Reprieve | April 15, 2015
The family of a hunger-striking Pakistani man detained in Guantanamo Bay has today filed an emergency application with the Islamabad High Court, demanding that the Pakistani government intervene immediately in his case.
Ahmad Rabbani has been on hunger strike for more than two years in protest at his detention without charge or trial in Guantanamo, where he has been held since 2004. An affidavit submitted to the court by human rights organization Reprieve, whose staff recently visited Mr Rabbani, describes the damaging effect on his health of his brutal treatment at the prison – including daily force-feedings and ‘forced cell extractions’ (FCEs).
Mr Rabbani has told his lawyers at Reprieve that his weight has dropped to approximately 40kg, and that he regularly vomits and experiences numbness in his limbs, dizziness and fainting. Mr Rabbani described how his thigh has wasted away to the width of his calf. His lawyers describe him as looking “emaciated” during their latest visit.
The urgent court application demands that the Pakistani government intervene immediately with the U.S. authorities to arrange for the release and repatriation of Mr Rabbani before he either dies or suffers permanent damage to his health. Filed today, the petition is likely to be heard tomorrow (Thurs) in the Court.
The court has previously heard how Mr Rabbani’s constitutional rights to legal defence, fair trial, and humane treatment have all been gravely abused by his detention without charge or trial by the United States – violations which, Mr Rabbani’s lawyers argue, oblige the Pakistani government to take up his case.
Mr Rabbani’s lawyers have also submitted to the court a copy of the US Senate’s recent report into CIA torture, which reveals that his 2002 arrest was a case of mistaken identity. The 2014 report also confirms that Mr Rabbani was initially detained for 540 days in secret CIA jails before his transfer to Guantanamo, and was subjected to a number of violent interrogation methods that have been condemned as torture.
Commenting, Mr Rabbani’s lawyer Alka Pradhan, US Counsel at Reprieve, said: “The US Senate report confirmed that Ahmed Rabbani was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time 13 years ago – and that he was horribly tortured in US secret prisons. But he remains in Guantanamo – and after years of abuse, he is now dangerously ill. Ahmad’s hunger strike is a last desperate cry for help from the Pakistani government. They must now intervene in his case and bring him home.”
The Pakistani parliament has passed a resolution that urges Islamabad to remain neutral vis-à-vis the conflict in Yemen, dismissing Saudi Arabia’s request to join its deadly air raids against the Arabian Peninsula state.
“The parliament desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis,” read the resolution which was ratified unanimously on Friday after days of dispute among the lawmakers.
The parliament “underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” the resolution added.
The resolution urged all warring factions in Yemen to put an end to deadly clashes and resolve the conflict through dialogue, warning that the flare-up in the Arab country would “have a critical fallout in the region, including in Pakistan.”
The Pakistani parliament also called on the international community and Muslim countries to push ahead with their efforts to bring about a ceasefire deal in the violence-wracked country.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also attended the parliament session on Friday to express his approval of the resolution.
This is while Riyadh has made repeated calls to Islamabad to take part in the Saudi aggression in Yemen.
The resolution came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrapped up a two-day visit to neighboring Pakistan.
“Military attacks, aerial bombings and the destruction of the infrastructure in this country (Yemen) cannot help resolve the crisis,” said Zarif during a meeting with Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the Pakistani parliament,
“We should all invite all sides to the negotiation table to resolve the regional problems,” Zarif said.
In a meeting with Pakistani army chief General General Raheel Sharif on Thursday, Zarif said, “The past experiences show that the consequences of the military intervention in Yemen will become part of the problems.”
Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Ansarullah fighters started on March 26, without a UN mandate, in a bid to restore power to the country’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.
According to figures released Thursday by Yemeni media outlets, nearly 450 people have so far been killed since the beginning of the Saudi aggression. Most deaths are reported to be women and children.
Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
However, the Ansarullah movement later said Hadi had lost his legitimacy as president of Yemen after he escaped Sana’a to Aden in February.
On March 25, the embattled president fled the southern city of Aden, where he had sought to set up a rival power base, to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after Ansarullah revolutionaries advanced on Aden.
The Ansarullah fighters took control of the Yemeni capital in September 2014. The revolutionaries said Hadi’s government was incapable of properly running the affairs of the country and containing the growing wave of corruption and terror.
China will reportedly finance the so-called ‘Peace Pipeline’ natural gas pipeline from Iran, home to the world’s second largest reserves, to energy-deprived Pakistan. The project was delayed due to US dissent.
The final deal is to be signed during the long-sought visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Islamabad in April, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
“We’re building it. The process has started,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the WSJ.
First proposed over 20 years ago, the 1045 mile (1682km) pipeline will transfer gas from Iran’s south to the Pakistani cities of Gwadar and Nawabshah. Karachi, the country’s biggest city of 27.3 million, will also be connected via local energy distribution systems already in place.
Iran has said the 560-mile portion that runs to the Pakistan border is already complete, which only leaves $2 billion needed to build the Pakistani stretch.
The project could cost up to $2 billion if a Liquefied Natural Gas port is constructed at Gwadar. Otherwise, the project to complete the Pakistani pipeline will cost between $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion, the WSJ said. Pakistan is in negotiations with China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, a subsidiary of Chinese energy major China National Petroleum Corporation, to finance 85 percent of the project. Pakistan will pay the rest.
The original plan envisioned the pipeline continuing to India, but Delhi dropped out due to US pressure in 2009, Tehran claims. Pakistan, a country of 199 million people faces intermittent blackouts in major cities, and Iran is looking for a place to export its soon-to-not-be-banned gas.
Iran has 33.7 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves according to the June 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. According to BP estimates, it has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves at 157 billion barrels.
US-led sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program have stunted Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Iran’s oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to about one million barrels in 2014, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In March, Iran produced 2.85 million barrels of oil per day, according to data from Bloomberg.
Iran’s Parliament (Majlis) Speaker Ali Larijani says the Islamic Republic supports negotiations among representatives from all parties involved in the Yemeni crisis, describing national dialog as the only way to end the conflict.
During a telephone conversation with Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan Sardar Ayaz Sadiq on Sunday, Larijani lamented the ongoing Saudi airstrikes that have led to the deaths of hundreds of Yemenis and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
“Such military aggression, irrespective of its objectives, is a blow to the Muslim Ummah and benefits the Zionist regime (of Israel) and major powers. The aggressive countries must explain why they are using their facilities to deal a blow to a Muslim state,” the top Iranian legislator pointed out.
Larijani also described Yemenis as a courageous nation, which has bogged foreign intruders down and made them regret their measures throughout history.
He called on aggressive governments to take salutary lessons from the failed Soviet and US-led military campaigns against Afghanistan.
Sadiq, for his part, stated that Islamabad has no intention to become engaged in the Yemen crisis, and seeks the establishment of calm and peace in Yemen in line with the Muslim world’s interests.
Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Yemen started on March 26 without a UN mandate in a bid to restore power to Yemen’s fugitive president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.
Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
On March 25, the embattled president fled Aden, where he had sought to set up a rival power base, to Riyadh after Ansarullah revolutionaries advanced on the port.
The Ansarullah fighters took control of Sana’a in September 2014 and are currently moving southward. The revolutionaries said the Hadi government was incapable of properly running the affairs of the country and containing the growing wave of corruption and terror.
Yemen’s ousted officials have requested a ground intervention to bolster a Saudi-led air offensive against the country’s Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, neighboring Iran has made calls for diplomacy, saying the military campaign is a “strategic mistake”.
Saudi authorities say they have gathered troops along the border with Yemen in preparation for any possible ground offensive, Reuters reported on Tuesday, adding that no exact time to send the troops in has yet been stipulated. Pakistan, which has previously supported Riyadh by deploying troops to Saudi Arabia to provide extra regional security, also said that it is sending troops to support Saudi Arabia in the context of the current Yemeni conflict, the agency reported.
Despite airstrikes delivered by Saudi air forces and their Gulf allies, the Houthis are continuing their offensive against the dwindling loyalists of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was ousted by the rebels and fled to Saudi Arabia, requesting military intervention from the Arab states.
The heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of air offensive was reported on Tuesday, with Saudi troops clashing with Yemeni Houthi fighters. Hadi-allied officials have remained hopeful that Riyadh would send ground troops to turn the tide for the ousted official.
“We are asking for that [Saudi ground operation in Yemen], and as soon as possible, in order to save our infrastructure and save Yemenis under siege in many cities,” the president’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasseen said an interview with al-Arabiya Hadath TV channel.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian labeled the Saudi strikes a “strategic mistake” and called for a dialogue to help solve the crisis in Yemen. “Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemeni crisis,” the official said in Kuwait, as cited by Reuters, adding that Iran “recommends all parties in Yemen return to calm and dialogue.”
“This war is not about Yemen or the Houthis, it’s about what used to be a cold war between the Persians and the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Arab Gulf. Today the cold war became a real one,” political analyst Roula Taj told RT.
More casualties have been reported in the escalating conflict, with overnight street clashes in Hadi’s stronghold Aden claiming at least 26 lives, Reuters reported, citing a health ministry official. Ten others died during the Tuesday shelling of a residential building close to the residence once used by the president, the agency reported referring to witnesses accounts. In the central town of Yarim, an air strike hit a fuel tanker, killing at least 10 people, residents said.
Coalition bombers targeted rebel positions near the airport of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, while fighters from the Houthi militia entered a coastal military base overlooking the Red Sea’s strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait on Tuesday, local officials told Reuters. Heavy fighting between Hadi loyalists and opponents was also reported in southern province of Dhalea.
On Monday, 45 people were killed and another 65 injured in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition at a refugee camp in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO).
The airstrikes have also affected the Red Cross medical supplies deliveries to the area, with the planes which are carrying the necessities unable to fly to Yemen.
“In Yemen today we have a very serious humanitarian situation. Hospitals are running at a low capacity… We need to bring in urgent medical supplies to sustain our stocks,” spokesperson at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Near and Middle East Sitara Jabeen told RT.
She added that the organization was expecting to bring in a plane carrying medical supplies for up to 1,000 patients to Sanaa, “but so far have not been able to get the permission we need to move this plane from Jordan to Yemen.”
So far, the airstrikes have failed to change the military balance in Yemen. While Houthis reportedly found an ally in Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned in 2012 amid mass public protests, some Western officials have alleged that Iran financially supports the Houthis in an effort to control Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Voicing support for the Saudi bombing campaign, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week accused Iran of seeking regional dominance in the Middle East. Tehran officials said Erdogan’s visit to Iran, which is scheduled for next week, may now be scrapped. The warning came from Iranian MP Esmayeel Kosari in his Sunday interview with the semi-official Fars news agency. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Ankara to act responsibly in the conflict.
Russia has also warned against reducing the complex Yemeni conflict to a simplified stand-off narrative, whether national or sectarian in nature. “We cannot allow it to degrade into a Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Neither can we allow the situation to turn into an open conflict between the Arabs and Iran. We will do everything to prevent it,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.
The intensified fighting in the country provides a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, with Yemen having already been an operational base of Al-Qaeda militants for years. After the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group became one of the world’s biggest exporters of terrorism, with the US considering it the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda.
AQAP claims to be behind January attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, with terrorists saying the main enemy of Islam is now France rather than the United States. The latter has already scaled down its operations against AQAP in the region, undermining an effort dating back to 2002.
The conflict in Yemen may also hamper the campaigns against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where US and its Arab allies found themselves on the same side as Iran. Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) now operate in Yemen, with its militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on mosques in the country’s capital Sanaa, in which over 100 people have been killed and hundreds injured.
A Pakistani Woman named Aafia Siddiqui was abducted from a taxi in Karachi, Pakistan along with her 3 children 12 years ago on March 30, 2003. At the time she was vulnerable, recently divorced from an abusive husband; living with her mother; her father had just died of a heart attack. The youngest child was an infant. Following her abduction, Aafia Siddiqui and her children disappeared from view for 5 years. She spent those years in US Black Site prisons in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One can only imagine the torment she suffered there, in a system created to enable the torture and abuse of terrorism suspects. She was a woman alone. They took her children, and threatened them when personal torture was not enough to gain her acquiescence.
They say other women came and went from Bagram and the secret prisons in Afghanistan, but Aafia Siddiqui is the only one whose story is known. This is true in part because she had lived, studied and worked in the United States for more than a decade, but even more so because of the devoted persistence of her family, her mother Ismet, and sister Fowzia, who never for one moment ceased their efforts to find her and bring her home. Using their standing as an upper middle class family in Karachi, a conservative Muslim family, well educated, known for their involvement in various aspects of civil society during, the Siddiqui women engaged with the government at all levels, engaged the press to publicize Aafia’s disappearance and to investigate her whereabouts and the circumstances of her disappearance.
Ismet says that shortly after her daughter’s disappearance, a man came to her door and threatened her. He told her to drop the search for her missing daughter or ‘else’. The two women, Ismet and Fowzia, were convinced that Aafia and her children had been detained by either Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) or the CIA. This is not surprising because Pakistani citizens were frequently disappeared during that period, mostly by the Pakistani Secret Police and Intelligence forces complicit with the American CIA and FBI who were casting a broad net to fish for ‘terrorists’ after 9/11/2001. Thousands were abducted and imprisoned for long or short periods of time. A few eventually landed in Guantanamo, but who knows what happened to the rest?. Many never returned. Thousands of Muslim immigrants were rounded up and questioned here in the United States as well. Many of them were tortured. Many were held for months and years with no accessto legal aid or their families. Many were eventually deported despite having committed no crime.
No, Aafia Siddiqui wasn’t the only person rendered during the first years of the Global War on Terror, nor was she the only Pakistani disappeared under the Musharraf regime. We now know that thousands were rendered from the streets of Pakistan and around the globe during the first years following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. We know that torture was ubiquitous during that period, while brutal violence against civilians characterized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is extraordinary about Aafia Siddiqui’s case is that she was a woman, and was taken with her children. Also somewhat unusual is the fact that she had spent many years in the US where she went to college and eventually obtained a PhD from Brandeis, married a Pakistani Doctor and had 2 children; and worked for various charities generally leading a conscientious life of good will. She sent Qurans to prisoners, and taught children at a Mosque in an impoverished city neighborhood.
But after 9/11 it all fell apart. She and her husband were not abducted, but they were interrogated. A young Saudi the government was pursuing had stayed for a while in their apartment building. Her husband had used his credit card to buy night vision goggles, he said for hunting. The marriage was becoming increasingly stressed and at times, violent. Aafia had a long scar on her cheek from a cut caused by a baby bottle her husband admitted to throwing at her. Aafia took her children and returned to her parents’ home in Karachi. She was pregnant with their third child when her husband divorced her and remarried. We are told she seemed nervous and agitated during this period. Who wouldn’t be nervous and agitated under those circumstances? And then, one day she set out for a family visit with her uncle, got in the taxi with her children, and disappeared.
In July of 2008, Aafia Siddiqui arrived in Manhattan a week after abdominal surgery to remove a couple of bullets from her intestines, and was brought directly into a courtroom in her wheelchair for arraignment on charges of attacking US military personnel in Afghanistan. After a highly publicized trial during which the press consistently referred to her as ‘Lady al Qaeda’, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison and sent to Carswell Medical Center, a high security federal prison in Texas, where she remains to this day, so we are told.
At the trial, no physical evidence was presented by the prosecution. There was none. Basic questions related to context were neither asked nor answered. Where was Aafia Siddiqui between the time of her disappearance 5 years earlier, and her encounter with the soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan? Why wasn’t she believed when she said she had been rendered and tortured? Why did the Pakistani Government allow her to be extradited from Afghanistan, then pay a small fortune for lawyers for her, lawyers that she did not want or trust because, whatever their qualifications, they had been selected and paid for by the Pakistani government? Why, when a fragile woman, who was obviously physically and mentally broken, said that she had been tortured, did no one investigate her story?
Between 2003 and 2008, US officials repeatedly denied having Aafia Siddiqui in custody. They insisted that she was not in the system anywhere. But, when she showed up in 2008, they had a story all ready to tell about her involvement with al Qaeda, conferring with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some of his associates. They actually said she was married to his nephew Ammar al Baluchi, a charge her family absolutely denies. She was only recently divorced, and had just birthed a child when she disappeared. The specific accusation against Siddiqui was that she had got a mailbox in Maryland for Majid Khan, a young man who had associated with Khalid Sheikh Muhammed in Karachi. He had allowed his visa to lapse while he was visiting family in Karachi, and needed a US mailbox address to reapply for it so he could return to the US. Khan was accused of plotting to commit terrorist attacks on returning to the USA.
But this isn’t the crime Aafia Siddiqui was tried for, just a story leaked to the press. Majid Khan was detained a few weeks before Aafia Siddiqui and her children were. Like her, he had lived in the United States for some years and had attended high school here. Raised in a middle class suburb of Baltimore, he was restless and unable to decide what to do with his life, so he went to Karachi to visit the extended family and married there. Members of his family were initially detained with him, then later released. According to his brother, Majid Khan was tortured and beaten during this period, and coerced into making unreliable and false confessions
Although he may have known KSM and his nephew, Khan was never proven to do anything other than talk and spin stories. After touring the black sites and being tortured for a couple of years, Khan landed in Guantanamo where he apparently continued talking and spinning stories. Majid Khan was eventually able to arrange a plea deal for early release from Guantanamo in 2012 in exchange for testimony against Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Ammar Al Baluchi and others. Perhaps Siddiqui did help Majid Khan with his immigration problem. He was a kid who needed help. That is an immigration violation that might keep her from returning to the US. But we don’t even know for sure that she even did that. We do know that Khan told a lot of stories in return for a plea deal in 2012 that capped his sentence at 19 years.
The government, however, claimed that Aafia Siddiqui spent the 5 years she was missing in a terrorist cell developing chemical and biological weapons. She was a scientist, after all, with a PhD. When she was arrested in Pakistan, there were some chemicals in her bag along with some recipes for biological and chemical weapons written in her handwriting and a picture of the statue of liberty, an odd choice for someone who had lived many years in Boston area and Texas before that. These items were brought into evidence. Again, when Aafia Siddiqui explained that she wasn’t that kind of scientist, that she was an educator, she was ignored. Her PhD was in neuroscience as it pertains to learning capabilities. This is a matter of public record at Brandeis University. She was Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, but neither a physician, a chemist nor even a biologist except in a narrow tangential sense. She said she wrote in the documents what she was told to write by men who threatened to harm her children if she did not do as they wished.
Aafia Siddiqui suffered from severe PTSD which made it difficult for her to present a consistently calm and pleasant demeanor during trial. She told the court she had been tortured during the time she was missing, but this testimony was dismissed as untrue and irrelevant. The government, of course, had denied it. She didn’t want the highly paid lawyers hired on her behalf by the Pakistani government because she didn’t trust the motivation of the Pakistani government, and she didn’t like the way they were building her case. But the judge chose to ignore her protest and allowed those lawyers to continue. Judge Berman was privately informed of the details the US held against Siddiqui. The story was apparently leaked to the press as well. But it wasn’t told in open court where she might have refuted it. The jury convicted despite the lack of physical evidence on charges normally bringing a sentence of around 15 years. They did not convict on the charge of premeditation, but Judge Berman added a ‘terrorism’ enhancement to her verdict, and sentenced Aafia Siddiqui to 86 years in a federal prison.
Today, Aafia Siddiqui remains in the psychiatric division of Carswell, seven years into her 86 year sentence. She had a hard time early on, and apparently was beaten at one point, by the guards? Other inmates? That we don’t know. We do know she was in solitary after that. She hasn’t been allowed to receive mail. I, myself, have sent her many letters, all returned. Early on they came back unopened, marked ‘undeliverable’. When I called the prison to inquire whether I had the wrong address, the person who answered went off to ask advice on what to tell me. He said, when he returned to the phone, that she refused her mail. A few months later when I was in jail myself (for direct action protest at the gate of Hancock AFB) I received a letter from my attorney, and realized that they have to open your mail and inspect it before offering it to you. After I called again to question this issue, my letters started coming back opened.
Aafia Siddiqui hasn’t spoken to her family in more than a year. She has a brother, also in Texas, but he has not been able to see her. No one has had contact with her for over a year now. The last time she was given a chance to talk to her family, to her mother and sister, and the 2 children returned to them after she was imprisoned in the US, was following a national press conference outside the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC and a well-publicized protest outside Carswell Prison. At the time, Fowzia asked her why she was refusing her mail, and she replied ‘What mail?”
Last year Robert Boyle, a new attorney hired by the family, submitted a motion to vacate to Judge Berrman, requesting that he throw out the verdict because Aafia’s repeated requests for an adjournment of the proceedings so she could find an acceptable attorney were ignored. The motion lays out a detailed argument that Siddiqui’s request was sane and reasonable, and described the potential bias of the Pakistani government and the ways in which their choice of attorneys, even well-known human rights lawyers, might not have been in her best interest. Judge Berman called the lawyers in a few days later and said that Aafia Siddiqui had written a letter to him, asking that the motion be dismissed, and that he was therefore required to dismiss it. He went on to say that he had, in any case, no intention of granting the motion.
Since then, another six months have passed with no word to anyone from Aafia Siddiqui. It’s true she is likely depressed. Is she sick? Is she being heavily medicated? Is she alive? An appeal that had earlier been rejected which focused on procedural issues. This motion that Judge Berman says she asked to have dismissed very directly mirrored her own concerns at the time of the trial. It’s true; she may have done this out of depression or despair. But if she was too disturbed for the Judge to support her initial request in the court room, why was her current request honored without a hearing?
Aafia Siddiqui said that she had been tortured and raped. Why her assertion was dismissed as a fabrication with no investigation, and why were any investigations into her claims treated as collateral conspiracy theories? How did she neatly fall into the hands of US soldiers just as the family felt their sources were near locating her? Why did the Pakistani Government allow her to be extradited if they thought she was innocent? Where is Aafia Siddiqui now and what is her status?
The fact is that Aafia Siddiqui’s story is not so different than many of the other Pakistani, Afghan and Arab men swept up after 9/11. Why is it so unbelievable? All of the evidence is in her favor except for the ‘secret’ evidence and the fact that the US denies her assertions. Would we expect anything different from them? We have heard the stories of others illegally swept up in the rendition program. But maybe we don’t want to believe they would do that to a woman. We’ve heard a lot of stories about horrors visited on women by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Vietnam, but maybe we don’t want to think that might happen to a vulnerable middle class housewife with a PhD in Education. What would they do to cover up committing these atrocities against this kind, well educated, English speaking woman who had spent nearly half her life in the US when she was detained? And to cover up the cover up?
Although a conservative estimate, physicians’ groups say the figure ‘is approximately 10 times greater’ than typically reported
How do you calculate the human costs of the U.S.-led War on Terror?
On the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, groups of physicians attempted to arrive at a partial answer to this question by counting the dead.
In their joint report— Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror—Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded that this number is staggering, with at least 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the onset of the war following September 11, 2001.
However, the report notes, this is a conservative estimate, and the total number killed in the three countries “could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.”
Furthermore, the researchers do not look at other countries targeted by U.S.-led war, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and beyond.
Even still, the report states the figure “is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.
In Iraq, at least 1 million lives have been lost during and since 2003, a figure that accounts for five percent of the nation’s total population. This does not include deaths among the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees, many of whom were subject to dangerous conditions during this past winter.
Furthermore, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, note the researchers. The findings follow a United Nations report which finds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2014 were at their highest levels since the global body began making reports in 2009.
The researchers identified direct and indirect deaths based on UN, government, and NGO data, as well as individual studies. While the specific number is difficult to peg, researchers say they hope to convey the large-scale of death and loss.
Speaking with Democracy Now! on Thursday, Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-author of the forward to the report, said:
“[A]t a time when we’re contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are.”
According to Gould’s forward, co-authored with Dr. Tim Takaro, the public is purposefully kept in the dark about this toll.
“A politically useful option for U.S. political elites has been to attribute the on-going violence to internecine conflicts of various types, including historical religious animosities, as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization cause by decades of outside military intervention,” they write. “As such, under-reporting of the human toll attributed to ongoing Western interventions, whether deliberate of through self-censorship, has been key to removing the ‘fingerprints’ of responsibility.”
Moscow has slammed Washington for taking “no practical steps” to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – despite countless promises to do so – and consequently preventing the important international treaty from going into force.
“The main load of responsibility that the CTBT has not entered into force so far lies on the eight remaining countries from the so-called ‘list of 44′ whose ratification documents are needed to launch the treaty,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry stressed that “first of all, this refers to the US, a country that positions itself as a leader in the sphere of strengthening the regime of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”
“Unfortunately, despite the repeated statements on the plans to ratify the Treaty, the US has yet taken no practical steps in this direction,” the statement said.
Moscow also praised Angola for ratifying the CTBT on March 20. The African nation was the 164th country to confirm the treaty.
“Such a decision of Luanda (Angola’s capital) certainly brings the CTBT closer to a universal status and contributes to its turning into a valid international-legal tool,” the ministry said.
The statement stressed that Russia’s “continuous commitment to the CTBT and the readiness to secure its speedy entry into legal force.”
“We once again call on all the states that have not yet signed or not ratified the Treaty to do it without delay or preconditions,” it said.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a multilateral agreement banning all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes.
The CTBT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 1996. However, nearly two decades later, it has not entered into force due to non-ratification by eight countries.
The US, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel have signed the deal, but not ratified it. North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the treaty.
US drone strikes on Pakistani soil over the past decade have claimed the lives of some 2,200 people, Press TV quotes Islamabad
According to figures presented in a report by Pakistani lawmakers, 2,199 people have been killed and 282 others injured in the US drone attacks in Pakistan.
Nearly 210 houses and 60 vehicles have also reportedly been damaged.
The families of 43 of the dead and seven of those injured have received compensation so far, according to the report.
However, rights activists say Islamabad has not revealed the actual number of deaths, which many say is more than 3,000 and possibly as many as 4,000.
“The majority of the people who got killed were the citizens of Pakistan and I don’t think that this [report] is a final truth. There are still numbers that are out there and I hope those numbers also come out and that will push this number of 2,200 to a much higher numerical level,” political analyst Tariq Pirzada said.
Islamabad has so far failed to provide accurate information regarding the identity of those killed in the drone strikes.
Although evidence on the ground indicates civilians are the main victims of the strikes over the years, the Pakistani government reports that most of those killed are militants.
Islamabad has also said it cannot determine the actual number of civilian deaths as a result of its ongoing ground and air offensives against the militants in the tribal areas.
The Pakistani government has been criticized for allowing the US to carry out its illegal drone strikes near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The aerial attacks, initiated by former US president, George W. Bush in 2004, have been escalated under President Barack Obama.
Obama has defended the use of the controversial drones as “self-defense.” Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants.
The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the US as the world’s number-one user of “targeted killings,” largely due to its drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With the situation in the Middle East seemingly spinning out of control, many political observers are left wondering what it all means. The war in Syria has been at the forefront of the news since 2011, and rightly so, as Syria has become the epicenter of a larger regional conflict, particularly with the ascendance of ISIS in the last year.
Undoubtedly, the mainstream acceptance of the ISIS threat has changed the strategic calculus vis-à-vis Syria, as the US prepares to launch yet another open-ended war, ostensibly to defeat it. And, while many in the West are willing to buy the ISIS narrative and pretext for war, they do so with little understanding or recognition of the larger geopolitical contours of this conflict. Essentially, almost everyone ignores the fact that ISIS and Syria-Iraq is only one theater of conflict in the broader regional war being waged by the US-NATO-GCC-Israel axis. Also of vital importance is an understanding of the proxy war against Iran (and all Shia in the region), being fomented by the very same terror and finance networks that have spread the ISIS disease in Syria.
In attempting to unravel the complex web of relations between the terror groups operating throughout the region, important commonalities begin to emerge. Not only are many of these groups directly or tangentially related to each other, their shadowy connections to western intelligence bring into stark relief an intricate mosaic of terror that is part of a broader strategy of sectarianism designed to destroy the “Axis of Resistance” which unites Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. In so doing, these terror groups and their patrons hope to internationalize the war in Syria, and its destructive consequences.
Terrorism as a Weapon in Syria and Iraq
In order to understand how these seemingly disparate groups fit into the regional destabilization, one must first recognize how they are connected both in terms of ideology and shared relationships. On the one hand you have the well known terror outfits operating in the Syria-Iraq theater of this conflict. These would include the ubiquitous ISIS, along with its Al Qaeda-affiliated ally Jabhat Al-Nusra.
However, often left out of the western narrative is the fact that the so called “moderate rebels,” such as the Al Farouq Brigade and other similar groups affiliated with the “Free Syrian Army,” are also linked through various associations with a number of jihadi organizations in Syria and beyond. These alleged “moderates” have been documented as having committed a number of egregious war crimes including mutilation of their victims, and cross-border indiscriminate shelling. And these are the same “moderates” that the Obama Administration spent the last three years touting as allies, as groups worthy of US weapons, to say nothing of the recent revelations of cooperation with US air power. But of course US cooperation with these extremist elements is only the tip of the iceberg.
A recent UN report further corroborated the allegations that Israeli military and/or Mossad is cooperating with, and likely helping to organize, the Jabhat al-Nusra organization in and around the Golan Heights. Such claims of course dovetail with the reports from Israeli media that militant extremists fighting the Syrian government have been treated in Israeli medical facilities. Naturally, these clandestine activities carried out by Israel should be combined with the overt attacks on Syria carried out by Tel Aviv, including recent airstrikes, which despite the inaction of the UN and international community, undeniably constitute a war crime.
Beyond the US and Israel however, other key regional actors have taken part in the destabilization and war on Syria. Turkey has provided safe haven for terrorists streaming into Syria to wage war against the legally recognized government of President Assad. In cooperation with the CIA and other agencies, Turkey has worked diligently to foment civil war in Syria in hopes of toppling the Assad government, thereby allowing Ankara to elevate itself to a regional hegemon, or so the thinking of Erdogan and Davutoglu goes. Likewise, Jordan has provided training facilities for terrorists under the guidance and tutelage of “instructors” from the US, UK, and France.
But why rehash all these well-documented aspects of the destabilization and war on Syria? Simple. In order to fully grasp the regional dimension and global implications of this conflict, one must place the Syria war in its broader geopolitical context, and understand it as one part of a broader war on the “Axis of Resistance.” For, while Hezbollah and certain Iranian elements have been involved in the fighting and logistical support in Syria, another insidious threat has emerged – a renewed terror war against Iran in its Sistan and Baluchestan province in the east.
Rekindling the Proxy War against Iran
As the world’s attention has been understandably fixed upon the horrors of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, a new theater in the regional conflict has come to the forefront – Iran; specifically, Iran’s eastern Sistan and Baluchestan province, long a hotbed of separatism and anti-Shia terror, where a variety of terror groups have operated with the covert, and often overt, backing of western and Israeli intelligence agencies.
Just in the last year, there have been numerous attacks on Iranian military and non-military targets in the Sistan and Baluchestan region, attacks carried out by a variety of groups. Perhaps the most well known instance occurred in March 2014 when five Iranian border guards were kidnapped – one was later executed – by Jaish al-Adl which, according to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium is:
an extremist Salafi group that has since its foundation claimed responsibility for a series of operations against Iran’s domestic security forces and Revolutionary Guards operating in Sistan and Balochistan province, including the detonation of mines [link added] against Revolutionary Guards vehicles and convoys, kidnapping of Iranian border guards and attacks against military bases… Jaish al-Adl is also opposed to the Iranian Government’s active support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which they regard as an attack on Sunni muslims… Jaish ul-Adl executes cross border operations between the border of Iran and Pakistan and is based in the Baluchistan province in Pakistan.
It is important to note the centrality of Iran’s support for Syria and the Syrian Arab Army (and of course Hezbollah) in the ideological framework of a group like Jaish al-Adl. Essentially, this terror group sees their war against the Iranian government as an adjunct of the war against Assad and Syria – a new front in a larger war. Of course, the sectarian aspect should not be diminished as this group, like its many terrorist cousins, makes no distinction between political and religious/sectarian divisions. A war on Iran is a war on Shia, and both are just, both are legitimate.
Similarly, the last 18 months have seen the establishment of yet another terror group known as Ansar al-Furqan – a fusion of the Balochi Harakat Ansar and Pashto Hizb al-Furqan, both of which had been operating along Iran’s eastern border with Pakistan. According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium:
They characterize themselves as Mujahideen aginst [sic] the Shia government in Iran and are linked to Katibat al Asad Al ‘Ilamiya; Al-Farooq activists; al Nursra Front (JN), Nosrat Deen Allah, Jaysh Muhammad, Jaysh al ‘Adal; and though it was denied for some time, appears to have at least personal relationships with Jundallah… The stated mission of Ansar al Furqan is “to topple the Iranian regime…”
Like its terrorist cousin Jaish al-Adl, Ansar al-Furqan has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks against the Iranian Government, including a May 2014 IED attack on a freight train belonging to government forces. While such attacks may not make a major splash in terms of international attention, they undoubtedly send a message heard loud and clear in Tehran: these terrorists and their sponsors will stop at nothing to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Two inescapable facts immediately come to the fore when examining these groups. On the one hand, they are Sunni extremists whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the Iranian state and all vestiges of Shia dominance, political, military or otherwise. On the other hand, these groups see their war against Iran as part and parcel of the terror wars on Syria and Iraq.
And then of course there’s Jundallah, the notorious terror organization lead for decades by the Rigi family. Anyone with even cursory knowledge of the group is undoubtedly aware of its long-standing ties to both US and Israeli intelligence. As Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2012, Israeli Mossad and US CIA operatives essentially competed with one another for control of the Jundallah network for years. This information of course directly links these agencies with the covert war against Iran going back years, to say nothing of the now well-known role of Israeli intelligence in everything from assassinations of Iranian scientists to the use of cyberweapons such as Stuxnet and Flame. These and other attacks by Israel and the US against Iranian interests constitute a major part of the dirty war against Iran – a war in which terror groups figure prominently.
It should be noted that a number of other terror outfits have been used through the decades in the ongoing “low-intensity” war against Iran, including the infamous Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a terrorist group hailed as heroes by the US neocon establishment. Thanks to Wikileaks, it is also now documented fact that Israel has long since attempted to use Kurdish groups such as PJAK (Iraqi Kurdish terror group) to wage continued terror war against Iran for the purposes of destabilization of the government. Additionally, there was a decades-long campaign of Arab separatism in Iran’s western Khuzestan region spearheaded by British intelligence. As Dr. Kaveh Farrokh and Mahan Abedin wrote in 2005, “there is a mass of evidence that connects the British secret state to Arab separatism in Iran.”
These and other groups, too numerous to name here, represent a part of the voluminous history of subversion against Iran. But why now? What is the ultimate strategy behind these seemingly disparate geopolitical machinations?
Encircling the Resistance in Order to Break It
To see the obvious strategic gambit by the US-NATO-GCC-Israel axis, one need only look at a map of the major conflicts mentioned above. Syria has been infiltrated by countless terrorist groups that have waged a brutal war against the Syrian government and people. They have used Turkey in the North, Jordan in the South, and to a lesser degree Lebanon and, indirectly, Israel in the West. Working in tandem with the ISIS forces originating in Iraq, Syria has been squeezed from all sides in hopes that military defeat and/or the internal collapse of the Syrian government would be enough to destroy the country.
Naturally, this strategy has necessarily drawn Hezbollah into the war as it is allied with Syria and, for more practical reasons, cannot allow a defeated and broken Syria to come to fruition as Hezbollah would then be cut off from their allies in Iran. And so, Hezbollah and Syria have been forced to fight on no less than two fronts, fighting for the survival of the Resistance in the Levant.
Simultaneously, the regional power Iran has made itself into a central player in the war in Syria, recognizing correctly that the war could prove disastrous to its own security and regional ambitions. However, Tehran cannot simply put all its energy into supporting and defending Syria and Hezbollah as it faces its own terror threat in the East. The groups seeking to topple the Iranian government may not be able to compete militarily with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but they can certainly create enough destabilization through terrorism to make it more difficult for Tehran to effectively aid in the fight in Syria.
The US-NATO-GCC-Israel alliance has not needed to put its own boots on the ground to achieve its strategic objectives. Instead, it is relying on irregular warfare, proxy terror wars, and small-scale destabilizations to achieve by stealth what it cannot achieve with military might alone.
But it remains paramount for all those interested in peace to make these connections, to understand the broad outlines of this vast covert war taking place. To see a war in Syria in isolation is to misunderstand its very nature. To see ISIS alone as the problem is to completely misread the essence of the conflict. This is a battle for regional hegemony, and in order to attain it, the Empire is employing every tool in the imperial toolkit, with terrorism being one of the most effective.
In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.
To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.
The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in order to make it a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites.
The project is a collaboration of artists who made use of the French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement. Reprieve/Foundation for Fundamental Rights helped launch the effort which has been released with the hashtag #NotABugSplat
The child featured in the poster is nameless, but according to FFR, lost both her parents and two young siblings in a drone attack.
The group of artists traveled inside KPK province and, with the assistance of highly enthusiastic locals, unrolled the poster amongst mud huts and farms. It is their hope that this will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives.
Reprieve | February 22, 2015
The Home Office is refusing to disclose the part played by UK counter-narcotics funding in facilitating executions in countries such as Pakistan – even though a number of Brits have been revealed to be on that country’s death row.
The UK provides counter-narcotics funding to organisations such as Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force – which has cited the number of death sentences it secures as a key ‘prosecution achievement.’ Reprieve has warned ministers that the funding amounts to public funds being used to support executions overseas, at odds with the UK’s long-standing policy of opposition to the death penalty.
In recent correspondence with legal charity Reprieve, which supports British citizens and others facing the death penalty abroad, the Home Office recently stated that the issue of counter-narcotics aid doesn’t fall under their remit, but rather that of the Foreign Office. However, in a Parliamentary answer earlier this month, minister Lynne Featherstone admitted that the Home Office has “lead responsibility” for international counter-narcotics policy.
Twenty-four people have been executed in Pakistan since December 2014, when the authorities began a new wave of executions. There are now fears that drug offenders on the country’s 8000-strong death row, among them a number of British citizens, are directly at risk of being executed.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Pakistan has the largest death row in the world, and is now actively executing prisoners – placing a number of Brits at risk. The UK Government has given a series of flaccid excuses for continuing to support anti-drug raids in Pakistan, which very often see drug offenders sentenced to death. Now that the Pakistani authorities are once again carrying out executions, the lives of these people and many others are in grave danger. If the UK is committed to ending the death penalty worldwide, why is British anti-narcotics aid supporting these drug convictions – and why won’t the Home Office admit responsibility?”