Afghanistan: Is Reconciliation With The Neo-Taliban Working?
By Amin Tarzi
The latest surge of violence associated and often claimed by the neo-Taliban brings into question Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation policy with members of the ousted regime. However, the incidents, including the deadly suicide attack inside a mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on 1 June, may involve more actors than the resurgent elements from the Taliban regime, or the neo-Taliban, and, as such, can be a destabilizing factor in Afghanistan's future.
THE RECONCILIATION POLICY
In a little-noticed speech before a gathering of the ulema in Kabul in April 2003, Karzai said that a "clear line" has to be drawn between "the ordinary Taliban who are real and honest sons of this country" and those "who still use the Taliban cover to disturb peace and security in the country." No one has "the right to harass/persecute any one under the name of Talib/Taliban anymore," Karzai emphasized (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003).Whether the neo-Taliban or a splinter group within their ranks carried out the mosque bombing, the incident has opened a new chapter of violence in Afghanistan in which mosques are no longer considered sanctuaries safe from violence.
In some senses, Karzai speech was an announcement, albeit not formally at the time, of the launch of his reconciliation policy designed to weaken the resolve of the neo-Taliban by breaking their ranks into good and bad Talibs. Moreover, at the time Karzai -- who was leading a transitional administration in which he was not the dominant force -- needed the backing of his co-ethnic Pashtuns who were perceived to be -- or were actually -- marginalized from the Afghan political scene since the demise of the mostly-Pashtun Taliban regime in December 2001.
The reconciliation policy, more articulated by Karzai since April 2003, essentially maintains that other than between 100 to 150 former members of the Taliban regime are known to have committed crimes against the Afghan people; all others, whether dormant or active within the ranks of the neo-Taliban, can begin living as normal citizens of Afghanistan by denouncing violence and renouncing their opposition to the central Afghan government.
The list of the unpardonable former Taliban members has never been made public by Karzai despite requests for such an action by the Afghan media and politicians. Moreover, comments made in May by Sebghatullah Mojaddedi -- which were initially supported by Karzai -- has changed the issue of who cannot be pardoned into a contentious political problem. As the head of the Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, an organ established to facilitate the reconciliation process with the former Taliban members, Mojaddedi announced that the amnesty offer from Karzai's government extended to all Taliban leaders, including the regime's former head, Mullah Mohammad Omar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005). Both Mojaddedi and Karzai have since backed off of those statements, but distrust has increased and the door of misuse of the reconciliation policy has opened wider.
UPSURGE IN VIOLENCE
In line with the expectations of Afghan authorities and U.S.-led coalition forces, disruptive activities and terrorist acts either committed by or in the name of the neo-Taliban and their allies has increased since the weather improved in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In April, U.S. Major General Eric Olson said that there "has been an increase in Taliban and enemy activity in the spring [compared to the winter months]. And we anticipate that the enemy has the intention of trying to raise the level of activity this spring." However, Olson predicted that these activities would lack cohesion and fade in traditional neo-Taliban strongholds (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005).
While from a purely military perspective -- often no more than sporadic gun battles and launching of small rockets -- engagements between the neo-Taliban and the coalition forces and their Afghan National Army allies have not shown any significant cohesion or an increase that has not been expected, acts of terror have become more organized and, indeed, deadlier.
The well-planned murder of Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, head of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar on 29 May and an ardent opponent of the neo-Taliban, and the suicide blast inside a Kandahar mosque on 1 June which claimed at least 21 lives, are gruesome illustrations of the increase in terror activities in Afghanistan.
DILEMMA FACING KABUL
Following Fayyaz's murder, the office of Karzai's spokesman issued a statement in which the Afghan president strongly condemned the murder of the cleric, adding that Fayyaz was assassinated by "the enemies of Afghanistan's peace and prosperity," without mentioning the neo-Taliban by name.
Soon after Fayyaz's assassination, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, a spokesman for the neo-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the act, calling Fayyaz a supporter of the "Americans, [who] preached against an Islamic way of life and intended to lead people away from the path of righteousness."
On 31 May, Karzai responding to Fayyaz's assassination and said that it "is clear that the people who call themselves Taliban and act under the name of Taliban -- whether they are Taliban's representatives or not -- but it is clear that they are enemies of Afghanistan," Radio Afghanistan reported. Indirectly in support of his reconciliation policies, Karzai called on all of those who are "in the ranks of the Taliban, and [are] an Afghan, and belong to this soil," as his "national and religious duty" he should act against those people who kill Afghans and their religious scholars. "They should take revenge on them and push them out of this country and prove that they are Afghans and they do not allow foreigners in the country," Karzai added, in an attempt to portray the killers of Fayyaz as non-Afghans.
In a statement, the Afghan Interior Ministry linked the suicide blast on 1 June, which occurred during a special funeral prayer for Fayyaz and claimed the life of Kabul's security chief General Akram Khakrezwal, to Fayyaz's murder. However, according to Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, the suicide bomber was not an Afghan, and was "an enemy of Islam" and an "enemy of peace and stability in Afghanistan" -- in what have recently become the standard official Afghan terms for what once was referred to as the Taliban.
Referring to Fayyaz's murder, the 1 June statement refrains from mentioning the Taliban by name, referring to those who carried out the assassination simply as "gunmen."
Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi on 1 June contacted the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press, saying that the bombing "shouldn't have occurred" and "strongly" condemning the act. While Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusofzai told Dubai-based Geo TV on 1 June that the militia has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. In "my view, the Taliban was looking for this opportunity. It believed that important people would visit this mosque to offer prayer for" Fayyaz, Yusofzai told the station. There are reports that two of Karzai's brothers were due to arrive to the mosque later.
Whether the neo-Taliban or a splinter group within their ranks carried out the mosque bombing, the incident has opened a new chapter of violence in Afghanistan, in which mosques are no longer considered sanctuaries safe from violence. Moreover, with the killing of Fayyaz and the possible implications of the neo-Taliban in the mosque bombing, the currency of Karzai's reconciliation policy towards the militia becomes more tenuous. And the tensions created between Karzai and some within his own government regarding his Taliban policy and between the president and some of the opposition parties might lead to a radicalization ahead of the elections for the lower house of the Afghan Parliament and provincial councils; that could, in turn, allow the reconciliation issue to be brought into the forefront of the political debate in the country with dire consequences for national unity of Afghanistan and leaving more opportunities for foreign hands to destabilize the country.
Taleban Deny Mosque Blast Involvement
Suicide bombing of Kandahar mosque, during funeral services for cleric assassinated for supporting the government, leaves many dead.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By IWPR staff in Kabul (ARR No. 175, 01-Jun-05)
The Taleban, which in the past has claimed credit for several attacks on government officials and security personnel, has quickly denied responsibility for the June 1 suicide bombing at a mosque in Kandahar that killed at least 20 people, including the police chief of Kabul.
Government officials believe the bombing is part of a recently stepped up campaign of violence, designed to disrupt legislative elections scheduled for September 18.
The bomber struck during funeral services for Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, a prominent pro-government cleric who was assassinated May 29 in his office in the southern city, long a Taleban stronghold.
Among the dead was General Mohammad Akram Khakraizwal, a well-regarded law officer who was recently transferred to Kabul from Mazar-e-Sharif, in part to take on criminal gangs who have been carrying out kidnappings and armed robberies in the capital.
While Taleban insurgents have engaged in several fights with US-led Coalition forces since the end of a relatively calm winter, the fundamentalist Islamic group has never been known to attack a mosque.
Abdul Latif Hakimi, a Taleban spokesman IWPR contacted by telephone, vehemently denied that the group was behind the attack. He said he had spoken with several Taleban members in Kandahar, and they had denied any role in the bombing.
"We are not so weak that we have to carry out such attacks. We fight face-to-face with Americans," Hakimi told IWPR. "We have respect for mosques, and we'd never carry out such an attack on a mosque.
"We could have killed Khakraizwal anywhere we wanted," he added. "We didn't need to kill innocent people."
Interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal confirmed that Khakraizwal was among the dead, and vowed that investigators would eventually find out who was responsible.
"One thing that's clear is that this attack was carried out inside a mosque, which is 100 per cent against Islam," said Mashal. "This demonstrates the weakness of the enemies of Islam and Afghanistan. They don't have the capability to fight our security forces, and that's why they're destroying mosques."
Security in the country has been deteriorating for the past month, noted Soraya Parlika, head of the Women's Union and a candidate in the upcoming election. "It's going to have a negative effect on all the candidates," she said of the attack.
"It intimidates people," she said. "If things keep going like this, people will be afraid to turn out for the election."
"The Coalition abhors this atrocious act of violence upon innocent civilians and a mosque," said US Army colonel Jim Yonts, a spokesman for the Coalition command. "Tragic events such as this only solidify our resolve that we must eradicate terrorism now. The future of Afghanistan depends on it."
Fayaz, head of the Kandahar Council of Clerics, was shot to death in his office May 29 in Kandahar. The Taleban had claim responsibility for the assassination.
Fayaz was an outspoken supporter of President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government. Ten days before his death, he presided at a gathering of hundreds of clerics from around the country, which stripped Taleban leader Mullah Omar, a fugitive, of his religious authority.
The gathering also declared the Taleban's call for holy war against US forces and the Afghan government to be against Shariah, or Islamic law. The mosque where the bombing took place had recently been after Fayaz.
The latest attack was the worst in a spate of escalating violence.
At least 340 people, more than 200 of them militants, have been killed in fighting or in extremist attacks since April 1, according to various statements from US and Afghan officials.
Five days of riots beginning on May 10 left 15 people dead in at least 12 of the country’s provinces. The disturbances were ostensibly touched off by a Newsweek magazine article alleging desecration of the Koran at a US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But Karzai has charged that the riots were actually orchestrated by "foreign and domestic" opponents of a democratic Afghanistan. Police, political analysts and even some of the demonstrators themselves echoed his opinion.
A political analyst, Qayoum Babak, predicted at the time that the riots were a harbinger of future trouble as enemies of the government sought to disrupt the election campaign. The magazine report, later retracted, was merely an excuse to start trouble, he and other analysts said.
The Kandahar attack occurred as the government was stepping up efforts to integrate former Taleban fighters back into society. Karzai has announced an amnesty programme for former insurgents who renounce violence and are not wanted for crimes.
Bombing a Warning to Afghan Moderates
By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press Writer Thu Jun 2,12:53 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Days after Abdul Fayaz led Muslim clerics in denouncing the Taliban, assassins shot him dead. Then at his funeral this week, a suicide bomber exploded among mourners in one of the worst terror attacks since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
The bloodshed underlined for Afghan religious and political leaders the dangers of being a moderate in this divided nation and of supporting the country's U.S.-backed government.
"People had believed ... that the Taliban was a spent force. But they are still out there and have proven they can act in the center of a major city," said Joanna Nathan, a Kabul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, a think tank with headquarters in Belgium.
The suicide bombing Wednesday at the mosque in Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban's former stronghold, killed 20 people, including Kabul's police chief, Gen. Akram Khakrezwal, a supporter of President Hamid Karzai, and six of his bodyguards.
Security was tight for the funeral because several local leaders were expected to attend, but the attacker managed to evade detection and get close to the police commander before detonating the explosives strapped to his body.
No one claimed responsibility. Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai said the attacker was an Arab member of al-Qaida, citing an intelligence report that Arab members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network had entered Afghanistan to carry out attacks.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, denied responsibility for the bombing in a call to The Associated Press, but claimed the rebels did kill Fayaz. Information provided by Hakimi has sometimes proved untrue or exaggerated, and his exact tie to the rebel leadership is not clear.
Fayaz, the leading Muslim cleric in Kandahar province, was killed Sunday by two gunmen — a week after he led a meeting of Islamic clergy that called for Afghans to back Karzai's administration and not to support the Taliban, accusing them of murdering innocent civilians.
Hours after the bombing, unsigned "night letters" were distributed in parts of Kandahar threatening to kill people who cooperate with the government or the U.S.-led military coalition. They did not mention the suicide attack, however.
Hamid Shah Khan, a Kandahar businessman who has registered as a legislative candidate and supports Karzai, said there has always been a threat of violence against pro-government politicians.
"We knew about this when we enrolled. But I am not intimidated," he said. "Of course, we hope the government will take care of security."
The main Muslim organization in Afghanistan, the Ulama Council, issued a statement Thursday urging the government to guarantee the security of clerics.
At least two other anti-Taliban Islamic leaders have been slain in Kandahar the past two years, and four clerics were killed in neighboring Uruzgan province during that time for backing the government, Uruzgan Gov. Jan Mohammed said.
Last month, suspected Taliban gunmen killed an influential cleric in nearby Ghazni province after he enrolled as a candidate and expressed support for Karzai.
Taliban-led rebels have stepped up activities after a winter lull in fighting, with almost daily clashes with security forces, roadside bombings and killings.
But they have also suffered heavy casualties. American and Afghan officials say about 200 suspected insurgents have been killed since March, and U.S. commanders remain upbeat about bringing peace and stability.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
Surrendered Chieftain Urges Taliban to Accept Amnesty
By CARLOTTA GALL / The New York Times / June 2, 2005
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Abdul Waheed Baghrani, 51, a diminutive, soft-spoken man, has more the air of a religious leader than a wanted terrorist.
Yet he is the highest level Taliban commander to accept the government's recent amnesty offer, coming down from the mountains after three and a half years on the run from United States forces.
"My message to those still fighting is they should take this golden chance and come back and build the country," he said in an interview here in late May. "We have an Islamic country and Shariah law, and we should accept the rule of the government."
The United States military and the Afghan government have greeted his decision as a sign of the success of the amnesty in undermining the Taliban insurgency. In response, American forces have organized aid shipments to his region and offered to undertake new reconstruction projects.
[The killing Sunday of an anti-Taliban cleric, Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, and the devastating bombing Wednesday at his mourning ceremony, seem to indicate that the Taliban have yet to be vanquished, and that speaking against them, as Mr. Fayaz did the week before he was fatally shot, remains dangerous.]
Moreover, the ease with which Mr. Baghrani evaded United States forces and the Soviet Army before them, protected by his tribesmen in the mountains of southern Afghanistan and escaping a dozen raids on his home, is a sign of how simple it remains for insurgents to evade capture in this part of the world.
"My home is very mountainous," Mr. Baghrani said. "I went up to the mountains and never left the country. I was among my people, my tribe, and they are very loyal to me." He named half a dozen other senior Taliban commanders who he said were still at large.
The American military once suspected Mr. Baghrani of harboring the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Baghran, his home region, in northern Helmand Province. He denied that, adding that Mullah Omar was from a different tribe and would never have trusted his life to a tribe other than his own.
He said he did not know where Mullah Omar or the Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, were hiding, but suggested that they took refuge in neighboring Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001. Wherever Mr. bin Laden was, Mr. Baghrani predicted he would be caught one day, because he was not among his own people and, as a result, risked betrayal.
Although he is a close associate of Mullah Omar, Mr. Baghrani is a renowned tribal chieftain and resistance leader in his own right. He goes by the name Rais-da-Baghran, or Chief of Baghran, the 100-mile-long mountainous valley of northern Helmand where he lives. He fought the Soviet occupation for 10 years and joined the Taliban in the early days of the movement, he said, in the interest of national unity.
"Afghans were fighting each other, and Afghanistan faced breaking up into several parts," he said. "As a national leader, I had to join them."
But, he said, he grew disillusioned with Al Qaeda's growing influence over the Taliban leadership. "In the beginning they stood for peace and stability," he said. "But then later there was a lot of foreign interference and we tried a lot to persuade them to come over to the right way."
Mr. Baghrani never held an official post in the Taliban government but supported its push to gain control of the whole country, sending his commanders and fighters to fight in northern Afghanistan. His high standing in the government became clear when he was asked by Mullah Omar in December 2001 to carry a message of the Taliban surrender to Hamid Karzai, who was then in the mountains north of Kandahar with American Special Forces.
"Mullah Omar sent me to Shah Wali Kot," Mr. Baghrani said. "I had to go two times, to work out how to surrender Kandahar in a peaceful way." The Taliban leadership signed a letter of surrender, agreeing to quit the city, the Taliban's last stronghold, in three days, he said. Mullah Omar left on the first night, he said, and on the third day, Mr. Baghrani set off for his home valley. He said he stayed there until the Americans started tracking him in 2003, because local rivals informed against him. "I was not opposed to Karzai or his government, but unfortunately after 25 years of war, I had problems with some families in the province."
He narrowly escaped capture in February 2003 when United States forces raided his village and called in airstrikes along the mountain ridges. A State Department official said at the time that Mr. Baghrani had escaped to Pakistan.
But he said he stayed in the mountains, living with villagers and accompanied only by his second son, Muhammad Ibrahim, 21, and two or three men. "To have taken more men would have been dangerous," he said. His sent his three wives to stay with their fathers. The Americans came through the valley about 20 times, he said. "Often they would come close to me, and I would watch them from the mountain top with binoculars. They would camp out in my house."
When the Karzai government announced an amnesty early in May, he was one of the first to come in, going to Kabul to meet with President Karzai. In May he registered as a candidate for the parliamentary elections in September in Helmand Province.
He said he wanted the United States-led forces to stay until Afghanistan could defend itself and maintain internal peace, but he demanded that they cease unilateral actions and stop raiding people's houses without being accompanied by Afghan troops. "They come here to help us, and they should not do anything bad against our people," he said.
Pakistan ISI officials well aware of Osama's whereabouts, CIA Officer
Source: Webindia123, India
Washington | June 02, 2005 3:46:54 PM IST
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf may not be knowing about al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's presence within Pakistan's territorial limits, but ISI officials are very well aware about his whereabouts, CIA officer Gary Schroen, who spearheaded US' search for Osama in Afghanistan, has said.
He said that Musharraf was so afraid of the internal political consequences of finding Osama that he doesn't even want to know his whereabouts.
That's because Pakistan's northern tribal areas would explode upon news of the death or capture of Bin Laden, the CIA veteran said adding "I think the philosophy of the Taliban, this fundamentalist view, is popular there. So Bin Laden, I think, strikes them as heroic. He fought a jihad against the Russians, and he's bloodied America's nose time and again."
The veteran CIA officer said that regardless of how much reward money America offers, "Bin Laden would not be captured and handed in.
He claimed that Musharraf was not allowing the US forces to seriously crackdown on the Qaeda chief, who is hiding along the international border with Afghanistan. "He's hiding in Pakistan in the northern tribal areas above Peshawar - an area that is rugged, hilly, heavily forested. The US government and the US military are not authorised by the Musharraf government to enter there unilaterally. As long as he stays in place, it is going to be almost impossible to find him," the Daily Times quoted Schroen as saying.
When Tora Bora was attacked, Bin Laden fled to Pakistan, he added.
Schroen, who has just published a book on his exploits in Afghanistan, claims to have developed two plans to capture or kill Osama (in 1998 and then a year later), but both were turned down by CIA and the White House.
According to the paper, he said: "I can only speculate, but it is based on almost 20 years of dealing with the Pakistani military and ISI officers. I think at some level, probably the colonel level, there are officers probably in ISI who know where Bin Laden is at."
He added: "A man of that caliber (Bin Laden) could not be hidden out for that many years without word getting out in the community. So, I think some people probably know within ISI and the military." (ANI)
Former Taliban leaders call on Karzai
Pajhwok Afghan News 06/02/2005 By Lailuma Sadid
KABUL - Some leaders of the splintered group of the ousted Taliban militia Thursday called on President Hamid Karzai and reiterated their support for lasting peace in the war-ravaged country.
Eminent among them were Maulawi Arsalan Rahmani, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, Maulawi Rahmatullah Wahidyar, Dr Abdul Sattar Paktis, Qazi Habibullah Fawzi, Maulawi Peer Mohammad Rohani and Qariullah Karimi.
Talking to the delegation, Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan was home to all Afghans. "We all are sons of the land and every one should play his due role in reconstruction of the motherland." Regarding the role of Ulema, Karzai said they should work for peace and harmony in the country.
He said the government had decided to increase the number of madressas (religious schools) in Afghanistan so as to bring back those Afghan youths studying in other countries. Maulawi Abdul Hakim Mujahid, on the occasion, urged the need for collective efforts to restore peace in the country. He assured all out support to the government.
The John McCain of Bagram Prison
Torture is torture, in Vietnam or Afghanistan
COMMENTARY Margaret Carlson / Los Angeles Times / June 2, 2005
On Memorial Day, I watched the A&E movie about former Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McCain's 5½ years in a Vietnam prison. McCain's face was beaten to a bloody pulp, his bones shattered, his teeth knocked out. Guards hung him from the ceiling by his arms, one of which was broken. It was so painful I had to return repeatedly to my crossword puzzle.
The next morning, I watched President Bush at his news conference respond to a question about an Amnesty International report condemning U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere. Bush called charges of abuse "absurd" allegations by detainees "who hate America."
But how does he explain the Army? The New York Times recently obtained the Army's 2,000-page file on deaths at its Bagram, Afghanistan, detention center. It's as chilling to read as it is to watch McCain's crippled leg being crushed.
The John McCain of this report is an uneducated Afghan villager known as Dilawar, who was sent by his mother to pick up his sisters for a Muslim holiday on Dec. 5, 2002. Before he got there, Dilawar was rounded up as a suspect in a rocket attack.
For much of his five days in custody, Dilawar was brutalized and hung from the ceiling of his cell, even though no one thought he was a terrorist or had any useful information. Military police took turns kicking him above the knee because they found it amusing to hear him cry out "Allah."
When he was too weak to follow orders during interrogations, one sergeant grabbed him by his beard, crushed his bare foot with her boot and then reared back and kicked him in the groin.
That night, an interrogator summoned an MP when he noticed Dilawar's head slumped forward in his hood and his hands limp in his chains. After pressing his fingernail to see that blood was still circulating, the MP left him there. On Dec. 10, dragged in for what would be his last interrogation, Dilawar was incoherent. Angry at his unresponsiveness, an interrogator held him upright by twisting his hood around his neck. An intelligence specialist who spoke Dilawar's Pashto dialect was disturbed enough to notify the officer in charge. It was too late. Dilawar was already dead.
Were the Vietnamese guards who savagely beat McCain any worse?
Then-Lt. Gen. Daniel McNeill, U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, initially claimed that Dilawar wasn't abused and died of natural causes, according to the Times. The case was virtually closed until a March 4, 2003, article in the Times reported that an autopsy found Dilawar died from blunt force injuries that shattered his lower extremities.
The Army reopened the inquiry and, more than two years later, seven soldiers were found complicit in his death. McNeill, on the other hand, was promoted.
Shortly after Dilawar's death, Bagram's chief interrogator, Army Capt. Carolyn Wood, was deployed to Abu Ghraib.
The outrage that followed photos from Abu Ghraib has subsided. Only one of the five top officers at the prison — a reservist — was reprimanded. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who wrote a memo saying the Geneva Convention protections against torture don't always apply, was elevated to attorney general. Hearings by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) were quickly put on hold. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has called for them to restart, but so quietly it's as if he were calling on some other party in control of some other Senate to hold them.
I understand Graham's reluctance. I come from a military family, and I risk being called unpatriotic if I so much as criticize unarmored Humvees.
Bush maintains that only enemies of America would allege such abuse. But if the charges are true, it is the perpetrators and their superiors who show contempt for America and what it represents.
Watching the government stonewalling and lie about the fatal beating of an innocent man is as disturbing as watching the torture John McCain suffered 30 years ago rather than betray what America stands for.
Amnesty Chief Seeks Guantanamo Inspection
By CHISAKI WATANABE, Associated Press / June 2, 2005
TOKYO - The United States should open its detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere to human rights investigators if it wants to dispute allegations of abuse, the head of Amnesty International said in Tokyo on Thursday.
The group released a report last week comparing the camps to Soviet-era gulags, and urged Washington to close down Guantanamo Bay, where some 540 men accused of links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban and the al-Qaida terror network are held.
President Bush dismissed the comparison to gulags as "absurd." But Irene Khan, secretary-general of the London-based human rights group, challenged Washington to prove its case by opening the camps to outside scrutiny.
"Our answer is very simple ... open up the detention centers, allow us and others to visit them," she told reporters. "Transparency is the best antidote to misinformation or incorrect facts."
Khan also defended the organization's choice of the word "gulag."
"We wanted to send a strong message that ... (the detention centers) are actually undermining human rights in a very dramatic way," she said.
There has been widespread criticism of the Guantanamo Bay operation, which began in January 2002 with the arrival of prisoners captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Khan also criticized Japan's death penalty and urged the country to review the system. Japan and the United States are the only developed countries that still employ the death penalty.
By Jim Lobe Asia Times Online / June 2, 2005
WASHINGTON - Stung by Amnesty International's condemnation of US detention facilities in Iraq and elsewhere overseas, the administration of President George W Bush is reacting with indignation and even suggestions that terrorists are using the world's largest human-rights organization.
The latest denunciation came from Bush himself during a White House press conference on Tuesday. "I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world," he said, and added that Washington had "investigated every single complaint against [sic] the detainees."
"It seemed like [Amnesty] based some of their decisions on the word and allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people [who] had been trained in some instances to disassemble [sic] - that means not tell the truth," Bush went on. "And so it was an absurd report. It just is."
At issue is an Amnesty report released last Thursday that assailed US detention practices. Since its release, a succession of top US administration officials and their right-wing backers in the major media has denounced the London-based group in what appears increasingly like an orchestrated effort to discredit independent human-rights critics. A similar campaign appeared to target Newsweek magazine earlier this month.
"It looks like a campaign," Human Rights Watch (HRW) advocacy chief Reed Brody said on Tuesday. "There's been a real drumbeat since Amnesty published the report. It seems like there's an attempt to silence critics."
Bush's reaction on Tuesday largely mirrored that of Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview taped on Friday and broadcast Sunday evening by CNN.
"For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously," the vice president said in response to Amnesty's report.
"Frankly, I was offended by it. I think the fact of the matter is, the United States has done more to advance the cause of freedom, has liberated more people from tyranny over the course of the 20th century and up to the present day than any other nation in the history of the world."
As to allegations of mistreatment of detainees, Cheney argued, "if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who has been inside and been released to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated".
Other senior officials have also weighed in. Like Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the Amnesty report "absurd", while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said it was "absolutely irresponsible" and insisted that the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a "model facility" where prisoners have been treated "humanely".
Amnesty's secretary general, Irene Khan, made the specific allegation against which the administration has unleashed its fury. She referred to the overseas network of US detention facilities established by Washington in Iraq and elsewhere as part of what it calls its "global war on terror", as "the gulag of our times", a reference to the system of prison and labor camps run during the Stalinist period of the former Soviet Union.
While the Washington Post, normally a defender of independent human-rights groups, objected to her characterization as counter-productive, the Wall Street Journal's neo-conservative editorial staff jumped on it as "one more sign of the moral degradation of Amnesty International".
The Journal, which often reflects the views of influential hardline policymakers such as Cheney, called Amnesty a "highly politicized pressure group" whose latest accusations "amount to pro-al Qaeda propaganda".
Anticipating the vice president's CNN's remarks, the Journal, which also has campaigned against the International Committee of the Red Cross for criticizing Washington's treatment of detainees, added that "a human-rights group that can't distinguish between Stalin's death camps and detention centers for terrorists who kill civilians can't be taken seriously".
David Rivkin and Lee Casey, two lawyers who often reflect the views of other members of the right-wing nationalist Federalist Society and who hold senior legal positions in the administration, soon joined the Journal.
In an article published by the National Review Online titled "Amnesty Unbelievable", the two men charged that the organization's critical report "says much more about the nature of Amnesty International - and the agenda of similar left-wing non-governmental organizations [NGOs] - than it does about the human-rights record of the United States".
Like the Journal, Casey and Rivkin said they were incensed at the suggestion by the head of Amnesty's US section, William Schulz, that Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and other senior US officials who had a role in authorizing abusive interrogation practices should be prosecuted in foreign jurisdictions for violations of the Geneva and torture conventions committed against detainees if the administration continued to reject calls by human rights' and lawyers' groups for an independent investigation.
In their view, Amnesty, "is trapped in a 20th-century mindset where the greatest threat to individual life and liberty stemmed from the actions of sovereign governments. That is simply no longer the case". NGOs, they added, "simply do not consider that the defense of the American population, and the vindication of each individual's right to live without the threat or actuality of terrorist attack, is their problem - and it is time they did".
Amnesty, however, has stood its ground. "At Guantanamo, the US has operated an isolated prison camp in which people are confined arbitrarily, held virtually incommunicado, without charge, trial or access to due process. Not a single Guantanamo detainee has had the legality of their detention reviewed by a court," despite a Supreme Court ruling last year that provided grounds to do so.
"Guantanamo is only the visible part of the story. Evidence continues to mount that the US operates a network of detention centers where people are held in secret or outside any proper legal framework - from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond," Amnesty added, noting that Bush had failed to respond to these "longstanding concerns".
"It is worth also worth noting," stressed Schulz, "that this administration never finds it 'absurd' when we criticize Cuba or China, or when we condemned the violations in Iraq under Saddam Hussein."
Bush's and Cheney's insistence that the detainees themselves concocted the reported abuses also drew criticism.
"You really don't have to look further than the Pentagon's own reports," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "There's ample substantiation of serious abuses," she said, adding that the administration's "ostrich approach" was dangerous. "The problems are there, and they're going to continue to pose a risk to US lives and policy until they're dealt with."
HRW's Brody echoed that view. "What is sad is that this effort at damage control may work in the US," he said, "but unless the administration addresses the real issues of concern - torture, rendition, disappearances, systematic humiliation of Muslim prisoners - then the US image in the world will continue to erode."
CIA man accused of Afghan prisoner abuse charged with assaulting girlfriend
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A former CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan prisoner who later died in custody was charged Thursday with assaulting his girlfriend, authorities said.
David Passaro - the first civilian to be prosecuted on charges of mistreating a military detainee in the U.S. war on terrorism - was arrested after his girlfriend told authorities he pushed her into a door, causing her to fall down stairs.
He was charged with assault, injury to personal property and misdemeanour larceny.
Passaro, a former U.S. army Special Forces soldier recruited by the CIA, also faces four counts of assault in Afghanistan. He is accused of beating prisoner Abdul Wali with his hands, feet and a large flashlight while Wali was interrogated for two days at a U.S. base in Afghanistan in June 2003.
Wali had turned himself in to U.S. forces, who sought him as a suspect in rocket attacks on the base. He later died in custody.
Passaro, 38, was released from jail in August after a U.S. judge said prosecutors failed to show he was a flight risk or a threat to the community.
Passaro has denied playing any role in Wali's death and maintains he was made a scapegoat by the military following the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He faces a maximum 40 years in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted. The trial is scheduled for July.
Passaro was part of a four-man CIA team based at a remote base near the Pakistan border in an area known as a crossing point for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. He was on leave from a civilian job with the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Italian celebrity calls for release of aid worker in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - An Italian movie star known in Afghanistan for his role in a detective series has launched an appeal for the release of the Italian aid worker abducted two weeks ago, the interior ministry said.
Michele Placido, best known for his recurring role as Kamissar Cattani in the "La Piovra" movie series which was aired on Afghan television in the 1980s, called on Afghans to help free Clementina Cantoni, who was snatched from her car in Kabul by four gunmen.
"Clementina has been devoting so much to help the Afghan people. Each one of you now can help her to come back safely. Please help Clementina," Placido said in a videotaped message, according to an interior ministry press release on Thursday.
Afghan officials, meanwhile, reiterated their optimism about Cantoni's release.
"We are in contact with Cantoni's kidnappers and we are optimistic for her safe release," interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
Humanitarian organizations in the Afghan capital Kabul in a petition Thursday also called for Cantoni's safe release .
Cantoni, 32, who works for CARE International, had managed a project which provides food and income-generating activities for 11,000 widows and their children since September 2003.
The kidnapping appears to be linked to rising crime and deteriorating security in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.
Her kidnappers released a video Sunday showing her alive and flanked by two armed men.
Hazrat Ali surrenders arms
JALALABAD, June 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Former jihadi commander Hazral Ali voluntarily surrendered arms under the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process, officials claimed. Jalalabad Deputy Police Chief Qari Ameer Khan Liwal told Pajhwok Afghan News the commander handed over 87 different light and heavy weapons to officials.
He said the cache of arms also included those seized during the jihad era. "Hazrat Ali has ordered his men to surrender the remaining weapons soon," Liwal added.
Hazrat Ali (45), resident of Kashmond village in Qarghayo district of the eastern Laghman province, was commander of Hezb-i-Islami Yonis Khalis faction. After the ouster of Taliban, he was appointed as Jalalabad police chief. He quit the slot to become contender for the upcoming parliamentary polls.
General Zahir, an official of the Defence Ministry said a total of 1792 heavy and light arms have been surrendered while 21 army units have been dissolved so far.
Narcotics factories destroyed
JALALABAD, June 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Counter-Narcotics Force Thursday destroyed 15 heroin factories and torched huge quantity of drugs, officials said.
The drugs were seized during a crackdown in Achin district of the eastern Nangarhar province. Sayed Lutfullah Sadaat, an official told Pajhwok Afghan News two alleged smugglers were arrested and two vehicles were taken into custody during the operation launched early in the morning.
The force also claimed hundreds of kilograms of narcotics were destroyed on Thursday. The drugs were seized during a three-day operation in the Helmand province last month.
Seven years after going nuclear, India and Pakistan thriving
Thu Jun 2, 2:20 AM ET
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Based on the experiences of India and Pakistan since they tested nuclear weapons in 1998, North Korea could be forgiven for thinking the price of carrying out an atomic test is worth paying.
The South Asian rivals at first triggered global condemnation, only to emerge stronger as key partners in the US-led "war on terror".
The two countries became the target of international sanctions -- led by the United States and Japan -- after conducting underground tests in May 1998.
US sanctions included a selective ban on bilateral and multilateral loans and a blacklist of 40 Indian and Pakistani agencies and their 200 subsidiaries that US firms were banned from dealing with.
India's trade ministry estimated the measures cost 1.14 billion dollars -- less than a two billion dollar estimate put out by the White House.
New Delhi contained the economic fallout by approving investment proposals worth 11.5 billion dollars during the first year of sanctions. It also raised over four billion dollars via a foreign currency bond -- called the Resurgent India Bond -- issued to expatriate Indians.
"Despite the gloom and doom of living with sanctions there was no irretrievable damage for the resilient Indian economy," said Hari Dhaul of the Independent Power Producers Association of India.
"India efficiently neutralised the effects of the sanctions by tailoring government policies to attract investment and floating overseas bonds," he added.
The sanctions, however, cut deeper for a Pakistan struggling to turnaround its anaemic economy and relieve the burden of over 37 billion dollars in foreign debt.
"The post-test sanctions hurt Pakistan badly and we came very close to defaulting on our international payments," said Riffat Hussain, head of the department of strategic studies at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University.
However, analysts say the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US changed Washington's priorities. Most sanctions were soon lifted, save some defence sale ones.
"India and Pakistan won a reprieve as Washington was keen to shore up support in the South Asian nations for President George Bush's war against terror," said Uday Bhaskar, head of the Indian military thinktank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
"The September 11 terrorist strikes in the US have re-arranged everything."
In March 2003, Bush dispensed with the final set of punitive measures against Pakistan following General Pervez Musharraf's bloodless 1999 coup.
Bush has also upgraded relations with Pakistan by formally naming it as a major non-NATO ally.
"Pakistan would have continued to suffer under economic sanctions but the events of September 11 created a situation wherein the US assigned greater priority to combating terrorism over all other foreign policy considerations," said Hasan Askari, former head of the political science department at Pakistan's Punjab University.
"It enabled Pakistan to stage a comeback on the international scene and derive economic advantages from the changed international environment."
Pakistan has emerged as a key US ally, severing its links to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, who protected the Al-Qaeda network.
Pakistan's status as a non-Nato ally makes it eligible for a series of benefits in the areas of foreign aid and defence co-operation, including priority delivery of defence items.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Washington is trying to build relations with Pakistan and India and defended the decision to sell F-16 fighters to Pakistan. The revived sale will form part of a three-billion-dollar assistance programme spread over five years.
The United States has also declared plans for "a decisively broader strategic relationship" with India and has not ruled out helping it develop nuclear power plants.
Rice underlined the need to pay close attention to India's regional role saying "India is an element in China's calculation, and it should be in America's too."
Japan, a close US ally, is also seen to be cooperating with Washington in a new drive to build closer ties with India in response to China's growing influence.
Tokyo lifted sanctions on India in 2001. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last month visited India and then Pakistan where he lifted a seven-year freeze on yen loans.
India, bidding for a seat on an expanded UN Security Council, has seen top politicians parade through its capital, keen to strengthen ties with a nation of more than one billion people and one of the fastest-growing economies.
"The US is now looking at India not as a counter-balance to Pakistan but to China," said Rahul Bedi, analyst with the London-based Jane's Defence Weekly.
"It sees India as a strategic partner because it has the only navy in this region with carrier capability and long-range strike airforce. India is also a nuclear missile weapon state."
Grocer in another world as soldier in Afghanistan
Mesa Wal-Mart employee now training troops
Judd Slivka The Arizona Republic Jun. 2, 2005 12:00 AM
You know that your life has changed when going to work means wearing body armor and constantly looking around to make sure someone isn't trying to blow you up.
When a 10-mile drive to another office turns into a half-hour ordeal peering out from beneath your helmet at potential ambush spots along bumpy roads that are better suited to horse-drawn wagons.
And you know that your life has changed when you used to be a grocery manager in a Mesa Wal-Mart and now you're in Afghanistan training the country's fledgling army. advertisement
This is Roy Tippett's life. Dec. 26, 2004: grocery manager. Dec. 27: activated for duty as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, heading to Fort Hood, Texas, for training prior to deployment to Afghanistan.
He left behind Luvell, his wife of 25 years, and three children in Mesa. A fourth child lives in Florida.
Now, he's in Afghanistan, training the Afghan National Army in combat support. Tippett isn't training the front-line fighters, but the troops that support them. That has its own risks in a country where bad things can happen around the next turn.
Like going from Kabul International Airport to his quarters.
"We had a convoy meet us to take us to the compound where we'd be staying, and we were told, 'Everybody get your body armor on. Weapons pointing out for force protection,' " Tippett said last week while on a rest trip in Qatar. "And it was like, 'This is serious. This is where it is.' "
Tippett works with Afghan officers and senior enlisted men, many of whom served in the Afghan army when it was controlled by the Russians.
"They have their ways," he said, "and we're showing them our ways. We're not doing it for them; we're teaching them how to do it. (For example,) we fill out a form and they fill out a form and our form travels up and their form travels up and something gets done. So when we go, they'll know how to do simple things like order supplies."
When he was in the active Army, Tippett was a personnel officer. As a reservist living in Arizona, he was attached to the Boise, Idaho-based 11th Battalion, 6th Brigade, 104th Division, a unit that serves as trainers for drill instructors and professional skills.
It was a good position. And then he got called up.
"It came as a surprise to me," he said. "They called me in December and said I was being activated. Other officers in my unit had been activated for this mission to go and train the ANA. I was surprised that they selected me."
Then it was off to Fort Hood for training in ambushes, convoy operations and the like.
And then it was onto a wide-body jet that left the Texas hill country, a transfer to an Air Force C-130 in one of those countries that end in "-stan" and then that strange walk down the cargo ramp of the plane into another world.
"The biggest shock is this is a real poor country," Tippett said. "Although they have some of the conveniences, their mentality is like being in the 15th century. It's in the way they treat their own, the way they treat their women. It's all like they're in the past."
And then there's this.
"In my (training unit) we had one of the soldiers shot in the head over a teapot," Tippett said. "Mainly that was because the Ministry of Defense had not supplied enough teapots to the dining facility so that everyone could drink tea. That's very important to the people over there. The (dining facility) sent a guy out to go around and get the teapots back so there'd be enough that everyone could drink their tea.
"One of the men had gone into town and bought himself a teapot, his own. The other guy came around and tried to bring it back to the (dining facility). They were tugging on it and one of the other guys came up and shot the one with the teapot in the head. The next day, the (dining facility) had all the teapots it needed, but a guy had been shot and it could have been avoided if the supplies were there in the first place."
Tippett is to come home for a two-week vacation in July, but then it's back to training the Afghans to fight for themselves until he rotates home in February 2006.
|Back to News Archirves of 2005|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).