Rumsfeld defends treatment of Guantanamo detainees
By Sue Pleming
Monday January 21, 2:05 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday rejected criticism of U.S. treatment of detainees from Afghanistan being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said it was unfair to suggest such "hard core terrorists" were being treated inhumanely.
Responding to European criticism over U.S. handling of the detainees in open-air cells on the isolated U.S. Naval base in Cuba, Rumsfeld said there was no doubt in his mind the prisoners were being looked after well.
"Obviously anyone would be concerned if people were suggesting that treatment were not proper. The fact remains that treatment is proper. There is no doubt in my mind that it is humane and appropriate and consistent with the Geneva Convention for the most part," he told reporters.
On Sunday, Britain said it wanted an explanation from the United States about published photographs showing Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners kneeling and tightly manacled.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a statement that "prisoners regardless of their technical status, should be treated humanely and in accordance with customary international law." Three of the prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay said they are Britons.
Human rights groups have accused Washington of treating the prisoners inhumanely after they were brought from Afghanistan aboard U.S. military planes shackled and blindfolded.
Rumsfeld, who was not asked specifically about Straw's statement or the photographs, said people who criticized the U.S. handling of the detainees clearly were not knowledgeable on the subject.
"I think that the people who have been the most shrill on the subject, once they have more knowledge of the subject, will stop being so shrill," said Rumsfeld, speaking after an interview with NBC's "Meet The Press" program.
Rumsfeld said people should remember that the detainees were extremely dangerous. "These are very tough, hard-core, well-trained terrorists," he said.
The U.S. military has transferred at least 110 prisoners to Guantanamo Bay since last week and several hundred more are being held in Afghanistan.
They were captured during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban rulers who protected Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born dissident whose al Qaeda network is accused of being behind the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
In a separate interview with CNN's "Late Edition," Attorney General John Ashcroft also rejected criticism about the detainees, calling them violent individuals who had to be restrained for the safety of their guards.
"They are terrorists, They are uniquely dangerous. They are individuals who have been participants in the war crimes setting," said Ashcroft.
The United States has not classified its captives as prisoners of war, a label which carries specific rights under the Geneva Convention. Both the Red Cross and U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson have said they consider the captives to be prisoners of war.
FOUGHT LIKE SOLDIERS
Ashcroft said unlike prisoners of war, these men had not fought like soldiers and did not wear uniforms.
"This is part of the conspiracy where innocent women and children -- innocent Americans -- were killed not as an act of conventional war but in the context of what I consider to be war criminality," he said.
A four-person team from the International Committee of the Red Cross has been at the U.S. base in Cuba since Thursday to inspect the prison camp and conduct interviews with detainees.
Called Camp X-Ray, the prisoners are being held in 6-foot by 8 foot (2 metre by 2.6 metre) enclosures with roofs and floors but only chain-link walls until more permanent structures are built.
Giving details of their living conditions, Rumsfeld said prisoners were getting excellent medical care and receiving "culturally appropriate food" three times a day.
"They are being allowed to practice their religion, which is not something that they encouraged on the part of others. They are clothed cleanly and they are dry and safe," he said.
To accuse the young American guards watching over the detainees of being abusive to their captives was unfair, said Rumsfeld.
"They are fine young people and they are doing a wonderful job and it is not fair or appropriate to suggest that the conduct they are engaged in in detaining those prisoners is anything other than humane and appropriate," he said."
"I'm darned proud of those folks down there for the fine job they are doing," he added.
Monday January 21, 12:18 AM AFP
Two US Marines were killed and five injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan as representatives of more than 50 countries gathered in Tokyo to finance the rebuilding of the shattered nation.
The US Marine CH-53-E helicopter, part of a team of two re-supplying US units, crashed at 8:00 a.m. (0330 GMT), about 60 kilometres (38 miles) south of Bagram, US Marine Captain Tom Bryant told reporters.
"There were seven marines on board, two were killed and five were injured," he said at Bagram air base, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Kabul.
"All five are stable, but two are in a critical condition, two in a serious condition and one has minor injuries," he said.
The injured were evacuated to the US medical facility at Bagram before being relocated to another unspecified US base.
A US Marine spokesman in Kabul, Corporal Matthew Roberson, said the cause of the crash was not immediately clear, although reports said there was no initial indication the helicopter was fired upon.
The crash was the second major air accident for US forces in the region this month after a US Marine KC-130 air refueling aircraft crashed into a mountain in southwestern Pakistan, killing all seven on board on January 9.
As the military campaign in Afghanistan winds down, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai arrived in Tokyo from Saudi Arabia Sunday for a crucial donor's conference to bankroll the reconstruction of the shattered nation.
Karzai said he would press his country's case for generous help.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia -- one of only three states to recognise Afghanistan's former Taliban regime -- was Karzai's first foreign destination since being chosen to head the interim government on December 22.
In Riyadh, Karzai won an initial 20 million dollars after seeking funds from Saudi Arabia's defacto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.
"Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has ordered emergency aid with a first installment of 20 million dollars," Karzai told the daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
Karzai will be using the same diplomatic skills in Tokyo at the donors conference starting Monday.
Estimates for the country's needs in the first year run to about 1.7 billion dollars. Over a decade the number rises to 15 billion, according to international lending agencies and the United Nations.
The conference's co-chair, former UN high commissioner for refugees Sadako Ogata, believes the meeting could raise nearly five billion dollars for Afghanistan to cover the next 30 months.
US Secretary of State of State Colin Powell -- who pledged US support in Kabul Thursday -- and other top officials Sunday finalized the US contribution. They remained silent on the amount other than repeating the promise it would be "substantial".
Jim Kolbe, chairman of the US Congressional committee which controls foreign aid, earlier estimated the US contribution at about 1.5 billion dollars over a decade.
The effects of drought and prolonged war, including the three month-old US-led campaign to unseat the Taliban regime and root out September 11 suspect Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation have reduced some Afghanis to eating grass. Some have not had access to medical care for more than a decade.
Sunday January 20, 10:59 PM
TOKYO (Reuters) - Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, appealed to the world on Sunday for help in getting his devastated country back on its feet after two decades of strife and disaster that created a breeding ground for terrorism.
Officials from more than 60 governments and international organisations will meet in Tokyo on Monday and Tuesday to promise money for a reconstruction process that aid experts estimate will take $15 billion over a decade, much of it in the initial stage.
"One thing I would like to say with certainty, with clarity, that is -- we need your help," Karzai, clad in his trademark green traditional Afghan robe, said at a reception.
"We need your help to bring a new life for those millions of children and women and wounded and disabled victimised by years of trauma and terrorism," said the Pashtun tribal leader who took office last month after the U.S.-led war toppled the Taliban.
"Help us begin a new life, help us stand again on our feet to make a country that will pursue its own values and traditions and will also contribute to a world community in terms of providing a better peace and work against terrorism," Karzai said.
Participants agree that a significant show of financial support for Afghanistan will be key to ensuring the country does not again breed radical movements such as the Taliban and Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Karzai, on his first international tour since he took office in December, needs assurances that the world won't turn its back on Afghanistan now that the war against the Taliban has been won.
The task is staggering in a country where life expectancy is 44 years, one in four children dies before age five, and only three in 100 girls are enrolled in primary school.
"I hope and wish to see my country rebuilt before I die," said a 43-year-old Afghan doctor attending a conference of non-government organisations. "I have seen my country destroyed. I wish and I hope I can see my country rebuilt," he said.
PLEDGES AND PRIORITIES
Donors, for their part, want proof that Kabul has a viable plan to establish a democracy, tackle the drug trade, and promote equality for women, harshly oppressed under the Taliban rule.
"This is something that we want to monitor on a constant basis," said a senior official from one of the four co-chairs of the conference. The four co-chairs are Japan, the European Union, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The conference co-hosts are expected to share most of the bill in broad equal measure.
"I'm hoping very much that I will go back to my country and my people with my hands full," Karzai as he arrived in Tokyo.
The United Nations, World Bank and Asian Development Bank have estimated reconstruction will require $15 billion over a decade with $5 billion needed in the critical first 30 months and $10 billion in the first five years.
"I think we'll do pretty well on the first year number and against the two-and-a-half year and five year numbers, there will be some impressive commitments too," U.N. senior official Mark Malloch Brown told a briefing on Sunday.
A senior U.S. State Department official said the will was there to make the process a success.
"I think everybody's feeling good at this point that we are going to get the kind of contributions that we need to start this process of rebuilding Afghanistan, that there is a real commitment that is going to be sustained," the official said.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, in the first major specific long-term pledge for the programme, said in a TV interview that Germany would be prepared to provide 320 million euros ($282 million) to Afghanistan over four years.
German aid would focus on rebuilding schools, the legal system and improving the status of women, Wieczorek-Zeul said.
Ensuring speedy aid for Karzai's month-old administration is critical for its survival.
"The needs are staggering, enormous and urgent," U.N. Special envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi told a news briefing.
Millions of refugees must be resettled, schools reopened and landmines removed, roads and bridges rebuilt and the farming sector revived. Establishing peace in a land still plagued by feuding warlords and roving gangs of bandits is also a priority.
HOW AND WHEN
Donors agree that rebuilding Afghanistan matters, but have been quibbling over time-frames for pledges and how to channel the aid. Japan is eyeing a pledge of $500 million for the first two-and-a-half years, while EU officials have spoken of spending $500 million annually over a five-year span.
A Saudi newspaper quoted Karzai as saying that Saudi Arabia -- a former ally of the toppled Taliban -- had pledged $20 million in urgent aid as a first instalment.
Many in the United States feel America has already done its bit by fighting the war, and Washington may pledge only for the first year. Diplomats said the sum might be around $300 million.
Big donors, seeking to ensure their taxpayers know where the money goes, want to give the money directly to pet projects.
The World Bank has strongly recommended that aid money be funnelled though an umbrella trust fund for ease of coordination.
But Japan, the United States and Saudi Arabia have said they would be providing aid through bilateral delivery channels, while the EU has said some of its money would be spent bilaterally and some would be turned over to a fund to be run by the World Bank.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill also arrived on Sunday for the conference. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived on Saturday
Sunday January 20, 4:52 PM AFP
A conference of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) got underway to finalise a report of priorities for Afghanistan on the eve of a major international conference aimed at raising funds to rebuild the war-ravaged country.
About 30 groups opened the talks at a central Tokyo hotel, the same venue as the ministerial conference which opens Monday, exploring ways to cooperate with donor nations and the interim Afghan government.
"I would like to explore how best the international community can help Afghan people to help themselves," Ishaq Nadiri, co-chair of the NGO meeting and a professor at New York University, said as the meeting opened.
Afghan NGO delegates are reporting on how NGOs are interacting with the interim authority and the role of women, other presentations include aid coordination in Afghanistan.
"The priority for Afghan people are houses, shelter, food, health education and technical support," said Roohullah Roohlan Shabon, deputy country president of International Medical Corps, an American organisation based in Los Angeles and the second biggest NGO active in Afghanistan.
"People are dying of starvation, not having an education, women have been deprived of basic rights for years. Nothing has been done in Afghanistan until now," he told AFP.
A report from the NGO meeting will be submitted to the two-day ministerial meeting that aims to help Afghanistan lift itself out of the rubble of war.
Pledges at the major donor conference were likely to be close but fall short of the estimates of short-to-medium-term needs, the head of the UN Development Programme said here Sunday.
"I actually think it's going to be very successful -- more so than people expect," said UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown of the outcome of the crucial donors' conference.
"If we get close, if we're within reach of the final total, then it's a very good outcome."
Total aid to be pledged at the meeting would be two to three billion dollars, reports have claimed, but Malloch Brown said there several timeframes to consider.
Estimates for the mammoth task from three lending agencies, including the World Bank, start at 15 billion dollars over 10 years.
The donor conference co-hosted by the European Union, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, was the single most important international gathering on Afghan economic issues and reconstruction, said Omar Samad, foreign ministry spokesman in the Afghan interim government.
"This is going to open the way for the rebuilding of a shattered country and above all, it's going to give hope to the Afghan people and help them realise the world finally did hear their voice and does care," Samad told reporters on the margins of a non-governmental conference on Afghan reconstruction.
By Jason Szep
Sunday January 20, 9:08 AM AFP
Printed by rival warlords, often on a whim, the afghani -- or at least the various versions now in circulation -- could be replaced by the U.S. dollar to help stabilise the Afghan economy, a senior Asian Development Bank official said on Saturday.
"Various warlords can print money. It needs to be controlled," said Yoshihiro Iwasaki, director general in the South Asia department at the Manila-based multilateral institution that channels aid into Asia's poorest countries.
Iwasaki was speaking ahead of a meeting in Tokyo where donors from nearly 60 countries and institutions including the ADB will pledge billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan.
Key to the reconstruction programme will be the introduction of a viable currency.
Even before U.S. bombs started to fall on Afghanistan, years of fighting had ravaged the currency, along with the economy.
Warlords in different parts of the rugged country have been printing afghanis at will, forming a complex system where the currency has different values in different parts of the country.
The first step for the interim government will be to stop issuing afghanis, Iwasaki told Reuters in an interview.
"They have to implement that," he said.
The next step would be to introduce a currency, such as the U.S. dollar, that is convertible in world markets.
"There are now effectively four or five currencies," Iwasaki said. "Maybe in the time being we have to introduce the U.S. dollar or some convertible currency.
"Let's assume the dollar will be opted by the government."
Under this proposal, for the next three to four years, maybe less, authorities would monitor the value of the afghani against the dollar in various parts of the country as the government built up a central bank and formed macro-economic policy.
At this time, four or five afghani currencies would effectively generate different exchange rates against the dollar.
If that worked and the economy stabilised, the central bank would then absorb the afghani currencies, retire the U.S. dollar as the base currency, and issue a new Afghan currency.
"It could take three to four years perhaps. It might be quicker. It depends on how quickly the economy recovers."
In the street markets of Kabul, trading in the afghani has been turbulent since September 11 when it jumped to nearly to 80,000 against the dollar. It hit 11,000 after the Taliban abandoned Kabul, and traded around 30,000 currently.
The Afghanistan that Northern Alliance troops seized from the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban in November was a failed state.
A priority for the ADB, World Bank and United Nations will be to rebuild institutions with the money pledged at the Tokyo conference on Monday and Tuesday.
Iwasaki said a trust fund would be a key tool for paying the running costs of government.
He said the ADB, World Bank, United Nations and Islamic Development Bank would form an Implementation Group to distribute aid, including the funds in the trust and money pledged by governments on a bilateral basis.
"This is the mechanism to ensure the coordination of the funds," he said.
"Most of the recurring costs of the government will be funded through the trust fund."
The drought-devastated farms, desperate for irrigation, are seen as a key area of development, while long-dormant natural gas fields in the north will need to be overhauled.
The task of rebuilding Afghanistan was so enormous there has never been anything like it, he said.
"I don't think there is a single model that can be applied without any modification."
Sunday January 20, 9:08 AM
TOKYO (Reuters) - Donor countries will pledge billions of dollars next week to begin rebuilding Afghanistan but will set conditions that clash with the priorities of the interim administration in Kabul, diplomats say.
Representatives from nearly 60 governments and international organisations will meet in Tokyo on Monday and Tuesday determined to ensure that, by paying for the building blocks of a modern society, Afghanistan will never again be the breeding ground for radical movements such as the Taliban and the al Qaeda network of Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden.
The bill has been tentatively estimated by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the Asian Development Bank at $10.2 billion over five years, of which $4.9 billion would be needed during the coming 30 months.
Securing that total should pose no problem.
After the bloody U.S.-led war to topple the Taliban and neuter al Qaeda, the international community has vowed to help Afghanistan to stand on its own feet.
But diplomats said they expected hard bargaining over the mechanisms for disbursing the aid and, more significantly, the strings that should be attached to it.
"We shouldn't forget that one can't just throw money at Afghanistan. There are a number of conditions that have to be fulfilled," said a European diplomat.
A draft of the conclusions of the meeting says Hamid Karzai's administration has five reconstruction priorities -- paying government salaries and establishing a functioning bureaucracy; education, with a need to reopen schools this spring; health and sanitation; infrastructure, particularly roads; and reconstruction of the economy, including the currency system.
"Sustainable economic development and the effective use of donor funding urgently requires that sound currency arrangements, as well as strong and transparent budgetary and treasury systems, are put in place," the draft, obtained by Reuters, says.
In a country reduced to dust and debris after nearly a quarter-century of war and three years of drought, diplomats said it was hard to disagree with the wish list.
But the European diplomat said Kabul's new rulers also needed to be sensitive to the anger felt in donor countries about the oppression of women under the toppled Taliban regime as well as the fact that Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the heroin consumed in Europe.
"To pacify our taxpayers we need a commitment that gender equality is taken seriously, and we are definitely also seeking a commitment that they won't go and cultivate poppy seeds," he said. "All these things will have to be discussed."
The four co-hosts of the conference -- Japan, the United States, the European Union and Saudi Arabia -- are expected to broadly share the bulk of the financial burden.
Japan, which government sources say is likely to pledge as much as $500 million over the next two-and-a-half years, on Friday approved the release of $49 million in emergency aid agreed earlier mainly for refugees and children.
"Our government plans to provide appropriate support for the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
Other governments have uttered similar soothing words, but diplomats said there were still disagreements over how to channel the aid.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn among others has said there is a compelling case for the money to be paid into a trust fund to coordinate disbursements and avoid duplication of effort.
But many big donors in particular, seeking to reap political credit for the aid, want to give the money directly to their pet projects. "It is a hot issue, the trust fund issue, and there seem to be some high feelings on it," Wolfensohn told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author who is an authority on Afghanistan, said the issue was far from academic: unless the money was centralised, countries jostling for influence in Afghanistan would continue to channel cash to whichever regional warlords they were backing.
"This is very important for the future governance of Afghanistan," Rashid said from Islamabad.
Diplomats said that, in the end, the big donors were likely to get their way although the World Bank would set up a fund to administer contributions from smaller states.
"The predominant view will be that usual channels will be used as a matter of priority but a special fund will be set up as an auxiliary channel," a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
Monday January 21, 12:20 AM AFP
Any radical group in Singapore that tries to polarise society or turn a community against state or national interests must be flushed out, said Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng.
He stressed this when asked by the media to comment on the need for ministers and Malay Muslim leaders to rebut recent statements made by the Fateha group.
Fateha had blamed the government for the suspected terrorism activities of the 15 men arrested under the Internal Security Act.
Mr Wong's responses were made a grassroots function in Bishan-Toa Payoh on Sunday.
Even though Fateha.dot com's reach in cyberspace may be limited, Mr Wong warned that some may believe its views after a while.
But it is clearly "nonsense", he said, for Fateha to say it was the government's support of American action against terrorism which caused a small group of Singaporeans to be involved in terrorism related activities here.
The minister said: "So it is necessary to bring them out so that people know what sort of characters these fringe groups really are. Is it really a big group or is it a minority and who are the leaders of this group? People must understand the agenda and motive of this group then our society can be better protected from the views of people like them".
The minister was also asked whether Fateha's members would be investigated under the ISA for its statements.
He replied: "Well that is a matter to be decided later. I'm not saying that will be the case but we will watch this group carefully and if action is needed we will take it".
The Minister also rebutted a view in some foreign media that Singapore only cracked down on the suspected terrorists because of information from the US.
Mr Wong said: "We have to make it clear that we have our own national interests to defend and we have to protect our society from any acts of terror...You don't need to have a bomb to explode first before you say let's catch them. I think to wait for a bomb to explode and people die as a result of it and then we act, people would say that the government has not taken on its responsibilities fully. It is just a dereliction of duties. We cannot afford to do that."
The Home Affairs Minister pointed out that the government has to deal with anyone who tries to cause mischief, harm or death in Singapore and harm the interests of Singapore.
Asked if the terrorist suspect arrested in the Philippines - one who has been linked to the ISA detainees here - would be extradited, Mr Wong said he would be dealt with according to Philippine laws.
As for the Singaporean arrested in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance, efforts are underway to extradite him.
Mr Wong also said the White Paper on the ISA arrests is unlikely to be ready for Parliamentary sittings in March.
That is because the ISA Advisory Board has yet to meet and if the detainees wish to make representations, they need time to do so.
The Board must meet within three months of last December's arrests.
Sunday January 20, 1:02 PM AFP
Secretary of State of State Colin Powell and other top officials finalized the US contribution to Afghan reconstruction as they prepared for an international donors conference aimed at cementing stability in the war-torn nation.
While Powell, US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Andrew Natsios, the head of the US Agency for International Development, and their aides poured over the numbers, officials remained resolutely silent on the amount they would offer.
"It will be significant and substantial," a senior official travelling with Powell repeated several times when pressed by reporters late Saturday about the donation.
The actual amount will be announced by Powell in a speech to the opening of the conference on Monday, the official said.
Powell himself, in Kabul on Thursday, vowed "significant" US assistance to Afghanistan, telling interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai that President George W. Bush would not abandon the country after ridding it of the fundamentalist Taliban militia and alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Standing by Afghanistan is "emblazoned on the president's heart," Powell told Karzai, according to the senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Some 50 countries are attending the Tokyo conference and estimates for Afghanistan's needs in the first year run to about 1.7 billion dollars. Over 10 years the number rises to 15 billion, according to international lending agencies and the United Nations.
The US portion is expected to focus on agriculture, counter-narcotics, good governance programs, education and health, the senior official with Powell said.
"These are areas where the United States will be more active," the official said.
However, he said the United States, already the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, might not be the biggest contributor in Tokyo, stressing the enormous nearly 100 billion dollars Washington is spending on the military campaign that ousted the Taliban.
"We don't necessarily insist on being the leading donor," the official said.
But he declined to rule the possibility out and said it would depend in large part on what other countries were prepared to offer.
"It's inherent at these conferences that it is potluck, everyone shows up with their favorite dish, so we'll have to wait and see," the official said.
Ridding Afghanistan of extremism and drugs -- Afghanistan has been the main source of illicit opium in recent years -- are top US priorities, he added.
"If we leave a hole in Afghanistan, what we are going to get out of that hole is more terrorism and more drugs," the official said.
Karzai last week banned the cultivation of opium poppies, but it will take a major effort to eliminate it as Afghanistan was the source of 70 percent of the world's opium production in 2000 and as much as 90 percent of the heroin found in European drug markets.
The official said Washington had been pressing other governments to give generously at the conference, pointing out the interest all countries have in a stable Afghanistan.
"We've been beating the bushes on two things this week diplomatically," the official said, referring to the conference and the international search to find and release to Karzai's near bankrupt administration millions of dollars in frozen Afghan assets.
"Stability ... is important," he said. "It plays a critical strategic function to have a healthy, prosperous and stable Afghanistan."
Powell, who arrived in Japan after visiting Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, was to meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and EU external affairs commissioner Chris Patten later Sunday.
Kidnap Victim Let Go in Afghanistan
Saturday January 19 1:18 AM ET
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - An Alabama man who said he was kidnapped by a tribal warlord in Afghanistan (news - web sites) has been released and told his hometown newspaper Friday that he was burned with cigarettes while in captivity.
Clark Bowers said in a telephone interview from Pakistan that he could not elaborate on many details of his ordeal, but that he was freed after $5,000 in ransom was paid to the warlord.
He told The Birmingham News that his captors burned him with cigarettes and hot sticks and staged a mock execution while moving him to various locations.
``I have about 22 burns that were placed into my arms,'' he said from Karachi. ``It's a long and very complex story.''
In Birmingham, FBI (news - web sites) spokesman Craig Dahle said the agency had confirmed Bowers is in Karachi. ``We're still trying to hook up with him,'' Dahle said. ``That hopefully will happen in the near future.''
Bowers, 37, was on a privately arranged humanitarian mission to Afghanistan when he called his wife Jan. 9 and said he and his Afghan interpreter had been taken hostage.
According to his wife, Amanda, Bowers said his flight from Istanbul to Kabul landed safely but that he and the interpreter were abducted, blindfolded and driven for several hours.
His wife said he called again Monday and explained how a $25,000 ransom for him was to be paid.
Clark Bowers told the News his captors took ``more than a $1,000 from a bank off of one of my credit cards,'' He would not say who paid the rest of the money or how.
He said he wasn't sure where he was released but he flagged a taxi to Kandahar, then caught a flight to Pakistan and checked into a hotel.
A family friend, Karen Allen, said it was uncertain when Bowers might return home. Also, there was no information about the interpreter.
``I know you all have a lot of questions and they will be answered in good time,'' Amanda Bowers said. ``Now's not the time.''
Saturday January 19 9:40 AM ET
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - A famed U.S. Army paratrooper division took over the largest American military installation in Afghanistan on Saturday, taking command from Marines who were returning to their ships.
The handover was accomplished without a formal ceremony. The switch has been under way for a few days, with troops from the 101st Airborne Division relieving Marines from bunkers along the perimeter of the base established at Kandahar's airport.
Although the Marines are shifting nonessential personnel, they will ``retain the capacity for any missions that might pop up,'' said Marines spokesman 1st Lt. James Jarvis.
The base in the former heartland of the Islamic extremist Taliban regime remains tense more than a month after the Marines arrived.
Troops report frequent sightings of armed men outside the perimeter, and the base came under fire last week during the first flight of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners from a temporary detention facility to a high-security jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Earlier this week, a man claiming to have significant information about the Taliban showed up at the gate. He remained under interrogation Saturday, said Army spokesman Maj. Ignacio Perez, who declined to say if the man was being formally held or would be free to leave if he wished.
About 2,000 Marines were at the Kandahar base at the height of their deployment and military officials declined to say how many would remain as the Army takes over. Dispensing with base duties would free some Marines for quick deployment on other missions.
The United States raised the specter of renewed foreign meddling in Afghanistan on Friday, saying that Iran may be sending pro-Iranian Afghan fighters to destabilize the newly installed U.S.-backed government.
U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad stopped short of directly accusing Iran of interference but cited unspecified reports that Afghan fighters and money were being sent from Iran into the extremely volatile country to build opposition to Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
``All of those things would be regarded as interference,'' Khalilzad said in Kabul, the capital.
Earlier this month, President Bush (news - web sites) warned Iran against harboring al-Qaida fighters and trying to destabilize Afghanistan's new government. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected Bush's remarks as ``baseless.''
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Saturday that Iran has reinstated visa requirements for Arabs from Persian Gulf nations to keep out al-Qaida members.
Iran's U.N. ambassador, Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, said the measure was taken to ``remove the possibility of al-Qaida members' use of the Iranian soil to travel to other countries,'' the agency reported.
The United States is continuing to scour Afghanistan for clues to the whereabouts of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), the head of the network al-Qaida that the United States says was responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
``I honestly don't know where he is,'' said Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's commander, but vowed he would be found.
``The world is not a large enough place for him today,'' the general said Friday in the United States. ``He may hide today, he may hide tomorrow, but the world is not large enough a place for him to hide.''
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf told CNN that he believes bin Laden may have died because he couldn't get treatment for a kidney ailment. U.S. officials said they have no evidence bin Laden suffered from severe kidney problems or had died.
Franks also echoed Khalilzad's comments about Iran.
``There has been a perception among several of the leaders inside Afghanistan that Iran has in some cases not been terribly helpful,'' Franks told reporters.
U.S. forces are continuing to work against pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida resistance - about 10 of them at any given time, Franks said.
``We have found tanks, we have found armored personnel carriers. We have found thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition,'' Franks said.
Despite their common Islamic faith, Iran fiercely opposed the former Taliban leadership. Since the Taliban collapsed last month, Iran, Pakistan, India and other countries in the region have been competing for influence among the various Afghan factions.
On his first trip abroad since taking office Dec. 22, Karzai met with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd on Saturday, discussing Saudi diplomatic recognition for his post-Taliban government and financial aid, Afghan diplomats said.
Saudi Arabia, which was one of just three countries that recognized the Taliban regime before it severed ties in September, is expected to recognize the new Afghan government and appoint an ambassador soon, Afghan diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
In talks Saturday with Crown Prince Abdullah, Karzai discussed the issue of Saudi citizens held in Afghanistan and the possibility of repatriating them for trial or for debriefing, the diplomats said.
Saudi officials have demanded that Saudi citizens who have been captured or have surrendered in Afghanistan be handed over to Saudi authorities.
Many al-Qaida fighters have been captured by U.S. forces and their Afghan allies. A Saudi official said last week that a small number of Saudis were among detainees transferred to a U.S. military base in Cuba.
The talks also involved the level of Saudi financial aid in Afghanistan's reconstruction. Karzai is scheduled to travel to Japan for a conference of potential international donors this week.
Karzai, like the Taleban, is turning to the Saudis
Saudi Arabia has promised substantial aid to help rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan, Afghan officials told the BBC.
Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, who held meetings with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, was in the Gulf kingdom on his first foreign trip abroad since his appointment in December.
We expect Saudi Arabia, much as it helped Afghanistan in other times, to help the Afghan people rebuild their country
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah
He has now left for Tokyo for a high-profile international donors' conference on Afghanistan, that will be co-chaired by Saudi Arabia.
An Afghan spokesman told the BBC Pashto Service that Crown Prince Abdullah had promised $20m immediately, with further assistance to be announced at the Tokyo conference.
Saudi officials have not confirmed the amount, although the official Saudi Press Agency reported that King Fahd expressed Saudi Arabia's "constant support for the Afghan people".
Saudi Arabia was one of few countries that recognised the Taleban regime which was ousted by the US-led military campaign last year.
Mr Karzai began his visit on Friday by performing an Umra, or lesser pilgrimage, at the Islamic Holy Places in Mecca and attended a royal banquet given in his honour in the capital Riyadh on Saturday.
Afghan Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said Afghanistan was counting on the oil-rich Gulf state's support.
"We expect Saudi Arabia, much as it helped Afghanistan in other times, to help the Afghan people rebuild their country," he said.
Saudi Arabia will play a major role at the Tokyo conference as a co-chairman
"I think relations will be expanded in all aspects."
One immediate result of the visit is tipped to be the reopening of the Saudi embassy in Kabul.
Saudi Arabia froze ties with the Taleban in 1998 to protest against the presence in Afghanistan of the Saudi-born dissident, Osama bin Laden, and severed completely after the 11 September suicide attacks in the US, which Washington blamed on Bin Laden.
Afghanistan is looking for up to $30bn in international aid over the next 10 years for assistance in a variety of sectors, from health and education to removing mines.
After attending the donors' conference in Tokyo on 21-22 January, Mr Karzai is due to visit China.
Saturday January 19 2:50 PM ET
By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan (news - web sites) (AP) - After weeks of intense work to restore facilities destroyed by the Taliban, the local television station in northern Afghanistan's largest city is ready to go back on the air - if only there was electricity enough.
Two months after the Taliban were routed from Mazar-e-Sharif, ending the strict Islamic militia's rule here, the labors of the staff of Balkh Television show what can be accomplished through devotion and diligence, and how much remains to be done.
In many ways, the recovery has been swift. Music stores, forced to sell nothing but Islamic sermons under the Taliban, are stocked with cassettes of Afghan pop songs, posters of Indian starlets and DVDs of Indian and American movies.
Girls are back in school, trying to make up for the years they missed when female education was banned. On warm days, children run through courtyards flying kites made from old plastic bags, a pastime forbidden by the Taliban.
The transition from Taliban rule to a government run by ethnic Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum has been smoother than previous takeovers, marred by bitter violence.
But beneath the sheen of revival, severe problems remain.
The economy is in tatters. Under the Taliban, foreign investment disappeared and few government employees were paid.
Electricity, provided by neighboring Uzbekistan until the Taliban took over in 1998, has yet to be reactivated. The city gets by with the shaky output of a small power plant that services the hospital, hotels and a few other institutions considered vital.
``If the electricity came today, we would start broadcasting tonight,'' said Abdurab Jahid, Balkh Television's director.
The Taliban banned TV and wrecked the station's facilities when they took the city. Since it fell in November, Jahid's staff has scavenged for editing equipment and cameras, dug up hidden tapes of television serials, reformed their news team and inspected their generator.
But the station lies dormant.
``When the Taliban were here the situation was terrible. When they left everyone wanted to rebuild as quickly as possible,'' said Sayed Mohammad Alem Labib, president of Balkh University. ``But it is simply too short a period of time for us to heal.''
Some of the changes in Mazar have more to do with morale than with buildings and equipment.
Far more women are shopping in the bazaar or simply walking through the streets these days. Most are unaccompanied by male relatives - a violation of the old Taliban rules - but a very few have abandoned the all-covering burqa mandated by the militia.
Some diversions are now available for people worn down by years of hardships and fear.
A movie theater has reopened, featuring Indian love stories and action films - but viewers have to squeeze into the balcony. The Taliban, who banned movies, ripped out all the seats, and workers have only had time to replace those upstairs.
The city's only other cinema was demolished.
For now, broadcast officials have focused their energies and their optimism on restoring the radio station.
When the Taliban took over, they banned music and erased 3,000 of the station's cassettes. They forbade politics during the nightly news and reserved most airtime for the reading of Islamic poems and sermons. Most people simply stopped listening.
``We were so sad ... We couldn't do anything,'' said Lutfullah Rahufy, the director of broadcasting, who was placed under house arrest for several months by the Taliban.
Days after the Taliban left, merchants in the bazaar donated cassettes and the station played its first music in over three years: ``Da Zema Zeba Watan,'' or ``Our Beautiful Country,'' an ode to Afghanistan.
Standing in the cold station, Rahufy said Mazar-e-Sharif will rebuild ``step by step.''
``When the Taliban were here, they destroyed Afghan culture, but now it is back,'' he said. ``Now is our new beginning.''
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