Australia’s former long-serving Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks Saturday broke his silence on life inside the US-run prison, saying he endured deprivation and witnessed brutality in “six years of hell”.
Hicks said he was in a “haze of disbelief and fear, pain and confusion” when he arrived in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in early 2002 and was placed in a cage made of cyclone fencing.
“The first two weeks of Camp X-Ray was a blur of hardships: no sleeping, no talking, no moving, no looking, no information,” he writes in “Guantanamo: My Journey” released today.
The former terrorism suspect once dubbed the “Aussie Taliban”, who has since married and now lives in Sydney, was captured in late 2001 in Afghanistan where he had been accused of fighting alongside Taliban forces.
He spent more than five years in Guantanamo before being sent to home in April 2007 to serve out the remainder of the sentence handed down by the US military commission which had convicted him of providing material support for terrorism. He was released from a South Australian jail in late 2007.
Hicks, now in his mid-30s, is legally unable to profit from his book because Australia does not allow people to benefit from crime.
In three extracts released to the media free of charge, he speaks of how his thirst for travel was sparked by a chance encounter with an Israeli traveller when he worked in Japan training racehorses.
He also says he had intended to help the Kashmiri cause for independence but ended up trapped in Afghanistan as the US led efforts to crush the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
He writes that while an Afghan man had risked his life to find him a safe haven in the northern city of Kunduz, he ended up attempting to take a taxi to the capital Kabul and was captured en route by a Northern Alliance soldier.
“After yelling directly into my ear, he took me by the hand and began to pull me away. I went to resist, but he made a gesture to go for his gun,” Hicks writes. “With dread, I resigned myself to the situation and allowed myself to be led away. This was the beginning of six years of hell.”
İSTANBUL – An American NGO working to raise awareness of the civilian victims of conflict has argued, in an extensive report, that the number of civilians killed or injured because of US airstrikes using unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” is larger than the US government admits.
The Washington-based Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) authored the nearly 70-page report, titled “Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan,” which presents the NGO’s findings following a year of research into how civilians have been affected by the US-Pakistan war against militant elements in Pakistan’s troubled northwest. While researching the report, CIVIC gathered the verbal testimony of more than 160 Pakistani civilians who had suffered under the effects of violence, interviewed humanitarian workers and, crucially, met with Pakistani and US policymakers.
The report said that the US did not have a policy of compensation for the innocent victims of its drone strikes and had not made amends to these victims. The report argued that the US maintaining that civilian casualties caused by its drone attacks were “minimal” was divorced from the facts on the ground:
“US drone strikes, in particular, have touched off intense public debate. Neither the US nor Pakistani governments officially deny the program exists but tacitly concede its existence. Anonymous US officials insist that civilian casualties caused by drone strikes are minimal. CIVIC’s research and that of other independent nongovernment organizations indicates that the number of civilians killed and injured by drones is higher than the US admits,” the report said.
Since 2004, a small number of US troops have been involved in the Pakistani government’s war against a number of militant groups, including Al-Qaeda, in the northwest regions of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. The report also said that civilian casualties were “significant” because of the Pakistani military operations, but that the country’s government was trying to compensate civilians affected by military action.
“Of the warring parties involved in the conflict, the Pakistani government is the only one making some form of amends to war victims. For example, the Pakistani government maintains compensation programs for some civilian deaths and injuries as well as housing destruction. While these programs need improvement in practice, amends like these can restore a measure of dignity through recognition of losses and provide much-needed help, while also mitigating anger and enhancing the perceived legitimacy of the Pakistani government and military,” CIVIC said in the same report, adding that “after nearly a decade of conflict and billions of aid channeled into Pakistan, more can and should be done to address the civilian cost of the conflict.”
The NGO’s research also contained specific recommendations to the international community and the parties engaged in the hostilities: the US, Pakistan and the militant groups. While calling on the UN to form a body to investigate the conflict’s civilian casualties and to pressure all sides to recognize and develop measures to compensate them, the report urged the all parties to comply with the relevant laws of war to sustain proportionality in their attacks, while distinguishing combatants from non-combatants. The report urged the US to work in cooperation with the Pakistani government to compensate all civilian victims of the devastating conflict.
CIVIC’s Executive Director Sarah Holewinski is also critical of the media for ignoring the humanitarian aspects of the war in Pakistan.
“We, meaning the public wherever you go, have such a short attention span. I don’t expect a front page news story every day, but I do expect that the public and policymakers will pay more attention to war victims than they do — whether those victims are in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, or Somalia and Sri Lanka, for that matter. When you consider the suffering they’re going through, the way their lives have been devastated in the blink of an eye, more compassion and outrage, both, are appropriate. And when you consider that in many of these places the suffering of war victims’ creates mass, and long lasting, instability, the media is missing a big story that is the root of later problems and conflict,” she said in a written statement to Sunday’s Zaman.
Currently, the clashes between the Pakistani military forces and the militant groups are continuing at a concerning level in four provinces in the country’s northwestern region, while the US continues to bomb two more provinces in the area with its drones. In addition to civilian deaths and according to the latest available data of the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), an estimated 2 million people have been displaced in the country because of the violence.
Everywhere I visit from Copenhagen to Istanbul, Patagonia to Mexico City, journalists and academics, trade unionists and businesspeople, as well as ordinary citizens, inevitably ask me why the US public tolerates the killing of over a million Iraqis over the last two decades, and thousands of Afghans since 2001?
“You cannot win the peace unless you know the enemy at home and abroad”
US Marine Colonel from Tennessee.
Why, they ask, is a public, which opinion polls reveal as over sixty percent in favor of withdrawing US troops from Iraq, so politically impotent? A journalist from a leading business journal in India asked me what is preventing the US government from ending its aggression against Iran, if almost all of the world’s major oil companies, including US multinationals are eager to strike oil deals with Teheran? Anti-war advocates in Europe, Asia and Latin America ask me at large public forums what has happened to the US peace movement in the face of the consensus between the Republican White House and the Democratic Party-dominated Congress to continue funding the slaughter of Iraqis, supporting Israeli starvation, killing and occupation of Palestine and destruction of Lebanon?
Absence of a Peace Movement?
Just prior to the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 over one million US citizens demonstrated against the war. Since then there have been few and smaller protests even as the slaughter of Iraqis escalates, US casualties mount and a new war with Iran looms on the horizon. The demise of the peace movement is largely the result of the major peace organizations’ decision to shift from independent social mobilizations to electoral politics, namely channeling activists into working for the election of Democratic candidates – most of whom have supported the war. The rationale offered by these ‘peace leaders’ was that once elected the Democrats would respond to the anti-war voters who put them in office. Of course practical experience and history should have taught the peace movement otherwise: The Democrats in Congress voted every military budget since the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. The total capitulation of the newly elected Democratic majority has had a major demoralizing effect on the disoriented peace activists and has discredited many of its leaders.
Absence of a National Movement
As David Brooks (La Jornada July 2, 2007) correctly reported at the US Social forum there is no coherent national social movement in the US. Instead we have a collection of fragmented ‘identity groups’ each embedded in narrow sets of (identity) interests, and totally incapable of building a national movement against the war. The proliferation of these sectarian ‘non-governmental’ ‘identity’ ‘groups’ is based on their structure, financing and leadership. Many depend on private foundations and public agencies for their financing, which precludes them from taking political positions. At best they operate as ‘lobbies’ simply pressuring the elite politicians of both parties. Their leaders depend on maintaining a separate existence in order to justify their salaries and secure future advances in government agencies.
The US trade unions are virtually non-existent in more than half of the United States: They represent less than 9% of the private sector and 12% of the total labor force. Most national, regional and city-wide trade union officials receive salaries comparable to senior business executives: between $300,000 to $500,000 dollars a year. Almost 90% of the top trade union bureaucrats finance and support pro-war Democrats and have supported Bush and the Congressional war budgets, the slaughter of Palestinians and the Israeli bombing of Lebanon and bought Israel Bonds ($25 billion dollars).
The Unopposed War Lobby
The US is the only country in the world where the peace movement is unwilling to recognize, publically condemn or oppose the major influential political and social institutions consistently supporting and promoting the US wars in the Middle East. The political power of the pro-Israel power configuration, led by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), supported within the government by highly placed pro-Israel Congressional leaders and White House and Pentagon officials has been well documented in books and articles by leading journalists, scholars and former President Jimmy Carter. The Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC) has over two thousand full-time functionaries, more than 250,000 activists, over a thousand billionaire and multi-millionaire political donors who contribute funds to both political parties. The ZPC secures 20% of the US foreign military aid budget for Israel, over 95% congressional support for Israel’s boycott of and armed incursions in Gaza, invasion of Lebanon and preemptive military option against Iran.
The US invasion and occupation policy in Iraq, including the fabricated evidence justifying the invasion, was deeply influenced by top officials with long-standing loyalties and ties to Israel. Wolfowitz and Feith, numbers 2 and 3 in the Pentagon, are life-long Zionists, who lost security clearance early in their careers for handing over documents to Israel. Vice President Cheney’s chief foreign policy adviser in the planning of the Iraq invasion is Irving Lewis Liebowitz (‘Scooter Libby’). He is a protégé and long-time collaborator of Wolfowitz and a convicted felon.
Libby-Liebowitz committed perjury, defending the White House’s complicity in punishing officials critical of its Iraq war propaganda. Libby-Liebowitz received powerful political and financial support from the pro-Israel lobby during his trial. No sooner did he lose his appeal on his conviction on five counts of perjury, obstructing justice and lying, than the ZPC convinced President Bush to ‘commute’ his prison sentence, in effect freeing him from a 30 month prison sentence before he had served a day. While Democratic politicians and some peace leaders criticized President Bush, none dared hold responsible the pro-Israel lobby which pressured the White House.
The Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO) – numbering 52 – and their regional and local affiliates are the leading force transmitting Israel’s war agenda against Iran. The PMAJO, working closely with US-Israeli Congressman Rahm Emmanuel and leading Zionist Senators Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman, succeeded in eliminating a clause in the budget appropriation setting a date for the withdrawal for US troops from Iraq.
In contrast to the successful vast propaganda, congressional and media campaigns, organized and funded by the pro-Israel lobbies for the war policies, there is no public record of the big oil companies supporting the Iraq war, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon or the military threats of preemptive attacks on Iran. Interviews with investment bankers, oil company executives and a thorough review of the major Petroleum Institute publications over the past seven years provide conclusive evidence that ‘Big Oil’ was deeply interested in negotiating oil agreements with Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Islamic government. ‘Big Oil’ perceives US Middle East wars as a threat to their long-standing profitable relations with all the conservative Arab oil states in the Gulf. Despite the strategic position in the US economy and their great wealth ‘‘Big Oil’ was totally incapable of countering the political power and organized influence of the pro-Israel lobby. In fact Big Oil was totally marginalized by the White House National Security Advisor for the Middle East, Elliot Abrams, a fanatical Zionist and militarist.
Despite the massive and sustained pro-war activity of the leading Zionist organizations inside and outside of the government and despite the absence of any overt or covert pro-war campaign by ‘Big Oil’, the leaders of the US peace movement have refused to attack the pro-Israel war lobby and continue to mouth unfounded clichés about the role of ‘Big Oil’ in the Middle East conflicts.
The apparently ‘radical’ slogans against the oil industry by some leading intellectual critics of the war has served as a ‘cover’ to avoid the much more challenging task of taking on the powerful, Zionist lobby. There are several reasons for the failure of the leaders of the peace movement to confront the militant Zionist lobby. One is fear of the powerful propaganda and smear campaign which the pro-Israel lobby is expert at mounting, with its aggressive accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ and its capacity to blacklist critics, leading to job loss, career destruction, public abuse and death threats.
The second reason that peace leaders fail to criticize the leading pro-war lobby is because of the influence of pro-Israel ‘progressives’ in the movement. These progressives condition their support of ‘peace in Iraq’ only if the movement does not criticize the pro-war Israel lobby in and outside the US government as well as the role of Israel as a belligerent partner to the US in Lebanon, Palestine and Kurdish Northern Iraq. A movement claiming to be in favor of peace, which refuses to attack the main proponents of war, is pursuing irrelevance: it deflects attention from the pro-Israel high officials in the government and the lobbyists in Congress who back the war and set the White House’s Middle East agenda. By focusing attention exclusively on President Bush, the peace leaders failed to confront the majority pro-Israel Democratic congress people who fund Bush’s war, back his escalation of troops and give unconditional support to Israel’s military option for Iran.
The collapse of the US peace movement, the lack of credibility of most of its leaders and the demoralization of many activists can be traced to strategic political failures: the unwillingness to identify and confront the real pro-war movements and the inability to create a political alternative to the bellicose Democratic Party. The political failure of the leaders of the peace movement is all the more dramatic in the face of the large majority of passive Americans who oppose the war, most of whom did not display their flags this Fourth of July and are not led in tow by either the pro-Israel lobby or their intellectual apologists within progressive circles.
The word to anti-war critics of the world is that over sixty percent of the US public opposes the war but our streets are empty because our peace movement leaders are spineless and politically impotent.
The Harper government’s failure to get Canada elected to the Security Council was a diplomatic fiasco that brought Canada humiliation and shame on the world stage.
As usual the Harperites reacted by blaming everyone else for their misguided and failed policies. So far the list includes Michael Ignatieff, the Europeans, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Arab countries, Muslim countries and the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF).
Sensing that Canadians did not buy these hysterical accusations, Prime Minister Harper decided to switch gear and now says with tongue in cheek that his foreign policy is “based on the promotion of our values — freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, justice, development, humanitarian assistance for those who need it,” and is not based on popularity.
This is the same government that domestically has eroded the protection of free speech and has weakened, marginalized and silenced Canadian democratic institutions and civil society organizations by cutting funding to numerous organizations that disagree with the Government’s positions; barring British MP George Galloway last year from entering Canada; continually violating the human rights of Omar Khadr a Canadian child; and undermining the Rights and Democracy agency.
On the international scene the Harper government has undermined international law, international humanitarian law, and human rights and environmental principles by refusing to sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; reducing its foreign aid to Africa; cutting its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that assists 4.5 million Palestinian refugees who were dispossessed with the creation of Israel in 1948; supporting Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006; justifying Israel’s ghastly assault on Gaza and the deadly Israeli raid on the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza; and refusing to endorse the Kyoto climate change accord.
Shamefully, Mr Harper repeatedly declares that ‘Canada and Israel share the same values” when Israel has been found by various UN and international bodies and inquiries of violating the Geneva Convention by transferring 500 thousand Jewish colonists into occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and erecting a Separation Wall inside that territory; of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in occupied Gaza; of violating international law when it raided the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla in international waters; and of torturing prisoners.
Most troubling, Mr Harper has blindly aligned Canada with a country that defines itself as a “Jewish state” and whose citizenship, immigration and land ownership laws discriminate against its Muslim and Christian citizens who make up 25 percent of the population. One wonders if he will next define Canada as a “white, Christian state.”
“Many Canadians believe that the Harper government appears far more concerned with protecting Israel’s interest than enhancing the traditional good reputation of Canada in the world, and seems ready and willing to bring disrepute and isolation to Canada for the sake of such a pariah state,” said Khaled Mouammar, CAF National President.
Toronto Star columnist James Travers best summarizes how the Harper government has betrayed Canadian values and tarnished Canada’s reputation when he states that “The confluence of domestic politics, Christian fundamentalism and foreign policy is now so strong that Israel’s tail is wagging Canada’s dog.”
“Despite the government’s insistence that its detention rules meet the minimum requirements under international law, it appears that this facility is either ignoring those rules or interpreting them so loosely that they make detainees susceptible to mistreatment,” – Jonathan Horowitz, human rights expert and author of report.
Former US military prisoners in Afghanistan have said that they were abused in a secret prison on Bagram airbase as recently as this year, raising fears that detainee mistreatment has continued despite an overhaul of US detention operations in the country.
The abuse – which includes exposure to extreme temperatures, lack of adequate food and bedding, lack of natural light and interference with religious duties – is alleged to have occurred at a secret “screening” facility on the military base north of Kabul.
The existence of the site, known amongst Afghans as the “Tor Jail”, has never been admitted by US authorities, although it does acknowledge it runs a number of field sites in which prisoners are held immediately after being captured.
Prisoners are kept at the field sites before either being handed to Afghan authorities, released, or transferred to the main US detention facility at Parwan, on the edge of Bagram airbase.
The US task force responsible for running detentions in the Afghanistan insists that treatment in all its facilities meets international standards.
But a report released this week by the US-based Open Society Foundation, details the testimony of 18 detainees held at the Tor Prison who say they were mistreated there.
The testimony includes repeated claims that their cells were kept uncomfortably cold so they were unable to sleep, that they were given inedible food, and that bright lights were kept on in windowless cells 24 hours a day.
Such treatment would not only fall short of international standards for the treatment of prisoners, but also would run counter to US military’s own guidelines on the issue, which says prisoners should not be exposed to “excessive or inadequate heat, light, or ventilation”.
The differences between the secretive Tor Prison and the main Bagram site have raised questions about whether the smaller site is being run by a different military agency to other detention sites in the country, which come under the mandate of Joint Task Force 435 (JTF 435).
Jonathan Horowitz, the author of the report, told Al Jazeera that there appeared to be a link between the Tor Prison and US special forces activity in Afghanistan.
“JTF 435 does not run the facility,” he said. “The facility does seem to have tight links with forces operating under Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Whether they are the only ones in charge, I don’t know.”
“It’s worth noting that at the Detention Facility in Parwan [the main Bagram prison], there are also interrogators and isolations cells,’ he said.
“One of the big differences between the two sites is transparency. I assume that those in Tor Jail think they benefit from its secretive nature and don’t want to give that up.”
The allegations have come to light as the US military oversees a much-publicised effort to improve its record on detainee treatment in Afghanistan. Improved prison facilities have been built, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been given better access to those held in US detention.
Eighteen prisoners who passed through the site were interviewed for the report. Half of them said that they had been taken to the prison in 2009 and 2010, after Barack Obama, the US president, had already ordered an overhaul of detention operations in Afghanistan.
The US military has denied that it runs secret prisons in Afghanistan, and said it does not mistreat the prisoners it holds there, insisting that conditions are compliant with both the Geneva Coventions and the military’s own guidelines.
Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the US department of defence (DoD) “takes all credible allegations of detainee mistreatment very seriously”.
“Furthermore, DoD conducts thorough and regular assessments of all of its detention facilities and operations to maintain oversight, accountability and to ensure humane treatment of detainees,” she said in an email to Al Jazeera.
The US military does run temporary detention and screening facilities in Afghanistan, “which are classified to preserve operational security,” she said. “However, both the ICRC and the respective host nations have knowledge of these facilities … [and] these facilities are consistent with international and US law.”
Oxfam has reported that Palestinian olive groves are frequently attacked by Israeli settlers, file photo
The Israeli occupation of the West bank and siege of Gaza are seriously harming Palestinian olive oil production which contributes up to US$100 million annually for some of the most underprivileged Palestinian families, the international NGO Oxfam said in a report on Friday.
The report, entitled, “The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to developing the economy of olive oil in the West Bank,” blames Israel for restricting access to land and olive tree farms.
“Around 40 percent of the West Bank is effectively off-limits to Palestinians, with access highly restricted, due to settlements, outposts, bypass roads, military bases, closed military areas and areas Israel has declared as being nature reserves,” the report said.
For centuries Palestinian olives have been a major commercial crop and are credited with being some of the best in the world.
Olives and olive oil are one of the main sources of income for the Palestinian economy. They represent around half of agricultural land use in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as being a major export, and provide employment and a large source of income for around 100,000 farming families.
According to the report there are approximately 10 million olive trees with the potential to produce up to 34,000 metric tons of olive oil in a good year, but only 5,000 tons in a bad year. The average quantity of oil produced annually between 2001 and 2009 was around 17,000 tons.
Harmful impacts of Israeli policy also include settler violence sanctioned by the government, incidents in which illegal Israeli settlers have uprooted or burned tens of thousands of olive trees during their attacks against Palestinian farmers.
According to the United Nations, in the first six months of 2010 thousands of olive trees and other crops have been damaged by settlers.
Oxfam accused Israel of intentionally restricting access for Palestinian farmers to local and international markets, especially since the beginning of the second intifadha.
“Physical barriers such as checkpoints and road blocks have restricted the free movement of people and goods within the West Bank and obstructed access for Palestinian agricultural produce, including olives and olive oil, to internal, Israeli and international markets,” the report concluded.
As for Gaza, the picture is even gloomier since inhabitants cannot even get olives from the West Bank olives since the blockade started.