Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Torture Accountability Update - June 2010

Each month for over a year, I've been visiting the meetings of the Johnston County NC Commission. This body has oversight of the Johnston County Airport, home to Aero Contractors, the notorious "torture taxi" company.

I've been urging the County Commission to investigate the allegations of involvement in torture, kidnapping and other war crimes.

Needless to say, they have been refusing. But I'm not giving up.

In recent months, I've prepared a printed update for the Commissioners, highlighting the important developments on the accountability front during the previous weeks.
This month, I'm putting this update here as well, with links to the full articles excerpted in it.

The work of accountability is moving slow. That's as we expected. But even so, much is happening. This summary is by no means comprehensive.

Here we go:


Torture and rendition:
Inquiry expected to expose officials who colluded
Disclosures made by press about the way British facilities used
during US programme of extraordinary rendition

Ian Cobain, Thursday 20 May 2010

The judicial inquiry announced by the foreign secretary into Britain's role in torture and rendition since September 2001 is poised to shed extraordinary light on one of the darkest episodes in the country's recent history.
It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.
William Hague's decision follows a series of reports in the Guardian and other media over the last five years about the manner in which British intelligence officers were told they could interrogate terrorism suspects they knew were being tortured, and the way in which that secret policy was used in effect to subcontract torture to overseas intelligence agencies.
There has also been a steady drip of disclosures about the way in which British territory, airspace and facilities have been used during America's programme of extraordinary rendition and about orders that led to British special forces in Iraq handing over detainees to US forces, despite fears they were to be tortured.
Finally, the British army has been forced to admit that at least eight people died in its custody in Iraq, including a number who were being interrogated using illegal techniques including hooding.
Those who have been most bitterly resisting an inquiry – including a number of senior figures in the last government – may have been dismayed to see the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed, as this maximised the chances of a judicial inquiry being established.

More here

'Second jail' at Afghan air base
By Hilary Andersson
BBC News – May 11, 2010

The US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan contains a facility for detainees that is distinct from its main prison, the Red Cross has confirmed to the BBC.
Nine former prisoners have told the BBC that they were held in a separate building, and subjected to abuse.
The US military says the main prison, now called the Detention Facility in Parwan, is the only detention facility on the base.
However, it has said it will look into the abuse allegations made to the BBC.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that since August 2009 US authorities have been notifying it of names of detained people in a separate structure at Bagram.

More here

More on Afghanistan:

From The Atlantic Online:

What We Know About Now-Confirmed 'Black Site' Prison at Bagram

By Max Fisher on May 11, 2010

In November, the New York Times and Washington Post reported the existence of a secret "black site" prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The site, unconfirmed by the military and separate from the main prison at Bagram, was reported based on interviews with human-rights workers and people who claimed to be former detainees.

Now the BBC reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed the site's existence with the military. The U.S. official in charge of Afghanistan detention, Vice Admiral Robert Harward has denied that the prison, reportedly called the Tor Jail after the Urdu word for "black," exists. What do we know?
Tor Jail Conditions BBC's Hilary Andersson reports, "In recent weeks the BBC has logged the testimonies of nine prisoners who say they had been held in the so-called 'Tor Jail'. They told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night. The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there." The cells are filled with a constant noise and guards regularly wake prisoners to prevent them from sleeping.
Tor Jail Detainee Speaks Andersson records an account from one detainee. "Mirwais was watering his plants one night when American soldiers came to get him. He is still missing half a row of teeth from the beating he says he got that night and he says he cannot hear properly in one ear. US troops accused him of making bombs and giving the Taliban money."

More here


From the “No Comment” blog
By Scott Horton
May 12, 12:39 PM
Arrest of 13 CIA Agents Sought in Spain

Prosecutors attached to the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid are reportedly requesting that Judge Ismael Moreno issue an order for the arrest of thirteen CIA agents involved in an extraordinary rendition operation from 2004, the newspaper El PaĆ­s reports this afternoon, citing sources within the court.
The case relates to Khaled El-Masri, a greengrocer from Neu-Ulm, Germany, seized by the United States as a result of mistaken identity while he was on vacation in the former Yugoslavia. El-Masri was placed on a CIA-chartered jet that arrived in Macedonia from Palma de Majorca in January 2004, en route ultimately to Afghanistan. It appears that Majorca was used regularly as a refueling and temporary sheltering point for the CIA, with the knowledge of the prior conservative government. While held in the notorious CIA prison known as the Salt Pit, El-Masri was apparently tortured during extensive interrogations before intelligence officers realized that they had seized the wrong man.

More here


Washington Post SpyTalk Blog May 14, 2010
How will the CIA deal with 'rendition' supervisor?

The CIA is apparently standing by the counterterrorism official who supervised the “extraordinary rendition” and harsh treatment of an innocent man six years ago, even as Spanish prosecutors stir up new interest in the case with their request for the arrest of 13 of her underlings.
The woman, whose identity is being withheld at the CIA’s request, has been promoted twice since the abduction of Khaled el-Masri, a Muslim of Lebanese descent who had become a German citizen in 2003, according to intelligence sources.
Masri was picked up at her urging in 2004, when she was the CIA’s “hard-charging” al-Qaeda unit chief, and bundled off to a secret prison in Afghanistan, according to published accounts in The Washington Post and elsewhere.
But right away, the CIA rendition team “had a strange feeling about Masri,” according to an account by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer in her book, “The Dark Side.”
“He wasn’t acting like a terrorist.”
The CIA’s Kabul station chief “was incensed” that he’d been handed “an innocent person” and protested to the Counterterrorism Center, Mayer wrote in an account that echoed earlier reporting by The New York Times and others.
“But the CTC officials sent back word that the head of the Al Qaeda Unit wanted Masri held and interrogated. She thought he seemed suspicious.”
“She always did these cases based on her gut,” a CIA counterterrorism veteran told SpyTalk, with disdain. "She'd say, 'this guy's bad, that guy's dirty,' because she had a 'feeling' about them."

More here

Check back for more Accountability updates.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" - An Exchange

I don't recall ever seeing an article in our local paper, the Fayetteville Observer, that was affirmative of GLBT issues, or in particular, supported the pending repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.

This doesn't mean that the paper is a font of homophobic verbiage; but when anti-gay articles do appear, they usually go unanswered.

That silence is consistent with the general atmosphere of the community. Racial integration has been the policy of the military for sixty years, and federal law for almost fifty; racism surely still exists here, but it skulks in corners and speaks in code.

Homophobia is another matter. I am acquainted with a number of gays and lesbians here, some of whom are quite active in the community. But there is no visible gay presence in the city. No "Gay Pride Day," no vocal organizations, and the gay bars keep a very low profile.

Hence when an Op-Ed appeared in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, the chances were that it would go unanswered. The text of that commentary, by retired Chaplain Ronald Crews, is below, for reference.

But this communal closeting has long been a burden to me, and I decided to speak up for my own convictions, and perhaps those of some others who did not feel safe to speak.

My Op-Ed response was published in the Observer on Thursday June 3. It is posted here as well.

As advocacy goes, my piece is pretty mild. that reflects an effort to take the immediate audience into account. A couple of the online comments for the paper's website are also pasted in here, to give an idea of the response.

So, here first is the original piece, by Ronald Crews, published May 26, 2010:

Let military decide gay issue
By Ronald A. Crews

President Barack Obama announced early in his administration his desire to repeal the law commonly known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to accomplish the president’s desire and make a 180-degree change in military policy.
The Pentagon asked for a year to review the impact of repealing the policy that has been codified since the Clinton administration. Without waiting for this review, Congress has already begun hearings on the bill to fast-track this legislation.
As part of the Pentagon review, endorsing agents, those responsible for providing chaplains to our armed forces, were asked to submit information about the impact of this repeal on chaplains and their ministry. Grace Churches International currently endorses 14 chaplains on active duty with others in the pipeline to become chaplains.
As a retired Army chaplain, having served 29 years on active duty and in the reserve system, I am concerned about how the repeal of this policy will affect not only the ministry of chaplains, but also the morale and welfare of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.
We believe that military leaders, not politicians, should make this decision. This decision should be based on military needs and not a political agenda or payback to a special- interest group. Our military should not be used as a social experiment.
Further, this push is a distraction from providing the resources needed by our fighting forces as they continue one of the longest continual combat missions of our nation’s history. This is not the time for such a radical change. We propose that Congress should be debating ways to support our men and women in uniform, not debating whether to make this radical change.
Grace Churches International chaplains, along with chaplains from other faith groups, serve the men and women of our armed forces regardless of their faith background or sexual practices. However, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will impose a policy of how they serve a certain portion of the military population. This raises the following questions.
Preaching/teaching sound doctrine regarding sinful conduct: Like other Evangelical Christians, we believe that homosexual behavior is inconsistent with a Christian lifestyle. Our chaplains must be able to address sin as they see it, knowing that sinful behavior is harmful to individuals and to society at large. Chaplains must be able to speak against sin from the pulpit, as well as within a counseling session. Chaplains must also remain free to use the scripturally accurate depiction of the sinful nature of homosexual relations when necessary. Impact: Will chaplains be free to preach and counsel their convictions?
Counseling of soldiers who are affected by the conduct of homosexual personnel: Chaplains must feel free to validate a soldier’s faith-based view of homosexuality as sin within the counseling environment. Chaplains must also be free to advise commanders in addressing the needs of soldiers who feel such conduct has violated their rights. Impact: Will chaplains be free to advise soldiers that they can maintain their convictions concerning homosexual behavior? Will chaplains be free to advise commanders of how soldiers have been adversely impacted by the homosexual behavior of peers and/or supervisors?
Strong Bonds: Strong Bonds marriage retreats are part of the commander’s program for assisting married soldiers after deployments. Commanders will be required by law to protect the rights of homosexuals in their command to have equal access to the programs and services that a chaplain provides, leaving a chaplain’s ministry vulnerable to Equal Opportunity violations. Impact: Will chaplains be required to include cohabiting homosexual couples in Strong Bonds events? If chaplains refuse to include homosexual couples, will they be guilty of Equal Opportunity violations?
Chaplains are often given chapel duties that require working with persons of different faith groups. One of the strengths of the Chaplain Corps has been the collegiality and respect for chaplains from other faiths. That said, chaplains often find themselves not able to share pulpit responsibilities with chaplains from faith groups they deem inconsistent with their belief system. Impact: Will chaplains be required to share pulpit duties with homosexual chaplains or lay-leaders?
Other considerations:
Adultery: Since most states and federal law still define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, will homosexuals living together open the door to the legitimization of adultery among all ranks in the military?
If homosexual soldiers can share rooms together in a barracks, will the same accommodation be afforded to heterosexual men and women?
If the Department of Defense maintains that same-sex relationships have the same value, dignity and honor as heterosexual relationships, will DoD seek to restrict or limit the recruitment of clergy from denominations that embrace the traditional teachings of Judaism and Christianity on this subject?
Will tolerance and promotion of same-sex relationships become a discriminator on officer and NCO efficiency reports?
Grace Churches International will not endorse chaplains who hold hatred toward any person, regardless of lifestyle. We believe in the commandment to love and serve all people. But muzzling chaplains and forcing them to preach a politically correct gospel would ultimately violate that commandment, and so we oppose replacing the military’s current policy with special protections for homosexual behavior. May God grant His wisdom to our political leaders as they consider this radical change to military policy.
Ronald A. Crews, the executive director of Grace Churches International in Fayetteville, is a retired Army chaplain.

Now for my response:

Op-Ed: Policy's death a boost for morale

By Chuck Fager

Ronald Crews ("Let military decide gay issue," May 26) decries the likely end of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and fears the impact of the change upon certain evangelical chaplains.
I'm all for ending DADT, for many reasons - and one of them is that Crews has much less to worry about than he thinks.
Crews insists that the military "should not be used for a social experiment." But isn't this much the same objection raised to desegregating the military 60 years ago? And didn't that "experiment" turn out rather well?
Crews also is worried about "the morale and welfare" of the troops, and calls DADT repeal a "distraction from providing the resources needed" for them.
Actually, repealing DADT will improve the morale and welfare of the troops. Especially that of the thousands of homosexual servicemen and women.
They're an important "resource," too. It will improve their welfare by removing an unnecessary risk from their lives - so they can better face the real ones, of which there are plenty.
For that matter, it will also improve the morale of many commanders. Enforcing DADT is a useless "distraction" they don't need. No question, the sooner DADT is gone, the better off all the services will be.
Chaplain conundrum
Yet, Crews wonders whether ending DADT will prevent some chaplains from preaching what they regard as "sound doctrine." Especially regarding the "scripturally accurate depiction of the sinful nature of homosexual relations when necessary."
But don't various churches already differ about many other issues? Are chaplains "muzzled" when it comes to, say, the hotly disputed issue of abortion? Or evolution? This should be no different.
But maybe there's a point here that needs a closer look. The doctrinal statement of Crews' Grace Churches International asserts that the whole Bible is "free from error in the whole and in the part," and I'm sure that is part of their preaching.
I note, however, that in both the Old Testament (Leviticus 21:9) and the New (Romans 1:32) it teaches that homosexuals deserve to be put to death. And we know that in Uganda, for instance, there's currently an effort to enact those commandments into law.
On principle, I support the free speech of any military chaplain who feels obliged to uphold such "scripturally accurate" doctrines.
I swallow hard when saying that, but I do.
Even so, I hope the chaplain would add that acting on these "scripturally accurate" strictures is against U.S. military and civil law today, and could lead to a long prison sentence or even capital punishment. Full disclosure.
Crews asks whether post-DADT chaplains will "be free to advise commanders of how soldiers have been adversely affected by the homosexual behavior of peers and/or supervisors?"
The answer is that, post-DADT, sexual harassment and assaults, regardless of orientation, will still be crimes.
But if one of Crews' flock simply dislikes serving alongside open homosexuals, there's another adage which is applicable. It is not biblical, but I'm told it has something of scriptural weight in military circles.
It is: "Suck it up and drive on, soldier. Follow your orders."
Yet, as it also says in 1 Corinthians 12:31, there is a "more excellent way."
Crews himself pointed to it, when he stated that one of the "strengths of the Chaplains Corps has been the collegiality and respect for chaplains from other faiths."
This is good to hear, especially when we consider that several large U.S. Protestant denominations already accept homosexuals as members and clergy. Two of the three largest Jewish communities do, too. All are represented in the chaplaincy.
I suggest that the solution for the evangelical chaplains Crews is concerned about is straightforward: simply extend the "collegiality and respect" accorded to these other chaplains to all the troops, whether homosexual or not.
Or to put it another way: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7).
That should take care of it, really.

Chuck Fager is director of Quaker House in Fayetteville.

And finally, here are a few of the comments from the paper's blog:

Lumbee Against La Razists Chuck,
using the Bible, of all things to validate the queer lifestyle and trying to normalize this behaviour that was once medically considered an abnormality of the brain is deplorable and cheap.
Let's consider the following medical conditions that will have to be addressed in a deployment, as if there aren't enough serious injuries that need the attention of the physician in the field. Come, let us reason together. Isn't that in the Bible too?
Check this out. A doctor wrote it. I copied and pasted it for you. All facts. All medical conditions that accompany this lifestyle that heterosexuals do not encounter on a regular basis. I feel that an open policy will greatly destroy the cohesive nature of military duty, especially in the field. I feel that resources that would be better used on injury caused by enemy fire will be wasted on injury caused by the promiscuity that defines this "gay" sick lifestyle. Please read the following carefully. Again, these are medical facts:

The Health Risks of Gay Sex
(A long listing of awful diseases, all seen as consequences of gay sex; text deleted here for brevity)

- - - - - - -

Rev. Jeffrey C. Long Another bad idea. But coming from Mr. Fager and Quakerhouse, this is not at all surprising.

It is an especially cheap shot to try and equate "homosexual rights" with the Civil Rights movement and the opening of military service to Black Americans. As has been stated, this is of another category entirely. After all, being born dark skinned is what you are...being a homo is "what you DO," some of which as has been amply and disgustingly described above for us--lest we forget!

Furthermore, Mr. Fager, et al., most Black Americans take special umbrage at gays forever presuming to stow away on the Selma "freedom train." I will remind you that Seventy percent of them voted against prop 8 in California. Don’t play the “race card” where it in no way remotely applies!

As a former Army officer I am appalled enough the way it is WITH DADT!

Open homosexuality is a threat to the morale, morals, and cohesion (not to mention the physical AND mental health) of any social unit and this is particularly true in a military unit. The corruption of the German Armed Forces by homosexual cadres is well documented and should serve as a warning to us in America today.

Unfortunately, Obama and most Democrats are hell bent to defy the lessons of history, believing they can escape their consequences, and this all as a matter of political payoff to extremist groups who have given them their support.

It is NOT being “Christian” to witness the pending destruction of men and women -- which would be the inevitable entailment of such a ill-begotten policy—without raising a voice against it.
- - - - - -

It's 2010 people, grow up! You're making an arguement about diseases and sexual practices which apply to BOTH homosexuals and heterosexuals. Besides, whether gay or straight these people are fighting for your freedom. How dare you criticize and judge someone who lays their life on the line so that you can live your life of ignorance.