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On August 31, Obama announced "the end of the combat mission" in Iraq. The withdrawal of US-led military forces from Iraq is taking place under the auspices of a 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and the Iraqi government. The SOFA outlined that US-led forces would pull back from urban areas by the end of June 2009 and withdraw totally from the country by the end of 2011. As per the SOFA, US forces have also been releasing or transferring all detainees in their custody to Iraqi authorities and handing over control of prisons to them. Such prisons include Camp Cropper, near Baghdad International Airport; Camp Taji, north of Baghdad; and Camp Bucca, near Basra.
In an article in TML Daily, On-line Newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), Jamilé Ghaddar writes: “Currently, the US is maintaining 50,000 troops in the country and, even as military operations continue to the present, not a single word has been spoken of reparations for the massive material and human losses it has caused. Whether the US actually withdraws all troops by the end of 2011 or transfers certain powers to the Iraqi authorities, it must certainly find a way to maintain its control over the country. This has been its conundrum; how to disentangle itself from a costly, prolonged and unpopular military occupation while still managing to ensure its imperialist interests vis-à-vis Iraq. Everyone should remain vigilant as events unfold and the US invaders reposition themselves with a new strategy of maintaining their interests in Iraq.
“All those concerned with the human rights situation in Iraq and its future as an independent country serving the interests of its people should be wary of accepting these claims of the end of the combat mission. The responsibility of the US-led occupation forces for what takes place in Iraq extends far beyond any troop withdrawal. After devastating the country and its people through brutal sanctions, nation-wrecking activity and crimes against humanity, these countries are responsible for the difficulties and challenges facing Iraq in any post-occupation scenario. It is ridiculous to suggest that the US and its allies can invade a country, destroy its entire infrastructure, poison its natural environment and wreak havoc on its people, then simply saunter away declaring all is well with the world.
“Throughout the occupation, the Anglo-American forces have pushed sectarian division and encouraged criminal and corrupt elements. In this context of violence, engineered destitution and corruption, an Iraqi government was imposed without regard for the conditions, thought material or history of the Iraqi people. Naturally, such an imposed system would be dysfunctional and unstable. This is the end result of the US's claim that it will bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. It is in this context that Obama's claim of having achieved the ‘end of combat’ can be appreciated for the disinformation that it is. By presenting troop withdrawal as the issue, Obama disinforms by diverting from the central question of the necessity to hold the US and its allies accountable for their crimes against Iraq.”
The US and Britain, as well as other countries which participated in this aggression, must be held responsible for paying reparations to the Iraqi people and for ensuring that justice is realised for the crimes they committed. Without such reparations and justice, it is not possible for the Iraqi people to rebuild their country in a timely fashion while their inability to overcome the problems caused by these foreign forces will be blamed on them. The culture of impunity created by the occupation must be smashed so as to permit the Iraqi people to begin anew.
The situation requires vigilance against such disinformation and attempts to conflate the crimes of the US-led occupation forces and those Iraqi authorities it has given rise to with the aspirations of the Iraqi people who through their resistance seek a truly secure, independent and just Iraq.
Reparations and Justice for
No to Impunity!
BBC Two recently ran a two-part series called “Secret Iraq”. It was billed as a documentary series that sheds new light on the dramatic story of Iraq, and is presently available on iPlayer.
The programme in tracing the brutal development of the occupation of Iraq was a devastating indictment of the Anglo-US aggressors. The Anglo-American invading forces unleashed a cruel war on Iraq which inflicted untold destruction, pain and suffering on both Iraq and its people. It showed how Britain and the US had wrecked all aspects of Iraq’s coherence and nation-building project, threatened to destroy Iraq’s civilisation and culture and turn this region of the Middle East into a theatre of sectarian conflict. In this context, the self-justifications of Tony Blair which it shows are sickening.
The programme, while presenting this shocking reality, at the same time did not disclose the full criminality of the occupying forces, for instance the shooting of ambulance drivers and the bombing of a health clinic in Falluja. Similarly, it was not able to show the full extent of the undercover operations, and therefore presented a misleading picture that made it appear that Muslims who had lived side by side worshipping at the same mosques suddenly started blowing each other up. The death squads in the police were created by the US occupiers in the time-honoured fashion of the imperialists, who were organised and paid to create sectarian conflict. Throughout Iraq, the US military established "checkpoints" – the tactic well-known and reviled throughout the world for its arbitrary and often deadly use against the Palestinian people. They not only provide the military with impunity to kill civilians, but also to humiliate all those forced to pass through the checkpoints as part of their daily lives. And the programme repeated the disinformation that the main enemy of the Iraqi people has been Al Qaeda.
In spite of this terrible situation in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, the resistance still fought the occupation and the US and British armed forces. The British were forced to withdraw so that they could deploy troops to Afghanistan, in which they are vainly attempting to create similar civil conflicts. The programme did not show the opposition from the troops themselves and the military families to being involved in these unjust and criminal conflicts.
The role of Britain can be compared to that in the north of Ireland where state operations and infiltration were both in operation and difficult to distinguish, and they were there to stir things up and keep the people divided, the people who would otherwise resolve their problems, or at least their problems are their own business. The programme depicted the rescuing of undercover British special forces, who had been dressed as Arab civilians with a car full of explosives, in Basra as a heroic exercise. It glossed over the just anger of the Iraqis, and what this incident exposed as the bombings and assassinations carried out by the occupation.
Britain, of course, was the imperial power that invented the brutal policy of divide and rule, and its criminal involvement in Iraq goes at least as far back as the beginning of the 20th century. At the same time, the occupying forces have not been able to create an Iraq after their own image, and still face incalculable difficulties in implementing their occupation strategies, how to install a government as a proxy, and so on. No such imposed system can be a solution to the problems of aggression and occupation.
The conclusion could be drawn from “Secret Iraq” that the occupation strategy has been to destabilise the whole region, so as to favour imperialist control, but the occupiers with their self-serving pretexts have not been able to guarantee such control. Certainly the programme demonstrates how the intervention of the US and Britain has created hell. At the same time, however, its message was that the Iraqi people are determined to continue the resistance, begin anew, and finally achieve the goal of being in charge of their own destiny. The anti-war movement must continue to insist that Britain for its part must pay reparations for its crimes and that its own war criminals be brought to justice.
By Felicity Arbuthnot, Global Research, October 14, 2010
" ...and if any one saved a life, it would be as if s/he saved the life of all mankind. ..." (Qur'an 5:32)
"How does it become a man to behave towards the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it." (Henry David Thoreau,1817-1862.)
On Tuesday, April 13, as British politicians travelled the country, promising a brave new world on Election day (May 6) a letter was delivered to the British Prime Minister's residence, Number 10, Downing Street.
Both former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his successor, Conservative leader, David Cameron, have made much, recently, on television, with breaking voice, of personal grief. Both have lost children, Brown and his wife, a baby daughter in 2004 and Cameron and his wife, a disabled son, last year.
They were an uncomfortable watch. Grief – the ultimate, surely, the loss of a child – is private, personal, engulfing. It is overwhelmed moments, only shared with those closest. Cameron further informed the nation that he and his wife enjoyed their "cuddles”. Sarah Brown called the dour, charmless Gordon: "My hero." Skin crawling stuff. Were they attempting the last political card in an effort at erasing the collective electoral memory of a cross party political rip-off of the taxpayer, in an expenses scandal of enormity. With tarnished politics, mired in lies, illegal invasions and illegal acts?
Brown, of course was the Chancellor of the Exchequer under discredited former Prime Minister Blair. Brown wrote the cheques for the Iraq and Afghan blood-lettings, until he became Britain's unelected Prime Minister. Cameron voted for both aggressions. Both have responsibility for uncounted, unimaginable deaths – and those of the children of others.
As they attempted to "connect with the people", ploughing embarrassingly round what they thought were "people" type places: food stores, gas stations, malls (even, in Cameron's case, a long abandoned gas power station) grabbing hands, kissing strangers' babies, flanked by minders and media, did they reflect that, with an angry, disillusioned electorate (no, not "apathetic", as they like to say, frankly, largely furious) a little humility might have been apt? However, when a letter was delivered, which could have given Brown the chance to really show a human side, take a stand for decency and the rule of law, the then Prime Minister was polishing his ego elsewhere.
The letter read, in part: "Time may be running out for you to obtain the release and return of British Resident Shaker Aamer, still detained after more than eight years in Guantánamo.
“You have claimed to have made repeated requests to the US, for his release, yet you have failed to bring him home. It is beyond belief that Shaker, a long-term legal British resident, cleared for release in 2007, without charge, remains in Guantánamo in a cell, 6 foot by 8 foot, in solitary confinement, in the harshest of conditions.
“Your Government has been derelict in its duty to protect Shaker Aamer, a refugee from Saudi Arabia, who was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK and whose only wish is to return to family and home here in London.
"He has had his head repeatedly smashed against walls. His eyesight has been affected by the constant bright lights of his cell and he has lost half his body weight. A detention report states that his mental health is deteriorating. Despite knowing the extent of the abuse of his human rights, your Government, to its shame, has not used its power and authority to demand the immediate release and return of Shaker Aamer, victim of rendition and torture.
"Very soon you will be asking the country to vote for you. People of goodwill everywhere would celebrate if you ensured the return of Shaker Aamer to his family whilst there is still time for your Government to act."
Reality is stark and bleak: "We appeal to you to note well the words of Brent Mickum, US lawyer for Shaker Aamer: 'He is still being tortured down there. And if he ends up dying down there, I have to say there is blood on the British hands.' British Resident Shaker Aamer is being tortured in Guantánamo and his life is in your hands."
The letter was signed by the "Save Shaker Aamer Campaign”.
The election has come and gone. With a coalition government, headed by Tory, David "Gaza must not be allowed to remain a prison camp" Cameron,(1) with Liberal Democrat, Nick "the illegal invasion of Iraq" Clegg,(2) as his Deputy. As ever, a new era of politics was promised. Politics-with-a-human-face type statements, demonstrated, largely, by open neck shirts and Cameron walking to Parliament, rather than taking a limo the few yards from his official residence. This month has seen the election of Ed "It is a duty to comply with international law" Miliband (3), as Labour Leader.
Addressing the plight of Shaker Aamer, held in another illegal prison camp, might indeed signal something of humanity, substance and return to a semblance of legality (not difficult to improve on Barrister Blair's ten years slaughter-fest) but Aamer's case has been met by all, with another deafening silence. Shaker, with Moazzam Begg, had gone to Afghanistan before the events of 11th September 2001. They went to help people of a poor Islamic country, the tenets of their faith dictating that one must strive always to help those never able to repay. Begg's project was to fund simple schools and sink wells, where there were none. Aamer went, in June 2001, to do voluntary work with an Islamic charity.
Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of legal organisation Reprieve (4) states: "Shaker is a natural leader who is known for his concern for others .. in London, he worked as an Arabic translator for the solicitor who advised him on his immigration case. Helping refugees put Shaker where he loved to be – as counsel, listening and advising. But in the end, it was his dedication to the welfare of others that led to his detention in Guantánamo Bay."
He was working in Kabul, when the US bombing began in October 2001. The US were offering vast sums, for "bad guys", in a country where people were in need of so much, consequently, uncounted numbers were taken by the unscrupulous, for financial reward.
"Soldiers arrived, took him away at gunpoint, having stripped him of all his belongings. Sold to various groups, he was repeatedly beaten, until driven out of Kabul one night, with four other Arab prisoners. He was convinced they were about to be executed. Hearing a helicopter and American voices, his relief was unbounded. It was also ill founded."
Taken to Bagram Air Force Base in late December 2001, he was: "... forced to stay awake for nine days. Denied food, he lost sixty pounds in weight. US personnel poured freezing water over him. Combined with the bitter Afghan winter, his feet to become frostbitten. Chained for hours in positions that made movement unbearable, and his swollen, blackened feet were beaten."
Desperate to end his torture, Shaker began to say whatever the US wanted, resulting in him being transferred to Guantanamo, in February 2002.
Despite the hardships he has endured, Shaker remains the kind and supportive man he was when he was captured, with a reputation for looking out for his fellow prisoners.
When the military police beat up a prisoner while he was praying, Shaker initiated the first hunger strike at Guantánamo. More than three hundred prisoners began refusing meals. The Americans negotiated with Shaker, promising changes in the camp conditions. But the promises were broken. When the hunger strike began again in September 2005, Shaker was placed in solitary confinement as punishment. He has remained alone in a six foot by eight foot windowless cell ever since.
After Reprieve took up his case, Shaker was cleared for release. The British government have requested he is returned to the United Kingdom, but negotiations with the US, ceased in December 2007 and only spluttered in to life again in December 2009.
The (London) Independent reported then, that the Foreign Office was "deeply engaged" in negotiations for Shaker Aamer’s return, but the Obama administration was resistant to the British government’s demands, claiming that he still “represents a security risk”.
A Foreign Office spokesman explained: “We have made an exceptional request for the release and return of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national, to the UK,” adding, “This is because of the exceptional nature of the Guantánamo facility and our sustained efforts to see it closed. Though we were successful with securing the return of four other non-UK nationals, we have not been able yet to do so with Shaker.”
The British government's record in gaining the release of hostages, of any kind, is seemingly a testament to indifference, ineptitude or ignorance, more often than not ending in tragedy. Meanwhile Shaker waits alone in his cell, officially cleared of wrongdoing, but still paying the cruellest of costs for his kindness to others.
As for the "exceptional request" for release, were the US and UK not "shoulder to shoulder" in the "special relationship" and "coalition"? The British government could "demand", were they really serious. And the "sustained efforts" to see Guantanamo closed? Blink and you have missed it. "Efforts" have barely hit the small print, let alone the headlines.
In context, in March 2006, Andrew MacKinley, a Labour Member of the Commons select Committee on Foreign Affairs, called the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, "a wimp", for failing to make stronger protests to President Bush earlier, after a UN Report the previous month, found that treatment of prisoners amounted to torture. Governmental "wimps" have come and gone and nothing has changed.
So Shaker, now nearing nine years on, remains in helpless, voiceless, limbo. “The only time I have seen him emotional was over his family. I was able to get photographs of his youngest child into him, but that was very heartbreaking for him, in a way he didn't want to see it. I saw him for the first time in May 2005 and got a photo into him shortly after that, he really broke down at that because it was so difficult”, said Reprieve Director, Clive Stafford Smith.
Thousands of people have campaigned tirelessly for the release of Shaker Aamer. (5) Yet in spite of the Bush Administration, conceding in 2007, that there was no evidence against him, clearing him for release, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury's former Special Envoy, Terry Waite writing in his support: "The fact that individuals have been detained for years in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, on suspicion, is disgraceful and ought to have no place in the procedures of any country that prides itself on respect for the rule of law. I add my voice to the many thousands of people who are profoundly disturbed by the detention of Mr Aamer and others and would urge that he be released forthwith," he remains incarcerated.
Waite knows a little about being illegally incarcerated, he was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly five years. Those who held him illegally, were called: "terrorists", by Western governments and media.
Another who has spoken for Aamer is former Guantanamo guard Terry C. Holdbrook, who said: “He’s a wonderful character- unbelievably intelligent, very polite, very well-mannered, great etiquette… no matter whom the guard was he was working with- whether it was a very ignorant uncaring American with no recognition for his situation… He was a wonderful person- I absolutely enjoyed spending time with him.” (6)
Is there any reason for the shameful foot dragging on both sides of the Atlantic? Many think so. With the US and British governments' alleged involvement in rendition and torture coming increasingly under scrutiny, those who know Aamer say who would certainly throw much more needed light on it from what he has seen and experienced from day one of his kidnapping.
The new Cameron-Clegg coalition continue seamlessly along the path of Blair and Brown, having achieved another tragic hostage death, that of aid worker, Linda Norgrove, in Afghanistan, on September 9, in agreeing a bungled attempt by US forces, to "rescue" her, when negotiations were already underway for her release by tribal leaders, who understood the complexities.
Footage taken from an aircraft overhead, show a soldier throwing a grenade in to the building where she was held, resulting, unsurprisingly, in her death and that of nine others. "We did the right thing, it was the Taliban's fault", the action was "fully supported", are the deluded messages from Whitehall, further endorsing Britain and the US's woeful, murderous ineptitude. Another day, another "tragic mistake", a few more human lives.
William Hague, the UK's new polished-headed Foreign Secretary, has dug out predecessor, the late Robin Cook's "ethical foreign policy" (the one that silently killed six thousand Iraqi children a month, during the embargo) so here is a suggestion for him. Given it has not got off to a great start, read another letter, then get on a 'plane, or telephone to Washington and demand the immediate return of Mr Aamer.
The letter was to Gordon Brown, delivered at the same time as the one above – the messages are more vital than ever, after another nine months of waning health. It is from Johina Aamer, Shaker's twelve-year-old daughter, in careful, painstaking handwriting, it reads:
"Dear Gordon Brown,
I hope you are in good health. I am writing to ask you for my father’s release. As you might know, my father has been away for 8 years, he was taken away since I was four years old. It has been most of my life.
My brother Faris has never seen his father and misses him a lot. Sometimes he thinks other people are his father. Once a man came to do our garden, Faris (has) a lot of fun and laughs with him. When he left, Faris asked my Mum, “Is that my Dad?” He has never felt what it’s like to be with a father or to go out with him. Faris has had no experience at all of what it’s like to have a father just like every child does.
My mother is very patient but sometimes when she misses him too much she gets depressed. My mother is also a psychiatric patient. Whenever she gets depressed we have to go to my grandparents’ house where my grandparents look after her. When she is ill she is in bed day and night and can’t do much. I really hate it when she gets depressed.
At school, when it is time to go home, most of the children have their fathers pick them up which makes me miss him even more. I never really go to do things with my father.
Also there is no reason for my father to be in prison. There have never been any charges made against him and he is innocent. My father has suffered for eight years in prison for no reason. I hope there can be a change now. He has got so many illnesses such as asthma and many physical problems. He is also the only British resident there.
I take that you understand this as a father and a husband. Nobody would like to be separated from their fathers or mothers. It is not nowhere near fun to be without a father we’ve missed so much.
I hope this letter can make a difference and that my father is released as soon as possible.
Johina Aamer Daughter of Shaker Aamer"
Faris, who thought the gardener might be his father, was the child whose photograph reduced his father to tears. As the new Prime Minister is pictured in a photo-op, feeding and cuddling his new baby, how better to celebrate her birth and that of a new government and "ethical foreign policy”, than by restoring this father to his family, normality to a twelve year old fighting a battle beyond her years, and little boy, who will no longer have to ask if a stranger is his father.
On September 13, Amnesty International issued its report New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq. In this report, Amnesty outlines the systematic and grave human rights violations experienced by thousands of detainees at the hands of the US-led occupation forces and the Iraqi authorities supported and trained by them. Violations include torture, illegal detention and denial of due process and are meted out predominantly to Iraqis resisting the occupation.
Overall, the report paints a clear picture of complete impunity for these crimes. Despite Iraqi law and applicable international law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the documented and ongoing violations of the basic rights of Iraqi detainees continue unabated and without the prosecution of responsible officials. Amnesty's report states that while investigations have been announced of some abuses after public outcry, no substantive action has resulted. The report concludes: "In all cases, those responsible for abuses have not been brought to justice," adding, "The failure to deal seriously and effectively with torture and other human rights violations [...] has created a culture of impunity."
According to the report:
- An estimated 30,000 Iraqi prisoners are currently detained, the vast majority for exercising their right of resistance against the occupation. Such resistance is indiscriminately termed "terrorism" by the US-led forces and the Iraqi authorities. Hence, the majority are being held under a 2005 anti-terrorism law that provides for the death penalty for those who "provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists". It also calls for life imprisonment for anyone hiding or giving shelter to terrorists.
- Most detainees are held illegally, without arrest warrants, charge or trial, and have faced torture, been subjected to inhuman prison conditions, and been refused family visitations.
- Some have been held since the 2003 US-led invasion while others remain imprisoned even though courts or investigative judges have ordered their release for lack of evidence or adequate grounds to imprison them.
- Many detainees "disappeared" after arrest, while their families continue to look for them. Some were held in secret detention centres, one of the harshest of which is at the old Muthanna Airport in central Baghdad. This secret facility was exposed in April 2010, when it was discovered that more than 400 detainees were being held there. Such forced disappearances "themselves constitute ill-treatment or torture because of the considerable suffering experienced by people detained without contact with the outside world, and without knowing when or even if they will ever be freed or allowed to see their families again".
- Many detainees were rounded up on the basis of information supplied by paid informants or swept up in dragnet-style raids, such as mass arrests or being hauled out of a car by plainclothes or masked personnel.
- The few detainees brought to trial are prosecuted almost exclusively based on confessions routinely extracted through torture, including hundreds of people subsequently sentenced to death.
- Torture includes rape or threat of rape, beatings with cables and hoses, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, prolonged suspension by the limbs, removal of toenails by pliers, asphyxiation using a plastic bag over the head, piercing of the body with drills and being forced to sit on sharp objects such as broken bottles. Such torture has been applied indiscriminately to women, children and men, some with serious health issues. The report outlines the extensive nature of the use of torture, stating: "The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry documented 574 allegations of torture during 2009 [...] but this almost certainly represents no more than the tip of a very large iceberg."
- Significant numbers of people have died in detention, including while being transferred, during interrogation or shortly after interrogation.
The report also argues that while these human rights violations have been done in the name of security, the security situation in Iraq is as bad as ever even as the illegal occupation of Iraq has failed to realise its alleged aim of improving the quality of life of Iraqis or the human rights situation in the country.
The report outlines that:
- Hundreds of thousands have been killed. At least 151,000 casualties between 2003 and 2006 has been estimated but the true figure is not known.
- Basic services have collapsed or are barely functioning, including health and education.
- Water and electricity supplies are at best intermittent; 70 percent of Iraqis do not have access to drinkable water and 80 percent have no access to effective sanitation.
- Officially, unemployment stands at 50 percent but in reality is much higher.
- About four million people have fled abroad or are internally displaced.
- Despite the country's oil wealth, millions of Iraqis are struggling with deepening poverty and growing malnutrition, with women suffering particularly badly.
The violation of the basic rights of the Iraqi prisoners occurs and enjoys impunity due to their utility for the US-led forces as a means to achieve their end of controlling the region, its resources and peoples. Through such crimes, they aim to wipe out the resistance of the Iraqi people to the occupation and block their struggle to affirm their right to self-determination. Overall, US-led imperialism has destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq and given rise to a culture of impunity, creating colossal challenges for the Iraqi people who will nonetheless continue their courageous fight for an independent and just Iraq.
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