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Hundreds Disappeared Into Secret Pakistani and US Prisons

BREAKING, 9:35 a.m.: CNN reporting this a.m. that the White House is asking the NYT for a retraction of part of its report today that suggests four WH attorneys discussed possible destruction of the CIA tapes. Emptywheel has more here. We’ll post more on this as we get confirmation and details. The Hill reports (h/t Elliot) that the WH wants the Times to change a sub-headline that appears in the print version (but not on-line version):

At issue is the story’s sub-headline that stated: “White House Role Was Wider Than It Said.” The White House called this sub-headline inaccurate and demanded that it be corrected.

. . . .

US reporting on General Musharraf’s suspension of Pakistan’s Constitution and displacement of its Supreme Court focused on Musharraf’s desire to remain in office. Musharraf also claimed the Court had undermined his fight against terrorism. But today’s New York Times reveals that Musharraf also had the same motives the Bush Administration has in preventing their respective illegal detention programs from seeing the light of day or facing judicial scrutiny.

Today’s article by reporter Carlotta Gall reveals that in apparent cooperation with US CIA and other officials, Musharraf had, long before his recent emergency actions, arrested hundreds, perhaps thousands of Pakistanis and detained them in secret prisons without charges. Some of the detainees were then rendered by US agents into Afghanistan, other countries, or Guantanamo, where some still languish without charges.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, apparently trying to avoid acknowledging an elaborate secret detention system, have quietly set free nearly 100 men suspected of links to terrorism, few of whom were charged, human rights groups and lawyers here say.

Those released, they say, are some of the nearly 500 Pakistanis presumed to have disappeared into the hands of the Pakistani intelligence agencies cooperating with Washington’s fight against terrorism since 2001.

The US version of the role of the Pakistani Supreme Court has sometimes portrayed the Chief Justice as arbitrarily releasing terrorists. But the Times article reveals that the Pakistani Chief Justice began looking into the cases of hundreds of "disappeared" Pakistanis, forcing the government to reveal who was being held, where, and under what charges. And the judicial exposure was forcing the Musharraf government to secretly release the discovered detainees for whom no charges could be found so as to avoid further publicity and judicial scrutiny.

While Mr. Musharraf criticized the court as being soft on terrorists, court records show that Mr. Chaudhry was less interested in releasing terrorism suspects than in making sure their cases entered the court system.

He said at each hearing that his primary concern was for the families of the missing, who were suffering anguish not knowing where their loved ones were.

His main aim was to regularize the detention of the missing, not to free them, Mr. Siddiqui said. “Not a single person who was convicted was released on the Supreme Court’s order,” he said.

Detainees have been warned on their release not to speak to anyone about their detention, yet fragments of their experiences have filtered out through relatives and their lawyers. A few even appeared in court and told their stories, and it became increasingly clear that the “disappeared” men had in fact been held in military or intelligence agency cells around the country, often for several years without being charged.


In some cases, detainees recounted that they had been interrogated in the presence of English-speaking foreigners, who human rights officials and lawyers suspect are Americans.

A United States Embassy spokeswoman said she could not comment on the allegations and referred all questions to Washington. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Mansfield, declined to comment on Mr. Rehman’s accusations, or on any specific detainees.

Sound familiar? A lawless government engages in unlawful arrests; people just disappear and are held in secret prisons for years, without charges; supporters of the law try to create access to the judicial system, but the executive does everything it can to prevent access to the courts; the system is designed to evade habeas corpus. And then when pressed, the regime sets up a secret, military court system with minimal rights outside the normal law:

As more and more such accounts have come to light, President Musharraf has fought vigorously to keep the details of Pakistan’s secret detentions hidden.

A week into emergency rule, he passed a decree amending the 1952 Army Act to allow civilians to be tried by military tribunals for general offenses. The tribunals are closed to the public and offer no right of appeal.

While Mitt Romney calls for doubling Guantanamo and demands Huckabee apologize for criticizing our President, we might ask both men to explain the ethical and legal distinctions between Pakistan under Musharraf and what used to be my country under the Bush/Cheney regime. The answers should reveal a lot. Cartoonist Lee Judge, KC Star, captures it well. (h/t Peterr)

And now we know why the Bush/Cheney regime had only muted criticism of Musharraf’s recent overthrow of Pakistan’s constitution. Dictators behave the same everywhere.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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