share that position with the media, state it on the Internet, distribute it to other GIs in newspapers or leaflets, say it from the microphone at national antiwar rallies, and show it by marching in off-base antiwar demonstrations and picket lines" - as long as they're off-duty, off-base, and out of uniform.
Imperfect as it is and getting worse, it's still America, and growing numbers of GIs, their families and friends are resisting two illegal wars and occupations, demanding they end, and the nation returned peace. Those goals are worth everyone's time to fight for, and it's high time more among us did it.. Challenging Racism
For many decades, young recruits are taught to kill by portraying enemies as subhuman. So the Japanese were called "Japs" and portrayed in cartoons as apes or savage gorillas; North Koreans, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were called "gooks;" and Arabs are called "rag-heads," "camel jockeys" and "sand niggers." As a result, extreme racism is a pervasive problem in the military. But it's a proved effective way to motivate soldiers to fight and kill by viewing Westerners as superior to nonwhite enemies globally.
Many Winter Soldiers (2008) "discussed the pervasiveness of racist behavior," admitted using racial epithets, and "engag(ing) in brutality that dehumanized Iraqis and Afghanis." However Vietnam-era history "shows that organizing and protests by African American, Latino, and other minority GIs (with support from other service members)" offer the best chance of achieving real change. But success depends on ending the Pentagon's proven way to teach young recruits to kill, so getting the top brass to abandon it won't be easy. Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Military
Teaching recruits "sexism and sexual imagery" works the same way as indoctrinating racism. Soldiers are taught to equate "strength and discipline in combat (to) sexual prowess," military violence to the sexual kind, and "disobedience, nonconformity, or weakness as feminine."
Today, sexism is so embedded in military culture that female soldiers pay the price. They're discriminated against in training, assignments, promotion, much else, and are frequent victims of harassment and sexual assault - the former through "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors," and other similar behavior; the latter includes "rape and other forcible or unwanted sexual contact...."
In a male-dominated military, this behavior is embedded, ritualized, and symbolic of male power. The highly-publicized September 1991 Tailhook incident is a prominent example but a rare one that made headlines. It involved a group of Naval aviators sexually assaulting 26 women at one of their annual gatherings. They cornered and surrounded them, passed them down a gauntlet, jeered, taunted, grabbed, fondled, and tried to strip them.
Similar incidents are all too common, and for years top brass knew of and tolerated them. They have documented evidence that half or more of women in all branches have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. It shows a profound contempt many military men (including top brass) have for women in the ranks, at the enlisted and officer levels.
Complaints, studies, hearings and regulations do little to halt these practices. Reports surface often about harassment, assaults, rape and other demeaning behavior in basic training, the service academies, duty assignments of all kinds, and in combat. The military today is no safer for women than it ever was. It never will be unless the Pentagon changes its ideology, how it trains GIs, and if it's willing to impose stiff penalties to offenders. The Medical Side of War
The state of the military's health care system is deplorable. Pressed to fund and fill the ranks for two illegal and unpopular wars, Congress and the Pentagon pay scant attention to the injured, sick, and psychologically damaged. It's further testimony to a nation defiling its principles - ones observed only rhetorically, hardly ever in practice, and not at all once the usefulness of combatants is over.
The Iraq and Afghan wars have produced an epidemic of psychological wounds that for many end up permanent. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frighteningly common, yet care delivered is minimal, inadequate, and dismissive of a major problem afflicting many tens of thousands of returning vets.
Others from the Vietnam era retained their scars, and it's happening again today. Many couldn't find work then or now, abused their spouses, and too often ended up homeless or committed suicide (before or after coming home). An uncaring nation didn't notice nor does it today. The real crime is that the Pentagon and Congress are well versed on these problems, yet do little to address them. Only unbridled militarism, advancing imperialism, filling the ranks, funding numerous weapons systems and munitions, and enriching war-profiteers matter.
The result for hundreds of thousands returning from past and current wars is untreated medical needs, an uncertain future, and the knowledge that the nation they fought for doesn't care when they're no longer needed. Vietnam vets know it, and so do ones today from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without a draft, the military needs volunteers to fill the ranks. The result is the stop-loss practice of involuntarily extending enlistment terms and frequent redeployments, even for those with serious physical or psychological injuries.
The Pentagon denied the affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the existence of Gulf War Syndrome from the first Iraq war. In 1990 - 91 and now, its likely cause was the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU), the proliferation of other toxic substances, and the illegal use of dangerous vaccines in violation of the Nuremberg Code on medical experimentation. No rules apply in our war fighting, nor does the health and welfare of our recruited men and women matter - enlisted to be used, then discarded when their service ends. It's especially evident in the "medical side of war" when those most in need are largely ignored and forgotten.
How the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles disability claims highlights a problem reaching epidemic levels. In early May 2009, the Veterans Benefits Administration and Board of Veterans Appeals at VA had a backlog of 915,000 claims, and their rate is growing so fast it may now be approaching or past one million and climbing.
Things are so bad for returning vets that most face an average six month wait for benefits and up to four years to have their appeals heard when they're denied - which is often. It's in addition to the shameful treatment GIs get for their health needs - many serious and requiring extensive, expensive treatment, often not gotten from an uncaring nation. Discharges
Many GIs become disillusioned when they learn promises made are hollow. Some seek early discharges that can be gotten honorably but not easily most often with the nation at war on two fronts and needing all the troops it can get. Still numerous reasons qualify for an Expiration of Active Obligated Service (EAOS), including CO status, disability and illness.
family hardship or dependency factors;
parenthood for single parents or in cases where husbands and wives are in the military;
pregnancy or childbirth;
inadequate performance or conduct during the first six months of training;
qualification under the "don't ask, don't tell" for gays and lesbians;
specific personality disorders;
other physical or psychological factors that don't qualify for medical discharges;
erroneous enlistments, including contract violations and recruiter fraud;
alien status; especially relevant at a time undocumented Latinos (mainly Mexicans) are recruited with promises (then broken) of a green card for them and their family as well as free education, medical care, and post-service employment;
being a sole surviving family member;
unsatisfactorily performing duties;
"separation from the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)" that entraps "youths still in school or the Delayed Training Program (DTP)" for enlistment in the reserves; and
less than honorable discharges for misconduct, drug abuse, court-martial, and other undesirable factors.
Other administrative discharges are also available, all honorable, including "general" ones under honorable conditions. But recruits get little information during training. Those requesting them are told discharges are impossible, so to get the facts civilian sources must be consulted. It takes time, and following proper procedures is essential. But the payoff is worth the trouble for those willing to do it and counseling is available to help.
A GI Rights Network has a toll-free hotline, and there are other organizations as well. They're in it "for the long haul" to instruct today's military how to exit honorably from two illegal wars and avoid the risk of death or disabling injuries. The Families
America's wars harm families as well as GIs. They must cope with the same problems of long, repeated deployments, possible death or permanent impairment, and the lasting affects of war-related trauma that afflict even those visibly or otherwise unscathed.
Some families go public against the Iraq and Afghan wars, recruiter lies and misconduct that entrap their loved ones, and as civilians they're free to speak publicly with no restrictions on what they may say.
Gold star mothers spoke out against the Vietnam War, and today Cindy Sheehan (whose son Casey was killed in Iraq five days after he arrived) and other parents who lost sons and daughters founded Gold Star Families for Peace. They say honor our lost loved ones by ending these illegal wars and occupations, stop invading other countries, and return the nation to peace.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) is the largest organization of its kind against the Iraq war with chapters in 29 states. They support their loved ones, demonstrate, speak out publicly, and lobby Congress the way some of their members did earlier against the Vietnam war. "These courageous families....endure unspeakable suffering....join together to support one another....work to end the war....(and represent) the power of collection action."
They're "a powerful force in the effort to end these wars. They can tell the truth to counter recruiters' deceptions." They can effectively represent their loved ones and help others through a common effort to free us all from the scourge of war. Conclusion
America's Iraq and Afghan wars are illegal and immoral. Every service member is obligated by law to disengage, resist, and refuse any longer to participate. US and international laws support them, and as Ehren Watada stated in his defense: "An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself. So my obligation is not to follow the order to go to Iraq."
Increasing numbers of others are deployed as part of America's permanent war and occupation agenda - continuing no differently under Obama than George Bush. To know what's planned for Iraq, Afghanistan and future US targets, think Korea. US forces arrived in 1950 and never left. Think Japan as well. They've been there as well since WW II, on the mainland and choicest real estate of the country's southern-most and poorest prefecture - Okinawa.
Further, since the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, America has had no enemies anywhere - except those invented to advance a global imperial agenda at the expense of our nation's youths and their families, other loved ones, and friends at home. Wars guarantee new ones and a permanent cycle of violence, death and destruction, the only winners being profiteers who benefit hugely.
As a result, growing numbers of GIs, veterans, families, and the general public are opting to "disengage" and resist. Together they represent power enough to impact "whether or not the United States is able to carry out these and future wars of aggression."
Most Americans oppose the Iraq war and its continued toll on GIs and their families. It's just a matter of time until opposition to Afghanistan is as great and with luck whatever new conflicts the administration plans. Those sent to fight them and their families end up losers. Their choice is clear and unequivocal - absolutely refuse any longer to participate and with enough sharing that view, they'll end. With overwhelming homeland needs unmet at a time of grave economic crisis, honor and necessity must dictate our future course. It's up to mass public activism to demand it.
The following testimony, about the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli army in Gaza, was originally published in the booklet Cast Lead, July 2009. (Click here to download Cast Lead).
Then we went back north, about 500 meters from the fence, and stayed there all night as look-outs. We saw nothing special. The next day we got back to base to get new mission orders and were once again assigned to a force from Battalion *** with whom we went in. We walked with them on the beach and saw all the white phosphorus bombs I've told you about, we saw glazing on the sand. Can you describe it? What did you see?
You're walking along the sand and hear this crunch of something being crushed. We looked down and saw what looked like the shards of thousands of broken glass bottles. What color did it have?
A dirty brown. Did you see remains of this elsewhere nearby?
There was an area of about 200-300 square meters of glazed sand like that. We understood this resulted from white phosphorus, and it was upsetting. Why?
Because in training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you're taught that it's not humane. You watch films and see what it does to people who are hit, and you say, "There, we're doing it too." That's not what I expected to see. Until that moment I had thought I belonged to the most humane army in the world, I knew that even in the West Bank, when we go into a neighborhood, we do it quietly so that people won't see us, but also in order not to disturb them, no less. We're not… Even when Molotov cocktails were thrown at us in the West Bank, we wouldn't shoot, the rules are very explicit. If your own life is at risk, you shoot. But under no other circumstances. Practically speaking, how often are you really in a life-threatening situation in the West Bank? Until that moment I had never fired a shot except at cardboard targets, just at the shooting range and maneuvers, and I also understood why. An IDF soldier does not shoot for the sake of shooting nor does he apply excessive force beyond the call of the mission he is to perform. We saw the planes flying out and you see from which building the rocket is launched against Israel and you see the four houses surrounding that building collapsing as soon as the airforce bombs. I don't know if it was white phosphorus or not, and I don't really care that much, but whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets. I don't know what else can be done, but it does seem somewhat unfair. What, the proportions?
Yes. It's disproportionate. When you went in, the airforce was still in action and the heavy equipment – not rifles, but artillery, armor and auxiliary fire. You were watching what was being fired there, and how the tanks and mortars were used?
From what I saw in our missions, tanks were often sent in, platoons from Battalion ***, to secure close cover, stand together with several tanks on a range, the tanks waited for something to move in order to return fire effectively. I didn't go in with the heavy equipment, we were attached to special units who did not work with the heavy equipment. What do you mean by "waiting for something to move"? What were your rules of engagement? What were you told at the briefings?
"Anything looks suspicious to you, open fire." What is suspicious? Arms and intent are both valid there, too?
Yes. You have to detect weapons, verify that person is not one of ours. If he has something on him, that is grounds enough to… No intent, even without intent.
They were assuming that anyone present in a bombed-zone, carrying a Kalashnikov, is no weapons collector. You go into Al Atatra, and you see buildings, houses?
Ruins. I entered Al Atatra after seeing aerial photos and didn't identify anything, and my photographic memory is not that bad. I remembered that 200 meters further on down the track there should be a junction, with two large houses at the corners, and there wasn't. I remembered there was supposed to be a square with a Hamas memorial monument, and there wasn't. There was rubble, broken blocks. How did destruction affect your ability to communicate, to navigate?
It got to the point where we would try to report to field intelligence about a figure sticking out its head or a rocket being launched, and the girl (at field intelligence) would ask, "Is it near this or that house"? We'd look at the aerial photo and say, "Yes, but the house is no longer there." "Wait, is it facing a square?" "No more square." She would ask us if this was the third or fourth junction, and we'd tell her the houses are all crushed over the junction and you don't see a single junction. It got to the point where we could hardly see our way. Later I went in to the lookout war-room and asked how things worked, and the girl-soldiers there, the lookouts, resented the fact that they had no way to direct the planes, because all of their reference points were razed. So they would direct them in general terms or rely solely on coordinates. They found their reference points on aerial photos shared by the pilots and the war-room, and very approximated, which also annoys me. What is this, approximation? It's highly possible that now the pilot will bomb the wrong house. Were you told of this approximation, or is this your own take on things?
It was my own take on things. She tells him, "Take some 800 meters east of the sea and so and so meters at such and such an azimuth from this or that line," and you say, "Wait, if he does not use the compass and other instruments in his cockpit for these measurements, then possibly he'll miss targets, it's not so far-fetched. This is not the 'smart bomb' we had been working on so hard. Could be he's using such a bomb, but aiming at the wrong target."
This article, by Sam Zarifi, was posted to e-ariana.com, July 17, 2009
General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s statement on allegations surrounding the deaths of Taliban prisoners who surrendered to Northern Alliance forces in November 2001 underscores the need for an urgent inquiry into those events.
More broadly, the renewed attention to this incident highlights the need for the Afghan government and its international supporters to follow through on their commitment to implement the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice in Afghanistan, which aims to address the legacy of more than three decades of human rights abuses in Afghanistan. With presidential and local council elections approaching, such moves are crucial to demonstrating to the Afghan people that the rule of law will be respected in Afghanistan.
Dostum seems eager to head off an investigation into the events of November 2001 using a variety of arguments. One is that the U.S. military and the Northern Alliance have already looked at the allegations and rejected them. Of course, part of any proper probe would be an examination of whether any forces involved knowingly concealed information pertaining to a possible war crime, for doing so could be a violation of international law.
If, as Dostum asserts, there were investigations by the Afghan and U.S. governments, they should be made public. If their findings were accurate, Dostum should have nothing to fear from a reexamination of the facts. But the facts currently available indicate very strongly that many detainees -- possibly hundreds -- died while in the custody of Dostum's forces in November 2001 and their bodies were dumped in the nearby desert of Dasht-e Leili (adding to the numerous bodies unceremoniously deposited there by various warring factions over the past three decades).
Dostum asserts that “it is impossible that Taliban or Al-Qaeda prisoners could have been abused.” In fact, preliminary investigations carried out shortly after the alleged killings by highly experienced and respected forensic analysts from Physicians for Human Rights established the presence of recently deceased human remains at Dasht-e Leili and suggested that they were the victims of homicide.
I was a human rights investigator in northwestern Afghanistan in February 2002. At the time, numerous witnesses spoke of seeing several trucks dumping what appeared to be human remains in Dasht-e Leili, while others told of detainees being held for days in overcrowded shipping containers without food, water, or medical care, and, in some instances, being shot while inside the containers.
It was also clear that U.S. personnel were serving with and advising Dostum during this period, but preliminary investigations failed to reveal the identities of these personnel or their chain of command. Later journalistic efforts suggested that U.S. Special Forces troops and CIA operatives served alongside Dostum during this period. CIA operative Mike Spann was killing during a firefight at Dostum’s Qala-i Jangi fortress in November 2001.
Dostum claims that no foreign journalists highlighted this episode. On the contrary, in English-language media alone, several highly respected journalists have recounted the allegations and explored the possibility that U.S. forces -- military and intelligence agencies -- either knew or should have known about the events.In addition, as early as November 2001, and continually after that, several major international human rights organizations -- including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and most doggedly, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) – raised the alarm about the conditions of detainees held by Dostum’s forces.
Crucially, the International Committee of the Red Cross did not have access to the Taliban detainees at Sheberghan until December 10, 2001 -- and thus could not monitor their conditions during the period when the detainees died. This undermines Dostum’s claim that a massacre could not have occurred because the ICRC would have known about it. Need For Investigations
By June 2002, we were told that Dostum’s forces, which still constituted a serious military force in the area, had warned locals away from the site and would not allow any investigation. To my knowledge, this situation continues to this day, notwithstanding the expansion of NATO forces into northern Afghanistan.
On several occasions between 2002 and 2005, I personally raised the issue of the need for investigations into this and other possible serious human rights violations with high officials of the Afghan government, the United Nations mission to Afghanistan, and the U.S. government. The consistent call at these meetings was for (1) a public statement of political will to investigate and address the serious human rights violations that have occurred in Afghanistan over the past three decades, and (2) a demonstration of practical support for such an endeavor, for instance by deploying security around suspected mass-grave sites and facilitating the work of forensic investigators.
In each case, I was told quite plainly that such investigations would not be pursued because they were not politically expedient, and because the relevant actors would not and could not guarantee the security of any investigation. Thus, even when the UN agreed in principle to allow PHR to conduct investigations in the area, security conditions prevented them from doing so.
With U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement about an investigation, this situation might improve.
Dostum is correct in one regard: There is a highly politicized atmosphere surrounding the timing of the increased attention to this incident, and that is linked to President Hamid Karzai’s reinstatement of Dostum as the army chief of staff after he had been removed in disgrace last year. Karzai has also nominated as his vice presidential candidate Marshal Fahim, another Northern Alliance commander facing widespread allegations of serious human rights violations and war crimes. Ongoing Impunity Many Afghans, who have repeatedly demanded truth and accountability for the three decades of atrocities they have endured, have told Amnesty International they are extremely disappointed by the presence of such figures in Karzai’s administration. The ongoing impunity of senior government officials has done much to erode public confidence in the Afghan government, something now readily acknowledged even by international militaries.
Obama’s call for an investigation of the November 2001 incidents should renew interest in the essential issue of accountability and transitional justice in Afghanistan. Fortunately, there already exists an excellent Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice in Afghanistan, formulated by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission after significant consultation with a cross-section of the Afghan people.
This plan provides for a multiyear process of gathering information, considering national reconciliation, and, finally, if possible, providing accountability for the crimes of the past. The international community and the Afghan government have explicitly endorsed this plan as part of the Afghanistan Compact. But it is disappointing to note that neither has done much to implement the Action Plan so far. The Action Plan seeks to do exactly what Dostum urges: “to present facts in a balanced way in order to promote understanding, good will, and confidence among the deprived people of different groups that are now far from their government.”
General Dostum has bemoaned the increasing operations of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after seven years of international nation building. It is time to ask: After seven years of appeasing warlords and human rights violators, isn’t it time for the Afghan government and its international supporters to try truth and accountability?
On March 4, 2009 Specialist Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr. approached The Guantánamo Testimonials Project wishing to tell about his experience in Guantánamo, where he served as a guard from June 2003 through July 2004. We are grateful to Spc. Holdbrooks for his testimony, which comes in the form of the interview below.
In the interview we learn about many instances of abuse. But also of cases in which abuse could have happened but in fact didn't. Spc. Holdbrooks informs us, for example, that he knows of no beatings outside IRFings, of no instances of sexual abuse, and of no form of medical abuse. In fact, he mentions the compassion of medical personnel. He also points out that minors were treated far better than the rest of the population, that food was adequate, both in quantity and quality, and that detainees were not harassed during their transport home.
As to the abuse he witnessed, we learn of the guards' lack of training in corrections or the Geneva Conventions, the instilling of hatred towards the detainees, the lack of useable standard operating procedures, the guards spitting into the food or drink served to detainees, the collective punishment of the detainees (to create peer pressure to comply), the abusive use of pepper spray on the detainees, the various forms of religious abuse, including intentionally tossing Korans into toilets (to retaliate against or rile up the detainees), details about the various forms of positional torture (stress positions), observations about the use of temperature and noise extremes (and the role this played in interrogation), the use of fake menstrual blood on a detainee in the course of his interrogation, the common use of sleep deprivation on the detainees, the threats to kill detainees' relatives, the practice of letting detainees soil themselves (and depriving them of a change of clothes), and the sensory deprivation on detainees as they were being returned to their home countries. He also described an all-out detainee riot that lasted 21 hours.We interviewed Spc. Holdbrooks from March 4 to May 8, 2009.
We were told that we should hate them… and that if you don't hate these people, then you are one of them. (Spc. Terry C. Holdbrooks, Jr)
Why don't you begin by telling us where you were born and grew up?
I was born here in Phoenix, and grew up mostly here. I lived for three years with my biological parents in Vegas, but was back in Phoenix just before I turned 7--I believe.
When and why did you enroll in the military?
I enlisted into the military on August 22, 2002. Why? Simply because I was tired of not doing anything important or specific with my life. I wanted to amount to more than my parents had (being that I am the only of the three to graduate from high school). I wanted to go on to trade school and College afterwards. The army seemed to be a great idea: travel, culture, training, guns, war, fun… It's what most non-worldly American youth would want to do: play GI Joe and get paid for it. If I had put forth the effort to attain more worldly knowledge and awareness, I probably would've went with the Peace Corps instead, and would've never been to GTMO or watched my life go further astray from where I wanted to take it. But Allah has a plan for us all, so this is the way it should be. You said "Allah has a plan for us all". Were you raised a Muslim in Phoenix? No. I was not raised in any type of religious family. In turn this provoked me to have a greater concern in faith and religion in my studies, so that I would know more and be able to relate to people about their faith and feelings (or their ridicule and put downs, as my mind frame was in my youth). Let's come back to this later. In the meantime, tell me a little about your training when you joined the military. My training was very standard Military Police training, no corrections training. We received a two-week crash course--emphasis on crash course--for corrections before going to GTMO.
Did you receive any training there on the Geneva Conventions or on the treatment of prisoners of war? Negative. To the best of my memory. I seem to recall a brief crash course in regards to POW status and how that is supposed to go. But, otherwise, no. Not really. Not that I can recall. Geneva Convention wasn't that big of an emphasis either. Was GTMO your first assignment? GTMO was my first assignment, Fort Leonard Wood was always my duty station, and GTMO was my first deployment. There was none that followed. Can you describe your arrival in GTMO? I arrived in Guantanamo in June 2003, and stayed through July 2004. When we got off the plane, I seem to remember being in civilian clothes. We spent a week in a shacky town of sorts, adjusting to the weather and OJT (or on the job training). After that, it was all in or nothing. There was an issue with finding us housing at first. Either way, it was sort of a shock at first. Things were hectic, and didn't seem to be working smoothly. We had a rough transition with in-processing and getting adjusted to the environment. What were you told about the detainees? That these are the worst of the worst. That they are evil. That we should hate them. That these people hate America. That this is why 9/11 happened, and that if you don't hate these people, then you are one of them.
Were you given any Standard Operating Procedures (or SOP) manual? Negative. There was really no such SOP, as it was constantly at work and being updated. With the administration we had at the time changing the policies, there was really no way to create one that would not be outdated by the time it was printed. There was general information and practices that we followed and knew and were aware of, but not a floating-around SOP as to how to handle everything. Can you describe the first time you saw a detainee? The first time that I saw a detainee, it was a sad and sorry sight. I don't recall who it was, but he looked so tired and worn out. Washed-up you might say. With nothing to do but read a book you have memorized, or pace in a 6 by 8 cell, there really isn't much to be hopeful for. Some detainees would work out in their cells, which was great to see (at least they were making some positive use of their time). The first time we entered the camp, we took a tour of the facility, and saw every block in the main camp. Some of the detainees would spit or throw urine; others would turn their head in disdain or sorrow; others would try to rile us up. The Tipton Trio, particularly Rahul, made some jokes as we entered. And warned us, in a funny way, that we were not in Kansas anymore.
How would you react when you were spat at or hurled urine at? For me, that was just part of the job. Usually we would be sent home to change our uniforms so that we would be at less of a risk of infection of disease (if any). Nonetheless, it would be a simple situation of us leaving the block to go home and change, and whomever happened to throw something or spit would be written up, so to say. It would be noted in the computer and that would be the end of it. Rarely was there ever a further action. Every detainee had a file on the computer so that we could track what they had done (and were likely to do again), as well as the good and bad actions they had taken. How would other guards react? Guards who had no morals, ethics, or self-control had their own
retaliations. Perhaps spitting in their food or drink. Or yelling or cussing
at them. Or spitting back or throwing something at the cages. There was
retaliation, but it wasn't something that would be physical. Unless an
IRF was deemed needed [an IRF is a forced cell extraction; it is named after the Immediate Reaction Force called on to perform it].
Water was also something that could create an issue. If a detainee would flood a cell, or stall his toilet, we would turn the water off for the whole block. If a detainee was rude or condescending, or perhaps not compliant, we could turn off the water for the whole block as well. There was a number of reasons we could turn off the water for the whole block. And that would happen often too. It was a rarity we would ever just turn off an individual detainee's water. Mass punishment was a tactic that the Army incorporated to create peer pressure among the detainees to prevent outbreaks and instill control. You said that sometimes there was further action. Even if only rarely. What was it? If it was needed, a platoon sergeant would be called on the block to de-escalate the situation. Or a translator. Or the chaplain. Or IRFing. Or OC spray (i.e. pepper spray) would be used. OC was a control tool used to stop a situation from getting worse. Or to calm a situation down. By SOP, an authorized guard was to open a cell and spray OC into a cell on a detainee as we had been taught in our Military Police training, which is very specifically to be an S-like motion that covers the face, particularly the eyes, mouth, and nose. But a simple S; no more. Yet, there would be many times that a guard would unleash an entire can of OC spray on a detainee, his belongings, his Quran--everything that was in the cell. And with no remorse. Almost as if they had a smile (and some did). A detainee could be OC-sprayed and then IRFed; a detainee could be OC-sprayed and left in his cell without water or anything else to comfort or clean with; a detainee could be OC sprayed, IRFed, taken to an isolation block, and then left for hours till his shower the following day to clean it off. If his shower privilege wasn't taken away. Can you describe, either from your training or from what you have seen, what it feels like being OC sprayed? The training that we would undergo was to have OC sprayed on us, and then maneuver an obstacle course. It wasn't too terrible for me, but that is simply due to me not having a reaction to it. Others were blinded nearly instantly. The pain from what I heard could be from mild to intolerable, and had a wear-off time of 2 or 3 hours. It was rather awful for the majority of the people. It really feels like burning in the the eyes, dryness, and an overwhelming sense of fear and desperation.
The most particularly crappy incident that I saw was when a
detainee, whose name escapes me, happened to have an IRF called on him.
During this spraying and IRFing, he was not entitled to clean off the
spray, or his cell. He was left hogtied for the night, and without
water. The following day he did not receive a shower either--nor was
water turned on in his cell. He, his possessions, and Quran were
covered in OC spray, that stuff can damage your eyes if not blind them
if left in for long periods. Did you witness or participate in an IRFing? Probably a good one or two hundred of them, to be honest. And no. I did not participate in them. There would usually be two teams on the ready for an IRF. If it was a day that I was on a team, I would take a long enough time getting ready that it would be done before I was in the area to do it. I didn't want to participate, so I just made sure to take my time putting on gear and such. Can you describe an IRFing? Five brutish, dumb men, running into a cell with a large shield and zip ties. They would slam a detainee into the wall or bed or anywhere else in the cell, and then proceed to beat and/or hog tie the detainee with the zip ties, ultimately removing him from the block till he calmed down. Or leaving him in his cell till he was calm enough to come out or be untied. This happened often as it was a common resort for aggressive guards who were still hurt over 9/11 and had no knowledge of why 9/11 happened, or what the history was behind this war. According to SOPs, IRFs must involve minimal force. Was this part of your training? That is what they were supposed to be, but certainly not what they were, as we have already discussed. IRFs were part of our training. A minimal part of it, but a part nonetheless. It was a single, four-hour block, I believe. Just practice on each other, over and over, as to how to enter the cell, take down the detainee, and make an exit without injury to the military police. Does any IRFing stand out in your mind?
That would probably be the IRFs on flu shot day. We had nearly 200 IRFs, it seemed, that day. The day began as any other day; ride the bus to work, get ready for work, start with chow and showers and rec. Nothing unusual or interesting occurred. It was just another day. But then an order came down, probably from the hospital or from a doctor, to administer flu shots to the entire detainee population. At that point the process spread throughout the camp, like a rapid fever, that there was something foul going on. Someone
created a scare that this was an execution of the detainees, and that
we were going to kill them all. This spread through the camp in
moments. It was amazing to see how they could all communicate with each
other so quickly, despite language and distance barriers. Everyone was rioting. The rioting probably started closest to Camp 4, as the hospital was closest to Camp 4. And then the riots started in Camp Delta and went across Camps 1, 2, 3. All probably started in the Camp 1 area, where we kept the "crazy" detainees. It would make sense that a rumor that lethal injection shots would be administered would come from "the crazy block."
Some of the detainees pulled out weapons they may have had for
moments or months, and used them on the guards. Some used the faucets
of the sinks as crude knives and stabbed guards as we entered the
cells. It was a hellish event that really was far more of a fiasco
than it needed to be.
The rioting called for IRF teams. There were two at the ready per camp. And three camps. So there were six teams available. If an IRF was called, the shot operations stopped. That is why it took about twenty one hours to administer the shots (to give 700 detainees the flu shot should not have taken that long, as it only takes a moment to administer a shot per detainee). How did the teams behave? They were riled up and angry, aggressive, belligerent like a drunk American. It was really a nightmare to be in. But I hate crowds and social situations, so the fiasco was more of a nightmare to me than it would be to the average person. How did you behave?
I just kept my head down and out of sight. I would try and sneak off and smoke as much as I could. That way I wouldn't be in sight of the guards. The trick in the Army is "out of sight, out of mind." Were translators involved? There were some translators involved, but there really wasn't an ability to utilize them to the best of possibilities. They were being called all over the camp, and when they would hit a block, it would become even more crazy since every detainee would want to talk to them. How did it all end? 21 hours later, tired, sweaty, and exhausted. Some guards were stabbed, bitten or scratched, some detainees sustained blows to the head, stomach, back, body, etc. Some had broken or spang limbs and bones, but nothing that really sticks out too well. It was really a nightmare, just went on for hours. You say that the flu shot riots were not started by religious reasons. Did any riots start because of them?
Yes. When a Quran was seriously disrespected. Or if a Quran was thrown
in the toilet. Or if a detainee was not allowed to pray. Or if his
praying was disrupted. Did you actually witness this? There has been some controversy about these issues. . .
I saw and heard all of these incidents. They happened many times. It wasn't that uncommon for a guard to mishandle a Quran. Or for one to be tossed in a toilet. Or for people to mock prayer. Or make fun of Islam before the detainees, this is all common practice in GTMO. Tossing a Quran in a toilet happened many times during cell inspections--or cleaning, rather. But this also happened during an IRF. Nonetheless, when it happened during a cleaning of the cell, it was really a matter of the guard not particularly paying attention to what he was doing, and accidentally tossing it near the toilet--from where it then slid into the toilet. There were other times when a guard would intentionally put the Quran in a toilet to start a problem or "stick it" to a detainee. This wasn't too uncommon a circumstance. When it would happen during an IRF--abuse to a Quran, that is--it would be common to see a CO (Camp Officer) spray the Quran with OC spray while spraying the detainee as well. And the entirety of the cell. There are many forms of mockery that took place during praying, prayer call, etc. That happened lots of times. Can you say more about the uncomfortable positions the prisoners were chained in? If you were to be standing and put your wrists in between your ankles, in kind of a squatting position, that would be one of them. Or having your ankles chained behind you. Or your hands chained behind you. And then chained to the ground or chained to a wall. The positions, I mean, they weren’t entirely too creative, but they were uncomfortable.
Here is a depiction of "short shackling". It is artwork based on descriptions provided by actual Guantánamo prisoners, and part of The Tipton Report. How accurate would you say this depiction is? That is a very accurate depiction of the position. Not sure where they got that picture, but it's pretty accurate. If you look in the picture you'll see that the wrists are behind the ankles. That's one of the positions. Another one is having the wrists in front of the ankles, which I actually think would be more grueling than the first one. In the first one you can kind of balance or roll off the balls of your feet; with the second one you are really left on your toes, which would cause a great deal of ache and muscle stress at the legs. For how long would they be in those positions? During interrogation they would be stuck in these positions for however long the interrogation was. That could be anywhere from two to twelve hours. Maybe longer. Where they interrogated while chained in those positions? Yes, when they were interrogated they were chained in these positions. How did the detainees react to this? This was, aside from bodily functions, not pleasant. They weren’t entirely too happy to urinate or defecate on themselves. And to be in pain, or what not. Some of them were crying. It was a horrible, crappy, situation. Did you see these chainings? Did you carry them out yourself? Yes, I did see them. And I did see these transport rooms. I did transport them to the rooms. But no, I would not chain them. Once we get them to wherever they were going for interrogation, that would generally be the end of it--of what we would do. It would be the interrogators from that point onward. Were the temperatures in the rooms manipulated when they were in those positions? The temperatures in the rooms could vary anywhere from maybe 40 degrees on up to 120. More often than not it would be cold, being that they were outside during the day and the night and they were used to about 90 degrees day-round. They would use extreme colds to make it awful. How about the noise levels while they were chained in these ways? Where they manipulated? The noise levels in the rooms would usually be loud. Very loud. And inescapable. Generally, in the position depicted in the picture above, if you put a strobe light two feet in front of the detainee, and turn the volume up to an extreme level, that would be the situation they would be left in for hours and hours until they defecated or urinated on themselves and at that point interrogation would begin. That would involve an agent yelling and using profanity and intimidation factors--basically just threats. Whatever else may happen I am not entirely sure; it was not something I was necessarily able to partake in or witness. So would the interrogations happen during or after the chaining in uncomfortable position? Both--to be honest with you. More often than not, though, the interrogation would be after. The uncomfortable position would be endured for how many hours it was going to be endured and then afterwards the interrogation would take place--obviously due to the weakened state and the weakened mental stability of the detainee at that point in time. However, because it also happened during, sometimes an interrogator would go in during this state, with the music, the strobe light, the air conditioning and everything else, and perhaps present a photo to the detainee and scream or yell and demand answers aggressively and perhaps strike the detainee or what not and demand an answer, and if the detainee did not comply, then perhaps he would stay in that position for more hours in that climate. You say interrogators could strike detainees during interrogations. Did you actually witness this? If so, how did this come about. I did witness this. It happened much like the new memos say. It would be a slap to a head. Or perhaps the detainee would be held against a wall. Something of a minor aggression. But intimidation nonetheless. Was this the only such incident you witnessed? Did you hear about others? It seemed that it was standard for this to happen. At least I heard about it from others all the time. Both from guards and from detainees. Do you know if detainees were beaten in contexts other than IRFs and interrogations? No. If we may return to the issue of religious abuse, translator Erik Saar says, in his book, that a female interrogator at GTMO led a detainee to believe that she was menstruating at the time she was interrogating him, and made him think that the red stuff in her hands was menstrual blood (it was in fact red ink). She then proceeded to smear it on the detainee's face. Subsequently, she had the water to the detainee's cell cut, so he could not wash. She did this, Saar tells us, so that the detainee would not be clean to pray--thus diminishing the strength the detainee was supposedly deriving from his religion. Did you witness anything like this? I was there for that day. We were not the two soldiers to take him to--or from--interrogation, but we were smoking near the building he was being interrogated in, and saw him when he came out. He came out in what look liked a frustrated or near-tears state, and
was being taken to his cell by the other two guards in the area. We
looked over at him (or I looked over at him), and saw that he had
something red on his face, but I was not able to make out if it was from
being hit to the head or something else (as it turned out to be). Shortly after he was out of view, two interrogators and a lady came
walking out; the lady was wearing black, and she seemed rather pleased and
accomplished. You could tell by the look on her face. The other two
interrogators were commenting and giving her praise for her success. So
supposedly she gained some intel. Or she broke the detainee down. They walked off and, as I was walking off, I watched
her make a hand gesture as if she was smearing something on someone's
face (she had smeared blood from a blood capsule on the detainee). And then she laughed. There were a good number of IRFs and angry detainees that followed that event. And the blonde interrogator who did that was mighty proud of herself that day! Blood from a blood capsule? In Saar's book it was red ink from a marker pen. . .
It could have been a red ink pen. I heard that it was a blood capsule. I am pretty sure I heard that from her own mouth. And from other interrogators, as well, as they were talking. I did not see the act itself. But I saw the detainee afterwards, and worked that day, so I had to deal with the drama that came of it.
Thanks for the clarification. Let's turn to psychological abuse. Did you witness cases in which prisoners were deprived of sleep? This practice may have been referred to as the "frequent flyer program". Frequent flying happened often. Everyone who was down there participated in that. We didn't have a choice. You would be moving detainees, every two or three hours, from one cell to another. Sometimes between cells in the same block and sometimes between cells of different blocks. They would be moved all day long, for upwards of a week. Everyone who worked would have to move detainees throughout the day, so that was a common practice and happened regularly. Were you given any explanation for these movements? Your orders must have sounded bizarre (if not downright cruel). No, we were not. We were just told to move detainees. But there were so many teams at a time that would be assigned to do this, you may not have known that you were participating in that program. It did seem odd when you would have a detainee moved three times in one shift, but it wasn't really something I noticed at the time of occurrence. Did you witness any threats to detainees or their families?
There were a few instances of threats of life or limb to detainees. As well as their relatives. During interrogation, tactics can be used in which the interrogator would yell obscenities and give threats of physical abuse or what not, [saying] "if you don't tell us this we are going to kill your whole damn family" or, "we have your family, we know who they are." That did happen. Not entirely too often (or maybe it did happen often and I didn't see it). I think I'd seen it twice. I walked in, I saw what was going on in interrogation, and about as soon as I walked in and saw it, an interrogator or somebody else told me to walk out. Did you witness acts of severe humiliation? Yes. There was severe humiliation. That, primarily, would've been instances of detainees defecating on themselves and there was nothing done; there was no change of clothes. That happened. There was lots of verbal humiliation, obviously. Detainees were put down and treated like animals (or less than animals) in their interrogation. And there were guards, as well, that were very disrespectful towards them. Was there abuse related to food? There's nothing that was an issue with the food. They received an adequate quality and quantity of food each day. Food was not something that was messed with. Did you witness any form of sexual abuse? No. This never occurred. At least to my knowledge. How about medical abuse? No. This was something I touched on in other interviews. The medics were far more compassionate than the guards. They had a different job altogether. They were working in a medical field, and as a result had a medical attitude, not a political or propaganda jaded view. And were smarter. Did they do anything to stop or report abuse they might have seen? They didn't do anything to report abuse or stop it, but that was because they never saw it; they saw only what came of it. Did you see any minors among the detainees? If so, how were they treated? I did. They were treated far better. They had privileges to the ocean for an hour a week. And a television and the ability to watch movies. Same question for elderly detainees. They were in the general population, and were treated like the rest of the detainees.
Did you see how the detainees were transported into or out of Guantánamo? I was involved in one transportation mission with detainees (as far as I know, this was the only one that occurred while I was there). We took detainees home to Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia, etc. It was a long flight. Basically it was a C-130. It was gutted out. There were approximately fifty detainees in this flight. They had goggles, earmuffs, and bags over their heads. And blue jumpsuits (as opposed to orange ones). The detainees were shackled into their chairs (the same benches we were sitting on). They had a three-piece shackle (hands, feet, and waist), which was then shackled to the floor. It was a long, nonstop flight. We just left, went there, dropped them off and that was the end of it. This is interesting. It may be the first time we get a first-hand, verbal accounting of transport operations out of Guantánamo from the military. A couple of questions. The first is whether the detainees were informed that they were being taken home or were they deliberately misinformed about this? Also, were they harassed or abused in any way during the flight? I am not aware if they were told anything true or not. There was no harrasment or abuse during the flight; it was really quite simple: they were shackled and sat quietly; we sat quietly guarding them. Off and on we would take turns sleeping, It was a long flight. You say it was a long flight. What if the detainees needed to go to the restroom? Were they allowed to? Was there even one? Yes, there was a restroom. And they were allowed to use it. Although they were not completely unshackled for this process, it seemed it would be a bit messy of a process, wiping with a shackle still on, so they were unshackled in part. That is comforting. Pictures have been made public of transfers into Guantánamo in which the detainees were made to travel sitting on the floor over diapers. In any event, would you care to comment on this interview? Were you satisfied with it? Would you recommend other guards to approach The Guantánamo Testimonials Project with their testimonies? Yes, I absolutely would. You showed a great deal of professionalism and have kept to it, which is tremendous in effort and honesty. You have also delved deeper into issues--more than anyone else has ever. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and I look forward to an ongoing friendship with you!
CSHRA wishes to thank Terry Holdbrooks Jr. for this illuminating and courageous interview. And to invite anyone else with first-hand knowledge of Guantánamo to contribute testimony to the Guantánamo Testimonials Project. The project can be reached electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, by David Cronin, was published by IPS, February 10, 2009
BRUSSELS, Feb 10 (IPS) - The intimate involvement of the private sector in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq received international attention in September 2007, when staff with the security firm Blackwater shot dead 17 civilians in the vicinity of Baghdad's Nisoor Square.
Though the U.S. has made the most extensive use of such companies in the history of modern warfare, it is in Europe where they originated. Back in 1967, senior political and military figures in Britain formed Watchguard International as a response to a left-wing coup in Yemen five years earlier. Now recognised as the world's first private security firm, its original intention was to shore up governments that could otherwise be overthrown.
Four decades later, the European Union is being urged to introduce regulations so that better oversight of private security firms can be guaranteed.
According to Chris Kinsey, an academic with King's College in London who has studied private security firms for the past 10 years, such companies are easy to set up.
"You only need yourself, probably a fax machine, and to know how to bid for government contracts," he said at a debate in the European Parliament Monday.
While most of the firms in question work in parts of the world where they can be tried for any misdemeanours by local courts, they have been operating in something of a legal vacuum in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia during recent years. In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority that took charge after the country's president Saddam Hussein was toppled, went so far as to issue an order providing immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for international contractors.
The British government, meanwhile, has procrastinated in subjecting private security firms to tougher rules. This is despite the recommendation in a government policy paper in 2002 that "sound legislation" be developed in this area. That recommendation followed the so-called Sandline affair during the late 1990s, in which a private firm was implicated in breaking a United Nations embargo on providing weapons to Sierra Leone.
About 85 percent of private security firms are based in either Britain or the U.S., though the industry has also spread to France, Israel, South Africa, China and the former Soviet Union. Amnesty International has complained that Britain's private security firms can evade responsibility for human rights violations they are accused of as they cannot be tried in British courts.
Kinsey believes that the 27-country EU is better placed than national administrations to ensure that regulation occurs. Clearer rules are needed, he suggested, as private security firms are eager to widen the scope of their activities to include humanitarian and development aid tasks, increasing the potential for human rights violations.
"Regulation at national level allows companies to move around," he said. "If regulation is very restrictive, they will simply move to another country."
The International Committee of the Red Cross, perhaps the world's best- known humanitarian group, has joined with the government of Switzerland to study how private security firms can be monitored. Some 17 countries have taken part in their discussions so far.
Stéphane Kolanowski, a legal adviser to the Red Cross, described the granting of immunity from prosecution to certain private security firms as an "unjustified idea."
Among the most egregious breaches of human rights attributed to private security companies has been the involvement of their personnel in the administration of Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison in Iraq which has become synonymous with photographs of detainees being tortured.
Kolanowski raised questions about the delegation of tasks normally performed by public sector employees to private firms. "States cannot escape their obligations by the hiring of a private company," he said. "Some activities cannot be subcontracted - such as the power of an officer in charge of a prisoner of war camp or a place where civilians are interned."
J.J. Messner from the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington-based umbrella group for the private security industry, indicated that he would welcome being subject to more stringent laws. "The private sector desires clear rules and guidelines," he said. "Grey areas create unnecessary complications. The European Union is in a pivotal position to impress upon its member states the importance of regulation."
Hélène Flautre, a French Green member of the European Parliament (MEP), suggested in the course of the debate that all EU military operations should have officers who liaise between soldiers and private firms that have been hired to provide particular services.
"Where subcontractors are allowed, this shouldn't represent an evasion of international humanitarian law," she said.
Michael Gahler, a German Christian Democrat MEP, said: "It is very important that we shouldn't give private security companies a law-free area. Employing them should not be a way of avoiding international law. That has to be the yardstick."