Sunday, May 06, 2007

Afghan Update: Resistance Clashes With Police; UK Tells Farmers to Grow Poppies; CIA Torture Chambers, etc.

Afghan police killed by Taleban

Eight Afghan policemen and at least four Taleban militants have been killed in a six-hour gun battle in the western province of Farah, Afghan police say.

The clashes began after a police patrol was ambushed in Bala Baluk on Saturday.

Provincial police chief Gen Sayed Agha Saqeb said 17 Taleban were killed, but only four bodies have been recovered. Two other policemen were wounded.

Western Afghanistan has so far been comparatively free of violence, with most fighting occurring in the south.

Gen Saqeb said two of the dead militants had come from the neighbouring, southern province of Helmand, which has been the focus of a recent operation by Nato-led forces.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/05/06 06:00:16 GMT

Canada signs Afghan detainee deal

Canada has signed a deal with Afghanistan which will give Ottawa unrestricted access to any prisoners they hand over to Kabul.

Canada has come under growing criticism following allegations that detainees were tortured in Afghanistan.

The torture is said to have occurred after Canadian soldiers transferred suspects to Afghan security forces.

Canada signed a controversial agreement two years ago to hand over Taleban prisoners to the Afghan authorities.

About 2,500 Canadian soldiers are involved in combat operations against insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

'Not good enough'

Canadian Federal Court Judge Michael Kelen announced the details of the new agreement during a case brought about by human rights group, Amnesty International Canada.

Amnesty has been calling for stopping all transfers of prisoners to Afghanistan.

"It [the new agreement] probably wouldn't have happened if this court hadn't been happening," Mr Kelen said.

But Amnesty said the deal was not good enough.

"Monitoring isn't the solution. It's a positive step forward compared to the former deal, but that's not the end point when torture is as rampant and systematic as it is in Afghanistan," Amnesty spokesman Alex Neve told news agency Associated Press.

"No amount of monitoring will prevent something that is a secret, insidious practice that can inflict devastating harm and damage on prisoners in a few minutes," he said.

'Electric cables'

Last week, at least 30 detainees told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper that they were tortured in Afghan prisons after being handed over by Canadian armed forces based in Kandahar to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security.

The allegations of brutality ranged from beatings to starvation, to being left naked outside in freezing temperatures.

Some of the men also said they were whipped with electrical cables.

In the face of a storm of opposition questions in the Canadian parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the controversial prisoner exchange deal.

Canadian Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor promised that the allegations would be looked at seriously.

International law and human rights activists have warned the government that if the allegations are true, then Canadians may face international war crimes prosecution.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/05/04 08:10:17 GMT

UK troops tell Afghan farmers they can grow poppies

By Declan Walsh

Apr. 28- Afghan officials have reprimanded British diplomats over a campaign by UK troops in Helmand telling farmers that growing poppies was understandable and acceptable.

A radio message broadcast across the province assured local farmers that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would not interfere with poppy fields currently being harvested.

"Respected people of Helmand. The soldiers of ISAF and ANA [the Afghan National Army] do not destroy poppy fields," it said. "They know that many people of Afghanistan have no choice but to grow poppy. ISAF and the ANA do not want to stop people from earning their livelihoods."

The advertisement, which was drafted by British officers and carried on two local stations, infuriated Afghan officials as high up as President Hamid Karzai, who demanded an explanation.

The Afghan government has been under intense pressure to smash the burgeoning drug trade. Last year opium cultivation soared 59 percent, earning traffickers an estimated $2.5 billion according to the United Nations. The rise was most concentrated in Helmand, which is the source of much of the heroin sold in Western Europe.

"This was an error by ISAF," said Zalmay Afzali, spokesman for the Ministry of Counter Narcotics. "We have asked ISAF to avoid such problems in the future because it can create a hell of a problem. We hope it will not happen again."

After a series of stormy meetings, NATO announced on Apr. 25 that it was dropping the ads. "We recognized this was a mistake and addressed it as soon as possible," said spokesman Nicholas Lunt.

A British military spokesman said the ads were intended to counter Taliban propaganda that British soldiers had moved to the Sangin Valley, a hotbed of cultivation, to destroy farmers' livelihoods.

"The dilemma was that the poppy harvest was taking place and people would take up arms and fight us," said Lt. Col. Charlie Mayo. "They have to understand that we are here to kill the Taliban, not to cut down their poppy."

Mayo admitted the wording of the message was "open to misinterpretation" and said that after complaints from the local governor, Asadullah Wafa, it was removed and an apology issued. A drug official played the incident down, saying the message had been drafted by a newly arrived territorial army officer who "got a bit carried away with the language."

But it exposes tension inside western policy in Afghanistan centered on arguments about trying to eradicate poppies while fighting a dogged insurgency.

Since 2001, western embassies have channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into helping the Afghan government to hunt for drug barons, persuading farmers to grow licit crops and funding eradication efforts. But NATO and the US military have refused to get involved in eradication, arguing that the sight of western soldiers slashing through poppy fields could drive farmers into the hands of the Taliban. NATO says it will provide security so that Afghan counter-narcotics officials can wipe out the poppy crop.

The argument is particularly sharp in Helmand, where NATO troops are fighting the Taliban amid some of the world's most extensive poppy plantations. British officers are at pains to distance themselves from expensive eradication efforts that are riddled with allegations of corruption and produce poor results.

So far this year Afghan officials claim to have eradicated almost 20,000 acres in Helmand — about 10 percent of last year's crop — and the veracity of even those figures has been questioned. The British policy can create strange dilemmas. Recently in Sangin, officers discussed paying the full market rate for a field of poppies to a local farmer whose land was being requisitioned for a military base.

Critics argue that drugs and the insurgency have become so linked it is impossible to distinguish them. In Helmand the Taliban pushes farmers to grow poppies and reportedly uses drug profits to buy guns. One drug official in Kabul said: "Insecurity and poppy are the same issue — one creates the conditions for the other. This won't be over until the poppy is gone."

A sea of poppies has become Afghanistan's runaway export success. The crop soared from 20,000 acres in 2001 to a record 400,000 last year. Farmers milk opium resin from the plants which is processed into heroin and smuggled. An estimated 2.9 million Afghans, 13 percent of the population, are involved. There are no cartel lords — western officials believe trade is controlled by 25 smugglers including three government ministers.

Source: Guardian (UK) Photo courtesy

US to make history trying alleged child war criminal

By Mark Tran

Apr. 25- A human rights group has attacked a US decision to file murder charges against a Canadian national and alleged Taliban fighter who was captured in Afghanistan when he was 15.

Omar Khadr was wounded by US soldiers during a battle near Khost, Afghanistan, and taken into US custody in July 2002. He has spent most of the past five years in the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

During his capture he was shot three times and is nearly blind in one eye as a result of his injuries. The US military says Khadr threw a grenade that killed a US Green Beret sergeant, Christopher Speer, and wounded another sergeant, Layne Morris.

Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Marine lieutenant colonel Colby Vokey, said the US would become the first country in modern history to try a war crimes suspect who was a child at the time of the alleged violations if a trial went ahead.

Khadr has been charged with murder, attempted murder, providing support to terrorism, conspiracy and spying under rules for military trials adopted last year. The conspiracy charge is based on acts allegedly committed before Khadr was 10, according to his defense team.

Amnesty International strongly criticized the decision to subject Khadr to a military tribunal.

"To have held a 15-year-old boy in the harsh and lawless conditions of Guantánamo for five years has already been a travesty of justice — and to put him before an unfair 'military commission' trial simply adds to a disgraceful record in his case," Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said on Apr. 25.

Allen said the US authorities should transfer his case to a civilian federal court on the US mainland.

Toronto-born Khadr faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Pentagon said Khadr must be held accountable.

"The Defense Department will continue to uphold the law and bring unlawful enemy combatants to justice through the military commissions process," it said.

Speer's widow and Morris filed a civil lawsuit against Khadr and his father. In February, a judge awarded them $102.6 million.

Dennis Edney, a Canadian lawyer for Khadr's family, said the new tribunal system, which allows coerced and hearsay evidence, "provides Mr. Khadr with almost no chance of proving his innocence.

"The aim is to provide a showcase to justify the US administration decision to arrest Mr. Khadr and other men like him in the first place," Edney told The Associated Press.

Khadr's attorneys urged Canada and the US to negotiate a "political resolution" of the case to spare Khadr a guaranteed conviction by "one of the greatest show trials on earth."

Several of Khadr's family members have been accused of ties to Islamic extremists. His Egyptian-born father, Ahmad Said al-Khadr, was killed in Pakistan in 2003 alongside senior al-Qaida operatives and Canada is holding Khadr's brother Abdullah on a US extradition warrant accusing him of supplying weapons to al-Qaida.

Khadr will be the second prisoner to face terror charges under new military tribunals after the Supreme Court in June struck down the previous military tribunal system at Guantánamo as unconstitutional. Congress then passed a law establishing a new system, which is also being challenged.

In March, the military tribunal at Guantánamo sentenced an Australian, David Hicks, to nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism — the first conviction at a US war crimes trial since the second world war.

Under an agreement with the court, he will serve his sentence in an Australian prison, but must remain silent about any alleged abuse while in US custody. Prosecutors say they plan to charge as many as 80 of the 385 men held at Guantánamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

"We are increasingly concerned that with 80 percent of Guantánamo detainees now held in solitary confinement, there is mounting evidence that some are dangerously close to full-blown mental and physical breakdown," Amnesty said.

Source: Guardian (UK) Photo courtesy

CIA held suspect in secret prison for months

Apr. 28- The CIA held an alleged al-Qaida leader in a secret prison since autumn and transferred him a week ago to the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, officials said on Apr. 27.

The disclosure revealed that the Bush administration reopened its detention program within three months of announcing that no secret prisoners remained in the CIA's custody.

The detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi Kurd who they claim joined al-Qaida in the late 1990s and ascended to become a top aide to Osama bin Laden, is the first terrorism suspect known to have been held in secret CIA jails since President Bush announced the transfer of 14 captives to Guantánamo Bay in September.

Human rights advocates expressed anger that the United States continued a program of secret detention.

The CIA's secret detention of terrorism suspects has been widely criticized by human rights organizations and foreign governments as a violation of international law that relied on interrogation methods presumably verging on or including torture.

The Bush administration's continuing reliance on secret CIA prisons violates basic human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said. The group called the secret detention "a blatant violation of international law."

The group said the announcement that al-Iraqi was transferred to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility from CIA custody raises worrying questions about how long he has been detained by the CIA, where he was held, what kind of treatment he endured, and whether other prisoners still remain in CIA detention. The CIA has previously held numerous detainees for months and even years.

"The CIA's secret detention of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi is a blatant violation of international law," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. "This transfer shows that Congress will have to act to end the CIA's illegal detention program."

Numerous detainees previously transferred from CIA custody to Guantánamo have claimed that they were subjected to torture.

Human Rights Watch renewed its call to have suspected criminal detainees at Guantánamo transferred to federal courts and prosecuted under US federal criminal law.

"If al-Hadi and other detainees committed the crimes they're accused of, they should be tried for acts of terrorism in federal court, under a fair and transparent system," said Mariner.

On Sept. 6, 2006, President Bush publicly revealed the existence of the CIA's secret detention and interrogation program. Although he stated that, as of that moment, there were no prisoners in CIA custody, he did not promise that the program was closing permanently.

US officials have told journalists that al-Hadi was arrested in late 2006, meaning that al-Hadi has been in secret CIA custody for at least five months.

It is possible that the president's statement that the CIA's prisons were empty in September 2006 was true only in a technical sense, and that in fact prisoners were being held in "proxy detention" – held in another country on behalf of the United States.

"We're skeptical that President Bush was telling the whole story when he said the CIA prisons were empty," Mariner said. "It's quite possible that his claim was based on legal niceties: that while detainees were in the custody of other countries, the CIA had the power to determine their fate."

Sources: Human Rights Watch, International Herald Tribune, Washington Post. Compiled by Eamon Martin (AGR) Photo courtesy

Canada hides Afghan torture, killings

By Paul Koring

Apr. 25- The Canadian government knew from its own officials that prisoners held by Afghan security forces faced the possibility of torture, abuse and extrajudicial killing.

But the government has eradicated every single reference to torture and abuse in prison from a heavily blacked-out version of a report prepared by Canadian diplomats in Kabul and released under an access to information request.

Initially, the government denied the existence of the report, responding in writing that "no such report on human rights performance in other countries exists." After complaints to the Access to Information Commissioner, it released a heavily edited version this week.

Among the sentences blacked out by the Foreign Affairs Department in the report's summary is "Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common," according to full passages of the report.

The Foreign Affairs report, titled "Afghanistan-2006; Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights," was marked "CEO," for Canadian Eyes Only. It seems to remove any last vestige of doubt that the senior officials and ministers knew that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan jails.

The report leaves untouched many paragraphs such as those beginning "one positive development" or "there are some bright spots."

But heavy dark blocks obliterate sentences such as "the overall human rights situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in 2006."

It's not clear why such internationally agreed and obvious observations are blacked out of the Canadian report. No national security issues seem involved, nor are there personal privacy issues, reasons often cited for excising information.

A comparison of the full text with the edited version shows a consistent pattern of excising negative findings or observations from the report with positive ones left in.

There was no explanation for blacking out observations such as "military, intelligence and police forces have been accused of involvement in arbitrary arrest, kidnapping extortion, torture and extrajudicial killing."

The findings echo other, and widely publicized, reports by Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, the US State Department, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and various international human-rights groups. The report by Canada's own diplomats seems to undermine the government's claims that it was unaware of the fate likely faced by detainees handed over by Canadian troops to Afghan security forces.

The report raises a red flag for any government bound by the Geneva Conventions and responsible for safeguarding transferred detainees from torture and abuse.

It makes repeated dark references to the reputation and performance of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS), or intelligence police. Most prisoners captured by Canadian troops are now turned over to the widely feared NDS, which is considered tougher but perhaps less corrupt that the Afghan National Police. "Allegations of torture and arbitrary detention by NDS officials have also been reported," the full text of the report says.

Another portion that is blacked out reads "widespread allegations of corruption and human-rights violations exist with respect to the Afghanistan National Police and Ministry of Interior."

In March, when the US State Department issued its annual report, it made clear that Afghan prisons, where Canada consigns detainees captured by its troops, were rife with torture, abuse and corruption. The report echoed equally grim assessments issued earlier by the United Nations and Afghanistan's own independent Human Rights Commission.

"Security and factional forces committed extrajudicial killings and torture," the US report said. The most recent report by Arbour found: "The NDS, responsible for both civil and military intelligence, operates in relative secrecy without adequate judicial oversight and there have been reports of prolonged detention without trial, extortion, torture and systematic due process violations."

Source: Globe and Mail (Toronto)

Men in uniforms rob Afghan civilians

Apr. 24- Local residents in the Sangeen district of the restive southern Afghan province of Helmand said armed Afghan men in military uniforms looted their homes and businesses in early April. There are conflicting reports on whether the men were allied with international forces fighting the Taliban or whether they were an independent militia.

"They were Afghans wearing military uniforms like the national police and army. They broke into many houses and shops and looted whatever they could," a local resident said in an interview in Sangeen.

Provincial authorities and police officials in the capital, Kabul, confirmed reports of plundering by militias working for US forces in Afghanistan.

"They work for the Americans," Nabi Jan Molakhel, Helmand's police chief, said in an interview. "We impounded 35 motorcycles and many others items that they had stolen in Sangeen. We tried to apprehend them, but the Americans stopped us saying whatever they had taken belonged to the Taliban."

In Kabul, Zemarai Bashari, spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior, said that no Afghan police or soldiers were involved in the lootings in Sangeen.

"Armed men who work for the US forces were [not] involved in those nasty actions. We don't have a single ANP [Afghan National Police] officer in the Sangeen district for the time being," said Bashari, adding that a 100-man police force would be deployed in the district to ensure law and order in the near future.

NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) and NATO officials denied any knowledge of such militias.

A spokesman for ISAF said its forces work very closely with the Afghan police and army but do not maintain relations with illegal armed groups and other militias in the country.

Nicholas Lunt, NATO's spokesman in Afghanistan, said no Afghan militias are used in their operations but "I cannot comment on whether US forces use non-government Afghan forces in their operations that do not come under NATO command."

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