Wednesday, December 22, 2004

New Papers Suggest Detainee Abuse Was Widespread

The Bush administration is facing a wave of new allegations that the abuse of foreign detainees in U.S. military custody was more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained.

New documents released yesterday detail a series of probes by Army criminal investigators into multiple cases of threatened executions of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers, as well as of thefts of currency and other private property, physical assaults, and deadly shootings of detainees at detention camps in Iraq.

In many of the newly disclosed cases, Army commanders chose noncriminal punishments for those involved in the abuse, or the investigations were so flawed that prosecutions could not go forward, the documents show. Human rights groups said yesterday that, as a result, the penalties imposed were too light to suit the offenses.

The complaints arose from several thousand new pages of internal reports, investigations and e-mails from different agencies, which, with other documents released in the past two weeks, paint a finer-grained picture of military abuse and criminal behavior at prisons in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan than previously available.

The documents disclosed by a coalition of groups that had sued the government to obtain them make it clear that both regular and Special Forces soldiers took part in the abuse, and that the misconduct included shocking detainees with electric guns, shackling them without food and water, and wrapping a detainee in an Israeli flag.

The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon's past insistence -- arising out of the summertime scandal surrounding the mistreatment at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison -- that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at that prison, and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.

After the latest revelations, including the disclosures that officials in other federal agencies had objected to these actions by soldiers -- to the point of urging, in some cases, war crimes prosecutions -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded yesterday with a promise that President Bush expects a full investigation and corrective actions "to make sure that abuse does not occur again."

The details of the abuse appeared to catch some administration officials by surprise, although five agencies for weeks have been culling releasable records from their files, under an agreement worked out by U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. He was responding to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by five independent groups seeking anything pertinent to detainee deaths, abuse and transfers to other countries since Sept. 11, 2001.

McClellan said that he did not know whether the White House was informed about the incidents detailed in the documents released on Monday. These included the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the impersonation of FBI agents by military interrogators -- two of many practices that provoked concern among FBI agents stationed there.

"In terms of specifics, this information is becoming public, so we're becoming aware of more information as it becomes public, as you are," McClellan said. He also said that he did not know whether FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has notified the Defense Department about his concerns but that the Pentagon takes abuse allegations "very seriously."

Amrit Singh -- a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the four groups that sued to obtain the documents -- said that she thinks the disclosure requirement will eventually encompass hundreds of thousands of pages of internal administration documents, although only 9,000 pages have been released so far. Yesterday, the judge told the CIA that it could not delay making its own disclosures until an internal probe of the abuse is completed, Singh said.

"What the documents show so far was that the abuse was widespread and systemic, that it was the result of decisions taken by high-ranking officials, and that the abuse took place within a culture of secrecy and neglect," Singh said.

Col. Joseph Curtin, the Army's top spokesman, urged a different view of the documents released yesterday, all drawn from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. In detailing internal probes of 46 cases of misconduct, they show "that the Army does take seriously and investigates any allegation of detainee abuse," he said.

The new documents include several incidents of threatened executions of teenage and adult Iraqi detainees. In one instance, a soldier in a unit that lacked any training in interrogation -- but was nonetheless assigned to process and question detainees -- acknowledged forcing two men to their knees, placing bullets in their mouths, ordering them to close their eyes, and telling them they would be shot unless they answered questions about a grenade incident. He then took the bullets, and a colleague pretended to load them in the chamber of his M-16 rifle.

The documents indicate that the perpetrator, who was investigated on charges of assault and a "law of war violation," was given a nonjudicial punishment by his commander. Threatening detainees with physical harm to compel their testimony is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. In a second case, Army investigators concluded that a sergeant committed offenses including assault, dereliction of duty and cruelty when he conducted "a mock execution of an Iraqi teenager" in front of the boy's father and brother, who were suspected of looting an ammunition factory. Investigators also found that the actions were condoned by a lieutenant who conspired with the sergeant.

An investigative report also details an incident two days earlier, in which the lieutenant ordered a suspected looter to kneel, pointed a 9mm pistol at his head and then pulled the gun away just as he fired a shot. The outcome of both cases is unclear from the records released yesterday.

The documents also divulge a probe of the beatings of three mosque security guards in Baghdad in September 2003. After being arrested and cuffed during a search, the three Iraqis were kicked, stomped and dragged by a group of U.S. soldiers. Five soldiers were given reprimands and reductions in rank after being found guilty of maltreatment of prisoners, assault and other charges, the records show.

In another Baghdad case, a U.S. soldier was accused of trying to force an Iraqi civilian to hold a gun as a justification for killing him. The soldier punched the civilian in the face, held an M-16 rifle to his head and flicked the safety off to threaten him, according to the accounts of 19 witnesses. Another soldier eventually stepped in to protect the civilian, who had been hired by the U.S. Army to guard the Museum of Iraqi Military History, the records show.

Other documents describe the death in 2003 of detainee Abdul Kareem Abdureda Lafta, 44, in a U.S. Army jail in Mosul. He "appeared to be in good health" when taken into custody, and he quickly gained the attention of MPs by continually trying to remove the hood placed on his head and talking when guards told him to be silent, the documents say. One night, Lafta was put to bed with his hands tied behind him. Even so, one guard said he spent much of the night "constantly moving around on the ground" in his cell. In the morning, he was found dead.

A doctor who examined the body told investigators "he did not know what killed him." Another Army document says he was found to have a small laceration on his head. The investigators said "there is no documentation . . . explaining the lack of an autopsy."

In another case, Army investigators found probable cause to court-martial a soldier for shooting to death an Iraqi detainee, Obede Hethere Radad, without warning. But he was punished administratively and discharged.

Khalid Odah, the father of one Guantanamo detainee, said in a telephone interview from Kuwait yesterday that the new revelations make him worry even more about the fate of his son, Fawzi, who was detained by U.S. forces three years ago. "For a very long time, every day, we heard such news but nobody believed us," said Odah, head of the Kuwaiti Family Committee, a group of relatives of Guantanamo detainees. "Now it is coming from inside the government, from the FBI and others. . . . It is very frightening to my family and to other families of Kuwaiti detainees."

U.S. military officials have alleged in legal proceedings that Fawzi Odah is an admitted member of al Qaeda and had connections to the Taliban militia in Afghanistan. Khalid Odah says his son is innocent.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Attack on U.S. Base in Iraq Leaves 20 Dead

BAGHDAD, Iraq - An explosion tore through a soft-sided mess tent where U.S. soldiers were eating lunch Tuesday at a military base near the northern city of Mosul, blowing a hole in the ceiling and leaving the floor littered with trays of food and puddles of blood. Officials said at least 20 people were killed in one of the most devastating attacks against Americans in Iraq since the start of the war.

A spokesman for U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad said 19 of the dead were American soldiers, which would make it the deadliest single strike against U.S. troops in this country. However, a military spokesman in Mosul said 14 U.S. troops died in the blast, which came just four days before Christmas.

Inside the tent, U.S. soldiers reacted quickly. With people screaming and thick smoke billowing, soldiers turned their lunch tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot, said Jeremy Redmon, a reporter for the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch embedded with the troops in Mosul.

A radical Sunni Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for the attack, which officials said wounded about 60 people — the latest in a week of deadly strikes across Iraq that highlighted the unwavering power of the insurgents in the run-up to the Jan. 30 national elections..

A U.S. military official said authorities believe the damage was caused by at least one large-caliber artillery round or rocket. Another official said it was possible the explosive had been planted.

Portland (Maine) Press Herald photographer Gregory Rec, who was sleeping about a quarter-mile from the mess hall when he was awakened by the loud explosion, said he rushed to the scene, where a soldier told him "he heard a whoosh, he looked up and saw a fireball halfway between the ceiling and the floor."

The blast at Forward Operating Base Marez came hours after British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Baghdad and spoke of a "battle between democracy and terror."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, responding to a question about how Iraqis will be able to safely get to some 9,000 polling places if U.S. troops can't secure their own bases, said there was "security and peace" in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, was relatively peaceful in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime last year. But insurgent attacks in the largely Sunni area have increased dramatically in the past year — particularly since the U.S.-led military offensive in November to retake Fallujah from militants.

Like most mess halls at U.S. bases in Iraq, the meal area at Base Marez is covered with a tent. Insurgents have fired mortars at the mess hall more than 30 times this year, Redmon said.

Mortar attacks on U.S. bases, particularly on the huge white tents that serve as dining halls, have been frequent in Iraq for more than a year. Just last month, for example, a mortar attack on a Mosul base killed two troops with Task Force Olympia, the reinforced brigade responsible for security in much of northern Iraq.

Bill Nemitz, a columnist with the Portland Press Herald who was embedded with the troops in Mosul, told CNN that he heard "a lot of discussion" about the vulnerability of the tent.

Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman for Task Force Olympia, acknowledged the tent's vulnerability and told CNN the military is building a new dining facility at the base — a concrete structure that Nemitz said was supposed to have been ready for Christmas.

"There is a level of vulnerability when you go in there and you don't feel like there's a ... hard roof over your head," Hastings told CNN.

Base Marez, also known as the al-Ghizlani military camp, is three miles south of Mosul and is used by both U.S. troops and the interim Iraqi government's security forces. It once was Mosul's civilian airport but is now a heavily fortified area surrounded by blast walls and barbed wire. Its two main gates are guarded by U.S. troops; Iraqi National Guard members man checkpoints outside to prevent cars from getting close without being searched.

Casualty reports fluctuated throughout the day, with military officials and others giving conflicting figures.

Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, spokesman for the Coalition Press Information Center, the military headquarters in Baghdad, said 19 U.S. troops were killed, along with three other soldiers of unknown nationality, and that 57 people were wounded. Hastings, however, said about 20 people died, including 14 American troops, and about 60 were injured.

"The number is very chaotic, we've had different numbers," Hastings said.

Halliburton Co., a Houston-based company whose subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root supplies food service and other support activities for U.S. troops in Mosul, said seven of its employees and subcontractors were killed in the blast. Their nationalities were not disclosed.

Earlier, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia, said U.S. military personnel, American and foreign nationals and Iraqi soldiers were among the dead. "It is indeed a very, very sad day," Ham said.

Redmon said the dead included two soldiers from the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion, which had just sat down to eat. The force knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats as a fireball enveloped the top of the tent and shrapnel sprayed into the area, Redmon said.

Scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters, while others wandered around in a daze and collapsed, he said.

"I can't hear! I can't hear!" one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her.

A huge hole was blown in the roof of the tent, and puddles of blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor, Redmon reported.

Near the front entrance, troops tended a soldier with a serious head wound, but within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag, he said. Three more bodies were in the parking lot.

"It was very hard to watch and very chaotic but at the same time what amazed me was that within 20 minutes the worst of the wounded, the ones who needed the most attention, were out of there. It was just a remarkable effort by all the soldiers involved. From what I could see they performed flawlessly."

In addition to the two soldiers in the Richmond unit, two soldiers from Maine National Guard's 133rd Engineer Battalion were killed and 12 were wounded, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Redmon and photographer Dean Hoffmeyer are embedded with the 276th Engineer Battalion, a Richmond, Va., National Guard unit that can trace its lineage to the First Virginia Regiment of Volunteers formed in 1652. George Washington and Patrick Henry were two of its early commanders. Henry created the unit's motto, "Liberty or Death."

The base is also used by members of the Stryker Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., a military official said.

The Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on the Internet. It said the attack was a "martyrdom operation" targeting a mess hall.

Ansar al-Sunna is believed to be a fundamentalist group that wants to turn Iraq into an Islamic state like Afghanistan's former Taliban regime. The Sunni group claimed responsibility for beheading 12 Nepalese hostages and other recent attacks in Mosul.

Before Tuesday, Mosul was the scene of the deadliest single incident for U.S. troops in Iraq. On Nov. 15, 2003, two Black Hawk helicopters collided over the city, killing 17 soldiers and injuring five. The crash occurred as the choppers maneuvered to avoid ground fire.

Another Iraq Casualty: Nearly 900 U.S. Kids Lost a Parent in War

The escalating toll of American dead in Iraq is causing another tragedy that cuts deeper. After studying casualty reports and obituaries and accounts in hometown newspapers, and also conducting family interviews, Scripps Howard News Service has identified nearly 900 U.S. children who have lost a parent in the war.

At least half are under the age of ten. More than 40 troops died without ever seeing their newly born children. At least 60 children lost parents last month.

Although precise comparable data is not available for other U.S. conflicts, military experts told Scripps reporters Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville that the number of American children left bereaved or made orphans by the Iraq war is unprecedented in scope.

It represents, as Scripps put it in a graphic, about 18 large school buses fully packed with kids.

"This is a new state of affairs we have to confront," said Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist and a Northwestern University professor. As much as we are concerned about veterans' programs, we now have to be concerned about orphan programs. This is the first time we have crossed this threshold."

Among the parents who died, according to Scripps, were six female soldiers who had borne a total of 10 children, which Hoffman and Rainville termed another historic first for females in the U.S. military.

This lengthy report was part of a package, distributed to papers and posted at the Scripps Howard Web site, that included a separate story on the deceased mothers and last letters home from soldiers to children.

One reason for the high rate of dead parents is the reliance by the U.S. military on reserves, who tend to be older and have more children.

Abu Ghraib Torture

just a funny video.. must watch ALL OF IT to fully appreciate it... =)

no doubt this guy was on CRANK or something. the argument against legalization...


Monday, December 20, 2004

Rumsfeld losing public's support

Fifty-two percent of respondents to a new poll think Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign amid recent criticism in Congress over his handling of the war in Iraq.

Thirty-six percent of respondents to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said Rumsfeld should not step down, and the remainder had no opinion. The margin of error for the question was 4.5 percentage points among the 1,002 Americans surveyed by telephone between Friday and Sunday.

The defense secretary was recently chided for telling U.S. soldiers headed for Iraq that "you go to war with the Army you have ... not the Army you might want or wish you had."

In addition, Rumsfeld's wartime performance has been criticized by many Democratic and some Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona.

Despite the criticism, President Bush strongly came out in support of his Pentagon chief during a news conference Monday.

The secretary's approval rating has fallen from 71 percent in April 2003 at the height of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to 41 percent in the new survey.

As for Bush, 49 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the president is doing. That number is down from his November approval rating of 55 percent. Bush is the first incumbent president to have an approval rating below 50 percent one month after winning re-election. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Although some groups have questioned the validity of voting in Ohio and other states, a large majority -- 77 percent -- of poll respondents indicated they thought the overall presidential election was fair. Nineteen percent said they thought incidents of fraud aided Bush's re-election.

Iraq is scheduled to hold elections for a transitional national assembly January 30, though with violence continuing in the country, some Iraqi officials and political figures have suggested delaying the voting until security is improved.

The poll suggested that most Americans think the United States will have to maintain a troop presence in Iraq after the voting. Forty-one percent polled said the elections would not lead to a stable government, and 40 percent said even if a stable government were voted in, U.S. troops would have to stay. Only 15 percent believed U.S. troops could be withdrawn within a year of the election. This question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

When asked how the United States has handled Iraq during the past year, 47 percent said things have gotten worse. Twenty percent said the situation has improved and 32 percent said it is about the same. The differences fell outside the question's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Americans polled were much more optimistic about the future of the economy in the United States.

Asked how well the economy will be doing in December 2005, 60 percent of respondents said well, and 39 percent said poorly. About 53 percent of those surveyed said the economy was good now. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

One of the top items on the president's second-term agenda is making tax cuts passed during his first term permanent. Just over half -- 52 percent -- of respondents said Congress should side with the president, while 40 percent said the cuts should be rolled back. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

A large majority of respondents said the U.S. tax code needs to be fixed, though they varied when asked by how much. Although 11 percent said the system is fine, the 89 percent of those who did not broke down into those who said a complete overhaul is needed (24 percent), major changes are needed (35 percent) and only minor changes are needed (29 percent). The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, and answer percentages were rounded.

On another of Bush's hot-button issues, Social Security, the respondents were divided (48-48) on whether workers should be allowed to set aside some of their earnings in private stock or bond accounts. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

When broken down by age group, younger respondents indicated greater support for the concept. About 62 percent of those between 18 and 29 said they agreed with the idea, while only 35 percent of those surveyed in the 65 and older category concurred. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.