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Incinerating Korans, Night Raids, Bagram = Hearts and Minds

I realize that bringing this story may seem like snatching low-hanging fruit and throwing at you, but yesterday I did find that the (ahem) evolving stories told by the US and ISAF officials were interesting, but the obfuscations and lies probably meant more to me after having written ‘Never Move in a Tactical Fashion…’ the other day.

My guess is that there isn’t a soul here who believes anything other than what ‘we’ are doing to nations in the ME and too many other places around the world is anything but hideous, and that these chickens are indeed already coming home to roost: we are hated and feared over much of the planet, and ‘we’ are creating enemies almost exponentially by each sick and barbaric deed ‘we’ commit.

Some of this anchor’s euphemisms are irritating, or worse, but at least a little more of the truth is surfacing now.  BBC News had more this morning on the six dead as protests swell.

Different  narratives will work their ways through the various media reports, and through the Muslim world at large, so I’ll give the details a pass.  We’re too used to ‘So sorry’, ‘we’ll investigate, ‘oops; inadvertent’ declarations from ‘our side’, or Karzai’s ‘values of Islam once again degraded’ songs to even register them by now.

But this new outrage is a good opportunity to give a larger context to the recently leaked report that things just aren’t going very well for the US and ISAF there, though that no-duh information is even surprising, except for the one-liner about the Taliban being ‘poised to take over’ once ‘our troops leave in 2014’.  Emptywheel assesses the leaks to the BBC, probably rightly, as military officials wanting to make sure ‘we’ remain in Afghanistan even longer.

Now, Americans and the MSM can pretend to believe that ‘we’ are leaving in there in 2014 (two more years???), but that’s another charade.  Obama did announce in his recent SOTU that troop withdrawals would allow his military to pivot to the Pacific where we understand that he considers: that’s where the big action will be soon. To back up the new Pacific Rim trade deals he’s promised US military presence, and God knows what he and Hillary imagine about a ‘Chinese threat’; we won’t even go there.  Smaller actions via AFRICOM  in Somalia, Mali…let’s not think Iran for today.

But ‘negotiations’ are underway between Hamid Karzai and Leon Panetta over the shape of the US presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

Gareth Porter reports that what’s not at issue is that ‘our help’ will consist of Joint Special Operations Command forces and ‘air power’, which means…bombs, either delivered from the awesomely newly enlarged Bagram airfield, and…more drones.  Another is night raids…oh, do the Afghanis hate them.  ISAF forces bust in the doors in the small dark hours, and take men away to Bagram Prison.  Some are released after a few days, and some…are never heard from again…just disappeared like vapor into the air.

During the most recent jirga in November, 2011, there was fairly full support for Karzai demanding an end to them, or allowing local forces to round up suspects.  Panetta has said ‘no dice’; Karzai is allegedly holding firm.  But here’s the thing: even Karzai gets that his rule will likely end once ‘our’ military can’t hold back the tide of Taliban, local militias from the North and others fight for control of the country, or even divide it up eventually.

Playing hardball even further, Panetta apparently indicated that unless Karzai backed on his demand to end the raids, ‘the US could leave even before 2014’.  Porter writes that the issue might give Karzai a little leverage to demand that if he holds firm, the Taliban end suicide bombing, the planting of mines, and renounce Al Qaeda.

From Porter:

“Meanwhile, popular Afghan anger at U.S. night raids has continued to grow as the pace of those raids has risen steeply in recent years and thousands of families still suffer the consequences of long-term detention because of the raids.

Haji-Niaz Akka, 48, a shopkeeper in Kandahar City, told IPS about a 2 a.m. raid on his home almost eight months ago in which U.S. forces tied up all four males in the house and took them away. Two of them were released two days later, but the other two, his nephew and son-in-law, were taken to Bagram Airfield and remain in detention.

“These night raids violate our customs,” Akka said, expressing a common Afghan view. “It’s better to be killed than to be searched at night while sleeping with [one’s] wife and kids. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Bagram.  O, Bagram.  Another sticky wicket in the SOFA negotiations.  You may remember that a year or more ago, when Congress appropriated funds to enormously enlarge the airfield and other facilities, including the Parwan Detention Center (cute euphemism, yes?) at Bagram, the US announced it would be turned over the Afghan government.  Turned out…it wasn’t, and the timing is an issue.  Karzai wants it now.  Our friend Victoria Nuland at the State Department says:

“We need to do this in a manner that is maximally responsible. That’s what we want to do. And we’re going to… keep working on it.”  Hard work.

Bagram Nightmares must haunt the Afghan population; reports of torture and mistreatment abound, and there are even dark names given to different sections of the prison, whispered among the people in horror and loathing.

From Al Junnah on Jan. 8, 2012:

In a new report, “Afghan investigators have accused the US Army of abusing detainees at its main prison in the country, saying inmates had reported being tortured and held without evidence.  The findings come days after President Hamid Karzai called for the facility at Bagram air base to be handed over to Afghan control within a month.

The US says it will examine the claims.  “We take seriously and investigate all allegations of detainee abuse,” a spokesman for the US embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said.

The head of the commission investigating abuse accusations, Gul Rahman Qazi, said prisoners had complained of abuse including beatings, humiliating body searches and being exposed to extreme cold.

“During our visit to Bagram some of the prisoners talked of misconduct, some alleged they had been tortured,” he told a news conference in Kabul.”

From, a little more:

“Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that cases of abuse in the Bagram prison pre-dated and inspired torture techniques employed in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq. Military prosecutor Stuart Couch said “the Bagram facility made Guantanamo look like a nice hotel.” The continued allegations of torture at the Bagram base make a mockery of President Obama’s much vaunted words

“that under my administration the United States does not torture.” (MSNBC)

The U.S. is not alone in torturing prisoners in Afghanistan. The British also stand accused after claims made by detainees from Muthana prison, where abuse and torture was described as “routine and systematic” by Human Rights Watch. Mutahana was closed following revelations of torture that included electric shocks, sodomy, and suffocation.”

Johann Hari writing at The Independent spoke of Obama’s secret network of prisons in Feb. 2010.  We have been encouraged to think all this has ended, but it’s seriously haard to believe.

After quoting Campaign Obama promising to shutdown Bush’s network and end kidnappings, and showing how Obama has instead increased them (and this was two years ago, mind you.  Hari told some stories of Afghanis ‘vanished’ after night raids by ISAF/JSOC forces:

“Where are all these men vanishing to? Obama ordered the closing of the CIA’s secret prisons, but not those run by Joint Special Operations. They maintain a Bermuda Triangle of jails with the notorious Bagram Air Base at its centre. One of the few outsiders has been into this ex-Soviet air-hangar is the military prosecutor Stuart Couch. He says: “In my view, having visited Guantanamo several times, the Bagram facility made Guantanamo look like a nice hotel. The men did not appear to be able to move around at will, they mostly sat in rows on the floor. It smelled like the monkey house at the zoo.” [snip]

Today, Bagram is being given a $60m expansion, allowing it to hold five times as many prisoners as Guantanamo Bay currently does. Gopal reports that the abuse is leaking out to other, more secretive sites across Afghanistan. They are so underground they are known only by the names given to them by released inmates – the Salt Pit, the Prison of Darkness. Obama also asserts his right to hand over the prisoners to countries that commit torture, provided they give a written “assurance” they won’t be “abused” – assurances that have proved worthless in the past. The British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith estimates there are 18,000 people trapped in these “legal black holes” by the US.”

Sigh.  Robert Fisk at The Independent muses in a pretty snippy, bitchy piece about a concert in Lebanon by the man, “’If only Hague and Clinton would listen to Yusuf Islam’…  So rather than trying to suss out the twisted words in his piece…I give you Yusuf.

And God or Allah or any other potentially saving force or collective consciousness…save the world from ‘us’ and our leaders’ darkest angels.

(cross-posted at

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