Study finds ex-Guantanamo prisoners broken

The first extensive study of prisoners released from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, finds that many of them are physically and psychologically traumatized, debt-ridden and shunned in their communities as terrorist suspects.

“I’ve lost my property. I’ve lost my job. I’ve lost my will,” said an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. “I have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the time,” he said. “And I sleep every night in a different mosque.”

The report, “Guantanamo and its Aftermath,” also found that two-thirds of former prisoners interviewed between July 2007 and July 2008 suffered from psychological problems, including nightmares, angry outbursts, withdrawal and depression. [continued…]

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US acknowledges it held 12 juveniles at Guantanamo

The U.S. has revised its count of juveniles ever held at Guantanamo Bay to 12, up from the eight it reported in May to the United Nations, a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday.

The government has provided a corrected report to the U.N. committee on child rights, according to Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon. He said the U.S. did not intentionally misrepresent the number of detainees taken to the isolated Navy base in southeast Cuba before turning 18. [continued…]

Why Guantanamo must be closed: advice for Barack Obama

On Sunday, in his first television interview since winning the Presidential election, Barack Obama repeated his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and to ban the use of torture by US forces. Speaking on 60 Minutes, he explained, “I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantánamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

Ever since Obama began meeting with his transition team, leaks, gossip and rumors concerning the new administration’s plans to close Guantánamo, and the hurdles they will have to surmount, have been filling the airwaves and the front pages of newspapers. In an attempt to separate fact from fiction and to provide useful information to the President-Elect, I’d like to offer my advice, based on the three years I have spent studying Guantánamo in unprecedented detail, as the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the prisoners, and as a commentator and analyst responsible for numerous articles on Guantánamo in the last 18 months. [continued…]

The audacity of patience

The conventional wisdom about the presidency is very much the same as the advice Obama was given in the primaries: Move quickly. Overwhelm the forces of the establishment. Use the momentum of the election to achieve the biggest things possible. You’ll never be more powerful than on Jan. 21.

If Obama ignores this conventional wisdom, he will not do so because he’s crazy or lazy but because he’s taking the same approach to governing as he took to the election. It will mean he’s taking the long view, gambling on patience, and carefully putting into place the pieces that win lasting majorities for progressive policies, just as he won a majority of delegates and a majority of votes in the election.

On the day after the 2004 election, George W. Bush declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” He announced that he would privatize Social Security and revamp the tax system by the following spring. In Bush’s version of the conventional wisdom, the presidency was a rapidly depreciating financial asset, and he had to act quickly.

But Bush was wrong. The error was fatal. The collapse of his own presidency, the Republican brand, and the McCain candidacy can be traced to that moment of macho strutting as surely as to the “Mission Accomplished” moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The fact was Bush had earned no political capital; he had no mandate for the policies he now intended to pursue. All he had won was the raw institutional power of the presidency and control of Congress. He pushed that power further than any president before him, including Richard Nixon. And in doing so, Bush found its limits. The institutional power of the presidency, combined with a compliant one-party Congress, can start wars, enrich predatory capitalism, and destroy long-established norms, but alone it cannot do what Karl Rove aspired to, which was to build a new and lasting political order. That work requires patience and diligence. [continued…]

The case for putting a Mideast peace agreement first

The list of crises facing Obama starts with the economic collapse, Iraq, and Afghanistan. But as he’s said, “A president has to be able to do more than one thing at a time.”

Immediate, high-profile engagement with Israel and the Palestinians would be the clearest proof to frustrated American allies in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that the Bush years of American unilateralism are over. Reaching an agreement would end the tension between American support for Israel and maintaining warm ties with moderate Arab regimes. It would eliminate one of the main causes of anti-Western resentment in the Arab world, reducing the influence both of Iran and of radical Sunni Islamicists.

By acting quickly — addressing the issue before he formally takes office and perhaps in his inaugural address, and by visiting the region early next year — Obama can exploit the awe that his election inspires. A small example: The daily Ha’aretz, normally a frighteningly staid newspaper, covered its entire front page on Nov. 4 with a photo of Obama, one hand held high, facing what looked like a pillar of cloud in the distance, as if he were Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The headline, in English, was “Yes We Can.” In January, Obama will still be a symbol of transformation. If he waits two or three years, he will be a shopworn president. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Anyone who read this article in The Sunday Times would conclude that the decision has already been made. The article opens:

    Barack Obama is to pursue an ambitious peace plan in the Middle East involving the recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, according to sources close to America’s president-elect.
    Obama intends to throw his support behind a 2002 Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League and backed by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister and leader of the ruling Kadima party.

Unfortunately, like a lot of the other headline-grapping reports that The Times comes up with, this seems like a case of reporting possibility as fact.

Tzipi Livni, far from doing what would genuinely be news — backing the Arab peace plan — on Sunday had this message for the incoming administration and its approach to the Middle East: “You don’t need now to do nothing dramatic about it. The situation is calm. We have these peace talks.”

Report suggests Obama press Israel over nuke program

The Middle East is in danger of accumulating large stocks of nuclear material over the next decade that could be used to produce over 1,700 nuclear bombs, a U.S. research center has projected in a newly released report.

The Institute for Science and International Security, headed by David Albright, one the world’s top experts on nuclear weapons and the prevention of nuclear proliferation, recently released its report urging president-elect Barack Obama to take a number of measures to avoid such an outcome, including convincing Israel to halt production of its nuclear weapons.

“The Obama administration should make a key priority of persuading Israel to join the negotiations for a universal, verified treaty that bans the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear explosives, commonly called the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT),” the institute argued. “As an interim step, the United States should press Israel to suspend any production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Toward this goal, the United States should change its relatively new policy of seeking a cutoff treaty that does not include verification. The Bush administration’s rejection of the long-standing U.S. policy of requiring verification was a mistake that the incoming administration needs to rectify.” [continued…]

Hillary vetting includes look at Bill

President-elect Barack Obama’s advisers have begun reviewing former President Bill Clinton’s finances and activities to see whether they would preclude the appointment of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state, Democrats close to the situation said Sunday. [continued…]

Depression 2009: What would it look like?

Over the past few months, Americans have been hearing the word “depression” with unfamiliar and alarming regularity. The financial crisis tearing through Wall Street is routinely described as the worst since the Great Depression, and the recession into which we are sinking looks deep enough, financial commentators warn, that a few poor policy decisions could put us in a depression of our own.

It’s a frightening possibility, but also in many ways an abstraction. The country has gone so long without a depression that it’s hard to know what it would be like to live through one.

Most of us, of course, think we know what a depression looks like. Open a history book and the images will be familiar: mobs at banks and lines at soup kitchens, stockbrokers in suits selling apples on the street, families piled with all their belongings into jalopies. Families scrimp on coffee and flour and sugar, rinsing off tinfoil to reuse it and re-mending their pants and dresses. A desperate government mobilizes legions of the unemployed to build bridges and airports, to blaze trails in national forests, to put on traveling plays and paint social-realist murals.

Today, however, whatever a depression would look like, that’s not it. We are separated from the 1930s by decades of profound economic, technological, and political change, and a modern landscape of scarcity would reflect that.

What, then, would we see instead? And how would we even know a depression had started? It’s not a topic that professional observers of the economy study much. And there’s no single answer, because there’s no one way a depression might unfold. But it’s nonetheless an important question to consider – there’s no way to make informed decisions about the present without understanding, in some detail, the worst-case scenario about the future. [continued…]

How to ground The Street

President-elect Barack Obama will soon face the extraordinary task of saving capitalism from its own excesses, much as Franklin D. Roosevelt had to do 76 years ago. Up until this point in the crisis, policymakers have appropriately applied the rules of triage — Band-Aids and tourniquets, then radical surgery — to keep the global financial system alive. Capital infusions, bailouts, mega-mergers, government guarantees of unimaginable proportions — all have been sought and supported by officials and corporate chief executives who had until now opposed any government participation in the marketplace. But put aside for the moment the ideological cartwheel we have seen and look at the big picture: The rules of modern capitalism have been re-written before our eyes.

The new president’s team must soon get to the root causes of the mistakes that have brought us to the economic precipice. Yes, we have all derided the explosion of leverage, the failure to regulate derivatives, the flood of subprime lending that was bound to default and the excesses of CEO compensation. But these are all mere manifestations of three deeper structural problems that require greater attention: misconceptions about what a “free market” really is, a continuing breakdown in corporate governance and an antiquated and incoherent federal financial regulatory framework.

First, we must confront head-on the pervasive misunderstanding of what constitutes a “free market.” For long stretches of the past 30 years, too many Americans fell prey to the ideology that a free market requires nearly complete deregulation of banks and other financial institutions and a government with a hands-off approach to enforcement. “We can regulate ourselves,” the mantra went. [continued…]

Karzai offers passage to Taliban leader for talks

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, said Sunday that he would guarantee the safety of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if Mr. Omar agreed to negotiate for a peaceful settlement of the worsening conflict in the country.

Mr. Omar, a fugitive with a $10 million American bounty on his head, has been in hiding since the Taliban were toppled from power in 2001, and is believed by Western intelligence agencies to be living somewhere in the region of Quetta in western Pakistan. [continued…]

On the front line in war on Pakistan’s Taliban

Ali Hussein, a sergeant in the Sindh Regiment of the Pakistani Army, peers over the lip of his sandbagged machinegun pit to see the following: a muddy patch of farmland divided into a chaos of individual fields, a row of slender birch trees, a dry river valley and, almost invisible among the trees half a mile away, a village called Khusar. Over his head, shells screech through the air towards its half-dozen mud-walled houses.

A rocket-propelled grenade cracks out in solitary, futile response, leaving a trail of spiralling smoke in the chill dawn air. There is the continual crackle of small-arms fire, the distant thud of a mortar.

Khusar lies in Bajaur, a 500-square- mile jumble of valleys and hills high on Pakistan’s north-western border with Afghanistan. Few outside Pakistan had heard of Bajaur until recently. But now the fighting here – the biggest single clash of conventional forces and Islamic militants anywhere – is being watched closely around the globe.

The battle of Bajaur has huge local and international implications. Locally, it is a critical test for the new Pakistani civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari, the controversial widower of Benazir Bhutto. The recent bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad is thought to be a response to the Bajaur offensive. Regionally, the battle is a chance for the Pakistani Army to rebut allegations that it is dragging its feet in the fight against international extremism. Internationally, the fight is crucial for the 40-nation coalition fighting in Afghanistan. Not only will its result determine who controls the supply route that crosses the Khyber Pass just to its south – where militants hijacked a 60-vehicle Nato convoy last week – but it will also show if the semi-autonomous ‘tribal agencies’ that line the mountainous zones on the Pakistan side of the frontier can be stabilised. It is there that al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban leadership are hiding. Peace in Afghanistan will remain a distant prospect until the frontier is calmed. [continued…]

Operation enduring disaster

Afghanistan has been almost continuously at war for 30 years, longer than both World Wars and the American war in Vietnam combined. Each occupation of the country has mimicked its predecessor. A tiny interval between wars saw the imposition of a malignant social order, the Taliban, with the help of the Pakistani military and the late Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister who approved the Taliban takeover in Kabul.

Over the last two years, the U.S./NATO occupation of that country has run into serious military problems. Given a severe global economic crisis and the election of a new American president — a man separated in style, intellect, and temperament from his predecessor — the possibility of a serious discussion about an exit strategy from the Afghan disaster hovers on the horizon. The predicament the U.S. and its allies find themselves in is not an inescapable one, but a change in policy, if it is to matter, cannot be of the cosmetic variety.

Washington’s hawks will argue that, while bad, the military situation is, in fact, still salvageable. This may be technically accurate, but it would require the carpet-bombing of southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the destruction of scores of villages and small towns, the killing of untold numbers of Pashtuns and the dispatch to the region of at least 200,000 more troops with all their attendant equipment, air, and logistical support. The political consequences of such a course are so dire that even Dick Cheney, the closest thing to Dr. Strangelove that Washington has yet produced, has been uncharacteristically cautious when it comes to suggesting a military solution to the conflict. [continued…]

War on Taliban sparks refugee crisis

Hundreds of thousands of once prosperous Pakistani villagers are stranded in freezing tented refugee camps after being compelled to leave home by their own forces in a ferocious battle against the Taliban along the Afghan border.

Yesterday 300,000 Pakistani men, women and children, many of them driven from farms in the Bajaur region, were sheltering in eight makeshift camps on the outskirts of their nearest city, Peshawar. [continued…]

Pakistan and U.S. have tacit deal on airstrikes

The United States and Pakistan reached tacit agreement in September on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets in rugged western Pakistan, according to senior officials in both countries. In recent months, the U.S. drones have fired missiles at Pakistani soil at an average rate of once every four or five days.

The officials described the deal as one in which the U.S. government refuses to publicly acknowledge the attacks while Pakistan’s government continues to complain noisily about the politically sensitive strikes. [continued…]

The climate in Pakistan

About three weeks ago, militants in Pakistan delivered a copy of a Pashtu-language jihadi magazine called Tora Bora to the Peshawar office of the Daily Times, a newspaper, headquartered in Lahore, that is run by two friends of mine, a husband and wife team, Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin. The magazine’s lead article, Jugnu wrote to me this week, lists five Pakistani journalists as “C.I.A. enemies of jihad,” and it exhorted readers to silence the offenders. Najam was first on the list; the others named included Ahmed Rashid, the intrepid journalist and chronicler of the Taliban, whose recent book, “Descent Into Chaos,” lays out a detailed history of the Taliban’s recent revival. Najam and Ahmed already live under police protection in Lahore, being recipients of repeated threats of this character. Some of the threats have come from vigilantes describing themselves as the “mujaheddin of Waziristan,” who have attached photographs of beheaded journalists to illustrate their warning letters. [continued…]

An African crisis for Obama

While world leaders gathered here to unleash soothing words on the financial tsunami swamping their economies, the daring “responsibility to protect” doctrine adopted by U.N. members three years ago was being buried in the killing fields of eastern Congo.

For the sake of your bank account, hope that the international community can protect dollars, euros and yen more successfully than it protects the lives and safety of people who happen to live in failed or rogue states.

In three years, “never again” has become “sorry about that.” Humanitarian intervention — proudly proclaimed as a universal mission by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and other Third Way leaders and eventually adopted at the 2005 U.N. summit — has fallen into serious disrepair. [continued…]

Five million dead and counting

In the North Kivu province of eastern Congo, people are living in ditches along the sides of roads. They’re filling up the floors of churches and schools. Displaced people are surrounding the compounds of bewildered U.N. peacekeepers. Young boys and men are hiding in the forest to avoid being killed or forced into armed groups.

“There are only girls left in the schools in my village,” one 13-year-old boy told me. The day before, he and three friends had run from rebel soldiers who’d come to kidnap them.

There are now more than 1 million displaced people scattered throughout the province. In the last 10 years of fighting, more than 5 million people have died in the Congolese conflict—mostly civilians who haven’t had access to enough food or health care because of the fighting. And let’s be clear: That’s 5 million and counting. [continued…]

Congo’s riches, looted by renegade troops

Deep in the forest, high on a ridge stripped bare of trees and vines, the colonel sat atop his mountain of ore. In track pants and a T-shirt, he needed no uniform to prove he was a soldier, no epaulets to reveal his rank. Everyone here knows that Col. Samy Matumo, commander of a renegade brigade of army troops that controls this mineral-rich territory, is the master of every hilltop as far as the eye can see.

Columns of men, bent double under 110-pound sacks of tin ore, emerged from the colonel’s mine shaft. It had been carved hundreds of feet into the mountain with Iron Age tools powered by human sweat, muscle and bone. Porters carry the ore nearly 30 miles on their backs, a two-day trek through a mud-slicked maze to the nearest road and a world hungry for the laptops and other electronics that tin helps create, each man a link in a long global chain.

On paper, the exploration rights to this mine belong to a consortium of British and South African investors who say they will turn this perilous and exploitative operation into a safe, modern beacon of prosperity for Congo. But in practice, the consortium’s workers cannot even set foot on the mountain. Like a mafia, Colonel Matumo and his men extort, tax and appropriate at will, draining this vast operation, worth as much as $80 million a year.

The exploitation of this mountain is emblematic of the failure to right this sprawling African nation after many years of tyranny and war, and of the deadly role the country’s immense natural wealth has played in its misery. [continued…]

Iraq cabinet approves troop agreement with U.S.

Iraq’s cabinet today approved a security pact that calls for Americans to withdraw from the country within three years. That action sets up a final vote on the agreement in Iraq’s parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki built political momentum for the agreement through the weekend, declaring his support and helping persuade leading Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani to give it the green light on Saturday.

Representatives of Maliki’s Dawa party framed the deal as a means to end America’s occupation of Iraq while phasing out the assistance coalition forces provide. He reportedly bargained for concessions late last week before endorsing it Friday.

The agreement faces an uncertain outlook in parliament. [continued…]

A new twist in Iraq’s Shi’ite power struggle

Eighteen months after the U.S. troop surge aimed at creating the security necessary for Iraqis to resolve their political conflicts, those political conflicts are threatening to become even more complicated. Besides the Arab-Kurd and Sunni-Shi’ite divides, there has long been a struggle among rival political parties for supremacy among the Shi’ites. Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently called for amendments to Iraq’s constitution to strengthen the central government’s power at the expense of the country’s 18 provinces. This week, Maliki’s rivals in the southern Shi’ite bastion of Basra submitted a petition demanding a referendum in the oil-soaked province aimed to turning it into a semi-autonomous federal region akin to Kurdistan. [continued…]

Al-Sadr throws down the gauntlet on US-Iraq talks

The terms and timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are as much a matter of politics in Baghdad as they are in Washington. As the Iraqi cabinet prepares for Sunday’s discussion of the vexing draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which provides a legal basis for U.S. military operations in Iraq after Dec. 31, firebrand Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday threw down the gauntlet: he threatened to resume attacks against U.S. troops if they don’t leave Iraq “without retaining bases or signing agreements.” Al-Sadr’s unilateral cease-fire, declared more than a year ago, has been generally acknowledged as a key factor in tamping down violence in Iraq over the period, but it remains unclear whether his Mahdi Army militia has the means to make good on his threat. [continued…]

Holocaust’s unholy hold

Even today, when economic storms are shaking markets around the world, posing a threat to the stability of entire countries and societies, Israel continues to conduct its business far from the turmoil, as if swimming in a private ocean of its own. True, the headlines are alerting the public here about the crisis, and the politicians are hastily recalculating their budgets. But none of this is dramatically changing the way we think about ourselves.

To Israelis, these issues are mundane. What really matters here is the all-important spirit of Trauma, the true basis for so many of our country’s life principles. In Israel, the darkest period in human history is always present. Regardless of whether the question at hand is of the future relations between Israel and our Palestinian neighbors in specific and the Arab world in general, or of the Iranian atomic threat and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it always comes down to the same conversation. Every threat or grievance of major or minor importance is dealt with automatically by raising the biggest argument of them all — the Shoah — and from that moment onward, every discussion is disrupted.

The constant presence of the Shoah is like a buzz in my ear. In Israel, children are always, it seems, preparing for their rite-of-passage “Auschwitz trip” to Poland. Not a day passes without a mention of the Holocaust in the only newspaper I read, Haaretz. The Shoah is like a hole in the ozone layer: unseen yet present, abstract yet powerful. It’s more present in our lives than God.

It is the founding experience not just of our national consciousness but of more than that. Army generals discuss Israeli security doctrine as “Shoah-proof.” Politicians use it as a central argument for their ethical manipulations. [continued…]

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