Bowing to political pressure, Senate Democrats said Tuesday that they planned to withhold funding to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until President Barack Obama comes up with a detailed plan for handling its 241 detainees.
Democrats also plan to prevent the administration from spending any money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Both restrictions are contained in an amendment to a $91.3 billion measure funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the amendment is expected to be approved in the Senate as early as Wednesday.
The above is from Naftali Bendavid's "Democrats Plan to Block Gitmo Closing" (Wall St. Journal) and thank goodness. Barack Obama is not talking about closing Guantanamo. He made a speech, he got some applause, and that was months ago. He has still not devised a plan. He has still proposed nothing. Pretty words may have won him the general election but he needs to get to work. David M. Herszenhorn's "Democrats in Senate Block Money to Close Guantanamo" (New York Times) adds:
Senate Democratic leaders insisted that they still supported the decision to close the prison, were simply waiting for Mr. Obama to provide a more detailed plan, and had acted to avert a partisan feud that would only serve as a distraction and delay a military spending measure, which is needed to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and some other national security programs through Sept. 30. Mr. Obama had requested the $80 million be included in that bill.
The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, indicated that the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama presents a "hefty part" of his plan to deal with the detainees.
Where is the plan? And let me be really clear, the Congress is not the only one who needs to be presented with the plan. The American people need to know it as well. We need to see the plan to examine it and ensure that Guantanamo is being closed and determine whether it is ended or just relocated.
I am short on time tonight due to a number of family matters. So this is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Tuesday, May 19, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Steven D. Green's War Crimes sentencing hearing continues, the US Senate bends over backwards to add even more money to the bloated army budget, Iraqi refugees seek refuge in a church attempting to get asylum, and more.
Starting with Steven D. Green who was convicted two Thursdays ago in the gang-rape of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her murder, the murder of her five-year-old sister and the murders of both of her parents. Since then, the jury has been hearing testimony they will weigh when determining his sentencing. Green could receive the death penalty; however, all 12 jurors would have to vote to sentence him to death. If that does not happen, he is facing life in prison. The hearing resumed yesterday and continued today. Evan Bright reports, "Just heard testimony from Dr. Helen Mayberg in contrast to the testimony of Dr. Ruben Gur. Basically said that Gur screwed up his MRI." Gur screwed up his MRI? He certainly screwed up his testimony on the MRI last week: "Gur was an 'expert.' Another reason not to waste the jury's time with 'experts'." Brett Barrouquere (AP) reports Dr. Mayberg was the prosecution's witness and that she stated Gur screwed up the MRI because the scan was not consistent with the scans he compared them to (a control group to establish a baseline for normal versus brain injury): "He [Green] was done differently. It's not big surprise that there are some areas that look different."
Bright also reports the "Court is adjourned for the day. Both sides rest with opening statements to be heard tomorrow, Wednesday May 20th. Blog later tonight." On yesterday's proceedings, Evan Bright had a post at The Huffington Post. Yesterday the hearing resumed (picking up from last Thursday) and Dave Alsup (CNN) noted, "Patty Ruth, a Texas elementary school principal, told a civilian jury about Green's childhood as a reader who loved to be hugged by relatives. 'I do not know how we got to this spot,' Ruth said in emotional testimony. 'I do not know how this happened'." The defense better hope the jury has a better grasp than Patty Ruth or Green will receive the death penalty. AP's Brett Barrouquere adds, "Ruth's testimony in the penalty phase of Green's trial came as the ex-soldier's father, John Green, and an uncle looked on in court." At his website, Evan Bright noted yesterday, "Tuesday(tomorrow): Remaining defense witnesses, if there are any, followed by the Prosecution's one rebuttal witness(an expert/specialist of some kind). There is a "50/50" chance that we will hear closing statements tomorrow, Pat Bouldin allegedly said. If not tomorrow, expect to hear them on Wednesday."
"Our army is stretched by this long war," declared the Secretary of the Army Pete Geren today to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning when reading from his prepared, opening statement. The hearing was one where . . . Begs? The army begs for money? That implies that the Congress puts them through a song and dance. The Congress just hands out of rounds of applause. As, in fact, they did at the start of the hearing, shortly after Ranking Committee Member Senator John McCain took time to note his "policy differences" with General George Casey Jr. . . . right before praising him. The army doesn't beg. It's more like the Congress is overly generous parents and Geren and Casey show up with report cards explaining why Bs and Cs are amazing grades worthy of the really big bucks.
There's never an indication, in any of the hearings, that any member of Congress has perused the budget request coming before it. Today Senators Levin and McCain both raised the issue of the Army's Future Combat Systems eight manned ground vehicles. McCain noted, for example, the cost overruns that immediately had a $90 billion dollar project increase to $120 billion. And if you half-listened you might think, "That's the Congress at work!" But, reality, Sec of Defense Robert Gates already removed that from the budget. So what you had were some 'tough' moves and questions about . . . something not in the budget. About something Robert Gates had pointed out was wasteful.
Despite the economic crisis that's facing the country, no member of Congress ever says, "Let's take a look at this item . . ." It just doesn't happen. And didn't today. They were happy to show boat on an example that wasn't in the budget and McCain, in fact, used the bulk of his six minutes in the first round -- what a Maverick! -- to explore this project . . . no longer in the budget. This project . . . removed by Gates. But did anyone on the committee find a waste in the actual budget? That would require them using their staff to examine the budget and none do. "I'm sorry to belabor the point," insisted McCain . . . after doing just that and then going on to prattle about "but I really believe that -- if you look at the submitted budgets there are going to be decreases in procurement over time and it makes these cost overruns which are bad even worse." Well when does the Congress review the submitted budgets . . . as opposed to items not actually in the budget?
They applaud. They offer praise. And all the time they're spending the people's money. Without offering any oversight. The White House will likely soon introduce their "Social Security needs fixing" propaganda. Congress will not stop to applaud the American people. Congress will not sing the American people's praises (though US House Rep Adam Smith might again call the American people "paranoid" in an open session). Congress will rush to cut this and that and insists that cuts must be made. But when the generals do their money shine, Congress just grins and applauds . . . and freely tosses out the tax payers' dollars as if they were their own to keep the war machine rolling. As Chris Hedges' "The Disease of Permanent War" (Information Clearing House) observes:
In "Pentagon Capitalism" Seymour Mellman described the defense industry as viral. Defense and military industries in permanent war, he wrote, trash economies. They are able to upend priorities. They redirect government expenditures towards their huge military projects and starve domestic investment in the name of national security. We produce sophisticated fighter jets, while Boeing is unable to finish its new commercial plane on schedule and our automotive industry goes bankrupt. We sink money into research and development of weapons systems and neglect renewable energy technologies to fight global warming. Universities are flooded with defense-related cash and grants, and struggle to find money for environmental studies. This is the disease of permanent war.
"I am going to put the balance of my statement in the record," said Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, "because we have votes at 10:00 this morning so that means that we have even less time than usual." Levin's statement can be found here and he stopped reading from it after "I also note the presence of several non-commissioned officers behind our witnesses; we look forward to their introduction." If you thought his stopping so soon would indicate a sense of urgency, you were wrong. There was time for many more rounds of applause and many more jokes. (Including ones about the "rakish" Senator Daniel Akaka.)
For a change, General Casey had rehearsed his opening statement (as evidenced by his not referring to it during his opening and his relying on it only occasionally throughout). "Chairman," Casey began, "last year, I think you'll recall, in my testimony I said that the army was out of balance. That we were so weighed down by our current commitments that we couldn't do the things we know we need to do to sustain this all volunteer force and the strategic flexibility to do other things. I can tell you that we have made progress over the last year in putting ourselves back in balance but we're not out of the woods yet." Of course not. Were the army out of the woods then the monies requested wouldn't be 'necessities' and 'urgently needed,' right?
As they ask for ever more money and insist is so needed because the military is so stretched, any reasonable person would, at some point, start to ask, "Well instead of throwing even more money at it each year, why don't we start pulling these overseas troops and bringing them back home?" If you spend more money than you have on clothes one week, you probably should consider not buying any in the following weeks. But for the military, every day is buy a fun frock day. And the Congress is more than happy to keep shelling out Americans' money instead of pointing out that the United States could save a great deal of money by ending the military 'adventures' in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere).
In strength targets for 2012 so that gives us a big lift
Casey: One of the reasons it gives us a lift is because it allows us to begin coming off of stop-loss this year. And several months ago the Secretary of the Defense announced the plan where the reserve component would begin deploying units without stop-loss in August, the National Guard in September, and the active force in January of 2010. This puts us on track to achieve our goal of being able to deploy our modular formations without stop-loss by 2011. The second key objective was to increase the time our soldiers spend at home. And I will tell you, after two years in this job, I am more and more convinced that this is the single most important element of putting ourselves back in balance. It's important from several perspectives. One is so that the soldiers have time to recover from these repeated combat deployments. What we're seeing across the force are the cumulative effect of repeated deployments. Secondly, it gives them a more stable preparation time for the next mission. When you're only home for a year, you're barely had time to take your leave before you're preparing to go back again. And third, it gives soldiers time to begin training for other things to do things beyond the regular warfare training that they're doing for Iraq and Afghanistan. Now I will tell you back in 2007, that I didn't think we would quite get to one year back, two years out by 2011. With the president's draw down plan, if it's executed as has been laid out, we will actually do a little better than that. So I am quite hopeful that if we execute that plan, we will make a big difference here in putting us back in balance.
Stop-loss is included because we have focused on that. And because so many in the press wanted to get Gates announcement wrong. For example, this was written by a reporter back when Gates made his announcement: "Stop loss now can be dropped in part because the U.S. signed a status of forces agreement with Iraq late last year that calls for a U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011." What? That never made sense. Stop loss was supposed to be over by the start of 2011 at the lastest. But goodness weren't there a lot of Miss Cleos and Barack Whores in the media. Ann Scott Tyson's "Army to Phase Out 'Stop-Loss' Practice" (Washington Post) was one of the few 'reports' that actually qualified as reporting. Casey made it clear that it was meeting their target goals that was allowing them to meet the stop-loss goals that Gates set last March.
Dwell time is included because it's important and because Casey's statements were apparently too honest and required that the army rush out a scrub version of his comments. This is what Casey said:
Now I will tell you back in 2007, that I didn't think we would quite get to one year back, two years out by 2011. With the president's draw down plan, if it's executed as has been laid out, we will actually do a little better than that. So I am quite hopeful that if we execute that plan, we will make a big difference here in putting us back in balance.
This is what the army's press release claims he stated:
In 2007, based on what I thought the force structure would be over the next four years. I thought we wouldn't get quite to one year out, two years back by 2011. If we execute the president's Iraq drawdown plan, and I have no reason to doubt we will, we will actually do better and actually get to the 1/2 or even better ratio -- we have to do that.
That is not what he stated. Maybe he should have read his prepared statement word for word? The army maintains this quote is from his prepared statement). What you had, before the committee, was a general offering testimony and being much less of lackey than our press corps. Casey's actual comments re: the 'plan' were accurate. Why the army felt the need to rush in with statements that were not made goes to a frantic worry on the part of someone. "I have no reason to doubt we will"? That's hilarious. The closest Casey came to the topic again was during his exchange with Senator Susan Collins and, no, he didn't say it then either. He did say, in response to Collins' concern that the dwell time targets would not be met "if we didn't execute that plan. I would say that Secretary Gates has left the door open to go back and reconsider building those three brigades that were left out -- that will not build now if the situation in the future looks like that was not a good decision so the door is open for us to do that." For them to build three brigades if the draw down does not take place or if it starts and it's decided to stop it.
Staying with dwell time, we'll note the following exchange between Casey and independent (no declared political party) Senator Joe Lieberman on dwell time.
Joe Lieberman: And your goal for the army for dwell time would be what?
George Casey: My short term goal for '11 is 1 year out, 2 years back. I would like to ultimately get the army to the point where it was one year out, three years back for the active force and one year out, five years back for the Guard and Reserves.
Joe Lieberman: Okay, so by the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2010, which would be fiscal year eleven, you'd like to see us get to one year out, two years back? Is that right?
George Casey: That is correct, senator.
Joe Lieberman: Okay. And what are the numbers now, just to have it on the record? What's the dwell time now?
George Casey: Right now we're -- for the active force, we're sitting right between 1 to 1.5 and a little less.
Joe Lieberman: Right. Okay so well below -- well below. And am I correct that we expect for the rest of this year to have to increase deployments? In other words, the path we're on in Afghanistan and Iraq together, the net effect will be an increase in deployments out for the remainder of this year?
George Casey: Correct Senator, by about 10,000 before we start to come down.
Joe Lieberman: Okay. And that's a significant number. So in that sense, there'll be more pressure on dwell time from now until the end of the year just because of the suppy and demand you talked about. As I understand it -- incidentally to say something very briefly, I think you're so right when you say that dwell time is a key because it is so clear that you and we are trying our best and, I think, doing better at the quality of life of the people in our army and their families housing, benefits, etc, etc. But if the supply of the army is less than the demand for the army then this critical factor of how long our soldiers are going to be home simply can't go up. And from the point of view -- a military point of view -- retraining, etc. rest and of course for the human element of being with their families. Now I understand that we're in a very unusual moment here which is that because recruitment is going so well and re-enlistments are so high that the authorized strength of the army is 547,000-plus. We actually have an army now that's about 549,000. Is that correct?
George Casey: It is and actually senator for this year, '09, that we're in for a few more months, it's actually 532,000.
Joe Lieberman: Yeah, it's 532,000 authorized plus the waiver of about 3% so it takes up to 547 we've got more than that now.
That's included for the numbers and for dwell time. Lieberman's proposing funding approximately $400,000 million to allow 2% to remain in the military through the end of the year. Remember, they never worry about shaving the bills the tax payers pay, they just trying to find ways to add more to the bill. Over and over.
Geren and Casey submitted [PDF format warning] "A Statement On The Posture Of The United States Army 2009." This 20 page 'greeting' wasn't put together by Hallmark. "Looking ahead, we see an era of persistent conflict," it cheerfully informs in the opening letter and, on page one of the report, they elaborate that not only will it be persistent, it will be "more ambiguous and unpredicatable than in the past." That's due, they assert, to such factors as globalization (Barack and Thomas Friedman rush to object) which "has increased interdependence and prosperity in man parts of the world. It also has led to greater disparities in wealth which set conditions that can foster conflict"; technology; population growth; increasing demand for resources and more. Increasing demand for resources? Who ever heard of a country going to war for resources? Name one country that ever went to war for resources, just one that -- Oh, yeah. But don't we all pretend like resource wars never happen? Or that they only took place in the distant past?
In the hearing, there were a few moments on Iraq. Senator Jack Reed asked about it in terms of the drawing down of some forces.
Jack Reed: How does this work in Iraq? As you pull out brigade combat teams, you no longer have that brigade structure. You'll have embeded training teams that won't be operating with their brigades -- they'll be with Iraqi brigades. That's a different sort of species?
George Casey: You're right senator. As the draw down comes it will be a mix of units that have external teams and then units that have their own teams and then that will gradually to the six advise and assist brigades that will be remaining 2010 and they'll be organized as I said.
George Casey must have been on Red Bull. The general's never been so animated in hearing. He offered the trademark Diana Ross & the Surpremes "Stop In The Name Of Love" gesture (before you break the bank? think it over, think it over) frequently and also, on the above quote, he did this sort of Bela Lugosi meets "Tiny Bubbles" repetitive move with both hands. Kat's planning on covering an exchange between Senator Saxby Chambliss and Geren when she posts at her site tonight.
Monday, May 11th, Sgt John M. Russell appears to have shot five US service members in Baghdad at a stress clinic. The five killed were Charles K. Springle, Michael Edward Yates, Christian Bueno-Galdos, Matthew Houseal and Jacob Barton. If you're wondering, the hearing had gone on for over sixty minutes before the shooting was brought up. Senator Kay Hagan noted the late Charles K. Springle, how he was a heatlh care provider and asked, "What are you doing to be sure a situation like that doesn't happen again?" Casey replied, "We -- uh -- that is being -- is being studied and the lessons learned from that will be circulated widely throughout the army. There's several ongoing investigations that will inform us about -- about it was a tragic incident." Hagen was told "every brigade has a behavioral health care professional that works with the commander". In other news on the shooting, Richard Tompkins (UPI) reports that Russell is now at camp Arifjan in Kuwait "for futher questioning and legal processing." Tompkins notes Russell has been "charged with five counts of murder and one of aggravated assault."
The draw down was mentioned, alluded to and assumed by the bulk of the US senators throughout the hearing. Rod Nordland (New York Times) has already raised issues about the realities of that 'binding' Status Of Forces Agreement. Today Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor -- link is text but there's also a brief audio from Arraf) joins him reporting:
On a map of Baghdad, the US Army's Forward Operating Base Falcon is clearly within city limits.
Except that Iraqi and American military officials have decided it's not. As the June 30 deadline for US soldiers to be out of Iraqi cities approaches, there are no plans to relocate the roughly 3,000 American troops who help maintain security in south Baghdad along what were the fault lines in the sectarian war.
"We and the Iraqis decided it wasn't in the city," says a US military official. The base on the southern outskirts of Baghdad's Rasheed district is an example of the fluidity of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) agreed to late last year, which orders all US combat forces out of Iraqi cities, towns, and villages by June 30.
"We consider the security agreement a living document," says a senior US commander. With six weeks to go, US and Iraqi commanders are sitting down in joint security committees to determine how they can comply with the decree that all US combat forces withdraw from populated areas by the end of June and still maintain the requirement to assist Iraq in fighting the insurgency and maintaining security and stability.
Two reporters reporting truthfully. Staying with the subject of reporters, yesterday's snapshot noted Sahar S. Gabriel, an Iraqi journalist who worked for the New York Times and is now a refugee in the US, writing about her search for employment. Today another Iraqi journalist for the Times who is now a refugee in the US, Mudhafar al-Husseini, writes at the Committee to Protect Journalists about navigating the United States:
With this new lesson, I flew from Atlanta to Denver on my way to Tucson . I felt very lucky because a lot of people offered to help me settle in. Many of these people are current and former employees of The New York Times who had heard about my story through Erica. She tried her best to help me because she knew what I was going through in Baghdad. She was like a mother to me and for some reason, I felt like a son to her--that's why I could open up with her and tell her my stories. I confided in her, and she could sense the sorrow--the sorrow of my lost youth--just by looking into my eyes when we were working together in Baghdad . She just knew that I was forced to accept my life in Iraq ; the main goal of this life was to survive your day.
I arrived at the Tucson airport and my new American family was waiting for me there. Lew Serviss, a former senior editor at The New York Times and a professor at the University of Arizona 's School of Journalism, and his wife, Naomi, a freelance journalist, were to become like my parents in America . I felt as though I had known them for a long time. They overwhelmed me with their kindness; I felt like a little child between them. Ford Burkhart, a former New York Times foreign desk editor, is like a godfather to me because he has wisdom and kindness at the same time. He even held up a sign when I walked out of the airport gate that said "Welcome Mudhafar" spelled in Arabic. Aram Mohammed, a young Iraqi who works with the International Rescue Committee is my case worker, was also there to greet me. He's only been in the U.S. a few years himself.
When I was told in Baghdad that I was approved to go to America and specifically to Tucson , I quietly sneaked onto one of the computers in the Times newsroom to Google this city that I'd never heard of before. The first thing I saw was the saguaro cactus, which I had seen only in movies or cartoons. I was surprised when I saw them standing outside the airport as if they were petrified humans--giant green forms with arms that seemed to beckon. "Can this be real?" I said to myself, as I examined the cactus and thought of the ones in the cartoons. It was one of the funniest moments I'd had in a long time.
Meanwhile Alsumaria reports, "Around 30 Iraqi asylum seekers who sought refugee in a church in Copenhagen moved on Sunday to another church in a district crowded by Iraqi refugees in protest to an agreement reached last Thursday between Denmark and Iraq to repatriate refugees whom asylum applications were rejected."
Turning to Iraq. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) covers the 'economic downturn' for Iraq and potential concerns that result. This one is probably the most telling:U.S. officials say they fear the budget crunch will prevent the Iraqi government from keeping billions of dollars' worth of U.S.-donated equipment in working condition, representing a potentially colossal loss for a key American investment.Not a lot of sympathy for Iraq's corrupt government which has spent billions in the last month on weapons. While al-Maliki & company bemoan their financial woes, Carl Motished (Times of London) notes "squabbling Baghdad politicians" could be part of a group to derail and $8 billion (in US dollars) "investment by Pearl Petroleum in Kurdish Iraq". Motished observes, "There is jealousy in Baghdad over the upstart Kurdish regional government's success in developing an independent oil industry. Baghdad initially blustered over exploration licences for tiny foreign explorers in Kurdistan, arguing that the Kurds were giving away too much oil profit to foreigners." Meanwhile IRIN reports on more apparent corruption:A new survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation of 120,000 families which had qualified for state food handouts in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces, found that 18 percent of families had not received the nine-item food ration for 13 months; 31.5 percent for 7-12 months; 14.5 percent for 4-6 months; 22 percent for 2-3 months and 14.5 percent for one month.The survey also revealed concerns about the quality of food items: 16 percent of the surveyed families said the ration items in April were bad, 45 percent said they acceptable, while 29 percent said they were good.Top on the list of bad items was tea, followed by rice, flour and sugar, the survey found.
AFP notes a Taji roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives, a Jarf Skha roadside bombing which injured one "local Sahwa chief". Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a missile attack on the Green Zone today
AFP notes the US military stated today that a US soldier killed 1 Iraqi civilian at a checkpoint over a failure to stop. The US military statement reads: "MOSUL, Iraq -- An Iraqi civilian was killed in an escalation of force incident with U.S. Coalition forces in the neighborhood of Al Dawasa, Mosul, Iraq, May 18. The vehicle drove through a joint traffic control point conducted by Coalition forces and members of the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade and continued toward the parked Coalition vehicles. Coalition forces signaled for the vehicle to stop. The vehicle continued its approach, forcing CF to fire at it, killing the driver. The vehicle struck one of the Coalition vehicles. Coalition forces cordoned the area after the incident and a local ambulance transported the body to the Mosul General hospital."
Jeremy Scahill was a guest (briefly) on Democracy Now! (link has text, audio and video) today and he addressed the issue of torture. We'll note an excerpt and I'm deleting Jeremy's praise for Scott Horoton. Journalists (Schahill) are general studies major and they'd do well to stick to what they know. Scott Horton is not a Constitutional Law expert. In fact, he would have been laughed out the first semester of Constitutional Law (and I would have been the first to point and laugh at him). He does not teach Constitutional Law at Columbia where he's a lecturer-in-law. Marjorie Cohn (whom we no longer highlight after she went bat s**t nuts following Keith Olbermann's meme on Hillary) is a Constitutional Law expert. Michael Ratner is another Constitutional Law expert. Every attorney is not and Scott Horton's expertise is not Constitutional Law. Anyone who took even one semester of Constitutional Law would grasp that. Journalists need to try sticking to the facts. Scotty is Council of/for/from Foreign Relations and that doesn't trouble Jeremy but it would have troubled Amy's audience if they'd been informed of it. (Scotty's also the topic of Stan's post from yesterday. Stan and Mike have had it with Little Scotty and that's nothing compared to the members of Congress who no longer rush to hear from the 'crazy.') Repeating: Scott Horton is not a Constitutional Law expert. Stick to the facts, Jeremy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, describe what you call as this "little known military thug squad."
JEREMY SCAHILL: When the Bush administration established the US prison camp at Guantanamo, of course, we know well that they set up a system where detainees were going to be systematically tortured. And, of course, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats were briefed on this program, despite what they're saying right now.
And while much of the focus has been on the tactical use of torture at Guantanamo, almost no attention had been paid to a parallel force that was torturing prisoners in a variety of ways, including waterboarding them, and that is this riot squad of sorts that you referred to called the Immediate Reaction Force. The prisoners and their lawyers at Guantanamo call it the "Extreme Repression Force."
And basically what this is is a thug squad that is used to mercilessly punish prisoners who show the slightest bit of resistance or who do things that technically they're not supposed to do, infractions like having two Styrofoam cups in their cell instead of one. Guards will call in this goon squad. They come in with their Darth Vader outfits, and they literally gang-beat prisoners. There are five men, generally, that are sent in. Each of them is assigned to one body part of the prisoner: the head, the left arm, the right arm, the left leg, the right leg. They go in, and they hogtie the prisoner, sometimes leaving them hogtied for hours on end. They douse them with chemical agents. They have put their heads in toilets and flushed the toilets repeatedly. They have urinated on the heads of prisoners. They've squeezed their testicles in the course of restraining them. They've taken the feces from one prisoner and smeared it in the face of another prisoner. And while Barack Obama, almost immediately upon taking office, issued an executive order saying he was going to close down Guantanamo within a year and that he was going to respect the Geneva Convention while his administration reviewed Guantanamo, this force has continued to operate and torture prisoners under the Obama administration. In fact, in February of this year, about a month after Obama was inaugurated, there were sixteen prisoners on a hunger strike at Guantanamo. The Immediate Response -- or Immediate Reaction Force was used to go in and violently shove massive tubes down their noses into their stomachs. And what the IRF teams, as they're called -- when they beat someone, it's called IRF-ing, or to be IRF-ed up by these teams. They would use no anesthetics or any painkillers, shove this massive tube by force down their nose into their stomach and then yank it out. Some prisoners have described this as torture, torture, torture. And many have passed out from the sheer pain of this operation. This force has received almost no scrutiny in the US Congress or the US media and operates at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know about this?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I discovered these teams, because I've been covering the investigation being done by Judge Baltasar Garzon in Spain into the Bush torture system. What's interesting is that the most aggressive investigation at this point into the Bush war crimes is being done an ocean away in Madrid. And I came across a story of a prisoner named Omar Deghayes, and he is one of the four people that is cited directly in the Spanish investigation as having been tortured by the United States. He's originally Libyan, is a British resident and is one of the subjects of Baltasar Garzon's investigation. Omar Deghayes was repeatedly IRF-ed, was repeatedly abused by one of these squads. And so, when I came across this reference to this team that he was referring to in his testimony, I started to look into it and realized that there has been a multi-year pattern of abuse on the part of this team. And yet, the only time when it's really made any kind of a flash in the corporate media was when a US soldier, a young guy named Sean Baker, who was a Gulf War vet, was participating in a training exercise in Guantanamo in January of 2003, where he was ordered, he says, by his superiors to dress up in an orange jumpsuit and play the part of a restive or combative detainee at Guantanamo. He was told that the team that was going to come in to handle him knew that he was a US soldier, knew that it was a training drill, and he was given a word, a codeword, "red," that when he said it, the beating was supposed to stop, or the subduing of him was supposed to stop. When he was in the cell, the team comes in. He describes them just mercilessly beating him, and he's yelling out "Red!" and they continue to beat him, even after he then said, "I'm a US soldier! I'm a US soldier!" He describes how one of his fellow soldiers continued to beat him. That young man, Sean Baker, has permanent brain damage, suffers from multiple seizures, and had actually sued Rumsfeld and other officials because of his treatment. So you had a flash, a moment in time in 2005, where this case came to public light, because of this lawsuit brought by a US soldier.
[. . .]
And let's be clear here, you read the New York Times today, and you realize that despite Obama's rhetoric about how he's going to reform the military tribunal system, we understand that it's all cosmetic changes. The fact is, torture continues at Guantanamo. The place has not shut down. Interestingly, Ari Fleischer, the former propaganda chief for the Bush administration, said the other day, quite clearly, that he doesn't believe Obama, in any universe, is going to be able to shut down Guantanamo in a year. So, Amy, as far as I can tell from this in-depth investigation, we see the status quo alive and well, and it's very, very damaging to the US Constitution, international law and the lives of these prisoners who remain in legal limbo.
I noted Jeremy this morning and noted he needs to stick to the facts on Nancy Pelosi. Three community members e-mailed about a take he has on Bill Clinton. That's largely rooted in the facts and his intrepretation is his call. You can disagree with it or not. But if he's allowing Bill Fletcher Jr. to identify Bill Clinton as a "neo liberalist," it is required -- according to journalism guidelines -- that Bill Fletcher Jr.'s politics be identified. They never are. But CounterSpin will always put Bill on to screech about alleged modern day "McCarthyism!" Fletch, if you're going to label your opponents, you need to fess up to your own politics. (Hint, Bill Fletcher Jr. is not a Democrat. Nothing wrong with that but don't hide in a political closet while hissing at others.)
Bill Fletcher Jr.'s Dream Lover Barack Obama launched another attack on abortion rights yesterday. Sunsara Taylor (World Can't Wait) notes:
When it comes to abortion, there is ONLY ONE moral question: Will women be fully emancipated human beings in control of their lives and reproduction OR will we be forced to submit to patriarchal male authority and to breed against our will.
A woman who cannot decide for herself, without any shame, judgment or restrictions, when and whether she chooses to have a child, has no more freedom than a slave.
The movement to forcibly deny women the right to abortion and to birth control is a movement to enslave women. With its aims, its methods, and its morality, there can be no compromise.
At her site, Susan (Random Thoughts) notes World Socialist Web Site's insightful commentary on Barack's attack:
Instead, in what has become this administration's standard operating procedure, Obama opted for an approach that was as spineless as it was reactionary. The central premise of his speech was that the views of those who would deny citizens their democratic rights are no less deserving of respect than those who seek to secure and defend those rights. He approached the issue of abortion as if this legal right should be perpetually subject to negotiation between those who seek to exercise their rights and those who would deny women the protection of the law.
Obama's indifferent attitude toward the defense of democratic rights was not confined to the issue of abortion. In a statement whose reactionary implications grows clearer with each reading, Obama declared: "The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved."
What is Obama's point? That the general who favors martial law "to protect us from harm" has a view that is as legitimate as that of the lawyer who defends the Bill of Rights? That the views of the evangelical pastor whose hateful sermons encourage anti-gay discrimination are to be seen as a valuable contribution to the national discourse? And, finally, that some sort of common ground should be found between those who oppose stem cell research and those whose children may die because of such reactionary efforts? Why is opposition to stem cell research, rooted in ignorance and hostility to science, being praised by the president as "an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life"?
On the issue of abortion itself, Obama tacitly implied that women who undergo this procedure are engaged in disreputable activity, and that the moral high ground is held by the opponents of abortion. He declared: "Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women."
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