Letter from the US: Fresh crimes in 'war on terror' exposed

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Two reliable recent reports throw light on the moral depravity of Washington’s “war on terror”.

The first concerns a massacre in Afghanistan by US Special Forces.

The second documents how doctors and other medical personnel “participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees” held in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Rolling Stone magazine published an article by award-winning investigative journalist Matthieu Aikins, who is based in Kabul, titled “The A-Team Killings”.

'A-Team' killings

The “A-Team” was a Special Forces unit stationed in Wardak province near Kabul.

On November 6 last year, a 39-year-old Afghan farmer named Mohammad Qasim disappeared after being arrested by the A-Team. He was never heard from again.

Months later, a shepherd saw a wild dog digging at human remains identified as Qasim’s.

Interviewed on Democracy Now!, Aikins decribed another incident in his Rolling Stone article:

“Omar [a pseudonym] and his neighbor Gul Rahim, a 28-year-old shopkeeper, were digging a stump in front of their house when an IED [improvised explosive device] hit the U.S. Special forces Team as they were traveling nearby their village of Poland Khan. This was on November 10.

“And they soon saw Americans coming down the road toward them, so they went inside. Two translators and a bearded American burst into their house, started beating them, dragged them out to an orchard [not belonging to either man], where they found a command wire for the IED.”

As the Americans held Omar and beat him, one of the Afghan translators “took Gul Rahim about 10 paces away and raised a pistol to the back of his head and fired three shots, killing him in front of the Americans”.

“Omar then says he was taken away to the U.S. Special Forces base. He was held for several days, suspended, whipped with cables.”

Omar was released after interrogation and Aikins was able to interview him. Three other villagers corroborated Omar’s story.

Then in February, the special forces soldiers burst into the home of Bibi Shereen in the night. She tried to talk to the soldiers, who held her back and smashed her chest with the butt of a gun as they took away her son, a university student named Nasratullah.

Two days later, villagers found his body tossed under a bridge. Shereen testified on video with translation: “One of his fingers was cut off. He was beaten very badly. His body was swollen from torture, and his throat was slit.”

Revelations

Other men were rounded up by the A-Team and “disappeared”. Mass demonstrations erupted in Wardak asking the Karzai government put a halt to these crimes.

Finally, Karzai demanded that the A-Team leave the province and they were forced out in April.

After they were gone, bodies of “disappeared” men were found just outside the former A-Team base. So far, Afghan officials say they have uncovered the bodies of 10 men who disappeared after being arrested by the A-Team. Eight other Afghan civilians were killed by the unit during operations.

Aikins spent five months in Wardak, painstakingly gathering testimony of witnesses as well as information collected by the UN, the Red Cross and the Afghan government.

On the Rolling Stone website, Aikins' article is accompanied by a video of a hogtied prisoner screaming while being cable-whipped by Afghan security forces as two American military officers look on.

Even as the bodies were coming out of the ground in April and May, the US military adamantly stuck to the story that there had been investigations clearing the A-Team of any wrongdoing.

Finally, in July, the case was turned over to the Army Criminal Investigative Command (ACIC), which is supposedly conducting a new investigation.

However, the ACIC has yet to contact Aikins for his testimony, nor has it contacted any of the witnesses on the ground in Wardak.

It is inconceivable that the war crimes committed by the A-Team are an isolated incident. Or that the instances of other similar crimes that have come to light are either.

It is true the special forces units, as well as clandestine CIA units, enjoy special privileges of being largely exempt from any oversight. They are also given special training to warp their minds.

Veterans' suffering

But it is in the very nature of a war and occupation that the majority of those occupied hate the occupiers. Therefore, even regular soldiers begin to see enemies nin ot just those who take up arms against the occupation, but the population at large as well.

As many returning soldiers in Iraq Veterans Against the War (which includes Afghan veterans too) have publicly confessed, ordinary soldiers in such a situation can commit war crimes, too.

This in one aspect of the mental illnesses many veterans suffer. A shocking statistic reveals the depths of suffering: every day, an average of 22 soldiers in uniform commit suicide. That doesn’t count the many more veterans now out of the armed forces who do likewise.

The poor treatment these cannon fodder receive when they return is another part of the story.

The blame rests with the government that cynically sends young men and women into imperialist wars waged to extend capitalist power and profits.

Medical abuses

A report on the role of medical personnel has also been published by the Institute of Medicine as a Profession, based at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Commenting on the report in the New York Times, Dennise Grady and Benedict Carey wrote: “A group of experts in medicine, law and ethics has issued a blistering report that accuses the United States government of directing doctors, nurses and psychologists, among others, to ignore their professional codes of ethics and participate in the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba …

“Among the abuses cited in the report are doctors force-feeding hunger strikers by pushing feeding tubes into their noses and down their throats.”

This is a reference to the prisoners held at the US base at Guantanamo who have been engaging in a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention with no charges brought against them.

Such brutal force-feeding while prisoners are strapped down is a violation of their right to protest in the only way available to them. They have very little access to reach the outside world, and cannot defend themselves in a trial since there are no charges or trials.

This force-feeding is not done for humanitarian reasons, as the government claims, but to prevent the publicity that would occur if a hunger striker jailed indefinitely without charge was to die.

That these hunger strikers are willing to carry their protest to the point of death itself is an indication of their desperate situation, which has been going on for years.

Under the CIA’s Office of Medical Services guidelines, medical personnel were to be present during interrogations. “For instance,” the NYT reporters noted, “exposure to cold was to be stopped just before hypothermia set in, and loud noise was to be halted just before permanent hearing damage would occur”.

“The report claims that CIA medical personnel were present during waterboarding, and that ‘the guidelines advised keeping resuscitation equipment and supplies for emergency tracheotomy on hand.’”

The CIA has responded to the report with doublespeak, saying it is no longer in charge of the torture. But the report notes that now that the military has taken over from the CIA, the same rules apply.

Of course, the military was involved in torture along with the CIA from the start, as the infamous photos of torture at Abu Graib in Iraq demonstrated.

“The report is particularly critical of the American Psychological Association for allowing psychologists to participate in interrogations.

“The military has long employed psychologists in its ‘behavioral science consultation teams’ known as Biscuits, to assist with interrogations. Little is known about these teams, except that they study detainees, suggest lines of questioning and help decide when [torture] tactics are too harsh and when it is time to push harder.”

Of course, the greater crime is the use of torture in the first place, in direct violation of the rules of war concerning prisoners. This is a war crime.

That medical personnel are used to refine the torture is a further depravity.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]


From GLW issue 989