Articles and thoughts on torture, Afghanistan and the environment

22 Oct

I haven’t written about current events lately so I thought I would take the time out to write some of my thoughts and post some good articles about the latest events.


On Friday, October 16, 2009, the British High Court issued a ruling that rejected the U.S./British cover-up of torture evidence. Binyam Mohamed, a British resident of Ethiopian descent who was suspected to be involved in terrorism, was tortured by the CIA in Pakistan and other countries he was rendered to by the U.S. The CIA told British intelligence exactly what they did to him and the British recorded this on various memos. Last year, the British High Court ruled that Mohamed – who was at Guantanamo then – had the right to obtain those documents from British intelligence in order to prove that his statements to the CIA were the result of coercion.

However, the original ruling left out seven paragraphs that described the torture Mohamed was subjected to (view original ruling here). According to an article in the Telegraph published in February 2009,

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning,’ is very far down the list of things they did,’ the official said.

Another source familiar with the case said: ‘British intelligence officers knew about the torture and didn’t do anything about it. They supplied information to the Americans and the Moroccans. They supplied questions, they supplied photographs. There is evidence of all of that.’

The reasoning behind the redaction of these key paragraphs was that their release would jeopardize intelligence-sharing between the United States and Great Britain. After repeated petitions to the court by Mohamed’s lawyers to revisit the decision, the British High Court reversed itself and ruled that the paragraphs detailing Binyam Mohammed’s torture should be disclosed. Their reasoning was:

“We have therefore concluded that, as the public interest in making the paragraphs public is overwhelming, and as the risk to national security judged objectively on the evidence is not a serious one, we should restore the redacted paragraphs to our first judgment by adding these to paragraphs 87 and 88 respectively. We shall therefore re-issue our first judgment with the paragraphs restored.” (click here to read entire decision).

You can learn more about the court’s decision by reading Glenn Greenwald’s blog post on the issue (“British High Court rejects U.S./British cover-up of torture evidence”, October 17, 2009) and these other articles:

“Binyam Mohamed: Judges overrule attempt to suppress torture evidence” by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, October 16, 2009.

“UK Judges Order Release of Details About the Torture of Binyam Mohamed by CIA Interrogators” by Andy Worthington,, October 19, 2009. This article points out that the central claim against Mohamed was dropped:

“Last October, in the United States, the Justice Department responded to similar pressure to release the documents, applied by a judge in Mohamed’s habeas corpus petition, by dropping the central allegation against him – that he was involved, with US citizen Jose Padilla, in a plot to detonate a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’ in New York – and, in November, the Defense Department shelved Mohamed’s proposed trial by military commission, which focused on the same spurious claims.

To anyone who had been studying the case closely, this was a relief, as, back in June 2002, before Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, and just a month after Padilla’s capture (and before his long isolation and torture on the US mainland), Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, admitted that ‘there was not an actual plan’ to set off a ‘dirty bomb’ in America, that Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials, and that intelligence officials had stated that his research had not gone beyond surfing the Internet.”

Unrelated to Binyam Mohamed but related to torture, an article published yesterday in about a federal judge ruling that Abu Zubaydah’s diaries recounting his torture by the CIA should be given to his defense attorneys. This article points out that contrary to the US government’s claim that Zubaydah was a top-level al-Qaeda figure, he was actually a low-level logistics person. Zubaydah was never involved in al-Qaeda’s inner circle. He suffered a severe head injury while fighting communist insurgents in Afghanistan in 1992 that damaged his short and long-term memory, meaning that Zubaydah is mentally ill and not the kind of person one would want to give large amounts of responsibility to. However, this didn’t stop CIA interrogators from waterboarding him 83 times in one month. I recommend reading this article to learn more.

Whenever I tell people about torture, I like to point them to the UN Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. signed during the 1980s.

The British High Court is a positive development and a step in the right direction for justice and accountability. In order for a democratic society to function, the citizenry must be aware of the actions taken by their elected leaders and those working under them. When the actions of public officials violate the Constitution, international law and fundamental human rights, such as authorizing the use of torture, it is crucial that these officials be held accountable. If not then that gives the government unrestrained power above the rule of law, which leads to the crippling of democracy and the strengthening of tyranny. Thus, not only is the British High Court’s decision important in upholding justice but in also preventing a democratic society from collapsing into tyranny.


Al-Jazeera had a segment on America’s eight (going on nine) years of war in Afghanistan. It’s split into two parts. I didn’t fully agree with everything that was said but I thought the segment worth watching in its own right.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Glenn Greenwald wrote two blog posts about David Rohde’s account of his seven-month captivity by the Taliban, which were printed in a series of articles in the New York Times (the first can be viewed here and the second can be viewed here). He describes how “Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban”. Greenwald pointed out some good paragraphs from Rohde’s account that I thought were very worth viewing here.

From the first article:

“My captors harbored many delusions about Westerners. But I also saw how some of the consequences of Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban. Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged...

“America, Europe and Israel preached democracy, human rights and impartial justice to the Muslim world, they said, but failed to follow those principles themselves…

“They vowed to follow the tenets of Islam that mandate the good treatment of prisoners. In my case, they unquestionably did. They gave me bottled water, let me walk in a small yard each day and never beat me.

From the second article:

“For the next several nights, a stream of Haqqani commanders overflowing with hatred for the United States and Israel visited us, unleashing blistering critiques that would continue throughout our captivity.

Some of their comments were factual. They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges.

To Americans, these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.

When I told them I was an innocent civilian who should be released, they responded that the United States had held and tortured Muslims in secret detention centers for years. Commanders said they themselves had been imprisoned, their families ignorant of their fate. Why, they asked, should they treat me differently?

David Rohde’s account is quite long but worth reading. The entire account is five parts plus an epilogue. I’ve linked them here [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Epilogue, NOTE: I have yet to read the entire installation but plan on doing so. If I find anything worth pointing out, I’ll provide an update in this piece.]

I found this to be quite a horrific but informative article about the atrocious effects of depleted uranium on civilians in Afghanistan (and also other places where it has been used, such as Iraq and Kosovo). In addition, it has disastrous effects on soldiers who use it or come close to it.

There are reports of a dramatic increase in the incidence of deformed babies being born in the city of Fallujah, where DU weapons were in wide use during the November 2004 assault on that city by US Marines. The British TV station SKY UK, in a report last month that has received no mention in any mainstream American news organization, found a marked increase in birth defects at local hospitals. Birth defects have also been high for years in the Basra area in the south of Iraq, where DU was used not just during America’s 2003 ‘shock and awe’ attack on Iraq, but also in the 1991 Gulf War.

Further, a report sent to the UN General Assembly by Dr Nawal Majeed Al-Sammarai, Iraq’s Minister of Women’s Affairs since 2006, stated that in September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 babies born, 24 percent of which died within their first week of life. Worse yet, fully 75 percent of the babies born that month were deformed. This compares to August 2002, six months before the US invasion, when 530 live births were reported with only six dying in the first week, and only one deformity. Clearly something terrible is happening in Fallujah, and many doctors suspect it’s the depleted uranium dust that is permeating the city.

But the real impact of the first heavy use of depleted uranium weaponry in populous urban environments (DU was used widely especially in 2003 in Baghdad, Samara, Mosul and other big Iraqi cities), will come over the years, as the toxic legacy of this latest American war crime begins to show up in rising numbers of cancers, birth defects and other genetic disorders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, as in the case of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the toxic effects of this latest battlefield use of toxic materials by the US military will also be felt for years to come by the men and women who were sent over to fight America’s latest wars. As with Agent Orange, the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department have been assiduously denying the problem, and have been just as assiduously denying claims by veterans of the Gulf War and the two current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who claim their cancers and other diseases have anything to do with their exposure to DU.

The record on Agent Orange should lead us to be suspicious of the government’s claims.”

I’m sure this is another reason why Iraqi and Afghan insurgents hate the U.S. so much and are not afraid to kill Americans. Violence only begets more violence and more human suffering.


Chris Hedges article “A Reality Check From the Brink of Extinction” is about the need to dismantle the corporate state to thwart climate change and protect the environment. It’s definitely worth the read. Here’s a prescient passage from his article:

“We can save groves of trees, protect endangered species and clean up rivers, all of which is good, but to leave the corporations unchallenged would mean our efforts would be wasted. These personal adjustments and environmental crusades can too easily become a badge of moral purity, an excuse for inaction. They can absolve us from the harder task of confronting the power of corporations.

The damage to the environment by human households is minuscule next to the damage done by corporations. Municipalities and individuals use 10 percent of the nation’s water while the other 90 percent is consumed by agriculture and industry. Individual consumption of energy accounts for about a quarter of all energy consumption; the other 75 percent is consumed by corporations. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States. We can, and should, live more simply, but it will not be enough if we do not radically transform the economic structure of the industrial world…

The reason the ecosystem is dying is not because we still have a dryer in our basement. It is because corporations look at everything, from human beings to the natural environment, as exploitable commodities. It is because consumption is the engine of corporate profits. We have allowed the corporate state to sell the environmental crisis as a matter of personal choice when actually there is a need for profound social and economic reform. We are left powerless.”

Chris Hedges makes a very compelling point. The corporate state with its emphasis on commodifying everything, particularly natural resources, and profiting from exorbitant human consumption has pushed our planet to the brink and is an unsustainable economic system. This kind of thought-provoking analysis needs to be highlighted in debates not only about the environment but about the current economic crisis and even militarism.


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