AFGHANISTAN: US soldiers beat prisoners to death

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Rohan Pearce

Even if one of the prisoners had survived, "both [of his] legs would have had to be amputated", a report by the US army on the deaths of two Afghan prisoners, who were chained to the ceiling during the assault, noted. The investigation by the US army found that US soldiers' assaults on 30-year-old Mullah Habibullah and 22-year-old Dilawar were responsible for the prisoners' deaths in December 2002 at the Bagram US air base in Afghanistan.

The confidential report's revelations, exposed by New York-based group Human Rights Watch and reported on in a March 12 New York Times article, are just the latest evidence of systematic torture and abuse of prisoners by US forces and their allies in the "war on terror".

When the torture carried out by US soldiers, CIA agents and mercenaries employed by the US occupation regime at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was exposed by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in the April 30, 2004 New Yorker, the US government and military expressed shock and outrage at the atrocities and assured the world that it was a case of a "few bad apples".

Yet the Pentagon evidently knew about the torture going at Bagram in 2002. According to Emily Bazelon in the March-April edition of the US Mother Jones magazine, when a New York Times reporter tracked down Dilawar's brother in March 2003, he produced Dilawar's death certificate, which listed his cause of death as "homicide" (Dilawar's brother had been unable to read the certificate because it was in English).

Bazelon wrote that "It's hard to explain how facts this disturbing have garnered so little attention — especially in light of the connection to Abu Ghraib. According to the US military's own investigators, it was at Bagram that interrogators devised and tested the methods that would shame the United States in Iraq."

She also reported the experiences of Hussain Youssouf Mustafa, a Palestinian arrested in Pakistan in May 2002 and flown to Bagram. One day while he was imprisoned at the base, he told Bazelon, "an American soldier took me [from his cell] blindfolded. My hands were tightly cuffed, with my ears plugged so I could not hear properly, and my mouth covered so I could only make a muffled scream. Two soldiers, one on each side, forced me to bend down, and a third pressed my face down over a table. A fourth soldier then pulled down my trousers. They rammed a stick up my rectum." Mustafa's torture closely resembled that of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, at least one of whom is believed to have been anally raped with a broomstick.

At least 26 people are known to have died while prisoners of US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. Documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union on March 10 have revealed new evidence of the human rights abuses committed by US forces at Abu Ghraib. The documents, obtained under freedom of information legislation, include testimony by US Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of Abu Ghraib who was suspended by the Pentagon after 60 Minutes broadcast pictures of detainees' torture at the prison in April 2004.

She testified to military investigators in July 2004: "I saw a kid that was — he looked like he was 8 years old ... He told me his brother was there [in Abu Ghraib] with him, but he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother. He was crying."

She also revealed that her replacement, Major General Geoffrey Miller, wanted to "GITMOise" everything — transform Abu Ghraib based on the model of the prison camp at US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay (abbreviated GITMO by the US military), Cuba, where prisoners from the "war on terror" were tortured. Miller visited Abu Ghraib in late 2003 to make recommendations on the interrogation of prisoners. Karpinski said that after Miller's visit, new people started arriving at Abu Ghraib who had transferred from Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay on Miller's orders. She told the investigators that Miller advised her to treat prisoners "like dogs".

Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are just three components of the White House's public rehabilitation of the use of torture since 9/11. The victims of Washington's torture policy, however, aren't limited to those countries under US military occupation.

In December 2004, the Washington Post published an investigation into the CIA's practice of "rendering" prisoners from the "war on terror", handing detainees over to US allies who would torture them for information. According to the Post, the intelligence agency had gone so far as to set up a front company exclusively for transporting kidnapped prisoners — Premier Executive Transport Services Inc, a corporation whose "directors and officers ... appear to exist only on paper". There are already official investigations in Italy, Germany and Sweden into US kidnappings and "renditions".

In the Italian case, reported the March 13 Washington Post, a "radical Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar was walking to a Milan mosque for noon prayers in February 2003 when he was grabbed on the sidewalk by two men, sprayed in the face with chemicals and stuffed into a van. He hasn't been seen since." Italian investigators have demanded the records of any US planes that have flown into or out of Aviano Air Base, a joint US-Italian installation in northern Italy.

Private First Class Willie Brand, one of the soldiers who helped beat Dilawar to death at Bagram over a five-day period was charged with manslaughter in a Texas court in February. According to an op-ed by Human Rights Watch investigator John Sifton in the March 13 US Nation, in two-thirds of the prisoner abuse cases investigated by the US military, the soldiers involved have received only "administrative punishments like reprimands and demotions". No CIA agents have been charged.

Sifton asked: "Why are the current investigations only focusing on lower-level troops like Charles Graner and Lynndie England [involved in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib]? Why are the grunts paying for the crimes of the Pentagon top brass, the civilian hawks and the CIA spooks?"

From Green Left Weekly, March 23, 2005.

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