[Ppnews] Afghanistan is One Huge US Jail

PPnews at freedomarchives.org PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 21 12:14:14 EST 2005

The Guardian - Mar 19, 2005

'One huge US jail'

Afghanistan is the hub of a global network of detention centres, the
frontline in America's 'war on terror', where arrest can be random and
allegations of torture commonplace. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
investigate on the ground and talk to former prisoners

by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark

Kabul was a grim, monastic place in the days of the Taliban; today it's
a chaotic gathering point for every kind of prospector and carpetbagger.
Foreign bidders vying for billions of dollars of telecoms, irrigation
and construction contracts have sparked a property boom that has forced
up rental prices in the Afghan capital to match those in London, Tokyo
and Manhattan. Four years ago, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue in Kabul
was a tool of the Taliban inquisition, a drab office building where
heretics were locked up for such crimes as humming a popular love song.
Now it's owned by an American entrepreneur who hopes its bitter
associations won't scare away his new friends.

Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is bleaker, its provinces more inaccessible
and lawless, than it was under the Taliban. If anyone leaves town, they
do so in convoys. Afghanistan is a place where it is easy for people to
disappear and perilous for anyone to investigate their fate. Even a
seasoned aid agency such as Médécins Sans Frontières was forced to quit
after five staff members were murdered last June. Only the 17,000-strong
US forces, with their all-terrain Humvees and Apache attack helicopters,
have the run of the land, and they have used the haze of fear and
uncertainty that has engulfed the country to advance a draconian phase
in the war against terror. Afghanistan has become the new Guantánamo Bay.

Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar of how a rogue
regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights activists
and Afghan politicians have accused the US military of placing
Afghanistan at the hub of a global system of detention centres where
prisoners are held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture. The
secrecy surrounding them prevents any real independent investigation of
the allegations. "The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely
outside international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and
more sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to
understand," Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human
Rights First, told us.

When we landed in Kabul, Afghanistan was blue with a bruising cold. We
were heading for the former al-Qaida strongholds in the south-east that
were rumoured to be the focus of the new US network. How should we
prepare, we asked local UN staff. "Don't go," they said. None the less,
we were able to find a driver, a Pashtun translator and a boxful of
clementines, and set off on a five-and-a-half-hour trip south through
the snow to Gardez, a market town dominated by two rapidly expanding US
military bases.

There we met Dr Rafiullah Bidar, regional director of the Afghan
Independent Human Rights Commission, established in 2003 with funding
from the US Congress to investigate abuses committed by local warlords
and to ensure that women's and children's rights were protected. He was
delighted to see foreigners in town. At his office in central Gardez,
Bidar showed us a wall of files. "All I do nowadays is chart complaints
against the US military," he said. "Many thousands of people have been
rounded up and detained by them. Those who have been freed say that they
were held alongside foreign detainees who've been brought to this
country to be processed. No one is charged. No one is identified. No
international monitors are allowed into the US jails." He pulled out a
handful of files: "People who have been arrested say they've been
brutalised - the tactics used are beyond belief." The jails are closed
to outside observers, making it impossible to test the truth of the claims.

Last November, a man from Gardez died of hypothermia in a US military
jail. When his family were called to collect the body, they were given a
$100 note for the taxi ride and no explanation. In scores more cases,
people have simply disappeared.

Prisoner transports crisscross the country between a proliferating
network of detention facilities. In addition to the camps in Gardez,
there are thought to be US holding facilities in the cities of Khost,
Asadabad and Jalalabad, as well as an official US detention centre in
Kandahar, where the tough regime has been nicknamed "Camp Slappy" by
former prisoners. There are 20 more facilities in outlying US compounds
and fire bases that complement a major "collection centre" at Bagram air
force base. The CIA has one facility at Bagram and another, known as the
"Salt Pit", in an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. More than
1,500 prisoners from Afghanistan and many other countries are thought to
be held in such jails, although no one knows for sure because the US
military declines to comment.

Anyone who has got in the way of the prison transports has been met with
brutal force. Bidar directed us to a small Shia neighbourhood on the
edge of town where a multiple killing was still under investigation.
Inside a frozen courtyard, a former policeman, Said Sardar, 25, was sat
beside his crutches. On May 1 2004, he was manning a checkpoint when a
car careened through. "Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were
western men," he said. "They had prisoners in the car." Sardar fired a
warning shot for the car to stop. "The western men returned fire and
within minutes two US attack helicopters hovered above us. They fired
three rockets at the police station. One screamed past me. I saw its
fiery tail and blacked out."

He was taken to Bagram, where US military doctors had to amputate his
leg. Afterwards, he said, "an American woman appeared. She said the US
was sorry. It was a mistake. The men in the car were Special Forces or
CIA on a mission. She gave me $500." Sardar showed us into another room
in his compound where a circle of children stared glumly at us; their
fathers, all policemen, were killed in the same incident. "Five dead.
Four in hospital. To protect covert US prisoner transports," he says.
Later, US helicopters were deployed in two similar incidents that left
nine dead.

In his builders' merchant's shop, Mohammed Timouri describes how he lost
his son. "Ismail was a part-time taxi driver, waiting to go to college,"
he says, handing us a photograph of a beardless, short-haired
19-year-old held aloft in a coffin at his funeral last March. "A convoy
delivering prisoners from a facility in Jalalabad to one in Kabul became
snarled up in traffic. A US soldier jumped down and lifted a woman out
of the way. She screamed. Ismail stepped forward to explain she was a
conservative person, wearing a burka. The soldier dropped the woman and
shot Ismail in front of a crowd of 20 people."

Mohammed received a letter from the Afghan police: "We apologise to
you," the police chief wrote. "An innocent was killed by Americans." The
US army declined to comment on Ismail's death or on a second fatal
shooting by another prison transport at the same crossroads later that
month. It also refused to comment on an incident outside Kabul when a
prison patrol reportedly cleared a crowd of children by throwing a
grenade into their midst. However, we have since heard that the CIA's
inspector general is investigating at least eight serious incidents,
including two deaths in custody, following complaints by agents about
the activities of their military colleagues.

There are insurgents active in the Gardez area, as there are throughout
the south of Afghanistan, remnants of the old order and the newly
disaffected. Every morning it takes Afghan police several hours to pick
along the highway unearthing explosives concealed overnight. And so it
was mid-morning before we were able to leave town, crawling over the
Gardez-Khost pass, some 10,000ft high. No one saw us slipping on to the
fertile Khost plain, where Osama bin Laden once had his training camps -
the camps were destroyed by US cruise missiles in August 1998. Today a
shrine to Taliban loyalists still greets travellers to the city,
although no one here would say they preferred the old life.

US Camp Salerno, the largest base outside Kabul, dominates the area
around Khost. Inside the city, Kamal Sadat, a local stringer for BBC
World Service, told how he was detained last September and found himself
locked up in a prison filled with suspects from many countries. "Even
though I showed my press accreditation, I was hooded, driven to Salerno
and then flown to another US base. I had no idea where I was or why I
had been detained." He was held in a small wooden cell, and soldiers
combed through his notebooks, copying down names and phone numbers.
"Every time I was moved within the base, I was hooded again. Every
prisoner has to maintain absolute silence. I could hear helicopters
whirring above me. Prisoners were arriving and leaving all the time.
There were also cells beneath me, under the ground." After three days,
Sadat was flown back to Khost and freed without explanation. "It was
only later I learned that I had been held in Bagram. If the BBC had not
intervened, I fear I would not have got out." After his release, the US
military said it had all been a misunderstanding, and apologised.

Camp Salerno, which houses the 1,200 troops of US Combined Taskforce
Thunder, was being expanded when we arrived. Army tents were being
replaced with concrete dormitories. The detention facility, concealed
behind a perimeter of opaque green webbing, was being modernised and
enlarged. Ensconced in a Soviet-era staff building was the camp's
commanding officer, Colonel Gary Cheeks. He listened calmly as we asked
about the allegations of torture, deaths and disappearances at US
detention facilities including Salerno. We read to him from a complaint
made by a UN official in Kabul that accused the US military of using
"cowboy-like excessive force". He eased forward in his chair: "There
have been some tragic accidents for which we have apologised. Some
people have been paid compensation."

We put to him the specific case of Mohammed Khan, from a village near
the Pakistan border, who died in custody at Camp Salerno: his relatives
say his body showed signs of torture. "You could go on for ages with a
'he said, she said'. You have to take my word for it," said Cheeks. He
remembered Khan's death: "He was bitten by a snake and died in his
cell." He added, "We are building new holding cells here to make life
better for detainees. We are systematising our prison programme across
the country."

For what reason? "So all guards and interrogators behave by the same
code of behaviour," the colonel said. Is it not the case that an
ever-increasing number of prisoners have vanished, while others are
being shuttled between jails to keep their families in the dark? Cheeks
moved towards his office door: "There are many things that are
distorted. No one has vanished here ... Look, the war against the
Taliban is one small part. I want the Afghan people with us. They are
the key to ending conflict. If they fear us or we do wrong by them, then
we have lost."

However, many Afghans who celebrated the fall of the Taliban have long
lost faith in the US military. In Kabul, Nader Nadery, of the Human
Rights Commission, told us, "Afghanistan is being transformed into an
enormous US jail. What we have here is a military strategy that has
spawned serious human rights abuses, a system of which Afghanistan is
but one part." In the past 18 months, the commission has logged more
than 800 allegations of human rights abuses committed by US troops.

The Afghan government privately shares Nadery's fears. One minister, who
asked not to be named, said, "Washington holds Afghanistan up to the
world as a nascent democracy and yet the US military has deliberately
kept us down, using our country to host a prison system that seems to be
administered arbitrarily, indiscriminately and without accountability."

What has been glimpsed in Afghanistan is a radical plan to replace
Guantánamo Bay. When that detention centre was set up in January 2002,
it was essentially an offshore gulag - beyond the reach of the US
constitution and even the Geneva conventions. That all changed in July
2004. The US supreme court ruled that the federal court in Washington
had jurisdiction to hear a case that would decide if the Cuban
detentions were in violation of the US constitution, its laws or
treaties. The military commissions, which had been intended to dispense
justice to the prisoners, were in disarray, too. No prosecution cases
had been prepared and no defence cases would be readily offered as the
US National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers had described the
commissions as unethical, a decision backed by a federal judge who ruled
in January that they were "illegal". Guantánamo was suddenly bogged down
in domestic lawsuits. It had lost its practicality. So a global prison
network built up over the previous three years, beyond the reach of
American and European judicial process, immediately began to pick up the
slack. The process became explicit last week when the Pentagon announced
that half of the 540 or so inmates at Guantánamo are to be transferred
to prisons in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Since September 11 2001, one of the US's chief strategies in its "war on
terror" has been to imprison anyone considered a suspect on whatever
grounds. To that end it commandeered foreign jails, built cellblocks at
US military bases and established covert CIA facilities that can be
located almost anywhere, from an apartment block to a shipping
container. The network has no visible infrastructure - no prison rolls,
visitor rosters, staff lists or complaints procedures. Terror suspects
are being processed in Afghanistan and in dozens of facilities in
Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and
the British island of Diego Garcia in the southern Indian Ocean. Those
detained are held incommunicado, without charge or trial, and frequently
shuttled between jails in covert air transports, giving rise to the
recently coined US military expression "ghost detainees".

Most of the countries hosting these invisible prisons are already
partners in the US coalition. Others, notably Syria, are pragmatic
associates, which work privately alongside the CIA and US Special
Forces, despite bellicose public statements from President Bush (he has
condemned Syria for harbouring terrorism, for aiding the remnants of the
Saddam Hussein regime, and most recently has demanded that Syrian troops
quit Lebanon).

All the host countries are renowned for their poor human rights records,
enabling interrogators (US soldiers, contractors and their local
partners) to operate. We have obtained prisoner letters, declassified
FBI files, legal depositions, witness statements and testimony from US
and UK officials, which document the alleged methods deployed in
Afghanistan - shackles, hoods, electrocution, whips, mock executions,
sexual humiliation and starvation - and suggest they are practised
across the network. Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on
torture, said, "The more hidden detention practices there are, the more
likely that all legal and moral constraints on official behaviour will
be removed."

The only "ghost detainees" to have been identified by Washington are a
handful of high-profile al-Qaida operatives such as Abu Zubayda, Bin
Laden's lieutenant, who vanished after being picked up by Pakistani
authorities in Faisalabad in March 2002. In June of that year, US
defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Zubayda was "under US control".
He did not say where, although sources in the Pakistani government said
Zubayda was being held at a CIA facility in their country.

In May 2003, Bush clarified the fate of Waleed Muhammad bin Attash, an
alleged conspirator in the USS Cole bombing, who disappeared after being
arrested by police in Pakistan in April 2003. Bush described Attash as
"a killer ... one less person that people who love freedom have to worry
about"; he is also one more person who has never appeared on a US prison

In June 2004, a senior counterterrorism official in Britain confirmed
that Hambali (a nom de guerre) - accused of organising the October 2002
Bali bombings and unseen since Thai police seized him in August 2003 -
was "singing like a bird", apparently at the US base on Diego Garcia.

Evidence we have collected, however, shows that many more of those swept
up in the network have few provable connections to any outlawed
organisation; experts in the field describe their value in the war
against terror as "negligible". Former prisoners claim they were
released only after naming names, coerced into making false confessions
that led to the arrests of more people unconnected to terrorism, in a
system of justice that owes more to Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees Of
Separation - where anyone can be linked to everyone else in the world in
as many stages - than to analytical jurisprudence.

The floating population of "ghost detainees", according to US and UK
military officials, now exceeds 10,000.

The roots of the prison network can be traced to the legal wrangles that
began as soon as the first terror suspects were rounded up just weeks
after the September 11 attacks. As CIA agents and US forces began to
capture suspected al-Qaida fighters in the war in Afghanistan, Alberto
Gonzales, White House counsel, looked for ways to "dispense justice
swiftly, close to where our forces may be fighting, without years of
pre-trial proceedings or post-trial appeals".

On November 13 2001, George Bush signed an order to establish military
commissions to try "enemy belligerents" who commit war crimes. At such a
commission, a foreign war criminal would have no choice over his defence
counsel, no right to know the evidence against him, no way of obtaining
any evidence in his favour and no right of attorney-client
confidentiality. Defending the commissions, Gonzales (now promoted to US
attorney general) insisted, "The suggestion that [they] will afford only
sham justice like that dispensed in dictatorial nations is an insult to
our military justice system."

When the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo Bay in January 2002,
Donald Rumsfeld announced that they were all Taliban or al-Qaida
fighters, and as such were designated "unlawful combatants". The US
administration argued that al-Qaida and the Taliban were not the
official army of Afghanistan, but a criminal force that did not wear
uniforms, could not be distinguished from civilians and practised war
crimes; on this basis, the administration claimed, it was entitled to
sidestep the Geneva conventions and normal legal constraints.

  From there, it was only a small moral step for the Bush administration
to overlook the use of torture by regimes previously condemned by the US
state department, so long as they, too, signed up to the war against
terror. "Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan,
Uzbekistan and even Syria were all asked to make their detention
facilities and expert interrogators available to the US," one former
counterterrorism agent told us.

In the UK, a similar process began unfolding. In December 2001, the then
home secretary David Blunkett withdrew Britain from its obligation under
the European human rights treaty not to detain anyone without trial; on
December 18, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act was passed,
extending the government's powers of arrest and detention. Within 24
hours, 10 men were seized in dawn raids on their homes and taken to
Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons (some of them will have been among those
released in the past week).

Subsequently the Foreign Office subtly modified internal guidance to
diplomats, enabling them to use intelligence obtained through torture. A
letter from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office directorate sent to Sir
Michael Jay, head of the diplomatic service, and Mathew Kidd of
Whitehall liaison, a euphemism for MI6, suggested in March 2003 that
although such intelligence was inadmissible as evidence in a UK court,
it could still be received and acted upon by the British government. The
government's attitude was spelt out to the Intelligence and Security
Committee of MPs and peers by foreign secretary Jack Straw who, while
acknowledging that torture was "completely unacceptable" and that
information obtained under torture is more likely to be embellished,
concluded, "you cannot ignore it if the price of ignoring it is 3,000
people dead" [a reference to the September 11 attacks].

One former ambassador told us, "This was new ground for the FCO. As long
as we didn't do it, we're OK. But by taking advantage of this
intelligence, we're encouraging the use of torture and, in my opinion,
are in contravention of the UN Convention Against Torture. What worried
me most was that information obtained under torture, given credence by
some gung-ho Whitehall warrior, could be used to keep another poor soul
locked up without trial or charge."

Although the true extent of the US extra-legal network is only now
becoming apparent, people began to disappear as early as 2001 when the
US asked its allies in Europe and the Middle East to examine their
refugee communities in search of possible terror cells, such as that run
by Mohammed Atta in Hamburg which had planned and executed the September
11 attacks. Among the first to vanish was Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian
asylum seeker who had been living in Sweden with his wife and children
for three years. Hanan, Agiza's wife, told us how on December 18 2001
her husband failed to return home from his language class.

"The phone rang at 5pm. It was Ahmed. He said he'd been arrested and
then the line went dead. The next day our lawyer told me that Ahmed was
being sent back to Egypt. It would be better if he was dead." Agiza and
his family had fled Egypt in 1991, after years of persecution, and in
absentia he had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court.
Hanan said, "I called my mother-in-law in Egypt. Finally, in April, she
was allowed to see Ahmed in Mazrah Torah prison, in Cairo, when he
revealed what had happened."

On December 18 2001, Agiza and a second Egyptian refugee, Mohammed
Al-Zery, had been arrested by Swedish intelligence acting upon a request
from the US. They were driven, shackled and blindfolded, to Stockholm's
Bromma airport, where they were cuffed and cut from their clothes.
Suppositories were inserted into both men's anuses, they were wrapped in
plastic nappies, dressed in jumpsuits and handed over to an American
aircrew who flew them out of Sweden on a private executive jet.

Agiza and Al-Zery landed in Cairo at 3am the next morning and were taken
to the state security investigation office, where they were held in
solitary confinement in underground cells. Mohammed Zarai, former
director of the Cairo-based Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of
Prisoners, told us that Agiza was repeatedly electrocuted, hung upside
down, whipped with an electrical flex and hospitalised after being made
to lick his cell floor clean. Hanan, who was granted asylum in Sweden in
2004, said, "I can't sleep at night without expecting someone to knock
on the door and send us away on a plane to a place that scares me more
than anything else. What can Ahmed do?" Her husband is still
incarcerated in Cairo, while Al-Zery is under house arrest there. There
have been calls for an international independent investigation into the
roles of the Swedish, US and Egyptian authorities.

We were able to chart the toing and froing of the private executive jet
used at Bromma partly through the observations of plane-spotters posted
on the web and partly through a senior source in the Pakistan Inter
Services Intelligence agency (ISI). It was a Gulfstream V Turbo, tailfin
number N379P; its flight plans always began at an airstrip in
Smithfield, North Carolina, and ended in some of the world's hot spots.
It was owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, incorporated in
Delaware, a brass plaque company with nonexistent directors, hired by
American agents to revive an old CIA tactic from the 1970s, when agency
men had kidnapped South American criminals and flown them back to their
own countries to face trial so that justice could be rendered. Now
"rendering" was being used by the Bush administration to evade justice.

Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in the Middle East until 1997, told us
how it works. "We pick up a suspect or we arrange for one of our partner
countries to do it. Then the suspect is placed on civilian transport to
a third country where, let's make no bones about it, they use torture.
If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan. If you
want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the
US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy work."

The Agiza and Al-Zery cases were not the first in which the Gulfstream
was used. On October 23 2001, at 2.40am at Karachi airport, it picked up
Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni microbiologist who had been
arrested by Pakistan's ISI and was wanted in connection with the USS
Cole attack. On January 10 2002, the jet was used again, taking off from
Halim airport in Jakarta with a hooded and shackled Mohammed Saeed Iqbal
Madni on board, an Egyptian accused of being an accomplice of British
shoe bomber Richard Reid. Madni was flown to Cairo where, according to
the Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners, he died during

Since then, the jet has been used at least 72 times, including a flight
in June 2002 when it landed in Morocco to pick up German national
Mohammed Zamar, who was "rendered" to Syria, his country of origin,
before disappearing.

It was in December 2001 that the US began to commandeer foreign jails so
that its own interrogators could work on prisoners within them. Among
the first were Haripur and Kohat, no-frills prisons in the lawless North
West Frontier Province of Pakistan which now hold nearly as many
detainees as Guantánamo. In January, we attempted to visit Kohat jail,
but as we drove towards the security perimeter our vehicle was turned
back by ISI agents and we were escorted back to the nearby city of
Peshawar. We eventually located several former detainees, including
Mohammed, a university student who described how he was arrested and
then initially interrogated in one of many covert ISI holding centres
that are being jointly run with the CIA. Mohammed said, "I was
questioned for four weeks in a windowless room by plain-clothed US
agents. I didn't know if it was day or night. They said they could make
me disappear." One day he was bundled into a vehicle. "I arrived in
Kohat jail. There were 100 prisoners from all over the Middle East.
Later I was moved to Haripur where there were even more."

Adil, another detainee who was held for three years in Haripur after
illegally crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he had escaped
from the Taliban, says, "US interrogators came and went as they
pleased." Both Mohammed and Adil said they were often taken from the hot
cell and doused with ice-cold water. Adil says, "American women ordered
us to get undressed. They'd touch us and taunt us. They made us lie
naked on top of each other and simulate acts."

Mohammed and Adil were released without charge in November 2004 but,
according to legal depositions, there are still 400 prisoners detained
in the jails at the request of the US. Among them are many who it is
extremely unlikely took part in the Afghan war: they are too young or
too old to have been combatants. Some have taken legal action against
the Pakistani authorities for breach of human rights.

A military intelligence official in Washington told us that no one in
the US administration seemed concerned about the impact of the coercive
tactics practised by the growing global network on the quality of
intelligence obtained, although there was plenty of evidence it was
unreliable. On September 26 2002, Maher Arar, a 34-year-old Canadian
computer scientist, was arrested at New York's JFK airport as a result
of a paper-thin evidential chain. Syrian-born Arar told us, "I was
pulled aside by US immigration at 2pm. I told them I had a connecting
flight to Montreal where I had a job interview." However, Arar was
"rendered" in a private jet, via Washington, Portland and Rome, landing
in Amman, Jordan, where he was held at what a Jordanian source described
as a US-run interrogation centre. From there, he was handed over to
Syria, the country he had left as a 17-year-old boy. He says he spent
the next 12 months being tortured and in solitary confinement, unaware
that someone he barely knew had named him as a terrorist.

The chain of events that led to Arar's arrest, or kidnapping, began in
November 2001, when another Canadian, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, from
Montreal, was arrested at Damascus airport. He was accused of being a
terrorist and asked to identify his al-Qaida connections. By the time
he'd endured two years of torture, El-Maati had reeled off the names of
everyone he knew in Montreal, including Abdullah Almalki, an electrical
engineer. Almalki was arrested as he flew into Damascus airport to join
his parents on holiday in May 2002, and would spend the next two years
being tortured in a Syrian detention facility.

Almalki knew Arward Al-Bousha, also from Ottawa, who in July 2002, upon
arriving in Damascus to visit his dying father, was also arrested.
El-Maati, Almalki and Al-Bousha all knew Maher Arar by sight through
Muslim community events in Ottawa. After his release from jail in Syria,
uncharged, in January 2004, El-Maati admitted that he had erroneously
named Maher Arar as a terrorist to "stop the vicious torture". Arar, who
was eventually released in October 2003 after a Syrian court threw out a
coerced confession in which he said he had been trained by al-Qaida,
told us, "I am not a terrorist. I don't know anyone who is. But the
tolerant Muslim community I come from here in Canada has become
vitriolic and demoralised." Arar's case is now the subject of a judicial
inquiry in Canada, but since his release and that of Al-Bousha and
Almalki, another five men from Ottawa have been detained in Syria, Egypt
and Saudi Arabia.

Five days after the US supreme court ruled in July 2004 that federal
courts had jurisdiction over Guantánamo, Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old
computer programmer from Karachi, disappeared during a business trip to
Lahore. He was not taken to Guantánamo. His father Hayat told us that he
learned of his son's fate after a neighbour called on August 2 to say
that US newspapers were running a story about "the capture of a figure
from al-Qaida in Pakistan" who had led "the CIA to a rich lode of
information". An unnamed US intelligence official claimed Naeem Noor
Khan operated websites and email addresses for al-Qaida. The following
day Pakistan's information minister trumpeted the ISI's seizure of Naeem
Noor Khan on behalf of the US on July 13. The prisoner had "confessed to
receiving 25 days of military training from an al-Qaida camp in June
1998". No corroborative evidence was offered.

Babar Awan, one of Pakistan's leading advocates, representing the
family, said he had learned from a contact in the Pakistani government
that Naeem Noor Khan was wanted by the US, having been named by one of a
group of Malaysian students who had been detained incommunicado and
threatened with torture in Pakistan in September 2003. Awan said, "The
student was subsequently freed uncharged and described how he was
threatened until he offered the names of anyone he had met in Pakistan.
There is no evidence against Naeem Noor Khan except for this coerced
statement, and even worse he has now vanished and so there is no prison
to petition for his release."

Khan had been swallowed up by a catch-all system that gathers up anyone
connected by even a thread to terror. Unable to distinguish its friends
from its enemies, the US suspects both.

Dawn broke on the festival of Eid and four US army vehicles gunned their
engines in preparation for a "hearts and minds" operation in Khost city,
Afghanistan. A roll call of marines, each with their blood group
scrawled on their boots, was ticked off and we were added to the muster.
The convoy hurtled towards the city. Men and boys began to run
alongside. First a handful and then a dozen. The crowd was heading for a
vast prayer ground, and soon there were thousands of devotees in brand
newEid caps and starched shalwas marching out to pray. The US Humvees
pulled over. The armoured personnel carriers, too. A dozen US marines
stepped down, eyes obscured by goggles, faces by balaclavas.

They fell into formation and stomped into the crowd while a group of
Afghan police looked on incredulously. "Keep tight. Keep tight. Keep
looking all around us," a US marines captain shouted. More than 10,000
Pashtun men were now on their knees praying as a line of khaki pushed
between them.

An egg flew. Then another. "One more, sir, and the guy who did it is
going down," a young sergeant mumbled, as the disturbed crowd rose to
its feet. Bearded men with Kalashnikovs emerged from behind a stone wall
and edged towards us, cutting off our path. The line of khaki began to
panic, and jostled the children. "Back away, back away now," shouted the
sergeant. Suddenly an armoured personnel carrier roared to meet us.
"Jump up, people," the captain shouted, and the convoy sped back to Camp

And perhaps this event above all others - of a nervous phalanx of US
marines forcing its way across a prayer ground on one of the holiest,
most joyous days in the Islamic calendar, an itching trigger away from a
Somalian-style dogfight of their own making - is the one that
encapsulates everything that has gone wrong with the global war against
terror. The US army came to Afghanistan as liberators and now are feared
as governors, judges and jailers. How many US marines know what James
Madison, an architect of the US constitution, wrote in 1788? Reflecting
on the War of Independence in which Americans were arbitrarily arrested
and detained without trial by British forces, Madison concluded that the
"accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in
the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny"

The Freedom Archives
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(415) 863-9977
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