Prison at US base in Afghanistan a sore point among Afghans.

February 25, 2009
The son of Hafizullah Shahbaz Khiel, who has been held since last September at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, as a US prisoner, holds up papers declaring his innocence. (Photo: Rafiq Maqbool / AP)

The son of Hafizullah Shahbaz Khiel, who has been held since last September at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, as a US prisoner, holds up papers declaring his innocence. (Photo: Rafiq Maqbool / AP)

Kabul – The word “Guantanamo” serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.

Nothing changed with last month’s U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.

Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.

“Everybody is happy because our friends will be released from Guantanamo, but there is a big question,” said Omar al-Madani, 30, who now lives in Kabul. “What will they do about Bagram?”

The answer was delivered late Friday, when a government lawyer told a Washington district court that President Barack Obama will continue the policy of his predecessor, forbidding detainees at Bagram from legally challenging their imprisonment in U.S. courts.

That policy will now be scrutinized in U.S. court, as advocacy groups try to persuade a judge that Bagram detainees should have the same rights as those in Guantanamo, including the right to a hearing before a neutral judge.

It’s an issue that will assume growing urgency in the coming months, as thousands of extra U.S. troops surge into Afghanistan and a $60-million expansion doubles the capacity of the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, known by its acronym BTIF.

“It’s silly to think closing Guantanamo as a symbolic gesture will achieve legitimacy for the new administration, while the same practices continue at Bagram,” said Tina M. Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a New York-based rights group.

Her group has been representing Bagram detainees in court since 2006, but she feels the question of their rights has gained momentum in recent weeks.

“The conversation has shifted,” Ms. Foster said.

In many ways, the detainees held in Afghanistan represent a bigger issue than those kept at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The estimated 600 prisoners at Bagram outnumber the 240 remaining in Guantanamo, and those held at Bagram have not enjoyed the same attention from lawyers and journalists who have spent years focusing on Guantanamo detainees.

As one of the first detainees at Guantanamo, Mr. al-Madani said he watched conditions slowly improve inside the camp as his captors reacted to the pressure from outside. Prisoners were beaten at first, he said, and the only amenities in his cage were two buckets: one for water, the other a makeshift toilet. But he spent the later years of his incarceration in greater comfort, allowed to read books and play soccer.

“The world’s eyes were on Guantanamo,” he said. “We got lawyers; things got better. But those people at Bagram have nothing, no lawyers, no courts. It’s a closed place, much worse.”

The Bagram prison is operated by the U.S. military and detainees have no right to legal counsel or fair trial. Most of the detainees are Afghans, but some were transported to Bagram from other countries. A military review board re-examines their status every six months.

A United Nations report last week singled out the Bagram facility for criticism. While the Red Cross was allowed to visit detainees, the report said, the Red Cross findings are kept secret and the U.S. military has denied UN requests for similar visits.

“There are reports that some persons have been in detention at Bagram for as long as five years,” the report says. “Some ex-detainees allege being subjected to severe torture, even sexual abuse. Ex-detainees also allege that they were held in cages containing between 15 to 20 men and that two detainees died in questionable circumstances while in custody.”

One of the few Afghan officials allowed inside the Bagram facility is Mohammed Akram Mirhazar, administrative director of the National Reconciliation Program, a government office that handles prisoners as they’re released back into society.

He said most of the detainees complain of torture, but Bagram serves a necessary function in the war. Corrupt officials at Afghan jails allow prisoners to slip free, he said, but nobody escapes from U.S. custody.

“If our administration wasn’t corrupt, we wouldn’t need Bagram,” Mr. Mirhazar said.

The reconciliation program has helped 717 former detainees from Bagram and 63 from Guantanamo as they return to ordinary life, Mr. Mirhazar said, and he’s expecting another 27 from Guantanamo as that facility shuts down.

Despite the hundreds released so far, Mr. Mirhazar said only eight have been re-captured – and three of those were later re-released as authorities realized they had been wrongly imprisoned twice.

While acknowledging that his records may be incomplete, the Afghan official suggested the numbers show a high percentage of people swept up in military operations are innocent. This feeds anger among the local population, he said, and gives a propaganda victory to the insurgents.

“You must not give meat to your enemies,” he said.

War Toll

February 25, 2009
Those who died in Iraq from Feb 15 to 21:
Sgt Sean Diamond  41  Dublin CA
Pvt Cwislyn Walter  19  Honolulu HI
Sgt Mark Baum  32  Telford PA
12 were seriously wounded.
7 wounded were returned to kill fields.
95 Iraqi brothers and sisters were killed.
In Afghanistan were killed:
Cpl Stephen Kingscott  22  England
Sgt Raymond Munden  35  Mesquite TX
Sgt David Hurt  36  Tucson AZ
Sgt Jeremy Bessa  26  Woodridge IL
Sgt Timothy Davis  28  Aberdeen WA
68 Afghani sisters and brothers were killed.

NYU Occupied

February 20, 2009

Could You Live Like This?

February 20, 2009

The Israel Lobby Video Documentary – VPRO

For many years now the American foreign policy has been characterized by the strong tie between the United States and Israel. Does the United States in fact keep Israel on its feet? And how long will it continue to do so? In March 2006 the American political scientists John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Steve Walt (Harvard) published the controversial article ‘The Israel Lobby and US foreign policy’. In it they state that it is not, or no longer, expedient for the US to support and protect present-day Israel.

The documentary sheds light on both parties involved in the discussion: those who wish to maintain the strong tie between the US and Israel, and those who were critical of it and not infrequently became ‘victims’ of the lobby. The question arises to what extend the pro-Israel lobby ultimately determines the military and political importance of Israel itself. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s former chief-of-staff) explains how the lobby’s influence affects the decision-making structure in the White House. With political scientist John Mearsheimer, neocon Richard Perle, lobby organization AIPAC, televangelist John Hagee, historian Tony Judt, Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth, colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Democrat Earl Hilliard, Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy and investigative journalist Michael Massing.

Research: William de Bruijn
Director: Marije Meerman

War Toll

February 20, 2009

Those who died in Iraq from Feb 8 to 14:

Spc James Dorsey 23 Beardstown IL
Pvt Jonathan Roberge 22 Leominster MA
Pvt Albert Jex 23 Phoenix AZ
Sgt Joshua Ward 30 Scottsville KY
Col Garnet Derby 44 Missoula MT
Pvt Ryan Wrathall 21 England
Cpl Stephen Thompson 23 Tulsa OK

14 were seriously wounded and maimed. 11 were returned to occupation.

184 Iraqi sisters and brothers were killed.

In Afghanistan were killed:
Ltn Jared Southworth 26 Oakland IL
Sgt Jason Burkholder 27 Elida OH
Spc Peter Courcy 22 Frisco TX
Pvt Jason Watson 19 Many LA
WO Andrzej Rozmiarek 35 Poland
Cap Patrice Sonzogni 46 France
Sgt Marc Small 29 Collegeville PA
Cpl Darren Smith 27 England
Sgt Daniel Hansen 24 Tracy CA


That’s Not Change – It’s More of the Same

February 19, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama announced his decision to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, on the grounds that ‘the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention’. Peace Action strongly opposes Obama’s recent announcement and urges people to immediately call on Obama to choose diplomacy, not escalation.

More troops won’t solve our problems in Afghanistan. Click here to tell President Obama and Congress that we need a comprehensive plan for Afghanistan before risking more American and Afghan lives.

We have seen the disastrous consequences of heading into war without a plan in Iraq. We are still mourning American and Iraqi lives lost, and struggling to rehabilitate our economy while spending billions of dollars on war.

Peace Action calls for the ‘rapid withdrawal’ of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and a new commitment to a negotiated diplomatic solution involving all regional players.

The Obama Administration should:

  1. De-escalate troop levels in Afghanistan and to reject the idea that there is a military solution to the region’s problems;
  2. Immediately stop military activities that indiscriminately impact civilians such as air and drone strikes;
  3. Rapidly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan;
  4. Commit to negotiated diplomatic talks involving all major regional players, including major international peace-keeping bodies;
  5. Address the real needs of Afghans, which include health-care, clean water, education, and security.

Send this important message to our President and Congress.

Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Al Qaeda has increased its attacks. Last year saw the most civilian deaths in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded, and a new poll shows that only 18% of Afghans want more U.S. troops. Bombings of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan are angering the populations in both countries and their governments, undermining the U.S.’s ability to create stability. We cannot simply intensify the Bush administration’s failed policy. Now is the time for us to press President Obama and Congress to find a better approach to Afghanistan.

General David Patreaus has called Afghanistan the “graveyard of empires.”  An authoritative report released last year demonstrated that military force has historically been unsuccessful in defeating terrorism [1]. Counterinsurgency experts have said that a military strategy would require hundreds of thousands of troops we can’t send, and even if we did there would be no guarantee of success.

We have heard a lot about why we need to shift resources to Afghanistan, but we need to hear a lot more about what kind of resources would be truly effective. There are many other pieces of this puzzle. Can you help us send this urgent message today?

Graveyard of Empires:  Military esclation will not bring peace.
Correcting Our Mistakes:
Who, and why, we are fighting in Afghanistan.

Footnote: 1. According to a RAND Corporation report, since 1968, only seven percent of all terrorist groups that have ended were taken down by military force. In contrast, 40 percent of those groups were defeated through police and intelligence work, and 43 percent gave up terrorism as they were integrated into the political process. The framework of the “Global War on Terror” has set up unrealistic expectations of a military victory against non-state actors, and the apportioning of counterterrorism resources has reflected that flawed approach.


Kevin M. Martin
Executive Director

A Feel Good Victory: Nuclear Pork is No Longer on the Menu

February 17, 2009

This article is co-authored by Alexandra Bell, Research Associate, Ploughshares Fund.

A coalition of citizens groups and progressive House Members just saved the American taxpayers a whole lot of money. They eliminated from the stimulus bill $1 billion dollars for nuclear weapons work the Senate had stuffed in.

After discovering the bonus the Senate would give the National Nuclear Security Administration (a 10 percent increase in their annual budget), your friendly neighborhood arms control groups sprang into action. Over twenty organizations including the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, the evangelical group Faithful Security, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Project on Government Oversight and Women’s Action for New Directions worked the Hill with citizen groups across the country to strip the funding from the final bill. [Full disclosure: many of the groups received grants from our foundation, Ploughshares Fund.]

The bonus slid by the Senate, but a group of influential House Members were not going to let this one pass. Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.) wrote to House Appropriations chair David Obey (D-Wis) outraged at the “back-room deal in the Senate.”

“We are shocked that while the Senate felt it was necessary to cut billions of dollars for school construction they found an extra billion for nuclear weapons,…This is the kind of unnecessary…appropriation which ought to be stripped from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, especially when so many worthy priorities from the House bill were removed from the Senate bill.”

It worked. The billion-dollar nuclear bonus is gone. And there were no million-dollar lobbyists behind this. The people who appealed to Congress were just concerned citizens united in an organized effort. Turns out, it is possible to move mountains….or at least funding items.

Let’s be clear: some of the projects may be worth doing, but this had no business in a stimulus bill. The agency should go through the normal appropriations process.

Need more details? Here is the successful letter signed by 22 groups arranged by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability:

Dear Senator,

We write to express concern over the $1 billion proposed for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in S.336, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With Congress seeking to make substantial cuts in the total price tag of the bill, we strongly urge you to eliminate the $1 billion for NNSA. This money is not a cost effective way of accomplishing S.336’s primary stated goals of creating jobs, restoring economic growth and strengthening America’s middle class. Moreover, it would be premature to make major investments in NNSA’s nuclear weapons research and production infrastructure, which the agency proposes to revitalize through “Complex Transformation.” NNSA has a long history of cost overruns and poor management, and is one of the least likely agencies to give taxpayers a sound return on their investment when economic stimulus is so vitally needed. Finally, it is unlikely that this money will go towards preventing terrorism.

Congress has repeatedly noted that the United States lacks clear nuclear weapons policies. Adding $1 billion to NNSA’s $9 billion budget is an 11% increase, a poor investment when there is such a policy vacuum. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act requires that the Obama Administration complete a nuclear posture and policy review. Until the Obama Administration addresses such issues as posture, force structure, size and scope of the nuclear complex, it would be premature to make any decisions about what infrastructure projects are needed. Conversely, making major investments in the complex could potentially prejudice the final outcome of any posture review that the Obama Administration conducts.

Since its inception in 1999, the NNSA has continually experienced significant cost overruns and oversight problems. According to several GAO reports, NNSA had not been fully effective in managing its safeguards and security program. The reports found that there was weakness in security culture, organization, staffing and training. Additionally, two of NNSA’s major projects, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility, “experienced major delays and cost overruns because of problems with project management and are still not complete.” The NIF alone, originally expected to cost approximately $2.1 billion upon its completion in 2002, is still not operational and is expected to cost more than $3 billion. While this money is likely not going to these projects, NNSA should not be rewarded for their poor track record with an additional $1 billion.

Senators should also realize that these funds are unlikely to go towards preventing nuclear terrorism, as DOE spends at least 67 percent of its budget on weapons. The Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) did not mention using any potential stimulus money for securing the incredibly vulnerable highly enriched uranium, which only a few years ago was a priority security issue that could not be addressed due to a lack of funding. Also, these funds will not likely go towards expediting the removal of bomb-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Recent security tests failure demonstrate that the Lab’s nuclear materials pose a significant risk to its surrounding residential community.

With Congress seeking to make substantial cuts in the total price tag of the bill, we strongly urge you to eliminate the $1 billion for NNSA. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Chalk up one for the good guys.


February 13, 2009

EurasiaNet, NY Aunohita Mojumdar 2/10/09

Just as the United States is preparing for a massive reinforcement of its troops in Afghanistan, so too is the United Nations calling for a surge in humanitarian relief. Forty thousand people die every year in Afghanistan not from violence, but from the unnoticed collateral damage of war — hunger and poverty. The number is 25 times higher than the toll due to violence, says the UN Security Council in its most recent report.

Despite repeated calls for greater attention to food security, the numbers of those who cannot meet their minimum dietary needs in Afghanistan is on the rise, growing from 30 percent to 35 percent between 2005 and 2008. The crisis is expected to worsen over the next few months as the impact of local drought and high global food prices push more Afghans into food insecurity.

Underscoring the crisis, the UN launched a Humanitarian Action Plan for Afghanistan on February 3, calling for a $604 million emergency relief package. The appeal, which will also aid health, education, water, and shelter, has earmarked over 50 percent to food and agriculture assistance. It even warns that, without urgent action, post-Taliban gains in education and health stand the risk of reversal.

Part of the problem is drought. Last year, the country received less than 24 percent of the rainfall level of 2007, resulting in an 85 percent drop in wheat production. Overall, there occurred a 30 percent drop in cereal harvest over the previous year countrywide. Today, on average, an Afghan family spends 77 percent of its income on food, compared to 56 percent in 2005. The increase, says the UN’s humanitarian appeal, “quickly pushed large segments of previously borderline food-insecure people into an inability to obtain enough basic food and having to resort to destructive coping measures.”

Launching the humanitarian appeal in Geneva, the UN Under-Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said: “In 2008, at a time of rising global food prices, Afghanistan harvested only two-thirds of its annual food requirements, leaving a serious gap for the government and the humanitarian agencies to fill.”

Despite the urgency, and awareness among international monitors, concern has not translated into relief. A Joint Emergency Food Appeal launched in July 2008 by the Afghan government and the UN, calling for $404 million to “feed Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people who are in desperate need of food aid,” was dismally under-funded. Despite repeated appeals, it has only been half-funded. The current estimate doubles the number of people in need of food assistance since last year, to almost 9 million.

According to Oxfam, the health of over a million young children and half a million women is at serious risk due to malnutrition. One out of every two Afghan children under five is stunted and 39 percent are underweight, the humanitarian agency says.

In a memo to US President Barack Obama, Oxfam has warned of the possibility of significant food shortages in 2009 that could “adversely affect public health and even spark displacement and unrest.”

In the southern province of Kandahar, the new governor Tooryakai Wesa is asking for tractors and training, rather than troops, even though his province is considered one of the most violent in the country. During a recent visit to Canada, Wesa said he would like to create security through jobs, not tanks and artillery.

Though 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population is dependent on agriculture, the sector has been one of the most under-funded, receiving only $500 million out of the $15 billion spent on non-security related reconstruction in this country. The country’s leading donor, the United States, is estimated to have spent less than 5 percent of USAID’s budget for Afghanistan since 2002 on agriculture. In 2007, US spending on agriculture amounted to less than 1 percent of what it spent on security.

Speaking in Kabul on February 1, the UN’s top official in Afghanistan, the Secretary General’s Special Representative Kai Eide, described agriculture as a neglected sector: “The government and donors must make sure that agriculture becomes a priority not only in rhetoric, but in the allocation of resources.”

The apparent unwillingness of donors to fund the emergency appeals for food and development aid for agriculture lie in the structural inadequacies of the funding mechanisms, say experts.

Remarking on the launch of the UN appeal, the Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Elizabeth Rasmusson urged “donor nations to commit more funds to establish and maintain independent humanitarian funding for Afghanistan.” She pointed out that “most aid is for development and reconstruction,” rather than aid for civilians in the midst of conflict.

Indeed, humanitarian funding has dried up as donors have moved towards funding the ‘post-conflict’ state. Donors often target conflict zones in need of humanitarian assistance with money for development projects. Many of these target areas are unable to absorb development aid.

Spending on agriculture development, which could prevent such humanitarian crises, is less appealing. It requires long-term painstaking dedication at the ground level. Many donors are unwilling to make such commitments, Oxfam says, as it is easier to quantify development projects such as the construction of bridges and schools. Returns on humanitarian investment are both lower and slower, making such projects unattractive to the private sector with its eye on quick profits and large returns.

“A large volume of aid money goes to private, profit-making companies,” Oxfam points out in its memo to President Obama, adding that “too much aid seeks to achieve rapid material results, without sufficiently promoting local ownership, sustainable poverty reduction or longer term capacity building.”

According to Mudasser Hussain Siddiqui, Manager of Policy Advocacy & Research Action Aid Afghanistan, an NGO, “the key issue here is that we are in this vicious cycle of drought and food insecurity every year. This can be attributed to lack of investment in agriculture and rural employment or livelihoods in Afghanistan.”

Much will depend on the new Obama administration’s plans for Afghanistan. Initial signs suggest an approach weighted to military solutions, with a reduced emphasis on development and “less ambitious” short-term goals. None of this adds up to an encouraging future for Afghanistan’s hungry millions.

Editor’s Note: Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 18 years.

Background: Funding in Recent Economic Stimulus Legislation

February 11, 2009

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Funding in Recent Economic Stimulus Legislation

In September 2008 Sens. Reid and Byrd introduced a stimulus package, S.3604, which was defeated 52-42 on a motion to proceed to consideration of the measure requiring 60 votes on September 26, 2008. The bill included $100,000,000 for the NNSA Weapons Activities account. Although there is no explanation of the provision in the bill, Senate staff said it was for security upgrades at NNSA facilities and was included at Sen. Jon Kyl’s request.

On January 21, 2009 the House Appropriations Committee reported H.R. 1, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The bill included no funds for the NNSA Weapons Activities account.

On January 27, 2009 the Senate Appropriations Committee reported S. 1, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The bill included $1,000,000,000 for the NNSA Weapons Activities account. [More details from the report below.]

Legislative language:

The bill language for S.3604 is:
For an additional amount for ‘‘Weapons Activities’’,
$100,000,000, to remain available until expended.

The bill language for S. 1 is:
For an additional amount for weapons activities,
$1,000,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2010.

The report language for S. 1 is:
The Committee provides $1,000,000,000, of which $900,000,000 is
to be applied to address maintenance and general plant project
backlogs, other construction activities, and various energy projects
throughout the weapons complex. The remaining $100,000,000 is
for advanced computer research and development.


Today’s issue of Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor provides more details on what NNSA actually is planning to do with the money

* $90 million for transformation disposition, the first stages of the NNSA’s plans to demolish 600 buildings and structures around the complex

* $360 million for energy projects

* $400 million for dozens of minor general plant projects involving the replacement of utility poles and electrical systems, the repaving of roads, and maintenance

* $50 million for site-wide security enhancements similar to what had been included in a previous version of the stimulus in the Fall

Oppose $1 billion for NNSA in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

February 11, 2009

From:  Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Peace Action, & Other Groups

Re: Oppose $1 billion for NNSA in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

February 11, 2009

Dear Conferees,

We support the House decision not to include $1 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARR). While some of the money allocated for NNSA in the Senate version of ARR goes to items we support, such as increased security, no justification exists to give an additional $1 billion to accomplish these goals. This money will not help accomplish ARR’s primary stated goals of creating jobs, restoring economic growth, and strengthening America’s middle class. Additionally, it is premature to make major investments in NNSA’s nuclear weapons research and production infrastructure until President Obama has determined the direction of U.S. nuclear policy.

The defense authorization act for fiscal year 2009 requires that the incoming Administration complete a nuclear posture and policy review. Until the Obama Administration addresses such issues as posture, force structure, size and scope of the nuclear complex, adding $1 billion to NNSA’s $9 billion budget, an 11 percent increase, is premature.

Under the Bush Administration, there was Congressional opposition to NNSA’s proposed plan to invest substantially in the nuclear weapons complex. Items such as $353 million for general plan projects, $100 million for advanced computing, $90 million for transformation disposition, and energy efficiency should be funded through the appropriations process allowing Congress to debate nuclear policy.

According to recent GAO reports, NNSA has continually experienced cost overruns and oversight problems since its inception in 1999. The reports found weakness in security culture, organization, staffing, and training. NNSA’s poor record does not justify an additional $1 billion.

An October 2007 study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute concluded  “spending on personal consumption, health care, education, mass transit, and construction for home weatherization and infrastructure repair all create more jobs per $1 billon in expenditures relative to military spending.” Money directed toward NNSA will not have significantly positive impact on the economy when compared to other types of investments.

With Conferees seeking to cut the total spending in the bill, we strongly urge you to eliminate the $1 billion for NNSA. Such funding decisions should go through the regular appropriations process.

Thank you for your consideration.


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