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Prisoners of the War on Terror

by JUDY BELLO

Hundreds of prisoners of the US War of  Terror languish in prisons around the world, in Guantanamo and on the US mainland.  Some have been there as long as 12 years   some have sentences that extend beyond the span of their life; many have never been charged with a crime and more than half the prisoners who remain in Guantanamo have had their original charges dropped or have served their full sentence, but are barred by US law from being repatriated to their homeland, therefore can not be released.  Even the few prisoners in Guantanamo who are considered ‘high value’ are mostly charged with thought crimes, plans that were never carried out in any significant detail.  In many cases, the leads that initially brought them to the attention of the FBI or CIA have proved to be inaccurate.

Amina Masood Janjua  is a Pakistani woman whose husband was abducted from the streets of Rawalpindi by Pakistani President Musharraf’s thugs shortly after 9/11.   Masood Janjua was an honest citizen going about his business, and his wife has been looking for him ever since.  He wasn’t the only one picked up this way, but his wife Amina was the one who started an organization to advocate for the hundreds of men disappeared in Pakistan after 911.  In the early days of the War on Terror, hundreds of men were pulled from the streets and countryside of Pakistan to feed the US government’s insatiable appetite for Terrorists.   Some were sent directly to Guantanamo; some were moved here and there before being sent to Guantanamo;  some were deposited more or less permanently in one of several prisons at the US base in Bagram, in a secret prison in Pakistan or somewhere else  in Libya, Syria, Thailand elsewhere into a secret array of American prisons.  Teenagers have been picked up on the Afghan border and sold to ‘the Americans’ as terrorists, who must have figured out it wasn’t true in some cases because 50 of them remain in the Bagram prison  though after 5-10 years they have never been charged with a crime.

And then there are the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in Pakistan, subject to ongoing surveillance, missile strikes and bombings by U.S. Predator drones.   The FATA is something like a combination of Pine Ridge Reservation with Gaza.     Indigenous peoples who live there have, since the British Raj, been allowed to keep their tribal culture and their ‘sovereignty’ in exchange for giving up their rights as citizens of Pakistan.  They are governed by a Federal Agent who makes final decisions on the distribution of social resources, food, medicine and guns, and who oversees the tribal justice system with the power to intervene at any time,  pass judgement on any individual and determine a sentence.   Currently, due to the ongoing violence that has spilled over from the Afghan war (Taliban on the ground and drone strikes from above), citizens of Pakistan from outside the region are not permitted to enter the FATA region, and those who live there cannot leave without passing through government checkpoints.  Not surprisingly, they are generally apprehended by their fellow countrymen with fear and loathing, and pity.

One hundred and sixty six men remain in Guantanamo.    There are a handful of  so called ‘high value’ prisoners whose cases are deemed to be related to actual terrorist attacks.   But all were severely tortured at secret prisons when first detained, and a number of them have cases based on crimes that were nothing more than loose talk, association with the wrong people and/or claims that are clearly contradicted by the evidence that has unfolded while they were in custody.  Eighty Six of them have been cleared for release, but are retained in detention for political reasons.   At least 28, but possibly over 100 of the prisoners are on a life threatening hunger strike.  They are choosing death over spending the rest of their lives in torment.    At this time, 11 are being force-fed.  Even death is denied them.  Their lawyers, who complained on their behalf, have been denied access to them.  Non-military flights to Guantanamo have been canceled.  The office created by Obama in the early days of his presidency to close Guantanamo has itself been closed, and new monies allocated to expanding the Guantanamo Prison facilities.

In the US ‘homeland’, Muslims, including immigrants and African Americans from impoverished neighborhoods; people who are naive, ignorant, immature, along with recent immigrants whose cultural habits and political stances do not fit a jingoistic standard of normalcy and patriotism, are accused of thought crimes or manipulated into participating in fake crimes after being targeted for sting operations that resemble the cons used to part old people, the disabled or other potentially needy or naive people from their money, then incarcerated with lengthy sentences made possible by a so called ‘terrorism enhancement’ to whatever ‘crime’ they are alleged to have committed.

Men like Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Northern Iraq, have been targeted due to possible social contacts made in their home countries and imprisoned for long periods of time despite having committed no crime.  Yassin’s name and phone number were found in a private phone book  picked up in ‘terrorist hideout’ near his home town after it was bombed by American forces during the Iraq War.   Could someone there have known him?  Of course, this is a land of small villages where everyone is connected one way or the other.  Like many college students, Yassin worked for a political organization which promised sovereignty for his Kurdish homeland, a popular stance in Kurdistan, particularly after the scorched earth policies of Saddam Hussein in the region.  Yassin gave rides once or twice to a man who was later designate a ‘terrorist’ by the US government.

Meanwhile dozens of  immigrants and poor African Americans, who constitute the majority of indigenous Muslims in this country,   have been targeted, manipulated into committing  or attempting to commit a crime, then imprisoned as terrorists.  Men desperate or naive enough to take a provocateur’s bait, are conned and confused and recorded for the convenience of the courts by provocateurs who profit handsomely from their work.   The provocateurs, often petty criminals, are bankrolled by the FBI, moved from job to job when they are successful and absolved of any prior or concurrent crimes they may commit, not a bad deal for a sociopath with a criminal record and a taste for good living.

***

In one unusual case, a Pakistani National named Aafia Siddiqui, a woman who had lived in the US for more than 10 years during which she earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (the physical underpinnings of learning), was abducted in Pakistan near her parents home where she had been staying and incarcerated somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, later released in the Afghan city of Ghazni, only to be immediately rearrested, was later convicted of a crime that she may or may not have committed in attempting to escape after the second arrest.  I say ‘may or may not have committed’ because the testimony against her is not corroborated by a single iota of material evidence.  The original charges against her date back to a time shortly preceding her arrest in Pakistan seem to be based on the testimony one or more high profile 9/11 suspects who may have met her at some point or may have been told her name by their interrogators, and the testimony of an abusive ex-husband.

Saturday, March 30th, was the anniversary of  Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s initial abduction.   There is a lot of mystery around this event, and the American Government persists in denying they held her for the 5 years that she was missing.   However,  Aafia Siddiqui had her 3 young children with her at the time of their abduction.   When the middle child, Miriam, who was 4 years old at the time of her abduction, was dropped off near her mother’s family home in Karachi shortly after the time of her trial, she spoke only American English.   The older boy, 6 or 7 at the time of his abduction, was with her Dr. Siddiqui when she was arrested the 2nd time in Ghazni, but she did not appear to recognize him.   He too is now living with his Grandmother and Aunt in Karachi.   He has required special support to deal with with traumatic memories of years in prisons, and has needed surgeries to realign his hips, dislocated and misaligned due to long periods in restraints during a time of rapid growth.  The baby, less only a few months old at the time of their disappearance in March 2003, has not been seen since.

The U.S. authorities adamantly deny having custody of Dr. Siddiqui prior to her arrest in Ghazni in 2008.   However, they also contend that, after being shot and mortally wounded by U.S. soldiers (in self defense), she unleashed a verbal torrent off vulgar anti-American expletives in English, wherein the word “F*#!” appeared more than once.  This, admittedly unseemly, behavior would seem very odd if she really had not been in the company of Americans for the previous 5 years.  Had she been in hiding in a remote Baloch village with the womenfolk, or dealing daily with conservative Islamist clerics, plotting the ruin of the United States, a country where she had lived for most of her adult life, and where, if not a citizen, she was engaged in numerous good works and charitable projects, where, in fact, she is accused of wanting to convert as many people as possible to her beloved Islam, would she have the habit of expressing outrage in the common vernacular of the United States?

There were a number of psychological analyses prior to Dr. Siddiqui’s trial because of her paranoia and inability to relate appropriately to her surroundings. Initially, she was declared incompetent to stand trial but later, based on new testimony and the reversal of the state  psychologist’s initial report the decision was set aside.  The psychologist who changed his mind testified that after he saw the government denial that they had ever held her, he came to the conclusion that she was a malingerer rather than a person suffering severe PTSD, as in his initial conclusion. Dr. Siddiqui’s family and her lawyers all firmly believe her story.     Evidence, including the return of her daughter and and some memories that her son has, along with testimony by the Pakistani government official responsible for her initial abduction,  has emerged to support her claims.   He expresses regret for ordering the abduction.

Dr. Siddiqui was convicted by a jury on all counts but without premeditation.  And yet, the judge sentenced her with the ‘terrorism enhancement’ to 86 years, more than the future length of her life for crimes that would normally entail a 10-12 year sentence.  The chain of accusations on which the terrorism enhancement was based were not clearly articulated in court as charges, and therefore could not be challenged.   Dr.  Siddiqui is currently incarcerated in Carswell Medical Center in Texas, a hospital prison with a  record of patient abuse.  Letters sent to her are returned. Calls are not received.

The prison says that Dr. Siddiqui refuses all of her mail and her phone calls.   Given her state of despair at the time of her conviction, it is possible this is true.  However, it would seem a questionable in light of the way the mental health issues were handled at her trial.   A healthy person would not refuse all mail and phone calls.  If she is psychologically disturbed enough to be doing that, then she should not have been deemed competent to stand trial at that time as she was not malingering.   Even if she were disturbed at the time of her trial, a retreat from all outside contact would indicate a deterioration in her condition and an environment not conducive to the restoration of  her mental health.   I suppose a sentence in a mental hospital  that lasts as long as twice your remaining lifespan  would fit that description, but is it not a cruel and unusual punishment?  And then again, maybe they are stretching the truth to hide a different kind of cruel and unusual treatment.

***

Nearly twelve years have passed since 9/11/01 when the US began building the myth of a fanatical gang of international terrorists targeting the United States with mayhem and murder.   After seven years of fear and loathing, a new president came into office on a wave of hope.  Yet, Guantanamo is still open for business and the remaining residents are farther than ever from release, as are most of the CIA Black Sites.  Rendering of prisoners is rare, but the program still exists.  U.S. Drone attacks in the FATA have increased exponentially, while only a handful of the ‘disappeared’ in Pakistan have been restored to their families.  When Bagram is returned to the Afghans, the unindicted Pakistani youth will remain in the custody of their American jailers.  New cases based on FBI sting operations arise regularly heard in the Federal Courts resulting in convictions and unusually lengthy sentences, often in Communication Management Units where the prisoners are held in virtual solitary confinement at locations far removed from their families.    The  Obama  White House recently released formal justifications for executing American citizens without trial.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui remains in Carswell FMC where she has been joined by Lynne Stewart, a 73 year old America lawyer who has selflessly defended the poor and the disenfranchised and those who have been fodder for the FBI terrorist franchise throughout her career.   Lynne Stewart, convicted of a technical legal violation in her defense of one of her clients, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.  Currently, she is suffering from stage 4 cancer, but the authorities say she cannot have a ‘compassionate release’ for treatment.  It will only be available when they are sure she is going to die within a few months.   I guess it is an equal opportunity victory that at least 2 women have joined the thousands of men tortured and persecuted in this War of Terror.

But here in the land of democracy and freedom, where we preach about opportunity for all, where we righteously condemn other countries for unequal treatment of women, where we talk endlessly about freedom and justice, it’s time we take a look at what is really going on and who we really are.  Perhaps then we will set aside ‘hope’ and start thinking about active change.  Until then we are all prisoners of The War on Terror.

Judy Bello is currently a full time activist thanks to the harsh and unforgiving work environment in the Software Development Industry. Finally free to focus on her own interests in her home office, she is active with The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, and with Fellowship of Reconciliation Middle East Task Force and often posts on their blog at http://forusa.org. She has been to Iran twice with FOR Peace Delegations, and spent a month in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya in 2009. Her personal blog, Towards a Global Perspective, is at http://blog.papillonweb.net and she is administers the Upstate anti-Drone Coalition website at http://upstatedroneaction.org. She can be reached at: jb.papillonweb@gmail.com

Judith Bello is a long time peace and justice activist who blogs at The Deconstructed Globe.     She is a charter member of  The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which is a statewide organization that is in a confrontation with Hancock Air National Guard Base to end their piloting of Reaper drones over Afghanistan and the use of  weaponized drones for targeted killing around the world.   She administers the website for the Upstate Coalition, along with the websites for several other peace and justice organizations.  Offline, she lives in a suburb of Rochester, NY.

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