Monday, March 28, 2005

No suit of armour for pain

I’ve been reading of Paul Hester’s death. Suicide in a Melbourne park. He was the cheeky drummer from the later days of Split Enz, then Crowded House. I remember the short lived show “Hessie’s Shed” late at night, musicians clowning around, intimate, fun.

On the Frenz website, the tributes pour in. Mostly numb, the earlier ones wanting to remain unbelieving til the news confirmed by the media. Few mention the futility of suicide.

I remember feeling really pissed off when Kurt Cobain killed himself. It was not long after my brother’s death (astrocytoma) and I was more than in touch with the personal carnage that gets spread around as a consequence of death. Cobain was a role model for the grunge generation. He had it all, including addiction. But the message to give up when it all feels too bad, was not one a mentor should demonstrate.

So Hessie joins the latest celebrity suicide. Reminding us that talent is no suit of armour for pain. Love may at times not be enough. Adoring fans in the end a hindrance not a help.

May his partner and daughters be spared the feeding frenzy of the media. May his friends grieve long and loud together.

May we all create a store of memories that fill us with delight, to bring a smile on the greyest days.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Nulliparous, pagan whores last

After 6 months in a leaky boat (sic) and even longer as guests in our home away from home, a number of our longest serving detainees have decided to ditch Islam and convert to Christianity. This now puts them in an interesting situation, to return to their Muslim countries as Christians leaves them open to persecution and this change in faith potentially alters their previous failed bids on asylum in this country.

Instead of embracing the latest converts from the dark side Family First (Nulliparous, Pagan, Wores Last) have got their knickers in a twist over it. What if they all become Christians and we have to let them live in this country – that just wouldn’t do, or so the double speak implies.

Not sure to be sneakingly joyous at this cunning turn of events or feel gravely concerned if this has been a genuine cultural change. If the only way a refugee can gain legitimate entry into Australia is by becoming christian it is a sad indictment of our current hard hearted government.

As for FF, its providing great sport to sit back and watch them squirm.

camp slappy part 2

I said it was a long article - here is the rest of it :),,1439904,00.html

Agiza and Al-Zery landed in Cairo at 3am the next morning and were taken to the state security investigation office, where they were held in solitary confinement in underground cells. Mohammed Zarai, former director of the Cairo-based Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners, told us that Agiza was repeatedly electrocuted, hung upside down, whipped with an electrical flex and hospitalised after being made to lick his cell floor clean. Hanan, who was granted asylum in Sweden in 2004, said, "I can't sleep at night without expecting someone to knock on the door and send us away on a plane to a place that scares me more than anything else. What can Ahmed do?" Her husband is still incarcerated in Cairo, while Al-Zery is under house arrest there. There have been calls for an international independent investigation into the roles of the Swedish, US and Egyptian authorities.

We were able to chart the toing and froing of the private executive jet used at Bromma partly through the observations of plane-spotters posted on the web and partly through a senior source in the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). It was a Gulfstream V Turbo, tailfin number N379P; its flight plans always began at an airstrip in Smithfield, North Carolina, and ended in some of the world's hot spots. It was owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, incorporated in Delaware, a brass plaque company with nonexistent directors, hired by American agents to revive an old CIA tactic from the 1970s, when agency men had kidnapped South American criminals and flown them back to their own countries to face trial so that justice could be rendered. Now "rendering" was being used by the Bush administration to evade justice.

Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in the Middle East until 1997, told us how it works. "We pick up a suspect or we arrange for one of our partner countries to do it. Then the suspect is placed on civilian transport to a third country where, let's make no bones about it, they use torture. If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan. If you want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy work."

The Agiza and Al-Zery cases were not the first in which the Gulfstream was used. On October 23 2001, at 2.40am at Karachi airport, it picked up Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni microbiologist who had been arrested by Pakistan's ISI and was wanted in connection with the USS Cole attack. On January 10 2002, the jet was used again, taking off from Halim airport in Jakarta with a hooded and shackled Mohammed Saeed Iqbal Madni on board, an Egyptian accused of being an accomplice of British shoe bomber Richard Reid. Madni was flown to Cairo where, according to the Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners, he died during interrogation.

Since then, the jet has been used at least 72 times, including a flight in June 2002 when it landed in Morocco to pick up German national Mohammed Zamar, who was "rendered" to Syria, his country of origin, before disappearing.

It was in December 2001 that the US began to commandeer foreign jails so that its own interrogators could work on prisoners within them. Among the first were Haripur and Kohat, no-frills prisons in the lawless North West Frontier Province of Pakistan which now hold nearly as many detainees as Guantánamo. In January, we attempted to visit Kohat jail, but as we drove towards the security perimeter our vehicle was turned back by ISI agents and we were escorted back to the nearby city of Peshawar. We eventually located several former detainees, including Mohammed, a university student who described how he was arrested and then initially interrogated in one of many covert ISI holding centres that are being jointly run with the CIA. Mohammed said, "I was questioned for four weeks in a windowless room by plain-clothed US agents. I didn't know if it was day or night. They said they could make me disappear." One day he was bundled into a vehicle. "I arrived in Kohat jail. There were 100 prisoners from all over the Middle East. Later I was moved to Haripur where there were even more."

Adil, another detainee who was held for three years in Haripur after illegally crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he had escaped from the Taliban, says, "US interrogators came and went as they pleased." Both Mohammed and Adil said they were often taken from the hot cell and doused with ice-cold water. Adil says, "American women ordered us to get undressed. They'd touch us and taunt us. They made us lie naked on top of each other and simulate acts."

Mohammed and Adil were released without charge in November 2004 but, according to legal depositions, there are still 400 prisoners detained in the jails at the request of the US. Among them are many who it is extremely unlikely took part in the Afghan war: they are too young or too old to have been combatants. Some have taken legal action against the Pakistani authorities for breach of human rights.

A military intelligence official in Washington told us that no one in the US administration seemed concerned about the impact of the coercive tactics practised by the growing global network on the quality of intelligence obtained, although there was plenty of evidence it was unreliable. On September 26 2002, Maher Arar, a 34-year-old Canadian computer scientist, was arrested at New York's JFK airport as a result of a paper-thin evidential chain. Syrian-born Arar told us, "I was pulled aside by US immigration at 2pm. I told them I had a connecting flight to Montreal where I had a job interview." However, Arar was "rendered" in a private jet, via Washington, Portland and Rome, landing in Amman, Jordan, where he was held at what a Jordanian source described as a US-run interrogation centre. From there, he was handed over to Syria, the country he had left as a 17-year-old boy. He says he spent the next 12 months being tortured and in solitary confinement, unaware that someone he barely knew had named him as a terrorist.

The chain of events that led to Arar's arrest, or kidnapping, began in November 2001, when another Canadian, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, from Montreal, was arrested at Damascus airport. He was accused of being a terrorist and asked to identify his al-Qaida connections. By the time he'd endured two years of torture, El-Maati had reeled off the names of everyone he knew in Montreal, including Abdullah Almalki, an electrical engineer. Almalki was arrested as he flew into Damascus airport to join his parents on holiday in May 2002, and would spend the next two years being tortured in a Syrian detention facility.

Almalki knew Arward Al-Bousha, also from Ottawa, who in July 2002, upon arriving in Damascus to visit his dying father, was also arrested. El-Maati, Almalki and Al-Bousha all knew Maher Arar by sight through Muslim community events in Ottawa. After his release from jail in Syria, uncharged, in January 2004, El-Maati admitted that he had erroneously named Maher Arar as a terrorist to "stop the vicious torture". Arar, who was eventually released in October 2003 after a Syrian court threw out a coerced confession in which he said he had been trained by al-Qaida, told us, "I am not a terrorist. I don't know anyone who is. But the tolerant Muslim community I come from here in Canada has become vitriolic and demoralised." Arar's case is now the subject of a judicial inquiry in Canada, but since his release and that of Al-Bousha and Almalki, another five men from Ottawa have been detained in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Five days after the US supreme court ruled in July 2004 that federal courts had jurisdiction over Guantánamo, Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old computer programmer from Karachi, disappeared during a business trip to Lahore. He was not taken to Guantánamo. His father Hayat told us that he learned of his son's fate after a neighbour called on August 2 to say that US newspapers were running a story about "the capture of a figure from al-Qaida in Pakistan" who had led "the CIA to a rich lode of information". An unnamed US intelligence official claimed Naeem Noor Khan operated websites and email addresses for al-Qaida. The following day Pakistan's information minister trumpeted the ISI's seizure of Naeem Noor Khan on behalf of the US on July 13. The prisoner had "confessed to receiving 25 days of military training from an al-Qaida camp in June 1998". No corroborative evidence was offered.

Babar Awan, one of Pakistan's leading advocates, representing the family, said he had learned from a contact in the Pakistani government that Naeem Noor Khan was wanted by the US, having been named by one of a group of Malaysian students who had been detained incommunicado and threatened with torture in Pakistan in September 2003. Awan said, "The student was subsequently freed uncharged and described how he was threatened until he offered the names of anyone he had met in Pakistan. There is no evidence against Naeem Noor Khan except for this coerced statement, and even worse he has now vanished and so there is no prison to petition for his release."

Khan had been swallowed up by a catch-all system that gathers up anyone connected by even a thread to terror. Unable to distinguish its friends from its enemies, the US suspects both.

Dawn broke on the festival of Eid and four US army vehicles gunned their engines in preparation for a "hearts and minds" operation in Khost city, Afghanistan. A roll call of marines, each with their blood group scrawled on their boots, was ticked off and we were added to the muster. The convoy hurtled towards the city. Men and boys began to run alongside. First a handful and then a dozen. The crowd was heading for a vast prayer ground, and soon there were thousands of devotees in brand newEid caps and starched shalwas marching out to pray. The US Humvees pulled over. The armoured personnel carriers, too. A dozen US marines stepped down, eyes obscured by goggles, faces by balaclavas.

hey fell into formation and stomped into the crowd while a group of Afghan police looked on incredulously. "Keep tight. Keep tight. Keep looking all around us," a US marines captain shouted. More than 10,000 Pashtun men were now on their knees praying as a line of khaki pushed between them.

An egg flew. Then another. "One more, sir, and the guy who did it is going down," a young sergeant mumbled, as the disturbed crowd rose to its feet. Bearded men with Kalashnikovs emerged from behind a stone wall and edged towards us, cutting off our path. The line of khaki began to panic, and jostled the children. "Back away, back away now," shouted the sergeant. Suddenly an armoured personnel carrier roared to meet us. "Jump up, people," the captain shouted, and the convoy sped back to Camp Salerno.

And perhaps this event above all others - of a nervous phalanx of US marines forcing its way across a prayer ground on one of the holiest, most joyous days in the Islamic calendar, an itching trigger away from a Somalian-style dogfight of their own making - is the one that encapsulates everything that has gone wrong with the global war against terror. The US army came to Afghanistan as liberators and now are feared as governors, judges and jailers. How many US marines know what James Madison, an architect of the US constitution, wrote in 1788? Reflecting on the War of Independence in which Americans were arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial by British forces, Madison concluded that the "accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny"

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Welcome to Camp Slappy

Ok, I am tired and emotional but the following (and very long) article from the guardian made me just want to sit down and howl. If knowledge sets us free, we can no longer claim ignorance when we read such reports. Do we have to wait til it is our friend or neighbour carted off into this unimaginable network where all human rights are vetoed, before we stand up and are counted?

'One huge US jail'

Afghanistan is the hub of a global network of detention centres, the frontline in America's 'war on terror', where arrest can be random and allegations of torture commonplace. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark investigate on the ground and talk to former prisoners
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
Saturday March 19, 2005

Kabul was a grim, monastic place in the days of the Taliban; today it's a chaotic gathering point for every kind of prospector and carpetbagger. Foreign bidders vying for billions of dollars of telecoms, irrigation and construction contracts have sparked a property boom that has forced up rental prices in the Afghan capital to match those in London, Tokyo and Manhattan. Four years ago, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue in Kabul was a tool of the Taliban inquisition, a drab office building where heretics were locked up for such crimes as humming a popular love song. Now it's owned by an American entrepreneur who hopes its bitter associations won't scare away his new friends.

Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is bleaker, its provinces more inaccessible and lawless, than it was under the Taliban. If anyone leaves town, they do so in convoys. Afghanistan is a place where it is easy for people to disappear and perilous for anyone to investigate their fate. Even a seasoned aid agency such as Médécins Sans Frontières was forced to quit after five staff members were murdered last June. Only the 17,000-strong US forces, with their all-terrain Humvees and Apache attack helicopters, have the run of the land, and they have used the haze of fear and uncertainty that has engulfed the country to advance a draconian phase in the war against terror. Afghanistan has become the new Guantánamo Bay.

Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights activists and Afghan politicians have accused the US military of placing Afghanistan at the hub of a global system of detention centres where prisoners are held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture. The secrecy surrounding them prevents any real independent investigation of the allegations. "The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely outside international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and more sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to understand," Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human Rights First, told us.

When we landed in Kabul, Afghanistan was blue with a bruising cold. We were heading for the former al-Qaida strongholds in the south-east that were rumoured to be the focus of the new US network. How should we prepare, we asked local UN staff. "Don't go," they said. None the less, we were able to find a driver, a Pashtun translator and a boxful of clementines, and set off on a five-and-a-half-hour trip south through the snow to Gardez, a market town dominated by two rapidly expanding US military bases.

There we met Dr Rafiullah Bidar, regional director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, established in 2003 with funding from the US Congress to investigate abuses committed by local warlords and to ensure that women's and children's rights were protected. He was delighted to see foreigners in town. At his office in central Gardez, Bidar showed us a wall of files. "All I do nowadays is chart complaints against the US military," he said. "Many thousands of people have been rounded up and detained by them. Those who have been freed say that they were held alongside foreign detainees who've been brought to this country to be processed. No one is charged. No one is identified. No international monitors are allowed into the US jails." He pulled out a handful of files: "People who have been arrested say they've been brutalised - the tactics used are beyond belief." The jails are closed to outside observers, making it impossible to test the truth of the claims.

Last November, a man from Gardez died of hypothermia in a US military jail. When his family were called to collect the body, they were given a $100 note for the taxi ride and no explanation. In scores more cases, people have simply disappeared.

Prisoner transports crisscross the country between a proliferating network of detention facilities. In addition to the camps in Gardez, there are thought to be US holding facilities in the cities of Khost, Asadabad and Jalalabad, as well as an official US detention centre in Kandahar, where the tough regime has been nicknamed "Camp Slappy" by former prisoners. There are 20 more facilities in outlying US compounds and fire bases that complement a major "collection centre" at Bagram air force base. The CIA has one facility at Bagram and another, known as the "Salt Pit", in an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. More than 1,500 prisoners from Afghanistan and many other countries are thought to be held in such jails, although no one knows for sure because the US military declines to comment.

Anyone who has got in the way of the prison transports has been met with brutal force. Bidar directed us to a small Shia neighbourhood on the edge of town where a multiple killing was still under investigation. Inside a frozen courtyard, a former policeman, Said Sardar, 25, was sat beside his crutches. On May 1 2004, he was manning a checkpoint when a car careened through. "Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were western men," he said. "They had prisoners in the car." Sardar fired a warning shot for the car to stop. "The western men returned fire and within minutes two US attack helicopters hovered above us. They fired three rockets at the police station. One screamed past me. I saw its fiery tail and blacked out."

He was taken to Bagram, where US military doctors had to amputate his leg. Afterwards, he said, "an American woman appeared. She said the US was sorry. It was a mistake. The men in the car were Special Forces or CIA on a mission. She gave me $500." Sardar showed us into another room in his compound where a circle of children stared glumly at us; their fathers, all policemen, were killed in the same incident. "Five dead. Four in hospital. To protect covert US prisoner transports," he says. Later, US helicopters were deployed in two similar incidents that left nine dead.

In his builders' merchant's shop, Mohammed Timouri describes how he lost his son. "Ismail was a part-time taxi driver, waiting to go to college," he says, handing us a photograph of a beardless, short-haired 19-year-old held aloft in a coffin at his funeral last March. "A convoy delivering prisoners from a facility in Jalalabad to one in Kabul became snarled up in traffic. A US soldier jumped down and lifted a woman out of the way. She screamed. Ismail stepped forward to explain she was a conservative person, wearing a burka. The soldier dropped the woman and shot Ismail in front of a crowd of 20 people."

Mohammed received a letter from the Afghan police: "We apologise to you," the police chief wrote. "An innocent was killed by Americans." The US army declined to comment on Ismail's death or on a second fatal shooting by another prison transport at the same crossroads later that month. It also refused to comment on an incident outside Kabul when a prison patrol reportedly cleared a crowd of children by throwing a grenade into their midst. However, we have since heard that the CIA's inspector general is investigating at least eight serious incidents, including two deaths in custody, following complaints by agents about the activities of their military colleagues.

There are insurgents active in the Gardez area, as there are throughout the south of Afghanistan, remnants of the old order and the newly disaffected. Every morning it takes Afghan police several hours to pick along the highway unearthing explosives concealed overnight. And so it was mid-morning before we were able to leave town, crawling over the Gardez-Khost pass, some 10,000ft high. No one saw us slipping on to the fertile Khost plain, where Osama bin Laden once had his training camps - the camps were destroyed by US cruise missiles in August 1998. Today a shrine to Taliban loyalists still greets travellers to the city, although no one here would say they preferred the old life.

US Camp Salerno, the largest base outside Kabul, dominates the area around Khost. Inside the city, Kamal Sadat, a local stringer for BBC World Service, told how he was detained last September and found himself locked up in a prison filled with suspects from many countries. "Even though I showed my press accreditation, I was hooded, driven to Salerno and then flown to another US base. I had no idea where I was or why I had been detained." He was held in a small wooden cell, and soldiers combed through his notebooks, copying down names and phone numbers. "Every time I was moved within the base, I was hooded again. Every prisoner has to maintain absolute silence. I could hear helicopters whirring above me. Prisoners were arriving and leaving all the time. There were also cells beneath me, under the ground." After three days, Sadat was flown back to Khost and freed without explanation. "It was only later I learned that I had been held in Bagram. If the BBC had not intervened, I fear I would not have got out." After his release, the US military said it had all been a misunderstanding, and apologised.

Camp Salerno, which houses the 1,200 troops of US Combined Taskforce Thunder, was being expanded when we arrived. Army tents were being replaced with concrete dormitories. The detention facility, concealed behind a perimeter of opaque green webbing, was being modernised and enlarged. Ensconced in a Soviet-era staff building was the camp's commanding officer, Colonel Gary Cheeks. He listened calmly as we asked about the allegations of torture, deaths and disappearances at US detention facilities including Salerno. We read to him from a complaint made by a UN official in Kabul that accused the US military of using "cowboy-like excessive force". He eased forward in his chair: "There have been some tragic accidents for which we have apologised. Some people have been paid compensation."

We put to him the specific case of Mohammed Khan, from a village near the Pakistan border, who died in custody at Camp Salerno: his relatives say his body showed signs of torture. "You could go on for ages with a 'he said, she said'. You have to take my word for it," said Cheeks. He remembered Khan's death: "He was bitten by a snake and died in his cell." He added, "We are building new holding cells here to make life better for detainees. We are systematising our prison programme across the country."

For what reason? "So all guards and interrogators behave by the same code of behaviour," the colonel said. Is it not the case that an ever-increasing number of prisoners have vanished, while others are being shuttled between jails to keep their families in the dark? Cheeks moved towards his office door: "There are many things that are distorted. No one has vanished here ... Look, the war against the Taliban is one small part. I want the Afghan people with us. They are the key to ending conflict. If they fear us or we do wrong by them, then we have lost."

However, many Afghans who celebrated the fall of the Taliban have long lost faith in the US military. In Kabul, Nader Nadery, of the Human Rights Commission, told us, "Afghanistan is being transformed into an enormous US jail. What we have here is a military strategy that has spawned serious human rights abuses, a system of which Afghanistan is but one part." In the past 18 months, the commission has logged more than 800 allegations of human rights abuses committed by US troops.

The Afghan government privately shares Nadery's fears. One minister, who asked not to be named, said, "Washington holds Afghanistan up to the world as a nascent democracy and yet the US military has deliberately kept us down, using our country to host a prison system that seems to be administered arbitrarily, indiscriminately and without accountability."

What has been glimpsed in Afghanistan is a radical plan to replace Guantánamo Bay. When that detention centre was set up in January 2002, it was essentially an offshore gulag - beyond the reach of the US constitution and even the Geneva conventions. That all changed in July 2004. The US supreme court ruled that the federal court in Washington had jurisdiction to hear a case that would decide if the Cuban detentions were in violation of the US constitution, its laws or treaties. The military commissions, which had been intended to dispense justice to the prisoners, were in disarray, too. No prosecution cases had been prepared and no defence cases would be readily offered as the US National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers had described the commissions as unethical, a decision backed by a federal judge who ruled in January that they were "illegal". Guantánamo was suddenly bogged down in domestic lawsuits. It had lost its practicality. So a global prison network built up over the previous three years, beyond the reach of American and European judicial process, immediately began to pick up the slack. The process became explicit last week when the Pentagon announced that half of the 540 or so inmates at Guantánamo are to be transferred to prisons in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Since September 11 2001, one of the US's chief strategies in its "war on terror" has been to imprison anyone considered a suspect on whatever grounds. To that end it commandeered foreign jails, built cellblocks at US military bases and established covert CIA facilities that can be located almost anywhere, from an apartment block to a shipping container. The network has no visible infrastructure - no prison rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaints procedures. Terror suspects are being processed in Afghanistan and in dozens of facilities in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the British island of Diego Garcia in the southern Indian Ocean. Those detained are held incommunicado, without charge or trial, and frequently shuttled between jails in covert air transports, giving rise to the recently coined US military expression "ghost detainees".

Most of the countries hosting these invisible prisons are already partners in the US coalition. Others, notably Syria, are pragmatic associates, which work privately alongside the CIA and US Special Forces, despite bellicose public statements from President Bush (he has condemned Syria for harbouring terrorism, for aiding the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime, and most recently has demanded that Syrian troops quit Lebanon).

All the host countries are renowned for their poor human rights records, enabling interrogators (US soldiers, contractors and their local partners) to operate. We have obtained prisoner letters, declassified FBI files, legal depositions, witness statements and testimony from US and UK officials, which document the alleged methods deployed in Afghanistan - shackles, hoods, electrocution, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation and starvation - and suggest they are practised across the network. Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, said, "The more hidden detention practices there are, the more likely that all legal and moral constraints on official behaviour will be removed."

The only "ghost detainees" to have been identified by Washington are a handful of high-profile al-Qaida operatives such as Abu Zubayda, Bin Laden's lieutenant, who vanished after being picked up by Pakistani authorities in Faisalabad in March 2002. In June of that year, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Zubayda was "under US control". He did not say where, although sources in the Pakistani government said Zubayda was being held at a CIA facility in their country.

In May 2003, Bush clarified the fate of Waleed Muhammad bin Attash, an alleged conspirator in the USS Cole bombing, who disappeared after being arrested by police in Pakistan in April 2003. Bush described Attash as "a killer ... one less person that people who love freedom have to worry about"; he is also one more person who has never appeared on a US prison roll.

In June 2004, a senior counterterrorism official in Britain confirmed that Hambali (a nom de guerre) - accused of organising the October 2002 Bali bombings and unseen since Thai police seized him in August 2003 - was "singing like a bird", apparently at the US base on Diego Garcia.

Evidence we have collected, however, shows that many more of those swept up in the network have few provable connections to any outlawed organisation; experts in the field describe their value in the war against terror as "negligible". Former prisoners claim they were released only after naming names, coerced into making false confessions that led to the arrests of more people unconnected to terrorism, in a system of justice that owes more to Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees Of Separation - where anyone can be linked to everyone else in the world in as many stages - than to analytical jurisprudence.

The floating population of "ghost detainees", according to US and UK military officials, now exceeds 10,000.

The roots of the prison network can be traced to the legal wrangles that began as soon as the first terror suspects were rounded up just weeks after the September 11 attacks. As CIA agents and US forces began to capture suspected al-Qaida fighters in the war in Afghanistan, Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel, looked for ways to "dispense justice swiftly, close to where our forces may be fighting, without years of pre-trial proceedings or post-trial appeals".

On November 13 2001, George Bush signed an order to establish military commissions to try "enemy belligerents" who commit war crimes. At such a commission, a foreign war criminal would have no choice over his defence counsel, no right to know the evidence against him, no way of obtaining any evidence in his favour and no right of attorney-client confidentiality. Defending the commissions, Gonzales (now promoted to US attorney general) insisted, "The suggestion that [they] will afford only sham justice like that dispensed in dictatorial nations is an insult to our military justice system."

When the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, Donald Rumsfeld announced that they were all Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, and as such were designated "unlawful combatants". The US administration argued that al-Qaida and the Taliban were not the official army of Afghanistan, but a criminal force that did not wear uniforms, could not be distinguished from civilians and practised war crimes; on this basis, the administration claimed, it was entitled to sidestep the Geneva conventions and normal legal constraints.

From there, it was only a small moral step for the Bush administration to overlook the use of torture by regimes previously condemned by the US state department, so long as they, too, signed up to the war against terror. "Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and even Syria were all asked to make their detention facilities and expert interrogators available to the US," one former counterterrorism agent told us.

In the UK, a similar process began unfolding. In December 2001, the then home secretary David Blunkett withdrew Britain from its obligation under the European human rights treaty not to detain anyone without trial; on December 18, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act was passed, extending the government's powers of arrest and detention. Within 24 hours, 10 men were seized in dawn raids on their homes and taken to Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons (some of them will have been among those released in the past week).

Subsequently the Foreign Office subtly modified internal guidance to diplomats, enabling them to use intelligence obtained through torture. A letter from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office directorate sent to Sir Michael Jay, head of the diplomatic service, and Mathew Kidd of Whitehall liaison, a euphemism for MI6, suggested in March 2003 that although such intelligence was inadmissible as evidence in a UK court, it could still be received and acted upon by the British government. The government's attitude was spelt out to the Intelligence and Security Committee of MPs and peers by foreign secretary Jack Straw who, while acknowledging that torture was "completely unacceptable" and that information obtained under torture is more likely to be embellished, concluded, "you cannot ignore it if the price of ignoring it is 3,000 people dead" [a reference to the September 11 attacks].

One former ambassador told us, "This was new ground for the FCO. As long as we didn't do it, we're OK. But by taking advantage of this intelligence, we're encouraging the use of torture and, in my opinion, are in contravention of the UN Convention Against Torture. What worried me most was that information obtained under torture, given credence by some gung-ho Whitehall warrior, could be used to keep another poor soul locked up without trial or charge."

Although the true extent of the US extra-legal network is only now becoming apparent, people began to disappear as early as 2001 when the US asked its allies in Europe and the Middle East to examine their refugee communities in search of possible terror cells, such as that run by Mohammed Atta in Hamburg which had planned and executed the September 11 attacks. Among the first to vanish was Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian asylum seeker who had been living in Sweden with his wife and children for three years. Hanan, Agiza's wife, told us how on December 18 2001 her husband failed to return home from his language class.

"The phone rang at 5pm. It was Ahmed. He said he'd been arrested and then the line went dead. The next day our lawyer told me that Ahmed was being sent back to Egypt. It would be better if he was dead." Agiza and his family had fled Egypt in 1991, after years of persecution, and in absentia he had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court. Hanan said, "I called my mother-in-law in Egypt. Finally, in April, she was allowed to see Ahmed in Mazrah Torah prison, in Cairo, when he revealed what had happened."

On December 18 2001, Agiza and a second Egyptian refugee, Mohammed Al-Zery, had been arrested by Swedish intelligence acting upon a request from the US. They were driven, shackled and blindfolded, to Stockholm's Bromma airport, where they were cuffed and cut from their clothes. Suppositories were inserted into both men's anuses, they were wrapped in plastic nappies, dressed in jumpsuits and handed over to an American aircrew who flew them out of Sweden on a private executive jet.

so where was the other 200,000?

Were you there 2 years ago? 200,000 of us clogging the Melbourne streets, protesting about an unjust war (as if any war is justified?) disgusted about America's bloodlust for oil and Australia's shortsighted support. We were there, the first of a worldwide weekend of protest, sending a message that this war was not in our name.

So last night a few of us (numbering in the hundreds) were there again. Same place, same time, 2 years on. Still disgusted, outraged, mad, bad and sad. The same familiar faces, just significantly less of them. Does this mean the missing souls give their tacit acceptance to the war now? Do you feel jaded? As if your voice is silenced by the sheer weight of the world? I don't know, but i wish you would tell me.

I am not noble, or even particularly involved in the antiwar movement. I am just another thinking, voting citizen who wanted her voice to be heard.

We may be quieter now, but we will grow stronger.

Friday, March 11, 2005

melbourne secret #1

Where do you find a miniture scent collection with anything from the smell of swamp water to breast milk (and sex too they tell us, is that a mixture of the former two?), a replica of a kilo of human fat doubling as a paperweight or cute little butterflies in frames?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Pilger, Habib and Ruddock

A bit of Pilger, he hits so many home runs with this piece in Znet.

Last night SBS Dateline ran a long piece on Habib. This differed in many ways from the earlier "60 minutes" on 9 - Habib was not paid, it looked at the senate enquiry and it also interviewed Ruddock. Perhaps the major difference is that on channel 9 Habib, fresh out of 3 years detention and torture looked "shifty" (according to the shock jocks the following day). A month on, slightly refreshed but still under constantly watched by ASIO Habib looks stronger and clearer, his eyes aren't blinking like a railway crossing and its Ruddock who looks decidedly shifty. Give the minister a lie detecter test I say!

February 04, 2005

Australia: The Sickening Of Democracy

By John Pilger

National myths are usually partly true. In Australia, the myth of an egalitarian society, or "fair go", has an extraordinary history. Long before most of the world, Australia had a minimum wage, a 35-hour working week, child benefits and the vote for women. The secret ballot was invented in Australia. By the 1960s, Australians could boast the most equitable spread of personal income in the world. Today, these are forgotten, subversive truths. As schools are ordered to fly the flag (its British Union Jack still mocking from on high), the maudlin story of Australian soldiers dying pointlessly for an imperial master at Gallipoli is elevated, along with barely veiled colonialism and racism. Self-promoted as a bastion of human rights, Australia has become a sideshow of their denial and degradation.

Many Australians are aware of this, not least those who filled a small Sydney theatre on 26 January, "Australia Day", which celebrates the dispossession of the Aboriginal people by the British in 1770. The Australian playwright Stephen Sewell's remarkable play Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America was showing at the Stables Theatre. Inspired in part by Franz Kafka's The Trial, it strips away the democratic facade of Bush's America - "if you want to see America, look into the eyes of its prisoners", says one of the principal characters. Rapacious power dressed as democracy, and the fear and silence of its privileged - notably academics - are Sewell's theme and one that is rarely discussed in public in Australia. When the performance ended, a lawyer, Stephen Hopper, stood and spoke. It was as if a long silence had been shattered. Hopper is the lawyer for Mamdouh Habib, one of two Australians imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. He described Habib's suffering and torture, first in Egypt where he was "rendered" by the Americans after they had kidnapped him in Pakistan. In a CIA-supported prison in Egypt, he was suspended from the ceiling with only an electrified barrel to stand on.

"He would stand and get a shock or hang painfully by his arms until he'd collapse," said Hopper. He was blindfolded and locked in rooms that were flooded with water and charged with electricity. In Guantanamo Bay, the guards brought a prostitute who "stood over him naked while he was strapped to the floor and menstruated on him". Photographs of Habib's wife and four children were defaced.

"The Americans in their wisdom have taken the heads off the pictures," said Hopper, "enlarged them and superimposed them with the heads of animals and then strung them up all over the walls of the interrogation room. [They said to him]: 'It's a shame we had to kill your family.'"

We know about these atrocities from the earlier accounts of the British prisoners. What is different here is that no government calling itself democratic has so completely collaborated with the Guantanamo regime as that of John Howard. Stephen Hopper described how an Australian official stood by as Habib was tortured by the Americans and dragged on to a plane; there is documented evidence of this. The Australian attorney general, Philip Ruddock, claims he knew nothing about this. Ruddock has relentlessly slandered Habib, and the other Australian prisoner, David Hicks, as terrorist suspects when not a shred of evidence has been produced. It was only when it seemed the US Supreme Court would examine his case that Habib was hurriedly sent home.

Gareth Peirce, who represents the Guantanamo Britons, told me: "The fact that David Hicks is before a military commission is entirely due to the Australian government doing nothing for him." Even Hicks's American military lawyer says his "trial", with its vaporous conspiracy charges, is a travesty.

Yet Ruddock, whose job is to resist the abuse of liberties bestowed by the law, has allowed a mockery of the judicial process to be used brutally against Australian citizens. Having placed Habib under constant surveillance and prevented him from leaving the country, he now is trying to stop him speaking publicly about the grotesque things done to him. What is clear is that this squalid politician fears the truth that Habib is now free to tell. It is a fear faithfully reflected by most of the Australian media. The Sydney Morning Herald shamefully allowed an Israeli propagandist, Ted Lapkin, to say that Habib, an innocent man under any proper legal system, had "paid the price for his actions with incarceration by American authorities".

A leading "liberal" commentator, Michelle Grattan, has described Habib, who is clearly damaged by his abuse, as having "entered the celebrity category", and says he "cannot reasonably complain about [remaining under watch] by Australian authorities". It is hardly surprising that, according to Reporters sans Frontieres, the Australian press rates 41st on the world's press freedom index, its obsequiousness to power just ahead of autocratic and totalitarian states.

Like those in Sewell's play, many Australian journalists remain silent (as do most Australian academics; I can think of only three who speak out regularly). Some of the most prominent journalists form an adoring court for a prime minister who has out-Blaired Blair in his rank deceptions and is out-Bushing his mentor in Washington in his demonstrable contempt for human rights. Under Howard and Ruddock, Australia has built its own Gulag in the Pacific, imprisoning behind razor wire Iraqis and others fleeing dictatorships. These innocent people are held in some of the most isolated places on earth, including Manus Island and Nauru. They include children. A Kashmiri refugee, Peter Qasim, has been locked up for nearly seven years.

The head of a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Louis Joinet, who has made more than 40 inspections of mandatory detention facilities around the world, says he had not seen worse abuse of human rights than in Australia.

The first Australians have experienced this for a long time. Under the Howard government, support for Aboriginal health and legal services has diminished. In western New South Wales, the life expectancy for Aboriginal men is 33; Australia is the only developed country on a United Nations "shame list" of countries that have not conquered trachoma, a preventable blindness that affects mostly Aboriginal children, and is a disease of poverty. Six years ago, I interviewed Ruddock when he was the federal minister responsible for ensuring that uppity black Australians did not embarrass the government in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics. I asked him: "How do you feel receiving Amnesty reports on human rights violations with 'Australia' written across the top, such as 'Aborigines are still dying in prison and police custody at levels that may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment'?" Smiling, he replied: "Why do they use the word 'may'?" The land of fair go deserves better than supercilious cruelty.

Its all in the mind - type 3 diabetes

For those interested in health and physiology you might find this fascinating. For those who aren't, this would be a good time to go read the Herald Sun.

Study suggests 'type 3 diabetes'

Scientists say they may have discovered a previously unknown form of diabetes, after finding the brain produces insulin as well as the pancreas.

Unlike other types of diabetes, the form - dubbed type 3 by the US Brown Medical School team - is not thought to affect blood sugar.

Type 3 affects brain insulin levels, and appears to be linked with Alzheimer's disease.

The team's research appears in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
It raises the possibility of a type 3 diabetes
Study author Dr Suzanne de la Monte

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes occur when the body is unable to produce or use insulin from the pancreas.

The so-called 'type 3' diabetes refers to lower than normal levels of newly discovered brain insulin, which appears to be associated with Alzheimer's disease in some way.

Scientists have known for some time that people with diabetes have an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease - by up to 65%.

They have also discovered that many type 2 diabetics have deposits of a protein in their pancreas which is similar to the protein deposits found in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer's disease.

Research has been going on to find out what links the two conditions.

Dr Suzanne de la Monte and colleagues now believe it is down to what they are calling type 3 diabetes.

By looking at rodents and post-mortem brain tissue from people with Alzheimer's disease they have found that insulin and its related proteins are actually produced in the brain, and that reduced levels of both are linked to Alzheimer's disease.

'Brain' insulin

They say this insulin and its related growth factors and receptors in the brain are vital for the survival of brain cells.

If they are not produced at normal levels, the cells die.

In the case of Alzheimer's, the cells that die are located in the part of the brain involved with memory, called the hippocampus.

Dr de la Monte, who is a neuropathologist at Rhode Island Hospital, said: "What we found is that insulin is not just produced in the pancreas, but also in the brain.

I suspect that the brain insulin itself is not very significant
Professor Greg Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles

"These abnormalities do not correspond to type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but reflect a different and more complex disease process that originates in the central nervous system."

Not only does this opens the way for targeted treatment to the brain and changes the way we view Alzheimer's disease, "it raises the possibility of a type 3 diabetes", she said.

"The implication is that treating type 1 or type 2 diabetes may have no impact on Alzheimer's disease. We believe that therapeutic agents need to be designed that specifically influence the actions of insulin in the brain," she said.

Cathy Moulton, care advisor at Diabetes UK, said: "So far studies on a potential link between Alzheimer's and diabetes have come up with inconclusive results.

'More research'

"There is some evidence to suggest that poorly controlled diabetes also affects the functioning of the brain.

"However, far more research on a link between Alzheimer's and diabetes is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions."

A spokeswoman from the Alzheimer's Research Trust said: "Researchers have believed for some time that the role of insulin and its growth factors are very important in Alzheimer's disease.

"Scientists have suggested that the link could be down to molecular changes affected by insulin.

"Work funded by the Alzheimer's Research Trust is currently investigating the way insulin acts on the brain and should improve our understanding of Alzheimer's and hopefully lead to way to new treatments.

Professor Greg Cole, from the University of California Los Angeles' Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, said: "This is a new finding. It is interesting that the brain makes very low levels of insulin.

"But its significance is unclear. The levels are so low that they have not been detected with less sensitive methods. I don't think we can say they are high enough to matter.

"I suspect that the brain insulin itself is not very significant and neither is its deficit in Alzheimer's disease and, therefore, I wouldn't call it type 3 diabetes."

But he said there was evidence that diabetes and Alzheimer's are linked in some way.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/03/07 23:19:00 GMT


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Big Brother sticks it up the UN

The Shrub is at it again. If it wasn't so machievellian it would be slightly amusing, that George Dubbya has appointed another of his cronies to be the USA ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, the appointee, shares many of his leaders views. The most amusing is that the UN is redundant and the the USA is the only legitimate superpower. His flagrant disregard towards this international institution once more shows The Shrub flexing his muscles and politically giving the rest of the world a brown eye.
Even the conservative press can't help but comment on the inappropriateness of the appointment. But perhaps the clincher as to why Bolton got the job goes to another cronie, in this quote from todays Age.

Right-wing Republican senator Jesse Helms paid tribute to Mr Bolton at his confirmation hearing in 2001, saying: "John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil."

Game on! Here comes Armageddon.

Neighbourly relations

Contrary to a previous post, the Australian government is letting us know just how friendly it can be to the neighbours. Take the case of the Chilean diplomat who illegally imported a Filipina maid, locked her up in his downtown Melbourne mansion, abused her and basically kept her as a slave. He left the country without paying her and now she is deemed an illegal immigrant who unless she can find the money for a ticket home (without a work visa and the money that an Australian court has verified the diplomat owes - doh!) she will join other guests in the detention centre prior to deportation.

Of course Little Alex Downer has the power to do something about this, but seems shy at causing a diplomatic incident, because really, you don't want to go upsetting the neighbours.

Abused and exploited - and now to be deported

By Paul Robinson
Workplace editor
March 9, 2005, The Age

A Filipina maid owed $43,000 in damages and lost wages by a senior Chilean diplomat whom she accused of exploiting and abusing her is facing detention and deportation.

The former consul-general in Melbourne, Antonio Pena, has left the country without paying and the Chilean embassy has refused to honour the debt, claiming it is a "private matter".

Senior diplomats at the Philippine embassy have been holding meetings with their Chilean counterparts in Canberra in an attempt to broker a settlement.

The maid, Jean Adoval, has a Melbourne Magistrates Court judgement against Mr Pena for breaching a diplomatic employment contract issued under the auspices of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

She has an order for him to pay $43,000.

Ms Adoval, who has been in Australia for more than four years, has been asked to show immigration officials an outbound airline ticket this Friday. She has been told to leave the country by March 20 because her temporary work permit and bridging visas have expired.

Ms Adoval, 34, told the court in 2003 that she was locked in her room at the Penas' Brighton residence, abused, threatened, denied medical assistance and dumped without her possessions at Melbourne Airport.


Her contract directed the Penas to pay her $1500 a month - $550 of which was to be paid in cash. Because the Penas withheld money and benefits and because Ms Adoval is not entitled to work, she now has no money to comply with the demand to leave the country.

Accordingly, she faces being put in detention before being deported.

Ms Adoval has been forced to rely on the goodwill of families in Altona Meadows, Kew and Balaclava and welfare agencies across Melbourne for food and clothing.

JobWatch and the Victorian Legal Service have been helping her and have asked the Chilean embassy to pay Ms Adoval.

Ms Adoval, who speaks broken English, has not seen her 11-year-old daughter, Ganah, who lives with her grandmother in Mindanao, for almost five years. "I speak many times with her but it make me sad. I cry," Ms Adoval said. "I have done nothing wrong. I do not want to leave Australia. If I leave, I will not get the money that Mr Pena owe me. He treat me very bad. He treat me more like animal than (a) human being.

"I come here to work to get money for my family. Now they want to send me home in disgrace with nothing. I cry. Why doesn't the Chilean embassy pay me?"

An embassy spokeswoman declined to say where Mr Pena was or whether he was still employed by the Chilean Government. She also declined to say whether the embassy had a legal or moral obligation to pay Ms Adoval the money an Australian court determined she was owed. "That is all a private matter. We can't make any comment. I am sorry, no comment," she said.

JobWatch director Zana Bytheway said Ms Adoval had been punished for trying to recover her money and enforce her rights.

"This beggars belief that such a thing could happen in Australia," she said.

"There must be some re-assessment of diplomatic immunity when foreign nationals can bring people in from overseas, underpay them, abuse them and get away with it. I cannot believe this sort of thing can happen in a civilised country."

An Immigration Department spokesman said the Government had refused to exercise its discretion to overturn a Refugee Review Tribunal decision to refuse an application by Ms Adoval for refugee status because she did not fit the criteria.

"As a result, she was on bridging visas and they have expired," the spokesman said.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs, not the Immigration Department, discussed such matters with embassies, saying: "As far as pressure on embassies goes, that's (Foreign Minister) Alexander Downer's patch."

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said it was a private legal matter. "It's not appropriate for the Government to intervene."

Sunday, March 06, 2005


No politics this time. Promise. New drink, give it a go - sparkling mineral water and a dash of pomegranate juice (sold in bottles in middle eastern stores, sometimes as pomegranate molasses or sauce). A bit tart and refreshing, just like me :)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Make yourself at home

Sometimes we are judged best by how we treat our visitors. On a national level, Australia has an appalling track record on receiving unexpected guests that happen to knock on our backdoor. Think Tampa. Is it heartening to know we are not alone in our disrespect? Below is a piece from Aljazeera on a tv doco about the UK’s treatment of asylum seekers in detention.

Oh and before we get too smug about what doesn’t happen here, the same GSL manages many of our own little home away from home’s for refugees, including South Australia’s Baxter detention centre.

TV film exposes UK asylum abuse

Thursday 03 March 2005

Failed asylum seekers were often harrassed and abused

A BBC television documentary has shown British immigration staff abusing failed asylum seekers.

The British Home Office said ministers would review the footage aired on Wednesday, before deciding what action to take.

An undercover BBC reporter spent three months working at an asylum centre near Cambridge, eastern England, for failed asylum seekers waiting to be deported from Britain and caught on film several incidents of physical and racial abuse.

The documentary also showed staff at the centre boasting of the abuse and describing sexual relations with detainees.

Immigration will play a key role in Britain's election which is expected in May and the BBC allegations will embarrass Prime Minister Tony Blair's government.

Employees suspended

Fifteen employees of the Global Solutions Ltd (GSL) company, which provides the staff for four asylum centres in Britain, have been suspended pending an internal inquiry, the company said.

"I take any allegations of this nature extremely seriously," Immigration Minister Des Browne said.

"I have always made clear there is absolutely no place for racism anywhere in our society, and particularly within the immigration system."

"I will consider what further action may be appropriate once I am in possession of the full facts," he said.

A second BBC reporter spent three months working for GSL at Heathrow airport on a contract to transport asylum seekers.

Both reporters said most of the officers they met did try their best to treat detainees with dignity and respect. But there was a significant minority who made racist comments.


"I have done a few things. I have smacked them in their faces when nobody's looking and I have busted their noses," one staff member called Jay said.

Another member of staff at the Oakington Immigration Reception Centre said asylum seekers were no use to society.

"They are not even good in their own society and that's why they have come here to get it for free."

Mark Oaten, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said he was appalled by what the documentary showed.

"Frankly it is absolutely appalling," Oaten said. "Some of the language and images are disgusting. It's quite clear that the staff involved were treating the asylum seekers as second class citizens."

"It's clear from some of the attitudes that there is a form of institutional racism operating there."
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