'One Huge US Jail'
by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
The Guardian UK, March 19, 2005
Afghanistan is the hub of a global network
of detention centres, the frontline in America's 'war on terror',
where arrest can be random and allegations of torture commonplace.
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark investigate on the ground and
talk to former prisoners.
Kabul was a grim, monastic place in
the days of the Taliban; today it's a chaotic gathering point
for every kind of prospector and carpetbagger. Foreign bidders
vying for billions of dollars of telecoms, irrigation and construction
contracts have sparked a property boom that has forced up rental
prices in the Afghan capital to match those in London, Tokyo and
Manhattan. Four years ago, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue in
Kabul was a tool of the Taliban inquisition, a drab office building
where heretics were locked up for such crimes as humming a popular
love song. Now it's owned by an American entrepreneur who hopes
its bitter associations won't scare away his new friends. Outside
Kabul, Afghanistan is bleaker, its provinces more inaccessible
and lawless, than it was under the Taliban. If anyone leaves town,
they do so in convoys. Afghanistan is a place where it is easy
for people to disappear and perilous for anyone to investigate
their fate. Even a seasoned aid agency such as Médécins
Sans Frontières was forced to quit after five staff members
were murdered last June. Only the 17,000-strong US forces, with
their all-terrain Humvees and Apache attack helicopters, have
the run of the land, and they have used the haze of fear and uncertainty
that has engulfed the country to advance a draconian phase in
the war against terror. Afghanistan has become the new Guantánamo
Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan
as an exemplar of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy.
Meanwhile, human-rights activists and Afghan politicians have
accused the US military of placing Afghanistan at the hub of a
global system of detention centres where prisoners are held incommunicado
and allegedly subjected to torture. The secrecy surrounding them
prevents any real independent investigation of the allegations.
"The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely outside
international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and more
sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to understand,"
Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human Rights
First, told us.
When we landed in Kabul, Afghanistan
was blue with a bruising cold. We were heading for the former
al-Qaida strongholds in the south-east that were rumoured to be
the focus of the new US network. How should we prepare, we asked
local UN staff. "Don't go," they said. None the less,
we were able to find a driver, a Pashtun translator and a boxful
of clementines, and set off on a five-and-a-half-hour trip south
through the snow to Gardez, a market town dominated by two rapidly
expanding US military bases.
There we met Dr. Rafiullah Bidar,
regional director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission,
established in 2003 with funding from the US Congress to investigate
abuses committed by local warlords and to ensure that women's
and children's rights were protected. He was delighted to see
foreigners in town. At his office in central Gardez, Bidar showed
us a wall of files. "All I do nowadays is chart complaints
against the US military," he said. "Many thousands of
people have been rounded up and detained by them. Those who have
been freed say that they were held alongside foreign detainees
who've been brought to this country to be processed. No one is
charged. No one is identified. No international monitors are allowed
into the US jails." He pulled out a handful of files: "People
who have been arrested say they've been brutalised - the tactics
used are beyond belief." The jails are closed to outside
observers, making it impossible to test the truth of the claims.
Last November, a man from Gardez
died of hypothermia in a US military jail. When his family were
called to collect the body, they were given a $100 note for the
taxi ride and no explanation. In scores more cases, people have
Prisoner transports crisscross the
country between a proliferating network of detention facilities.
In addition to the camps in Gardez, there are thought to be US
holding facilities in the cities of Khost, Asadabad and Jalalabad,
as well as an official US detention centre in Kandahar, where
the tough regime has been nicknamed "Camp Slappy" by
former prisoners. There are 20 more facilities in outlying US
compounds and fire bases that complement a major "collection
centre" at Bagram air force base. The CIA has one facility
at Bagram and another, known as the "Salt Pit", in an
abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. More than 1,500 prisoners
from Afghanistan and many other countries are thought to be held
in such jails, although no one knows for sure because the US military
declines to comment.
Anyone who has got in the way of
the prison transports has been met with brutal force. Bidar directed
us to a small Shia neighbourhood on the edge of town where a multiple
killing was still under investigation. Inside a frozen courtyard,
a former policeman, Said Sardar, 25, was sat beside his crutches.
On May 1 2004, he was manning a checkpoint when a car careened
through. "Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were
western men," he said. "They had prisoners in the car."
Sardar fired a warning shot for the car to stop. "The western
men returned fire and within minutes two US attack helicopters
hovered above us. They fired three rockets at the police station.
One screamed past me. I saw its fiery tail and blacked out."
He was taken to Bagram, where US
military doctors had to amputate his leg. Afterwards, he said,
"an American woman appeared. She said the US was sorry. It
was a mistake. The men in the car were Special Forces or CIA on
a mission. She gave me $500." Sardar showed us into another
room in his compound where a circle of children stared glumly
at us; their fathers, all policemen, were killed in the same incident.
"Five dead. Four in hospital. To protect covert US prisoner
transports," he says. Later, US helicopters were deployed
in two similar incidents that left nine dead.
In his builders' merchant's shop,
Mohammed Timouri describes how he lost his son. "Ismail was
a part-time taxi driver, waiting to go to college," he says,
handing us a photograph of a beardless, short-haired 19-year-old
held aloft in a coffin at his funeral last March. "A convoy
delivering prisoners from a facility in Jalalabad to one in Kabul
became snarled up in traffic. A US soldier jumped down and lifted
a woman out of the way. She screamed. Ismail stepped forward to
explain she was a conservative person, wearing a burka. The soldier
dropped the woman and shot Ismail in front of a crowd of 20 people."
Mohammed received a letter from the
Afghan police: "We apologise to you," the police chief
wrote. "An innocent was killed by Americans." The US
army declined to comment on Ismail's death or on a second fatal
shooting by another prison transport at the same crossroads later
that month. It also refused to comment on an incident outside
Kabul when a prison patrol reportedly cleared a crowd of children
by throwing a grenade into their midst. However, we have since
heard that the CIA's inspector general is investigating at least
eight serious incidents, including two deaths in custody, following
complaints by agents about the activities of their military colleagues.
There are insurgents active in the
Gardez area, as there are throughout the south of Afghanistan,
remnants of the old order and the newly disaffected. Every morning
it takes Afghan police several hours to pick along the highway
unearthing explosives concealed overnight. And so it was mid-morning
before we were able to leave town, crawling over the Gardez-Khost
pass, some 10,000ft high. No one saw us slipping on to the fertile
Khost plain, where Osama bin Laden once had his training camps
- the camps were destroyed by US cruise missiles in August 1998.
Today a shrine to Taliban loyalists still greets travellers to
the city, although no one here would say they preferred the old
US Camp Salerno, the largest base
outside Kabul, dominates the area around Khost. Inside the city,
Kamal Sadat, a local stringer for BBC World Service, told how
he was detained last September and found himself locked up in
a prison filled with suspects from many countries. "Even
though I showed my press accreditation, I was hooded, driven to
Salerno and then flown to another US base. I had no idea where
I was or why I had been detained." He was held in a small
wooden cell, and soldiers combed through his notebooks, copying
down names and phone numbers. "Every time I was moved within
the base, I was hooded again. Every prisoner has to maintain absolute
silence. I could hear helicopters whirring above me. Prisoners
were arriving and leaving all the time. There were also cells
beneath me, under the ground." After three days, Sadat was
flown back to Khost and freed without explanation. "It was
only later I learned that I had been held in Bagram. If the BBC
had not intervened, I fear I would not have got out." After
his release, the US military said it had all been a misunderstanding,
Camp Salerno, which houses the 1,200
troops of US Combined Taskforce Thunder, was being expanded when
we arrived. Army tents were being replaced with concrete dormitories.
The detention facility, concealed behind a perimeter of opaque
green webbing, was being modernised and enlarged. Ensconced in
a Soviet-era staff building was the camp's commanding officer,
Colonel Gary Cheeks. He listened calmly as we asked about the
allegations of torture, deaths and disappearances at US detention
facilities including Salerno. We read to him from a complaint
made by a UN official in Kabul that accused the US military of
using "cowboy-like excessive force". He eased forward
in his chair: "There have been some tragic accidents for
which we have apologised. Some people have been paid compensation."
We put to him the specific case of
Mohammed Khan, from a village near the Pakistan border, who died
in custody at Camp Salerno: his relatives say his body showed
signs of torture. "You could go on for ages with a 'he said,
she said'. You have to take my word for it," said Cheeks.
He remembered Khan's death: "He was bitten by a snake and
died in his cell." He added, "We are building new holding
cells here to make life better for detainees. We are systematising
our prison programme across the country."
For what reason? "So all guards
and interrogators behave by the same code of behaviour,"
the colonel said. Is it not the case that an ever-increasing number
of prisoners have vanished, while others are being shuttled between
jails to keep their families in the dark? Cheeks moved towards
his office door: "There are many things that are distorted.
No one has vanished here ... Look, the war against the Taliban
is one small part. I want the Afghan people with us. They are
the key to ending conflict. If they fear us or we do wrong by
them, then we have lost."
However, many Afghans who celebrated
the fall of the Taliban have long lost faith in the US military.
In Kabul, Nader Nadery, of the Human Rights Commission, told us,
"Afghanistan is being transformed into an enormous US jail.
What we have here is a military strategy that has spawned serious
human rights abuses, a system of which Afghanistan is but one
part." In the past 18 months, the commission has logged more
than 800 allegations of human rights abuses committed by US troops.
The Afghan government privately shares
Nadery's fears. One minister, who asked not to be named, said,
"Washington holds Afghanistan up to the world as a nascent
democracy and yet the US military has deliberately kept us down,
using our country to host a prison system that seems to be administered
arbitrarily, indiscriminately and without accountability."
What has been glimpsed in Afghanistan
is a radical plan to replace Guantánamo Bay. When that
detention centre was set up in January 2002, it was essentially
an offshore gulag - beyond the reach of the US constitution and
even the Geneva conventions. That all changed in July 2004. The
US supreme court ruled that the federal court in Washington had
jurisdiction to hear a case that would decide if the Cuban detentions
were in violation of the US constitution, its laws or treaties.
The military commissions, which had been intended to dispense
justice to the prisoners, were in disarray, too. No prosecution
cases had been prepared and no defence cases would be readily
offered as the US National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers
had described the commissions as unethical, a decision backed
by a federal judge who ruled in January that they were "illegal".
Guantánamo was suddenly bogged down in domestic lawsuits.
It had lost its practicality. So a global prison network built
up over the previous three years, beyond the reach of American
and European judicial process, immediately began to pick up the
slack. The process became explicit last week when the Pentagon
announced that half of the 540 or so inmates at Guantánamo
are to be transferred to prisons in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
Since September 11 2001, one of the
US's chief strategies in its "war on terror" has been
to imprison anyone considered a suspect on whatever grounds. To
that end it commandeered foreign jails, built cellblocks at US
military bases and established covert CIA facilities that can
be located almost anywhere, from an apartment block to a shipping
container. The network has no visible infrastructure - no prison
rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaints procedures.
Terror suspects are being processed in Afghanistan and in dozens
of facilities in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand,
Malaysia, Indonesia and the British island of Diego Garcia in
the southern Indian Ocean. Those detained are held incommunicado,
without charge or trial, and frequently shuttled between jails
in covert air transports, giving rise to the recently coined US
military expression "ghost detainees".
Most of the countries hosting these
invisible prisons are already partners in the US coalition. Others,
notably Syria, are pragmatic associates, which work privately
alongside the CIA and US Special Forces, despite bellicose public
statements from President Bush (he has condemned Syria for harbouring
terrorism, for aiding the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime,
and most recently has demanded that Syrian troops quit Lebanon).
All the host countries are renowned
for their poor human rights records, enabling interrogators (US
soldiers, contractors and their local partners) to operate. We
have obtained prisoner letters, declassified FBI files, legal
depositions, witness statements and testimony from US and UK officials,
which document the alleged methods deployed in Afghanistan - shackles,
hoods, electrocution, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation
and starvation - and suggest they are practised across the network.
Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, said,
"The more hidden detention practices there are, the more
likely that all legal and moral constraints on official behaviour
will be removed."
The only "ghost detainees"
to have been identified by Washington are a handful of high-profile
al-Qaida operatives such as Abu Zubayda, Bin Laden's lieutenant,
who vanished after being picked up by Pakistani authorities in
Faisalabad in March 2002. In June of that year, US defence secretary
Donald Rumsfeld said Zubayda was "under US control".
He did not say where, although sources in the Pakistani government
said Zubayda was being held at a CIA facility in their country.
In May 2003, Bush clarified the fate
of Waleed Muhammad bin Attash, an alleged conspirator in the USS
Cole bombing, who disappeared after being arrested by police in
Pakistan in April 2003. Bush described Attash as "a killer
... one less person that people who love freedom have to worry
about"; he is also one more person who has never appeared
on a US prison roll.
In June 2004, a senior counterterrorism
official in Britain confirmed that Hambali (a nom de guerre) -
accused of organising the October 2002 Bali bombings and unseen
since Thai police seized him in August 2003 - was "singing
like a bird", apparently at the US base on Diego Garcia.
Evidence we have collected, however,
shows that many more of those swept up in the network have few
provable connections to any outlawed organisation; experts in
the field describe their value in the war against terror as "negligible".
Former prisoners claim they were released only after naming names,
coerced into making false confessions that led to the arrests
of more people unconnected to terrorism, in a system of justice
that owes more to Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees Of Separation
- where anyone can be linked to everyone else in the world in
as many stages - than to analytical jurisprudence.
The floating population of "ghost
detainees", according to US and UK military officials, now
The roots of the prison network can
be traced to the legal wrangles that began as soon as the first
terror suspects were rounded up just weeks after the September
11 attacks. As CIA agents and US forces began to capture suspected
al-Qaida fighters in the war in Afghanistan, Alberto Gonzales,
White House counsel, looked for ways to "dispense justice
swiftly, close to where our forces may be fighting, without years
of pre-trial proceedings or post-trial appeals".
On November 13 2001, George Bush
signed an order to establish military commissions to try "enemy
belligerents" who commit war crimes. At such a commission,
a foreign war criminal would have no choice over his defence counsel,
no right to know the evidence against him, no way of obtaining
any evidence in his favour and no right of attorney-client confidentiality.
Defending the commissions, Gonzales (now promoted to US attorney
general) insisted, "The suggestion that [they] will afford
only sham justice like that dispensed in dictatorial nations is
an insult to our military justice system."
When the first prisoners arrived
at Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, Donald Rumsfeld announced
that they were all Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, and as such were
designated "unlawful combatants". The US administration
argued that al-Qaida and the Taliban were not the official army
of Afghanistan, but a criminal force that did not wear uniforms,
could not be distinguished from civilians and practised war crimes;
on this basis, the administration claimed, it was entitled to
sidestep the Geneva conventions and normal legal constraints.
From there, it was only a small moral
step for the Bush administration to overlook the use of torture
by regimes previously condemned by the US state department, so
long as they, too, signed up to the war against terror. "Egypt,
Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and
even Syria were all asked to make their detention facilities and
expert interrogators available to the US," one former counterterrorism
agent told us.
In the UK, a similar process began
unfolding. In December 2001, the then home secretary David Blunkett
withdrew Britain from its obligation under the European human
rights treaty not to detain anyone without trial; on December
18, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act was passed, extending
the government's powers of arrest and detention. Within 24 hours,
10 men were seized in dawn raids on their homes and taken to Belmarsh
and Woodhill prisons (some of them will have been among those
released in the past week).
Subsequently the Foreign Office subtly
modified internal guidance to diplomats, enabling them to use
intelligence obtained through torture. A letter from the Foreign
& Commonwealth Office directorate sent to Sir Michael Jay,
head of the diplomatic service, and Mathew Kidd of Whitehall liaison,
a euphemism for MI6, suggested in March 2003 that although such
intelligence was inadmissible as evidence in a UK court, it could
still be received and acted upon by the British government. The
government's attitude was spelt out to the Intelligence and Security
Committee of MPs and peers by foreign secretary Jack Straw who,
while acknowledging that torture was "completely unacceptable"
and that information obtained under torture is more likely to
be embellished, concluded, "you cannot ignore it if the price
of ignoring it is 3,000 people dead" [a reference to the
September 11 attacks].
One former ambassador told us, "This
was new ground for the FCO. As long as we didn't do it, we're
OK. But by taking advantage of this intelligence, we're encouraging
the use of torture and, in my opinion, are in contravention of
the UN Convention Against Torture. What worried me most was that
information obtained under torture, given credence by some gung-ho
Whitehall warrior, could be used to keep another poor soul locked
up without trial or charge."
Although the true extent of the US
extra-legal network is only now becoming apparent, people began
to disappear as early as 2001 when the US asked its allies in
Europe and the Middle East to examine their refugee communities
in search of possible terror cells, such as that run by Mohammed
Atta in Hamburg which had planned and executed the September 11
attacks. Among the first to vanish was Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian
asylum seeker who had been living in Sweden with his wife and
children for three years. Hanan, Agiza's wife, told us how on
December 18 2001 her husband failed to return home from his language
"The phone rang at 5pm. It was
Ahmed. He said he'd been arrested and then the line went dead.
The next day our lawyer told me that Ahmed was being sent back
to Egypt. It would be better if he was dead." Agiza and his
family had fled Egypt in 1991, after years of persecution, and
in absentia he had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a military
court. Hanan said, "I called my mother-in-law in Egypt. Finally,
in April, she was allowed to see Ahmed in Mazrah Torah prison,
in Cairo, when he revealed what had happened."
On December 18 2001, Agiza and a
second Egyptian refugee, Mohammed Al-Zery, had been arrested by
Swedish intelligence acting upon a request from the US. They were
driven, shackled and blindfolded, to Stockholm's Bromma airport,
where they were cuffed and cut from their clothes. Suppositories
were inserted into both men's anuses, they were wrapped in plastic
nappies, dressed in jumpsuits and handed over to an American aircrew
who flew them out of Sweden on a private executive jet.
Agiza and Al-Zery landed in Cairo
at 3am the next morning and were taken to the state security investigation
office, where they were held in solitary confinement in underground
cells. Mohammed Zarai, former director of the Cairo-based Human
Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners, told us that Agiza
was repeatedly electrocuted, hung upside down, whipped with an
electrical flex and hospitalised after being made to lick his
cell floor clean. Hanan, who was granted asylum in Sweden in 2004,
said, "I can't sleep at night without expecting someone to
knock on the door and send us away on a plane to a place that
scares me more than anything else. What can Ahmed do?" Her
husband is still incarcerated in Cairo, while Al-Zery is under
house arrest there. There have been calls for an international
independent investigation into the roles of the Swedish, US and
We were able to chart the toing and
froing of the private executive jet used at Bromma partly through
the observations of plane-spotters posted on the web and partly
through a senior source in the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence
agency (ISI). It was a Gulfstream V Turbo, tailfin number N379P;
its flight plans always began at an airstrip in Smithfield, North
Carolina, and ended in some of the world's hot spots. It was owned
by Premier Executive Transport Services, incorporated in Delaware,
a brass plaque company with nonexistent directors, hired by American
agents to revive an old CIA tactic from the 1970s, when agency
men had kidnapped South American criminals and flown them back
to their own countries to face trial so that justice could be
rendered. Now "rendering" was being used by the Bush
administration to evade justice.
Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in
the Middle East until 1997, told us how it works. "We pick
up a suspect or we arrange for one of our partner countries to
do it. Then the suspect is placed on civilian transport to a third
country where, let's make no bones about it, they use torture.
If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan.
If you want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria.
Either way, the US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy
The Agiza and Al-Zery cases were
not the first in which the Gulfstream was used. On October 23
2001, at 2.40am at Karachi airport, it picked up Jamil Qasim Saeed
Mohammed, a Yemeni microbiologist who had been arrested by Pakistan's
ISI and was wanted in connection with the USS Cole attack. On
January 10 2002, the jet was used again, taking off from Halim
airport in Jakarta with a hooded and shackled Mohammed Saeed Iqbal
Madni on board, an Egyptian accused of being an accomplice of
British shoe bomber Richard Reid. Madni was flown to Cairo where,
according to the Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners,
he died during interrogation.
Since then, the jet has been used
at least 72 times, including a flight in June 2002 when it landed
in Morocco to pick up German national Mohammed Zamar, who was
"rendered" to Syria, his country of origin, before disappearing.
It was in December 2001 that the
US began to commandeer foreign jails so that its own interrogators
could work on prisoners within them. Among the first were Haripur
and Kohat, no-frills prisons in the lawless North West Frontier
Province of Pakistan which now hold nearly as many detainees as
Guantánamo. In January, we attempted to visit Kohat jail,
but as we drove towards the security perimeter our vehicle was
turned back by ISI agents and we were escorted back to the nearby
city of Peshawar. We eventually located several former detainees,
including Mohammed, a university student who described how he
was arrested and then initially interrogated in one of many covert
ISI holding centres that are being jointly run with the CIA. Mohammed
said, "I was questioned for four weeks in a windowless room
by plain-clothed US agents. I didn't know if it was day or night.
They said they could make me disappear." One day he was bundled
into a vehicle. "I arrived in Kohat jail. There were 100
prisoners from all over the Middle East. Later I was moved to
Haripur where there were even more."
Adil, another detainee who was held
for three years in Haripur after illegally crossing into Pakistan
from Afghanistan, where he had escaped from the Taliban, says,
"US interrogators came and went as they pleased." Both
Mohammed and Adil said they were often taken from the hot cell
and doused with ice-cold water. Adil says, "American women
ordered us to get undressed. They'd touch us and taunt us. They
made us lie naked on top of each other and simulate acts."
Mohammed and Adil were released without
charge in November 2004 but, according to legal depositions, there
are still 400 prisoners detained in the jails at the request of
the US. Among them are many who it is extremely unlikely took
part in the Afghan war: they are too young or too old to have
been combatants. Some have taken legal action against the Pakistani
authorities for breach of human rights.
A military intelligence official
in Washington told us that no one in the US administration seemed
concerned about the impact of the coercive tactics practised by
the growing global network on the quality of intelligence obtained,
although there was plenty of evidence it was unreliable. On September
26 2002, Maher Arar, a 34-year-old Canadian computer scientist,
was arrested at New York's JFK airport as a result of a paper-thin
evidential chain. Syrian-born Arar told us, "I was pulled
aside by US immigration at 2pm. I told them I had a connecting
flight to Montreal where I had a job interview." However,
Arar was "rendered" in a private jet, via Washington,
Portland and Rome, landing in Amman, Jordan, where he was held
at what a Jordanian source described as a US-run interrogation
centre. From there, he was handed over to Syria, the country he
had left as a 17-year-old boy. He says he spent the next 12 months
being tortured and in solitary confinement, unaware that someone
he barely knew had named him as a terrorist.
The chain of events that led to Arar's
arrest, or kidnapping, began in November 2001, when another Canadian,
Ahmad Abou El-Maati, from Montreal, was arrested at Damascus airport.
He was accused of being a terrorist and asked to identify his
al-Qaida connections. By the time he'd endured two years of torture,
El-Maati had reeled off the names of everyone he knew in Montreal,
including Abdullah Almalki, an electrical engineer. Almalki was
arrested as he flew into Damascus airport to join his parents
on holiday in May 2002, and would spend the next two years being
tortured in a Syrian detention facility.
Almalki knew Arward Al-Bousha, also
from Ottawa, who in July 2002, upon arriving in Damascus to visit
his dying father, was also arrested. El-Maati, Almalki and Al-Bousha
all knew Maher Arar by sight through Muslim community events in
Ottawa. After his release from jail in Syria, uncharged, in January
2004, El-Maati admitted that he had erroneously named Maher Arar
as a terrorist to "stop the vicious torture". Arar,
who was eventually released in October 2003 after a Syrian court
threw out a coerced confession in which he said he had been trained
by al-Qaida, told us, "I am not a terrorist. I don't know
anyone who is. But the tolerant Muslim community I come from here
in Canada has become vitriolic and demoralised." Arar's case
is now the subject of a judicial inquiry in Canada, but since
his release and that of Al-Bousha and Almalki, another five men
from Ottawa have been detained in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Five days after the US supreme court
ruled in July 2004 that federal courts had jurisdiction over Guantánamo,
Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old computer programmer from Karachi,
disappeared during a business trip to Lahore. He was not taken
to Guantánamo. His father Hayat told us that he learned
of his son's fate after a neighbour called on August 2 to say
that US newspapers were running a story about "the capture
of a figure from al-Qaida in Pakistan" who had led "the
CIA to a rich lode of information". An unnamed US intelligence
official claimed Naeem Noor Khan operated websites and email addresses
for al-Qaida. The following day Pakistan's information minister
trumpeted the ISI's seizure of Naeem Noor Khan on behalf of the
US on July 13. The prisoner had "confessed to receiving 25
days of military training from an al-Qaida camp in June 1998".
No corroborative evidence was offered.
Babar Awan, one of Pakistan's leading
advocates, representing the family, said he had learned from a
contact in the Pakistani government that Naeem Noor Khan was wanted
by the US, having been named by one of a group of Malaysian students
who had been detained incommunicado and threatened with torture
in Pakistan in September 2003. Awan said, "The student was
subsequently freed uncharged and described how he was threatened
until he offered the names of anyone he had met in Pakistan. There
is no evidence against Naeem Noor Khan except for this coerced
statement, and even worse he has now vanished and so there is
no prison to petition for his release."
Khan had been swallowed up by a catch-all
system that gathers up anyone connected by even a thread to terror.
Unable to distinguish its friends from its enemies, the US suspects
Dawn broke on the festival of Eid
and four US army vehicles gunned their engines in preparation
for a "hearts and minds" operation in Khost city, Afghanistan.
A roll call of marines, each with their blood group scrawled on
their boots, was ticked off and we were added to the muster. The
convoy hurtled towards the city. Men and boys began to run alongside.
First a handful and then a dozen. The crowd was heading for a
vast prayer ground, and soon there were thousands of devotees
in brand newEid caps and starched shalwas marching out to pray.
The US Humvees pulled over. The armoured personnel carriers, too.
A dozen US marines stepped down, eyes obscured by goggles, faces
They fell into formation and stomped
into the crowd while a group of Afghan police looked on incredulously.
"Keep tight. Keep tight. Keep looking all around us,"
a US marines captain shouted. More than 10,000 Pashtun men were
now on their knees praying as a line of khaki pushed between them.
An egg flew. Then another. "One
more, sir, and the guy who did it is going down," a young
sergeant mumbled, as the disturbed crowd rose to its feet. Bearded
men with Kalashnikovs emerged from behind a stone wall and edged
towards us, cutting off our path. The line of khaki began to panic,
and jostled the children. "Back away, back away now,"
shouted the sergeant. Suddenly an armoured personnel carrier roared
to meet us. "Jump up, people," the captain shouted,
and the convoy sped back to Camp Salerno.
And perhaps this event above all
others - of a nervous phalanx of US marines forcing its way across
a prayer ground on one of the holiest, most joyous days in the
Islamic calendar, an itching trigger away from a Somalian-style
dogfight of their own making - is the one that encapsulates everything
that has gone wrong with the global war against terror. The US
army came to Afghanistan as liberators and now are feared as governors,
judges and jailers. How many US marines know what James Madison,
an architect of the US constitution, wrote in 1788? Reflecting
on the War of Independence in which Americans were arbitrarily
arrested and detained without trial by British forces, Madison
concluded that the "accumulation of all powers, legislative,
executive and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced
the very definition of tyranny"
Index of Website