There has been so much news lately that it’s hard to know what to write about; but I decided to focus on a shocking story that hasn’t gotten much coverage in the corporate media–the mass hunger strikes at Guantanamo.
Last week The New York Times published a heart-rending cry for help from an inmate (dictated over the phone), Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel: Gitmo Is Killing Me. This man has been in Gitmo for 11 years with no charges and faces the terrible possibility that he will die there. How did he end up imprisoned by the U.S.?
When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.
I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.
He has been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10, and Americans are now force-feeding him. That is torture.
Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.
There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
This is being done in our name. Our tax money is being spent on this.
On Saturday, The Guardian Observer published another inmate’s story, “Shaker Aamer: ‘I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow'”
As of today, I’ve spent more than 11 years in Guantánamo Bay. To be precise, it’s been 4,084 long days and nights. I’ve never been charged with any crime. I’ve never been allowed to see the evidence that the US once pretended they had against me. It’s all secret, even the statements they tortured out of me.
In 2007, roughly halfway through my ordeal, I was cleared for release by the Bush administration. In 2009, under Obama, all six of the US frontline intelligence agencies combined to clear me again. But I’m still here.
Every day in Guantánamo is torture – as was the time they held me before that, in Bagram and Kandahar air force bases, in Afghanistan. It’s not really the individual acts of abuse (the strappado – that’s the process refined by the Spanish Inquisition where they hang you from your wrists so your shoulders begin to dislocate, the sleep deprivation, and the kicks and punches); it’s the combined experience. My favourite book here (I’ve read it over and over) has been Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell: torture is for torture, and the system is for the system.
More than a decade of my life has been stolen from me, for no good reason. I resent that; of course I do. I have missed the birth of my youngest son, and some of the most wonderful years with all my four children. I love being a father, and I always worked to do it as best I can.
Shaker Aamer is a Saudi Arabian citizen and his family lives in London.
Jeffrey Kaye (AKA Valtin), who has been writing about U.S. torture for many years wrote a diary about Shaker Amer at DailyKos on Sunday that is well worth reading: British Press: US Conspires with UK & Saudis to Hold Detainee w/Evidence on Iraq War Lies.
Unlike the vast majority of detainees held at Guantanamo, Aamer speaks very good English. He is intelligent and motivated. That makes him dangerous to the authorities running Guantanamo. While President Obama’s administration and DoD officials maintain Guantanamo is run humanely, a blue-ribbon panel assembled by The Constitution Project, including former GOP officials, have determined that abuse still occurs, and have pointed out the the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M, a prime culprit in ongoing abuse, should be excised from that document and from DoD practice. (Link to the long and fascinating report.)
But it apparently is not only testimony about being tortured or seeing others tortured that Aamer can supply. That alone would probably not be enough to hold him forever. Instead, exposes this past weekend in the British press have indicated Aamer is being held indefinitely, or considered for “repatriation” to Saudi Arabia, because he can testify to the presence of British counter-terrorism agents from MI5 and MI6 at his own torture… and the torture of Ibn Shaikh al-Libi.
Al-Libi famously was tortured to give false evidence about Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of chemical weapons as part of the doctored evidence presented to US and world public opinion to justify the unprovoked invasion of Iraq by the US-dominated coalition in 2003. The invasion was responsible for the deaths of an untold number of Iraqis (estimates ranging from 100,000 to well over a million), an untold number of injured, produced millions of refugees, and generally destabilized the region.
In a recent Guardian expose, the culpability of high US officials in the organization and operation of death and torture squads by the Iraqis was documented. But in the United States, there appeared to be almost no interest in these developments.
President Obama supposedly ended Bush’s torture policies and vowed to close Guantanamo, but clearly these men are being tortured and there are no signs that Guantanamo will ever be closed. Here’s a piece by Jeremy Scahill published in 2009 that describes the “black shirts,” the “Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama.” Clearly, it is still happening in 2013.
One more link to a piece at Truthout by Jason Leopold, who has also been writing about torture for years: Inmates Rising: Worsening Gitmo Mass Hunger Strike in Prisoners’ Own Words.
“To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the constitution and to tear it up into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.”
What amazes me most whenever I write about this topic is recalling how terribly upset so many Democrats pretended to be when Bush claimed the power merely to detain or even just eavesdrop on American citizens without due process. Remember all that? Yet now, here’s Obama claiming the power not to detain or eavesdrop on citizens without due process, but to kill them; marvel at how the hardest-core White House loyalists now celebrate this and uncritically accept the same justifying rationale used by Bush/Cheney (this is war! the President says he was a Terrorist!) without even a moment of acknowledgment of the profound inconsistency or the deeply troubling implications of having a President — even Barack Obama — vested with the power to target U.S. citizens for murder with no due process.
As Dakinikat posted in the comments to Minx’s evening post, a second U.S. citizen who was not on Obama’s assassination list was also murdered along with al-Awlaki. From bmaz at Emptywheel:
Awlaki was killed by a drone delivered Hellfire missile, via a joint CIA and JSOC operation, in the town of Kashef, in Yemen’s Jawf province, approximately 140 kilometres east of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. But not only Awlaki was killed, at least three others, including yet another American citizen, Samir Khan, were killed in the strike.
That’s right, not just one, but two, Americans were summarily and extrajudicially executed by their own government today, at the direct order of the President of the United States. No trial, no verdict, just off with their heads. Heck, there were not even charges filed against either Awlaki or Khan. And it is not that the government did not try either, there was a grand jury convened on Khan, but no charges. Awlaki too was investigated for charges at least twice by the DOJ, but non were found.
But at least Awlaki was on Barrack Obama’s “Americans That Are Cool to Kill List”. Not so with Samir Khan. Not only is there no evidence whatsoever Khan is on the classified list for killing (actually two different lists) my survey of people knowledgeable in the field today revealed not one who believed khan was on any such list, either by DOD or CIA.
So, the US has been tracking scrupulously Awlaki for an extended period and knew with certainty where he was and when, and knew with certainty immediately they had killed Awlaki and Khan. This means the US also knew, with certainty, they were going to execute Samir Khan.
I can’t even begin to describe how sickened I am by these murders of American citizens. President Obama is a murderer and a tyrant who is destroying the last vestiges of the Constitution of the United States. At least I don’t have to live with the horror of having voted for this evil man.
In the wake of the Osama bin Laden killing, the media seems to have pretty much given itself up to “war porn” or at least something very close to it. I have to admit it’s starting to creep me out.
There is one article after another describing the bin Laden takedown and tons of articles glorifying the Navy Seals who pulled it off. This breathless piece at CBS News gives a blow by blow account of the raid on the home where bin Laden had been living. According to this account the Seals turned off their video cameras (on their helmets apparently) during the most intense violence.
The raiders trying to get into the house breached three or four walls, Panetta said, not specifying whether they scaled them or blew holes.
On the first floor, the SEALs killed the courier and his brother, and the courier’s wife died in crossfire. They shot open some doors.
They then swept upstairs and burst into a third floor room, entering one at a time, said Carney. There all the U.S. intelligence, the surmising and the guesswork paid off.
Bin Laden’s wife charged at the SEALs, crying her husband’s name at one point. They shot her in the calf. Officials told AP that one SEAL grabbed a woman, fearing she might be wearing a suicide vest, and pulled her away from his team. Whether that was bin Laden’s wife has not been confirmed….
The first bullet struck bin Laden in the chest. The second struck above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.
Oooooh….just like in the movies!
There are countless video reenactments of the raid floating around, like this one from The New York Post.
And then there are the stories about the supercool equipment the Seals used to get public enemy number one. Here’s an example: 9 Tools That Probably Helped the U.S. Military Take Down bin Laden, including the drone that spied on the bin Laden compound, the assault rifle and submachine gun used to kill him, the image sensors, the grenades, and coolest of the cool, the previously super-secret Stealth Black Hawk Helicopter the Seals arrived in. According to Gizmodo:
MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters played a key role in the success of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, especially ones that were heavily modded for stealth movement through Pakistan. Designed for use in special forces missions, these Night Stalker helicopters can carry 11 soldiers, come with three types of guns (mini, chain, gatling), and come equipped with infra-red jammers to mislead missiles.
Isn’t that inspiring? Here is some more information about these killer machines, plus the Chinook helicopters that were also used in the raid. It’s from AP, so I’m not going to link.
The two choppers evidently used radar-evading technologies, plus noise and heat suppression devices, to slip across the Afghan-Pakistan border, avoid detection by Pakistani air defenses and deliver two dozen Navy SEALs into the al-Qaida leader’s lair. Photos of the lost chopper’s wrecked tail are circulating online — proving it exists and also exposing sensitive details.
See what I mean? War porn.
The reason one of the helicopters crash landed at the bin Laden compound has not been disclosed, but Daniel Goure, a defense specialist at the Lexington Institute think tank, said Friday it might be explained by the unusual aerodynamics resulting from the aircraft’s modifications….
Night Stalker pilots also fly other, publicly acknowledged versions of the Black Hawk that are specially equipped with advanced navigation systems, plus devices allowing for low-level and all-weather flight, day or night. Those are rigged to permit occupants to “fast rope” from the helicopter as it hovers just off the ground — a technique used in the bin Laden assault.
Now watch the “Night Stalker” in action and tell me these videos aren’t designed to turn on people who fantasize about violence.
It appears that the Obama administration hasn’t yet slaked it’s thirst for blood, because a drone strike was used today in a failed attempt to kill Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American citizen whom the President has targeted for assassination.
According to a Yemeni account of Thursday’s strike, the U.S. launched two separate attacks within 45 minutes aimed at Mr. Awlaki in the southern province of Shebwa, which is considered an AQAP stronghold….
In the first strike, the U.S. fired three rockets at a pickup truck in which Mr. Awlaki and a Saudi national and suspected al Qaeda member were traveling outside the village of Jahwa, located some 20 miles away from the Shebwa provincial capital, said local residents and the Yemeni security official. Those missiles didn’t hit their target.
Two Yemeni brothers, who were known by local residents for giving shelter to al Qaeda militants, rushed to the scene of the attack. Mr. Awlaki switched vehicles with them, leaving the two Yemenis in the pickup. A single drone then hit the pickup truck, killing the Yemenis inside.
Mr. Awlaki escaped in the other vehicle along with the Saudi. A Yemeni defense ministry official identified the two dead men as Musaid Mubarak Al-Daghari and his brother Abdullah.Unlike the bin Laden raid, which was carried out without Pakistani knowledge, the Yemeni government was a participant.
All this detailed information about the recent violent events hasn’t made them feel any more real to me. On the contrary, the media treatment makes it all feel like a big fantasy. I guess that’s why I want to call it war porn. Several real people were killed in these attacks–people who have families and children who aren’t vicious criminals. But what I see in the media is something akin to a Rambo movie or a video game. It’s all making me feel very uneasy.
What do you think?