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Tina Monshipour Foster, 34, is a New York-based lawyer who began representing Guantanamo inmates in 2005. She realized that many of them had spent time in Bagram prison and had been seriously abused there. In 2005, she travelled to Afghanistan for the first time. There, she met hundreds of relatives of Bagram inmates who asked why the world was interested in Guantanamo but nobody seemed to care about abuses at Bagram. Since then she has worked exclusively with Bagram detainees.
Human Rights Lawyer on Bagram Prison
SPIEGEL: Right after taking office, US President Barack Obama announced his plan to close Guantanamo. It looked like he would reverse the human rights policies of the Bush administration. Will the detainees the US military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan now be given legal rights?
Foster: Unfortunately, the US government did not change its position on Bagram when Obama took office. The government still claims that our clients are not entitled to any legal protections under US law. It maintains that even those individuals who they brought to Bagram from other countries, and have held without charge for more than six years, are still not entitled to speak with their attorney, and they are arguing now that they are not entitled to have their cases heard in US courts.
SPIEGEL: But there has been an important legal decision stating that detainees in Bagram have the right to legal representation.
Foster: The April 2 decision of Judge John D. Bates, a George Bush appointee, was that our clients were entitled to have their cases reviewed by the court. That was a huge success.
SPIEGEL: Is the Obama administration complying with the Bates decision in providing each detainee a representative?
Foster: Before we could present any evidence or proceed in their cases, the Obama administration appealed the decision to the court of appeals, and is now arguing that it should be overturned. The announcement was intended to generate a positive media spin on the “new” procedures at Bagram, which were announced at this time because the government’s filing in the court of appeals was due the following day. If you look at the actual procedures, you will see that the detainees will not be given any legal representation. Instead, the Department of Defense is saying that it will send non-lawyer “representatives” to question the detainees and look into their cases. Those individuals are not officers of the court, and have no duty of confidentiality or loyalty to the detainee.
SPIEGEL: But what then is the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations?
Foster: There is absolutely no difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration’s position with respect to Bagram detainees’ rights. They have made much ado about nothing, in the hope that the courts and the public will not examine the issue more closely.
SPIEGEL: Is it true that the human rights situation has gotten much better at Bagram in the last 18 months?
Foster: Some of our clients have been at Bagram since its early days, and they still are not being told what the charges are against them, or given the ability to challenge those allegations in any fair legal proceeding. Moreover, several of our clients were brought to Bagram from outside of Afghanistan. For example, Amin Al Bakri — a Yemeni gem trader who was kidnapped while on a business trip in Thailand, rendered to secret prisons, tortured and finally ended up at Bagram — is still being held incommunicado and without access to his attorneys. We believe he was tortured in CIA secret prisons before being transferred to Bagram, which is why I believe the government does not want to allow us to speak with him. It’s a cover up. Amin has been at Bagram for more than six years. It’s hard to imagine any other reason why the government would not allow him a simple hearing in a US court.
SPIEGEL: What about the case of Jawed Ahmad, which received a certain amount of media coverage?
Foster: Our client Jawed “Jojo” Ahmad was a young journalist working for the Canadian television network CTV. He was also taken into custody by the military and held without charge for more than a year before the US government finally released him. This all happened in 2007-2008 — in other words, fairly recently. That “mistake” by the US government cost Jojo his life. We were eventually able to convince the US government that he was innocent, and happily he was released. Jojo committed his time after he got out of prison to exposing other injustices at Bagram and beyond in Afghanistan. He helped us with the cases of other innocent people who are currently being held at Bagram, and was essentially our star witness in this litigation. This was all cut short earlier this year, when Jojo was shot and killed in broad daylight. His assassins have never been identified. It was one of the most terrible moments of my life. He was a great person and a friend.
SPIEGEL: Can you compare the human rights situation in Bagram with that in Guantanamo?
Foster: What most people don’t realize is that Bagram has always been far worse than Guantanamo. One thing that has not been stressed enough in media accounts regarding Guantanamo is that much of the abuse that the Guantanamo prisoners suffered actually happened at Bagram. Many of our former clients were subjected to sexual humiliation and assault akin to Abu Ghraib-style torture. In terms of torture and abuse, Bagram has a far worse history than Guantanamo. There are at least two detainees who died there after being tortured by US interrogators. One of them was strung up by interrogators by his wrists, and then beaten until his legs were “pulpified,” according to the military’s own autopsy report. Our clients who have been released more recently report exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation and other torture that is still ongoing. Bagram has always been a torture chamber — there is no way that the United States will ever be able to rid it of that reputation unless it discontinues the practice of holding detainees incommunicado and in secret.
SPIEGEL: Major General Douglas M. Stone, who was charged to investigate Bagram, has been quoting as saying that many of the detainees in Bagram are innocent.
Foster: I think General Stone’s report confirms what we have learned over the years from our clients — most of the people at Bagram are being imprisoned unjustly. General Stone reviewed the military’s own records and determined that, of the 600 current detainees at Bagram, there are 400 innocent people that the US government should not be detaining. It’s obvious that the procedures that the military is using to determine who to imprison and who to release are completely flawed. What is completely baffling is why these 400 innocent individuals have not been released. It doesn’t make sense to hold innocent people in our custody — it’s completely counterproductive and undermines the entire war effort.
SPIEGEL: You worked on the Obama campaign last year. Do you regret that now?
Foster: I voted and campaigned for Obama, like all the other folks here in the US who wanted to see this country recover from the illegal and unjust policies of the Bush administration. When I heard Obama’s announcement to close Guantanamo, I breathed a sigh of relief that perhaps this extremely ugly chapter of American history was finally being put to an end. Unfortunately, since then, the Obama administration has completely failed in delivering the change that was promised. For a time, we believed that perhaps it would just take the new administration time to shift its policies. The reality is that the Bush and the Obama administrations have the same position on the rights of detainees in Bagram.
Interview conducted by John Goetz
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in New York today to appear in front of the UN General Assembly and conduct negotiations with his US counterpart Barack Obama.
One may presume that the two leaders will pay special attention to the recent decision of the US administration to shelve missile defense system plans in Poland and the Czech Republic and discuss the drastic changes of the US approach to the issue on the whole.
Medvedev stated shortly before the visit to the United States that Mr. Obama’s decision was obviously a positive sign. The Russian president added that Russia would listen to the USA once the USA listened to Russia. At the same time, Medvedev said that Russia would not be making primitive compromises. He emphasized that the missile defense system must be created though international, not individual effort.
Needless to say that the United States is not ready for it. Moreover, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said September 20 that Obama’s decision was not a concession that the USA had made to Russia.
Obama stated later that the new plans would become an advantage to Russia only if she conducts a much closer cooperation with the USA on the Iranian nuclear program.
Nevertheless, the new missile defense plans of the United States may still contain a significant threat for Russia.
“In the first phase, to be completed by 2011, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles – weapons that are growing in capability – in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe,” Gates wrote in his essay.
“The second phase, which will become operational around 2015, will involve putting upgraded SM-3s on the ground in Southern and Central Europe. All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3 missiles, as opposed to the old plan of just 10 ground-based interceptors. This will be a far more effective defense should an enemy fire many missiles simultaneously – the kind of attack most likely to occur as Iran continues to build and deploy numerous short- and medium-range weapons,” he continued.
Therefore, the USA will use dozens of SM-3 missiles instead of only ten interceptor missiles that were stipulated in the previous missile defense program. In addition, the radar station, which was supposed to be deployed in the Czech Republic, will be replaced with air-based, sea-based and ground-based detectors.
“The new approach to European missile defense actually provides us with greater flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede. Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what we are doing,” Gates concluded.
It just so happens that the new concept of missile defense system in Europe is not a concession to Russia at all. The new system, which Robert Gates described, can be a lot more dangerous than what George W. Bush was intended to make.
Let’s take a closer look at the new plans of the US administration. At least two or three cruisers and destroyers with SM-3 missiles on board will be patrolling the European waters of the North and the Mediterranean Seas from 2011.
The vessels will provide the missile shield for Europe for the period until the USA and its allies finish the deployment of the ground-based missile defense system (SM-3 missile launching systems) on the continent.
One vessel equipped with the Aegis system is capable of taking up to 100 SM-3 missiles on board. A Ticonderoga class cruiser of the US Navy has 122 containers with missiles installed in the vertical launching systems. The Arleigh Burke destroyers may have 90 and 96 containers. Eighteen of 80 vessels (equipped with the Aegis system) of the US navy are currently fit to fulfill the missile defense tasks. Sixteen of those vessels are based on the Pacific regions.
The Aegis system is a state-of-the-art integrated naval weapons system. Ticonderoga cruisers and Burke destroyers are capable of detecting, tracking and destroying hundreds of air, ground and surface targets with the help of this system.
The SM-3 missile (Standard Missile-3) is a ship-based anti-ballistic missile used by the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. The 500-km range missile is 6.55m long and 0.34m in diameter.
The US initiative also contains a geographical constituent. Albania, a Balkan state, or Turkey are already being evaluated as possible locations for the ground-based elements of the missile defense system.
Turkey is an influential regional state. Therefore, building the system in Turkey would mean great success for the White House. Turkey, just like the Balkans, is situated very close to Russia.
George W. Bush was outspoken in his intentions. His policies evoked irritation and rejection. Obama’s administration is more diplomatic. However, Russia should not underestimate the danger that might be hidden in the new missile defense doctrine.
For the poor in every country, it is always about having no water, women and children carrying pots long distances to bring water.
I see it as a symbol of how globalization promises so much economically, but impoverishes us by stealing our soul. Right now, the culture of globalization is more about having stuff just for pleasure, hedonism, and power.” Rosa Chavez called this a ”diabolical cycle.” Many Salvadorans fled the instability at our hands to work in the United States at high legal risk, often on dangerous jobs and at poverty wages to provide the high life for Americans and a higher life for Salvadorans at home. ”Globalization might help some people,” Rosa Chavez said, ”but we also have Salvadorans in the US who never buy new clothes, go to the worst schools, and who send money home to people who purchase the most expensive shoes, and shop for the biggest televisions in the malls in El Salvador. It ends up being poor dollars sent by poor people, and for what?” – Derrick Jackson
Published on Saturday, April 29, 2006 by the Boston Globe
by Derrick Z. Jackson
When the US-backed government and military of El Salvador brutally repressed their people in the 1980-92 civil war that took 75,000 lives, Gregorio Rosa Chavez was one of those who pleaded to the outside world, ”We don’t need bullets; we need beans.”
Today, he still pleads for the beans.
To understand why, one can start with a 2003 article by the US Department of Agriculture, titled ”El Salvador Offers a Balmy Climate for US Agricultural Exports.” Written as the United States pushed for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it said, ”Some 20 percent of El Salvador’s population regularly purchases US food items. . . . With more women joining the labor force and fewer domestic employees to assist in food preparation, the demand for convenience and fast foods is increasing. . . .
”Generally, people living in urban areas consume more bread and meats than tortillas and beans. Urban Salvadorans are very familiar with US-style food, and most US fast-food franchises have outlets in El Salvador. Food courts in shopping malls are popular and viewed as a perfect place to socialize. . . . US foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers are preferred by the younger generation.”
Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, said this is not his idea of globalization.
”It is taking away our identity,” he said last week in Cambridge, where he received an award from the Latino immigration advocacy group Centro Presente. He spoke through an interpreter. ”I talked to a girl recently who was born in the US but whose parents are from El Salvador. She told me that she felt at home on her first visit to El Salvador because she saw McDonald’s. I see it as a symbol of how globalization promises so much economically, but impoverishes us by stealing our soul. Right now, the culture of globalization is more about having stuff just for pleasure, hedonism, and power.”
El Salvador was the first nation to implement CAFTA, which was not surprising because of our continued long reach into its affairs. It has adopted the dollar as its national currency. President Tony Saca won office in 2004 with haunting support from the United States. US envoy Otto Reich — notorious for his covert propaganda in Iran-Contra — warned Salvadoran journalists that he was ”concerned” what a leftist presidency would do to the ”economic, commercial, and migratory relations with the United States.”
El Salvador is the last Latin American nation to still have troops in Iraq, 380 of them. Its reward is an invasion of American agriculture. Under CAFTA, tariffs are eliminated on one of the staples of fast food, frozen fries. Tariffs on red beans, black beans, and peas will be phased out over 15 years. ”We are going to have many peasants who do traditional Salvadoran farming who will be driven off their farms and forced into factories because of American goods,” Rosa Chavez said.
In return, President Bush says Salvadorans will benefit with cheaper and better US goods and industrial investments. But 48 percent of the people remain in poverty, the cost of living has gone up, and the gap between rich and poor is widening, according to data from the Congressional Research Service and even the US Agency for International Development. That poverty would be worse if Salvadorans were not receiving nearly $3 billion a year in remittances from relatives in the United States. That cash accounts for 17 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, according to the State Department.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 28 percent of adults in El Salvador receive remittances from the United States. During the civil war, the United States spent an average of about $500 million a year to prop up a regime that a United Nations-sponsored truth commission judged responsible for 85 percent of the deaths. Today, we give a mere $40 million a year to help that country come to life.
Rosa Chavez called this a ”diabolical cycle.” Many Salvadorans fled the instability at our hands to work in the United States at high legal risk, often on dangerous jobs and at poverty wages to provide the high life for Americans and a higher life for Salvadorans at home.
”Globalization might help some people,” Rosa Chavez said, ”but we also have Salvadorans in the US who never buy new clothes, go to the worst schools, and who send money home to people who purchase the most expensive shoes, and shop for the biggest televisions in the malls in El Salvador. It ends up being poor dollars sent by poor people, and for what?”
Adding to the frustration, according to officials in Kabul and Washington, are White House and Pentagon directives made over the last six weeks that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, not submit his request for as many as 45,000 additional troops because the administration isn’t ready for it.In the last two weeks, top administration leaders have suggested that more American troops will be sent to Afghanistan, and then called that suggestion “premature.” Earlier this month, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “time is not on our side”; on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the public “to take a deep breath.”
In Kabul, some members of McChrystal’s staff said they don’t understand why Obama called Afghanistan a “war of necessity” but still hasn’t given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.
Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he’d stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.
“Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”
On Thursday, Gates danced around the question of when the administration would be ready to receive McChrystal’s request, which was completed in late August. “We’re working through the process by which we want that submitted,” he said.
The entire process followed by the military in implementing a change of course in Afghanistan is far different, and bizarrely so, from the process it followed in changing strategy in Iraq.
For Afghanistan, the process to decide on a course change began in March of this year, when Bruce Reidel was tasked to assess the situation. This produced the much-heralded yet vague “AfPak” assessment. Then, in May, General David McKiernan was fired and replaced by General McChrystal, who took command in June. General McChrystal’s assessment hit President Obama’s desk at the end of August, almost three months after he took command. And yet now in the last half of September, the decision on additional forces has yet to be submitted to the administration.
Contrast this with Iraq in the fall of 2006. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was fired just one day after the elections in early November. The Keane-Kagan plan for Iraq was submitted to President Bush shortly afterward, and encompassed both the assessment of the situation and the recommended course of action, including the recommended number of troops to be deployed to deal with the situation. General David Petraeus replaced General George Casey in early February 2007, and hit the ground running; the surge strategy was in place, troops were being mustered to deploy to Iraq, and commanders on the ground were preparing for and executing the new orders. The first of the surge units began to arrive in Iraq only weeks later, in March.
Today, the military is perceiving that the administration is punting the question of a troop increase in Afghanistan, and the military is even questioning the administration’s commitment to succeed in Afghanistan. The leaking of the assessment and the report that McChrystal would resign if he is not given what is needed to succeed constitute some very public pushback against the administration’s waffling on Afghanistan.