Saturday, May 21, 2011

From Child Bride to Sex Slave

One of the least remarked upon aspects of the WikiLeaked embassy cables is the persistent focus by diplomats on the so-called “dark side of globalization”—the illicit global economy.  From gun-runners and nuclear smugglers to concerns about the trafficking of people and natural resources, cables detailing the corrosive effects of organized crime on the national interest pepper the Cablegate database with remarkable frequency.
The issue of human trafficking, particularly, consumes the focus of numerous cables.  As the anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi warns in her new book, Gridlock, the discourse around trafficking tends to oversimplify and blur thinking about a spectrum of activity that is not always coerced nor connected to the sex trade, but is often assumed to be monolithic, gendered and defined by socioeconomic desperation. However true this observation—and evidence suggests that it’s spot on—some cases are less unambiguous.
Child trafficking is one such instance, the subject of a 2009 cable with the alarming title “From Child Bride to Sex Slave,” which discusses the disturbing trend in Mauritania of young girls being “married off to wealthy Saudi [Arabian] men in exchange for hefty bride prices.” The bulk of the report recounts a discussion embassy officials had with Aminetou Mint El Moctar, president of the Association of Women Heads of Household, a Mauritanian NGO advocating for women’s rights.
Mint El Moctar told the diplomats that the traditional practice of child marriages
Was the main driver of trafficking. Traffickers approach poor and ignorant Mauritanian families about marrying their daughter to wealthy Saudi men. Hefty bride prices amounting to five to six million ouguiya (approximately $20,000) and promises of better opportunities for the girls lure the families into accepting…The intermediaries are usually associated with local travel agencies, which Mint El Moctar are in reality trafficking networks. The girls are taken to Saudi Arabia by a family member or by a travel agency-designated “tutor.” The agency intermediary gets a commission from the husband for the striking the marriage deal—amounts vary according to the girl’s beauty and youth.  
What’s worse,
Mint El Moctar stressed that once they arrive in Saudi Arabia, these child brides become sex slaves to their husbands.  She explained that pre-pubescent girls are highly prized by Saudi men but, once they reach puberty or become pregnant, they are of no further interest to their husbands. According to Mint El Moctar, the girls are then repudiated and thrown into the streets. Without a support network, they have no choice but to become prostitutes.
Mint El Moctar’s claims came as no shock to embassy officials which, the cable notes, had heard similar stories from other human rights activists.  One claimed that “she had met a Mauritanian girl who had spent three years in Saudi Arabia locked up in a room without seeing anybody but her husband and a female servant who tended to her needs.” American diplomats had also heard reports from Radio France International which in an expose of the networks had interviewed young women brought to Saudi as child brides, including one “who, upon her divorce, had to leave her children behind in” the country.
Compounding the problem, “the Mauritanian government does not recognize trafficking as a problem” despite the fact that” articles 332 and 335 of the penal code have provisions against trafficking,” provisions that “are not enforced.” Mint El Moctar reported that she had contacted government officials in an effort to get them to at least rhetorical “denounce government inaction, but received no response.” As a result, Mint El Moctar reported that she had begun mobilizing “a public awareness campaign and is fighting for the creation of a law project to criminalize and combat trafficking.”
The cable’s author, Charge d’Affaires Dennis Hankins, notes in an aside that Mint El Moctar would likely have her work cut out for her. The previous February, embassy officials had raised the issue of human trafficking with a representative of the Ministry of Justice
Who states trafficking of Mauritanian women did not exist and trafficking to Saudi Arabia was not possible because there was a government law that required women to travel with a male family member. 
For a problem that supposedly doesn’t exist, the stakes sure are high for activists like Mint El Moctar, who warned that “she has received death threats for pushing the issue. She has been accused of being a liar, a madwoman, and a traitor who damages Mauritania’s reputation.”
More broadly, Mint El Moctar reported that young girls in Mauriatania who were not trafficked out of the country faced other problems no less upsetting. She
Expressed concern about a recent surge in child marriages in Mauritania…According to Mint El Moctar, early marriages expose young girls to domestic violence, domestic servitude, and endangers their health. She introduced PolOff to a pregnant twelve-year-old girl who had already been married for three year s and regularly beaten by her husband.
After the meeting, Hankins followed up by verifying the child’s claims with another human rights NGO representative, who also reported that “one of her clients was a twelve-year-old who almost died in childbirth.”
Mint El Moctar argued that families pressing their daughters into early marriage were driven by fears of pre-marital sex or worries about the possibility of rape. As Hankins notes,
Rape is a generalized problem in Mauritania that receives no government attention. Zeinebou Mint Taleb Moussa, president of the Mauritanian Association for the Health of Mother and Child (AMSME), said that in 2008 the center she supervises—the only one providing services to victims of rape in Mauritania—received 304 victims. She stated that most victims do not seek help. The week of April 1, a center volunteer was raped and threatened for her affiliation to the center.
Even as the Mauritanian government willfully ignored these violations of women’s rights, transnational advocacy groups and their partners at the United Nations were fully aware of what was going on.  Yet sadly, the cable reports that UNICEF officials made clear to the embassy that “they do not have the resources to take concrete actions,” and “requested United States funds to help accelerate actions against child trafficking in Mauritania.” It’s not immediately evident what their idea of action might look like, but if their other tentative plan—“to approach this issue in its next national study”—is any indication, there’s much to be desired.     
Hankins closes the cable with the observation that
trafficking, the corollary of poverty and traditional practices harmful to women, is one of many taboos in Mauritanian society. NGOs like Mint El Moctar’s wage a lone battle without resources or recognition…As the United States seeks to support democratic forces in Mauritania, it should put emphasis on increasing these NGO’s capacity to denounce and fight human rights abuses as well as provide support to victims.  With their “in your face approach” towards the government, their capacity to undertake concrete actions and mobilize the population at the grassroots level, and their desire to fight against all odds for a more democratic society—even at the expense of their reputation and personal safety—human rights activists like Mint El Moctar are among our best partners in democracy.
Hankins’ recommendations did not go unheeded. In June 2010, Mint El Moctar and other activists dedicated to ending the trade in human trafficking were recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their courageous work. And to be sure, it has been impactful. The government of Mauritania now officially recognizes child trafficking as a public problem demanding emergency attention. At the same time, words have not been met with deeds.  According to the US State Department’s 2010 annual report on human trafficking, Mauritania has not made any significant efforts to combat the phenomenon within its borders since 2009, inhabiting the exclusive basement tier in a worldwide ranking of countries fighting the trade in people.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

True Lies

In the wake of 9/11, Americans were introduced to some of the uglier features of their government at war. On the one hand, we were witness to the petty politics of competing bureaucracies—small-minded turf battles over information that ultimately led to failures of security and bungled missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, we became subject to the repressive character of secrecy regimes that defend Constitutional violations in the name of preserving the very principles—such as transparency—that bolster a democratic society. But according to new embassy cables published this week by WikiLeaks, the United States isn’t alone. Washington's counterparts up the north, it seems, have had their own problems with government information sharing—amongst themselves and with the public.
During the chaotic period immediately following the American invasion of Iraq, the Canadian government was stuck scratching its chin over what to do with Mamdouh Mustafa, the sole Iraqi diplomat remaining in Ottawa. The Canadians had already kicked a handful of Iraqi diplos out of the country on suspicion of espionage by then, but Mustafa had been allowed to remain, even if kept under close watch.
In a cable dashed off roughly a month after the initial stages of the US invasion, the American embassy in Ottawa reported that the Canadians continued “to monitor closely the activities of…Mustafa, and had no indication that he was destroying Iraqi Government records or property.” The leadership in Ottawa was particularly keen, it would seem, to get inside of the embassy once Mustafa left the country so they could “remove items of an ‘undiplomatic nature’ from the premises of the Iraqi Embassy,” though what those items may have been is left a mystery.
But the bigger problem, beyond confiscating the leftovers of an abandoned embassy, was how to proceed with the diplomat himself.  The Baath regime of Saddam Hussein had collapsed two days earlier, and according to the Canadian Foreign Affairs Desk Officer for Iraq, Chris Hull,
Mustafa…has given no indication of his future plans. Hull saw no basis for him to be granted refugee status, but said that if Mustafa makes such a claim he could remain in Canada while his case is being reviewed. The GoC could also decide to declare him persona non grata. The RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] is providing security for the Iraqi Embassy and is escorting Mustafa due to concerns about potential demonstrators.  
Despite Canada’s official refusal to aid the American toppling of Saddam (which may have masked Canadian participation in the invasion, as new Cablegate documents suggest), the two governments worked closely together on the Mustafa situation.
The GoC has been very helpful to us…and we have concurred with their reasons for not expelling him from Canada. The GoC is now taking a wait-and-see approach on how to deal with him. The Foreign Affairs spokesperson has said it would be up to the new Iraqi government to decide whether to withdraw current diplomats.
By the following month, however, waiting around for a new government to magically appear in Baghdad seemed a distinctly less wise proposition than before. Whether at the behest of Ottawa or by his own volition, Mustafa returned to Iraq, as a second cable—written the following month—makes clear.
Thing is, the Foreign Ministry didn’t bother to let their associates in Canadian intelligence know. As the cable notes, while “the GoC had taken a decision to facilitate the return to Baghdad of Iraqi Charge d’Affaires…sources at post advise that CSIS (Canadian intelligence) was unaware of the…decision.” Not only did the ministry apparently want to keep the news hidden from their interagency partners, but they were also looking to cook the books to obscure the nature of Mustafa’s repatriation to Iraq. The government’s Middle East Division Deputy Director Graeme McIntyre requested that the United States smuggle Mustafa’s name onto “the worldwide list of former regime officials posted abroad whose departure USG previously had encouraged to different host governments,” a move Ottawa would find helpful in greasing the wheels of Mustafa’s exit from Canada.
The reason for this bit of bureaucratic deception, it would seem, had less to do with national security and everything to do with controlling the possibility for domestic political damage to the ruling Liberal Party, which was already falling apart at the seams.
McIntyre said the GoC is particularly sensitive to the possibility of negative press coverage about Mustafa’s departure (and probably, the likelihood that left-leaning opposition MPs will attack the government decision as a “rights” violation etc.).
That way, “if Mustafa was accredited to Canada as a full charge, then it would appear” as if Canadian-American machinations had nothing to do with the diplomat’s return, because he would fall “into the category of ‘head of mission’ and is thus covered by the instruction from the Iraqi [foreign minister].”
The United States obliged, and with good reason: Washington owed Canada a pretty big favor. Despite then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien's adamant public refusal to support the American adventure in Iraq, another Wikileaked document clearly shows the behind-the-scenes reality to be quite different. As my friend Matthew Bondy, a conservative political commentator in Canada, has written, Chretien's party "blew their nationalist trumpet with one hand and crossed their fingers with the other," offering to "discreetly assist coaltion forces as they prepared to overrun Iraq even as the Liberals celebrated their foreign policy independence from Washington.

One bad turn, after all, deserves another.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Gitmo Files: Yasser Talal Al Zahrani

The story of Yasser Talal Al Zahrani offers one of the most mysterious, and ultimately tragic, narratives in the “Gitmo Files” published by WikiLeaks this past week. The son of “a senior official in the Saudi Interior Ministry, reportedly holding the rank of abid, or brigadier,” the seventeen-year-old al Zahrani reportedly left home, having just completed the eleventh grade, “after hearing that sheiks from negihboring towns were saying jihad in Afghanistan (AF) was a religious duty.”
He first travelled to Karachi, Pakistan, financing “the trip himself with saving he had earned selling perfumes to hajj pilgrims.” In Karachi, al Zahrani hooked up with a man named Saria al Makki, who travelled with him to Konduz, Afghanistan.
In Konduz, detainee was taken to a place called the Taliban Center. He spent one month training under an individual named Khair Allah on the use of the Kalishnikov rifle, the Makarov pistol, hand grenades, and in field training. The detainee was then assigned a guard position at a second line post between Konduz and Taloqan.
The American Taliban fighter, John Walker Lindh, remembered Abu Ammar distinctly, in part because he was little more than a kid when they fought together in Afghanistan.
Lindh identified detainee as Abu Ammar from Saudi Arabia. He further stated that detainee was one of the youngest, which is why he stood out. Lindh stated detainee was approximately seventeen years old and was always joking and talking. Detainee…was involved in foo services. Detainee was always at front line base camps…
When the front line crumbled under the pressure of American fire power, “the group retreated to Konduz where coalition forces surrounded them.” Lindh reported that while there, al Zahrani “helped in a kitchen of an Arab guesthouse (as a cook) in Konduz after fleeing from the front lines.” Just over a week later, Konduz fell, and al Zahrani’s group cut a deal with the Northern Alliance, “Allowing fighters to leave with their weapons and travel to Mazar-E-Sharif, AF, where they would surrender.” What happened then is a bit confused, but the report notes that
On the eleventh day of Ramadan, the fighters traveled to Mazar-E-Sharid where they turned in their weapons and were taken to the Qala-I-Jangi prison. The day after they arrived at the prison, detainee and others were taken to a square in the prison yard. Detainee heard gunfire and explosions coming from the prison and then a firefight ensued injuring detainee in the leg and foot. He fell to the ground and remained in the same position until nightfall, when other prisoners retrieved him and carried him back to the underground prison. They remained there for seven days before they were forced to surrender.
A month later, he was turned over to the American forces, and processed to Guantanamo Boy shortly thereafter.
From what can be gathered in al Zahrani’s assessment, he was quite a handful. In the five years he spent in Guantanamo, Abu Ammar racked up over one hundred disciplinary infraction reports detailing all manner of disruptive incidents, including
assault, failure to follow instructions/camp rules, using provoking words and gestures with the guards, threatening the life of a guard, damage to property, inciting a disturbance, exposing himself to guards, possession of both weapon and non-weapon type contraband, and cross block talking. The detainee had twelve reports of disciplinary infraction for assault in 2005. The detainee’s most recent assault was committed on 13 November 2005 when he punched a guard in the jaw upon being returned to his cell. The detainee has numerous cases of verbal harassment and threats towards guards…The detainee was a major participant in the voluntary total fast of 2005-2006. The detainee has notes of conducting PT, to include combative type training, and at least twice has taunted guards claiming to want to fight. On 11 July 2005, detainee told a guard that he would use a knife to cut his stomach open, cut his face off, and then drink his blood, smiling and laughing as he said it.
Major General Jay Hood, who authored the report, determined that al Zahrani’s antics were enough to keep him held indefinitely in Gitmo detention, despite the fact that the Saudi was basically of no use to al Qaeda or the Taliban, much less the United States Government.
No reporting indicates detainee served in a leadership or operational planning capacity….detainee’s exposure to the jihadist element in Afghanistan is unremarkable and less than many other detainees. The information detainee is assessed to know about the Taliban and events in Qala-I-Jangi is limited beyond what he has already provided. It is assessed the intelligence to be exploited from detainee is limited, and it would probably be dated and not tactically or strategically critical…most reporting indicates detainee was probably the average mujahid…
As it turns out, while al Zahrani may have been the average mujahid, he made a name for himself at Guuantanamo for being one of four inmates to successfully commit suicide.  Three months after the assessment was conducted by Hood, al Zahrani and two other detainees simultaneously killed themselves in their cells.  According to the Washington Post,
Zahrani, in Cell A-8, was the first detainee to raise concern among guards. One guard passed his cell and thought the silhouette under his sheets looked too small. When guards inspected further, they found the sheet concealing random items and Zahrani hanging from a noose in the darkness… Some of the guards were "very emotional," according to the report [on the suicides]. "I feel that the guards and myself on Alpha block did an inadequate job monitoring the detainees that night to make sure that they were following the rules as to show some kind of skin while sleeping," said one guard, who name was redacted from the documents.

Inadequacy was only the tip of the iceberg. An investigation later demonstrated that  "guards had become lax on certain rules because commanders wanted to reward the more compliant detainees, giving them extra T-shirts, blankets and towels." Not only that, but "Detainees were allowed to hang such items to dry, or to provide privacy while using the toilet, but were not supposed to be able obscure their cells while sleeping. "

The Post aslo noted that "Guards told officials that it was not unusual to see blankets hanging in the cells and that they did not
think twice when they passed several cells on the night of June 9, 2006, with blankets strung through  the wire mesh. Authorities believe the men probably hanged themselves around 10 p.m., but they
were not discovered until shortly after midnight on June 10."

How al Zahrani was able to get his hands on all this good-behavior swag given his extensive list of misdemeanors was never explained. What is clear, however, is that al Zahrani was slated for release at the very moment he decided to take his own life. “Zahrani, according to Guantanamo records, was next on the ‘Saudi DMO’ list, which meant he was imminently going to be part of a "Detainee Movement Operation" that would have transferred him to Saudi Arabia's reintegration program and ultimately to freedom.” He was twenty-one years old.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Gitmo Files: Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu

Will John McCain never learn? On Wednesday, the 2008 presidential hopeful was busy banging the drum for increased American presence in the civil war raging in Libya.  Arguing that a stalemate in the conflict between Libya’s leader Colonel Moamer Gadaffi and rebels in the country’s east would harm American interests, McCain suggested that “we could do the same thing that we did in the Afghan struggle against the Russians. There are ways to get weapons in [to the rebels] without direct US supplying.”
Little does McCain know (we have to hope), but he was advocating for aiding and arming some of the same people that were actively trying to harm the United States just a few short years ago.  As an embassy cable released months ago by WikiLeaks made clear, some of the rebels fighting Gadaffi got their chops battling American forces in Iraq as insurgents following the US invasion in 2003. And now this week comes word that one of the rebel leaders was a former detainee in Guantanamo Bay.
By his own account, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu has a long and sordid history, including close ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden. Born in Derna in 1959, bin Qumu
Served as a tank driver in the Libyan armed forces as a private. The Libyan Government states he was addicted to illegal drugs/narcotics and had been accused of a number of crimes including: murder, physical assault, and distributing narcotics.  He was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1993, he escaped from prison and fled to Egypt. He traveled to Afghanistan (AF) and trained at Usama Bin Laden’s (UBL) Torkham Camp. After participating in the Soviet jihad, he moved to Sudan (SU). Detainee worked as a truck driver for Wadi Al-‘Aqiq, one of UBL’s companies in Suba, SU.
Bin Qumu was considered such a nuisance to the Gadaffi regime that the Libyan government persuaded the Sudanese to push him out of the country. “He left Sudan sometime in 1997, using a false Mauritian passport. He travelled to Pakistan (PK), where he resided in…Peshawar.” Soon, according to bin Qumu’s own narrative, he “joined the Taliban movement…and fought with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was wounded in the leg.”
In a strange twist, the assessment notes that following his injury, bin Qumu returned to Peshawar and worked with the Qadaffi Foundation, run by Moamer’s now-reviled son Saif al-Islam al Qadaffi.  The report’s author, Brigadier General Jay Hood, apparently did not hold the foundation in particularly high regard, noting that their work in Pakistan involved “relocating extremists and their families.” Nevertheless, it was the Qadaffi Foundation itself who tipped off bin Qumu’s whereabouts to Pakistani authorities. 
Note: The Qadhafi Oragnization operated out of the Libyan Embassy and worked to secure transportation to Libya for any Arab fleeing the region, including Al-Qaida members. There appeared to have been an agreement between the governments of Libya and Pakistan that allowed the Pakistanis to interview the Arabs before they left. Detainee was likely detained by the Pakistani’s [sic] and turned over to US forces against the Libyan government’s wishes due to discrepancies in his story.
The report goes on to list the various reasons bin Qumu poses a threat to American national security. Among other things, the report notes that

Detainee has a long-term association with Islamic extrewmist jihad and members of Al-Qaida and other extremist groups. Detainee refuses to disclose complete information regarding his past, associates, and activities…The Libyan Government considers detainee as “dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts. He was known as one of the extremist commanders of the Afghan Arabs”…[which] refers to Arab Mujahideen that elected to stay in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Soviet Jihad…Detainee is an associate of UBL’s from Sudan. Al Shweikh, possibly a reference to Ibn Sheikh Al Libi, recommended detainee to UBL. UBL reportedly knows detainee’s brother very well. Detainee drove a truck for one of UBL’s companies while living in Sudan.
Curiously, given bin Qumu’s intelligence value, which the report lists as “high,” the assessment makes clear that the Libyan’s continued detention at Guantanamo Bay would be inappropriate.
JTF GTMO recommends detainee by Transferred to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention…Based upon information obtained since detainee’s previous assessment, it is recommended he be transferred…to his country of origin (Libya) if a satisfactory agreement can be reached that allows access to detainee and/or access to exploited intelligence. If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reaced for his continued detention in Libya, he should be retained under DoD control.
The recommendation to transfer bin Qumu back to Libya likely reflects the emerging relationship between the George W. Bush administration and the Qadaffi regime after it agreed to give up its nuclear ambitions in late 2003.
A satisfactory agreement was reached between the Washington and Tripoli, and bin Qumu was returned to Libya in September 2007.  He was released in 2010 under the auspices of an amnesty granted by Qadaffi to anti-regime prisoners.  Today, bin Qumu is one of several prominent leaders Senator McCain has advocated supporting in the fight against Qadaffi. 
The New York Review of Book’s Nicholas Pelman caught up with bin Qumu in eastern Libya’s rebel enclave Derna just the other week.
In a small alleyway near the town’s main bank, Sufian bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, nursed his Kalashnikov, hailed the United States as a protector of the weak, and pronounced the US-led bombardment “a gift from God.”
Solitary confinement in the prisons of Muammar Qaddafi or at Guantanamo Bay seemed to make many Libyans garrulous and extroverted, as if compensating for the years of lost human company. But bin Qumu’s six years under Guantanamo’s arc lights—he had been detained in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks—and three years in a Libyan cell the size of his cubbyhole look in Darna have turned him into a recluse. He is convinced that Western intelligence agenicies are still hunting him. His hennaed hair is combed flat, ain a style uncommon in Libya, as if he were wearing a toupee. A pair of fluffy white slippers embroidered with cats lie on a rattan bookcase. Neighbors fend off intruding journalists by saying he has left for the front. “You know I know who you are,” he says a touch disconcertingly when we meet. He asks me to put away my tape recorder, saying it reminds him of his interrogators.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Gitmo Files: Naqib Ullah

When reports began surfacing in 2003 that Guantanamo Bay was housing children detained as enemy combatants, then-Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers dismissed these concerns by noting that 
despite their age, there are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed. Some have stated they’re going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little-league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team. And they’re in Guantanamo for a very good reason—for our safety, for your safety.
According to documents released this week, Myers’ claim hardly reflected reality as the assessment of fifteen year-old Naqib Ullah makes upsettingly clear. 
Ullah, who was suffering from tuberculosis when he was nabbed by American forces in 2003, had already experienced unspeakable brutality before being shipped off to Cuba.  According to his own account, Ullah
was kidnapped while doing an errand for his father by eleven men who belonged to a group called “Samoud’s people” from the village of Khan, Afghanistan.  Detainne stated the eleven men that abducted him forcibly raped him at gunpoint and he was taken back to their village encampment as a prisoner and forced to manual work.
Just days later, word arrived to the camp that American forces were closing in, and that a raid would be imminent.  The men “ordered the detainee and some others to stay behind and fight the Americans. The detainee was captured in possession of a weapon but it had not been fired.”
Why the child was brought to Guantanamo is not fully justified in the assessment.  The report’s author, Major General Geoffrey Miller, seems at a loss to understand how the boy ended up in his charge. His observation lead to the unavoidable conclusion that Richard Myers was either completely out of touch with the war in Afghanistan that he was ostensibly overseeing, or just a craven liar, when he assurred reporters that all Gitmo detainees were subjected to a "thorough process" of vetting. Miller unambiguously notes that Ullah
was a kidnap victim and a forced conscript of a local warring tribe, affiliated with the Taliban. Though the detainee may still have some remaining intelligence, I’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove this juvenile from his current environment  and afford him an opportunity to “grow out” of the radical extremism he has been subject to.
One may ask if Miller was referring to the extremism of Gitmo, not radical Islam, because two sentences later the Major General points out that the boy
Has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention.  He is considered a low risk to the US, its interests and its allies.
Miller’s assessment is a far cry from what then-Vice President led the public to believe when he argued that the only the most dangerous threats to American security were being transported to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention. “They are very dangerous,” Cheney warned. “They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.” My guess is that Naqib Ullah might beg to differ, or at least would have at the time. He was returned to Afghanistan in 2004.

The Gitmo Files: Adil Hadi al-Jaza’iri Bin Hamlili

Of all the Gitmo detainee assessments published thus far by WikiLeaks, none comes more ready-made for the big screen than that of Adil Hadi al-Jaza’ire Bin Hamlili.  The Algerian terrorist’s story is the stuff of pulpy spy thrillers, replete with sociopathic violence, double-dealings and a mystery ending that will leave readers squirming in their seats. 
Bin Hamlili’s personal narrative is a breathtaking account of a young man’s rearing on the battlefields of Afghanistan during the period of Russian occupation. It began with an epic, roundabout journey across North Africa, through the Middle East, and ultimately to Central Asia. Around 1986,
At approximately eleven years of age, detainee left Algeria and headed to Afghanistan with his father, his brother, detainee’s second cousin…and another associate names Abu Bakr Muhammad Boulghiti…Detainee’s father was committed to dawa (missionary work) and decided to go to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union…
They travelled for three months across the desert through Burkina Faso to Mali where they stayed at a mosque for almost nine months. Their vehicle and all their goods were stolen by thieves and they were forced to obtain new passports and health cards from the United Nations (UN). His father told the UN representatives that they were Moroccans in order to obtain new identity cards. With their paperwork in order they continued on their way to Afghanistan via Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Eventually, they were taken to a guesthouse of Osama bin Laden.  Bin Hamlili was pressed into service immediately. “Detainee attended training at the nearby Sada, PK camp several times between 1986 and 1991…Detainee fought against the Soviets and the Soviet-backed Afghan regime beginning in 1986, at the age of eleven.” From there, bin Hamlili fought with a number of jihadi groups, ultimately leading the “Khalifa Group in Peshawar, a Takfir group established to engage militant combat in Algeria.”
The experience impacted bin Hamlili profoundly, leading him to ultimately embrace a fundamentalist ideology excessive by even extremist standards. 
Detainee has admitted to killing another al-Qaida operative to enforce an extremist interpretation of Sharia law...Detainee murdered al-Qaida member Asadullah al-Sindhi and al-Sindhi’s wife in 1997. Al-Sindhi was [bin Laden’s] commercial representative to Pakistan and the brother of Abdallah al-Sindhi. Detainee’s Takfiri beliefs were his primary justification  for this assassination. Detainee killed al-Sindhi because he married a woman within one month of her divorce, instead of waiting four months as required by Sharia, or Islamic law. 
 Far from suffering punishment at the hands of al Qaeda for the murder of bin Laden’s man in Pakistan, bin Hamlili rapidly rose to prominence in the organization, taking on increased responsibilities and building an impressive resume of murder and intrigue.  He served as bin Laden’s courier to al Qaeda operatives, “arranging money transfers, procuring visas and identity cards, and performing other duties” for agents conducting terrorist operations. He reportedly became a close associate of Midhat al-Sayyid Umar, a “poison and explosives expert who helped train the perpetrators of the 2000 terrorist attack against the USS Cole in Yemen.” He is also believed by some to be “Abu Adil, the leader of a militant cell that was responsible for attacks on multiple civilian targets in Pakistan in 2002.” The list of alleged associations, acts of terror and other disturbing dealings goes on and on, becoming nearly monotonous until we learn that bin Hamlili was involved in an attempt
to transfer stolen nuclear material to al-Qaida, the Khalifa Group and the governments of Iraq and Sudan. In 1995, Muhammad Shah, a close associate of detainee (with whom detainee was captured), attempted to sell uranium and red mercury to detainee, al-Qaida senior military commander Abu Hafs al-Masri…the Iraqi government, and the Khalifa Group. The Khalifa Group also subsequently offered the red mercury to the Sudanese government. 
No dummy, bin Hamlili “did not accept the offer and was not sure if the material was genuine.” As the report itself notes, “red mercury is a fictitious material advertised as a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, high explosives, and missile guidance systems. It has been associated with hoax attempts to sell the material.”
In any event, the most intriguing details offered by the report surround bin Hamlili’s role as a spy. The assessment reveals that bin Hamlili served the Taliban as an intelligence officer. Trouble is, the Taliban wasn’t the only government employing the Algerian in this capacity.  The report notes that bin Hamlili was in fact a triple-agent, working simultaneously for the Canadian and British intel services as well, noting that “in December 2000 detainee was recruited as HUNINT source for the CSIS [Canadian intelligence] and the BSIS [British intelligence] because of his connections to members of various al-Qaida linked terrorist groups that operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Detainee was a HUMINT source until his capture by Pakistani authorities in June 2003.” Not only that, but the Americans came to believe that bin Hamlili was double-crossing both agencies: “the CIA, after numerous custodial interviews with detainee, found detainee to have withheld important information from the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS) and British Secret Intelligence Service (BSIS) (for whom he served as a HUMINT source).”
Stop right there. If the report is correct to suggest that bin Hamlili was on the books of both CSIS and BSIS between 2000 and 2003, then serious questions need to be asked concerning the degree to which the British and Canadian governments were bankrolling the very crimes with which American authorities were charging bin Hamlili and detaining him at Guantanamo Bay. These questions, of course, were not asked by the report’s author. Instead, the report closes by reiterating the judgment that bin Hamlili posed a high risk to American security, and therefore needed to be detained indefinitely.
Except he wasn’t.  Despite the fact that bin Hamlili “has made statements to [Gitmo] personnel indicating his intent to kill US citizens upon his eventual release,” he was returned to Algeria in 2010 in perhaps the creepiest twist to bin Hamlili’s tale.  Where bin Hamlili is today is anyone’s guess. According to the Miami Herald, bin Hamlili was sent home with another Gitmo detainee, though the government’s announcement of the transfer “did not make clear whether the men went home as free men or were to be held by Algerian authorities for further trial or investigation.” The former scenario, given bin Hamlili’s history, is frightening enough. 
But the latter possibility is equally disturbing. “Two other Algerians previously held at Guantanamo were granted asylum in France after their attornies argued successfully that the men feared a return to their homeland, which has struggled with militant Muslim extremist movements.” Given bin Hamlili’s membership and critical participation in precisely these movements, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he is currently being held in detention no more forgiving than that on offer at Guantanamo Bay, and no less reprehensible.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Gitmo Files: Abu Zubaydah

What to make of the Gitmo assessment of Abu Zubaydah, the Saudi-born Palestinian man once described by George W. Bush as the “number three” guy in al Qaeda?  The fourteen-page document, released as part of WikiLeaks’ “Gitmo Files” trove, is at once a collection of rumors, contradictory data and bizarre analysis that at the same time serves as an uncompromising verdict of Abu Zubaydah’s guilt in crimes against the United States.
The memo begins with the bold claim that Zubaydah
Is a senior member of al-Qaida with direct ties to multiple high-ranking terrorists such as Usama Bin Laden (UBL). Detainess has a vast amount of information regarding al-Qaida personnel and operations and is an admitted operational planner, financier and facilitator of international terrorsist and their activities.  Detainee participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces and was involved in several plans to commit terrorist acts against the US, its interests and allies.  
Quite a valuable prisoner, by the looks of it, then.  How did the commanding officer, Rear Admiral D. M. Thomas, come to learn all of this information?  Not through direct talks with Zubaydah, as the report makes clear at its close: “Due to detainees’ HVD status, detainee has yet to be interviewed.”  Instead, Thomas seems to have relied upon claims made by dozens of other detainees—whether at Guantanamo or other sites of extraordinary rendition—while denying Zubaydah’s own claims as patently false. 
And as it turns out, it’s Zubayadah’s story that proves most interesting, and at the end of the day, seems the likeliest to be true, even as it too suffers from problems of consistency.  The report offers the “Detainee’s Account of Events,” though where this account was delivered is never explicitly made clear.  According to Zubaydah’s own testimony, he very much wanted to become an al Qaida operative, but the terrorist outfit wouldn’t let him. 
Detainee stated he was originally a “bad Muslim” who arrived in Afghanistan in 1990-1991. He was determined to attend militant training because he was inspired by the Palestinian cause….Detainee stated that in 1993, following the first Afghan jihad against the Russians, he decided to dedicate his life to jihad.  Detainee noticed that of all the other groups in theater, only al-Qaida remained to continue the jihad struggle. Detainee submitted the requisite paperwork to join al-Qaida and pledge bayat (an oath of allegiance to UBL. Detainee’s application to al-Qaida was rejected.  
But in the very next paragraph, Zubaydah offers a slightly different account of his troubles with al Qaeda that merits no mention from the report’s author. 
In approximately 1991 or 1992, detainee sustained a head wouldn from shrapnel while on the front lines. Detainee stated he had to relearn fundamentals such as walking, talking, and writing; as such, he was therefore considered worthless to al-Qaida. Detainee asked Abu Burhan al-Suri for permission to repeat the Khaldan Camp training. Detainee did not pledge bayat to UBL and did not become a full al-Qaida member.  Detainee refused to make the pledge unless al-Qada agreed to stage an attack inside Israel or mount an operation to help free Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman aka (the Blind Sheik) [sic].
So which is it? Did al Qaeda reject Zubaydah, or did Zubaydah reject al Qaeda? This question is never addressed, much less resolved. Instead, the report details two more meetings between Zubaydah and bin Laden that demonstrate little other than the latter’s distaste for the former. 
The question of Zubaydah’s testimony and its provenance is of chief significance.  The report notes that shortly after Zubaydah’s last contact with bin Laden—where the al Qaeda chief appears to have shut down the Palestinian’s plan for an attack in Israel—the he was picked up by Pakistani security forces “in Faisalabad on 28 March 2002.” In the process, Zubaydah was “shot three time while attempting to escape. Detainee was transferred to US authorities immediately after his arrest and once his condition stabilized, he was transported out of Pakistan.”  A few lines later, the memo notes that Zuybaydah was transferred to Gitmo in September 2006, over four and a half years later.  So what happened to him in the intervening period?
Quite a lot, as it happens.  Unremarked upon in the report is the now established evidence that Zubaydah was flown to the Cuban detention facility in 2002, where he remained for nine months before being shipped off to another CIA interrogation facility in Thailand.  There, according to Andy Worthington,
the FBI began interrogating him using old-school, torture-free methods, which had a proven track record. Within a matter of weeks, however, the FBI agents were shamefully discarded by the administration’s most senior officials, who believed that another major attack was imminent, and that only the use of torture would persuade a significant captured terrorist — as Zubaydah was presumed to be — to talk. The job of interrogating Zubaydah was handed over to the CIA, whose new repertoire of techniques consisted primarily of torture, including waterboarding  (a form of controlled drowning), confinement in tiny, coffin-like boxes, extreme violence, prolonged isolation, and the use of sustained nudity and loud music and noise.
Zubaydah was returned to Guantanamo in 2006. Shortly thereafter, Zubaydah became a central figure in the ICRC reports documenting American torture practices in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and was the centerpiece of one of the so-called “torture memos” released by the Barack Obama administrations just two years ago this month.
The shocking incidence of mental health disorders suffered by detainees at Guantanamo has been particularly striking in the Gitmo files released thus far by WikiLeaks, and it’s clear from Zubaydah well-documented history that he should be tallied with those prisoners suffering psychological distress.  In Barton Gellman’s review of Ron Suskind’s One Percent Doctrine, it’s noted that
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said."
This might explain the slightly varied accounts Zubaydah reportedly gave American intelligence officers of his difficult history with al Qaeda.  In any event it’s hard to escape the conclusion, based on the mountain of evidence that has surfaced thus far about Zubaydah’s condition, arrived at by Dan Coleman, the FBI’s chief al Qaeda expert: “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”
He’s also still Guantanamo Bay.  Despite the government’s own admission that Zubaydah was not, contrary to its earlier bombast, “a 'member' of al-Qaida in the sense of having sworn bavat (allegiance) or having otherwise satisfied any formal criteria that either [Zubaydah] or al-Qaida may have considered necessary for inclusion in al-Qaeda,” it continues to hold him in detention “based on conduct and actions that establish Petitioner was ‘part of’ hostile forces and ‘substantially supported’ those forces.” All totaled, Zubaydah has been in American custody going on nine years, and there’s no sense that resolution of his case will occur at any point in the foreseeable future.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Gitmo Files: Abdul Raham Houari

Perhaps the most troubling information confirmed thus far by the “Guantanamo Files” released by WikiLeaks Sunday has been the degree to which mental health disorders were recognized, and in many cases ignored, by American officials overseeing “unlawful combatants” imprisoned in the Cuban detention facility.  According to the Guardian, the new WikiLeaks cache reveals that nearly one hundred prisoners, almost one in seven, “were classified by the US army as having psychiatric illnesses including severe depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”

A particularly disturbing case of mental illness is described in the file of Algerian detainee Abdul Raham Houari who was brought to the Gitmo detention facility in 2001 at the age of 21.  The document notes that Houari had a demonstrated “history of non-compliance and aggressiveness,” behavior that was clearly the result more of psychological distress than willful insubordination.  Brigadier General Jay Hood, who authored the Houari report indicates as much in his brief history of the detainee:

24 year old Algerian with history of significant penetrating head trauma in 20001 with resultant blindness in righ eye and shrapnel injuries to the frontal portion of his brain, causing difficulty with speech and understanding as well as loss of inhibitions, e.g. disrobing in public, urinating on floor, etc.

Not only that, but Houari “had ongoing behavioral services interventions, is currently on zyprexa, an anti-psychotic” and was “mobile yet has slowed motor functions and generally needs assistance with caring for himself and supervision of his safety.”  His behavior was not merely uninhibited, but outrageous. “He has been informed to keep his clothes on and heas repeatedly disregarded those order and his stood in his cell naked. Detainee has many instances of masturbating in front of others without the slightest bit of self-coconsciousness,” behavior that led Hood to the conclusion that

Based on the detainee’s health status, intelligence [medium] value and [low] risk level, JTF GTMO recommends this detainees be released or transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.

Hood’s recommendation, however, was ignored for another four years.  Houari was eventually repatriated to Algeria, where he was acquitted of terrorism charges late last year, but not before he made a series of attempts against his own life. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Other Restrepo

You have to assume that the folks at WikiLeaks were having a little post-Oscar fun with their decision to publish a single cable today, a 2006 dispatch from the US embassy in Bogota.  The cable details discussions between American diplomats and Colombian authorities on the subject of paramilitary demobilization, a particularly thorny topic given worries that demobilization was creating vacuums which were being filled by organized crime and FARC guerillas.
The Americans' main point of contact in these dealings was Colombian Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, uncle of Juan Sebastian Restrepo—the Army paramedic who gave his life and name to a small outpost in Afghanistan that later inspired the Oscar-nominated Restrepo.  While the documentary failed to take home an academy award, it turns out that the film it lost to—Inside Job—could just as easily have been about the crooked dealings of the elder Restrepo as the villains running Wall Street.
The latest cable is largely a lesson in the dysfunctions of Colombian governance, and the myriad challenges facing Bogota in consolidating power over a country wracked by decades of civil war and armed conflict.  At the center of its efforts to increase its sovereign authority and control over the countryside, the government had been pressuring various paramilitary groups to disband and disarm, offering incentives to agreeable factions, and threatening to confront head-on those groups that refused to demobilize. 
Restrepo complained to then-Ambassador William Wood that convincing the various factions of a key paramilitary group—the AUC—was amounting to an exercise in herding cats.  The Caciqui Pipinta Bloc, for example, was linked to AUC political leader Ernesto Baez but that the group refused to accept direction from Baez and was largely operating on its own.  “The faction’s leaders have told Restrepo they have not wanted to associate with Baez,” the cable reports, “because they did not want to link themselves with narcotrafficking.  An honorable sentiment, indeed, until you consider that “this group is mainly known to be involved in extortion.”
The possibility for failure, according to Restrepo, was great, and the disturbing consequences of botching the demobilization process would be potentially disastrous to Colombian society.  Restrpo reported that members of one group that was resisting demobilization were “being regrouped into new criminal organizations,” a phenomenon the government was inelegantly labeling “the new emerging anti-communist criminal groups.”    Restrepo worries over “the possibility of new groups forming whose membership included former members of the mafia, AUC and FARC.  This combination would be very hard to detect since they would have the know-how and expertise of the three groups and they would operate in small groups.”
Not helping matters any, Restrepo reported that rivals in the Ministry of the Interior and Justice—chief among them, Minister of the Interior and Justice Sabas Pretelt and Prosecutor General Mario Iguaran—were obstructing peace commissioner’s best efforts at getting paramilitaries to demobilize, and were discrediting his character in their private, independent dealings with paramilitary leaders.  Moreover, “Restrepo criticized Pretelt from having a poor understanding of the reality of the former combatants.”
In hindsight, these criticisms must be taken with a heart attack-inducing heap of salt.  Restrepo, as it turns out, boasts a muscular resume of dirty dealings, including recent revelations that he engaged in a bizarre “false positives” demobilization scam involving the FARC.  According to legal proceedings, Restrpo collaborated with FARC guerillas to round up homeless Colombians, dress them up in FARC fatigues, and then engage in a phony surrender performance.  Restrepo has also been implicated in another demobilization scam in which he looked the other way as “surrendered” FARC guerillas cashed in on their government–sponsored demobilization benefits while actively recruiting new members to the outfit in Bogota.
At the same time, other WikiLeaked cables from the weekend show that Restrepo’s concerns about Iguaran were not unfounded.  An embassy dispatch from 2008 records rumors that Iguaran’s election to the post of Prosecutor General was bankrolled with a hefty contribution from AUC paramilitary leader Carlos Jiminez, who personally intervened to bribe over a dozen supreme court magistrates to secure Iguaran’s election.  The court overwhelming voted Iguaran into office, where he served until 2009.  When his term expired, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe awarded his undistinguished service by naming him ambassador to Egypt.    

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Monterrey Jacked

Once Latin America’s safest city, Monterrey—in the north of Mexico—has become a central battlefield in the country’s war against drugs.  Each day, scores of people, many in law enforcement, are gunned down on Monterrey’s streets as increasingly powerful narcotraffickers contest the Mexican government’s sovereign control over its richest city.

As a US embassy cable published Saturday by WikiLeaks shows, however, the fight between Mexican authorities and the country’s drug gangs is hardly a clear-cut case of good guys taking on the bad. 

Written at the start of 2009, the cable examines civil society efforts to combat the rising influence, and attendant violence, of drug traffickers in Monterrey and its immediate surroundings.  Diplomats at the local consulate note that

As the wave of kidnappings, extortion, and narco-violence continues in the Monterrey region, the public—across all socioeconomic levels and classes—remains fearful.  Attention shifts from one incident to another, whether it be the January 6 grenade attack on the Monterrey Televisa broadcast offices, the January 18 murder of a wealthy adolescent departing a nightclub, or the January 25 dumping of a tortured corpse outside the state government’s anonymous tipster office.  Many local experts do not expect the situation to improve anytime soon.

One of those experts, Governor Socrates Rizzo of Nuevo Leon, the state in which Monterrey is located, told American diplomats that a large part of the trouble came from a compromised local government which was ineffectual at best, thoroughly corrupted by drug money at worst.  “If citizens are afraid to turn to the authorities when faced with threats,” the cable concludes, “then truly crime victims are on their own.”

Making matters worse, Rizzo openly worried that the national elections slated for July—which dealt a decisive blow to President Felipe Calderon’s ruling PAN party—would draw drug traffickers and organized politics even closer.

While the two principal parties—PRI and PAN—had both taken steps to guard against the infiltration of narco-money in the campaigns, in practice it would be virtually impossible to prevent organized crime from bankrolling candidates.  One way the cartels could impact the race would be to just bribe television anchorpersons and commentators, thereby ensuring that their particular candidate would receive favorable coverage. Alternatively…organized crime could provide a candidate’s staff with walking around money to distribute to voters. 

Not only that, “applicable campaign finance regulations only cover the candidate, so that it would be easy to simply funnel the narco-money to a family member.”

The prospect of elections also brought to light the scarier prospect that rival politicians might use their connections to organized crime to violently contest for political control. The January 6 attacks on the Televisa headquarters, it turns out, were likely not

a response to any reporting done by that broadcast outlet on the cartels.  Instead, [media representatives] saw it as an attempt by organized crime to inflict political damage on the current Nuevo Leon State Secretary for Governance—who happens to be the current governor’s preferred candidate to win the PRI nomination in the gubernatorial race.  Under this line of argument, political mafias contracted organized crime gunmen to carry out the attack—if true, an even more chilling scenario that the alternative theory that the cartles themselves were behind the assault. 

While the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) cleaned up at the polls, violence in Monterrey and across the country has only increased in frequency and magnitude.  Local politicians and law enforcement have been particularly under attack.  Just this Thursday, an elite squad of police in Garcia—a Monterrey suburb town—was attacked by a team of former police officers working for organized crime.  The next day, Jaime Rodriguez—mayor of Garcia—barely survived an assassination attempt as he traveled to Monterrey. 

Three mayors nationwide have already been murdered since the start of 2011, and a fourth is currently missing. Nearly 1,200 Mexicans have lost their lives to drug-related violence since January.