US drone attacks kill 15 in Pakistan
Missile strikes part of CIA-led covert war targeting Taliban and al-Qaida militants near border with Afghanistan
Associated Press in Peshawar
guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 December 2010 09.25 GMT
Two American missile attacks killed 15 people in a region in north-west Pakistan that has seen few such strikes in the past, Pakistani officials said. The strikes today are an apparent expansion of the CIA-led covert war inside the country.
The strikes took place in two villages of the Tirah Valley in the Khyber region, the Pakistani intelligence and government officials said. The same valley, which is known to be home to militants, was hit last night in another US attack.
The two intelligence and two government officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Most of the more than 100 missile attacks this year inside Pakistan have taken place in North Waziristan, a tribal area effectively under the control of Taliban and al-Qaida groups.
Pakistani officials protest at the strikes but are believed to have secretly authorised at least some of them. Analysts say targeting information for many of the attacks is probably provided by Pakistani intelligence officials.
The missiles, fired from unmanned drones, hit houses in the villages of Speen Drang and Shandana, the officials said. It was unclear exactly how many people were killed in each respective village.
The missile attacks have been credited with killing many top militants, but have stirred nationalist anger in Pakistan.
The frequency of the attacks has more than doubled this year compared with last year, suggesting the Obama administration sees the tactic as key to reducing the strength of militants planning attacks in Afghanistan and the west.
Wikileaks: US pressured Spain over CIA rendition and Guantánamo torture
Leaked cables show Spanish officials and prosecutors shared information about investigations into US human rights abuses
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 December 2010 21.30 GMT
US officials tried to influence Spanish prosecutors and government officials to head off court investigations into Guantánamo Bay torture allegations, secret CIA "extraordinary rendition" flights and the killing of a Spanish journalist by US troops in Iraq, according to secret US diplomatic cables.
Among their biggest worries were investigations pursued by the magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who US officials described as having "an anti-American streak".
"We are certainly under no illusions about the individual with whom we are dealing," they said after he opened an investigation into torture at Guantánamo Bay prison camp. "Judge Garzon has been a storied and controversial figure in recent Spanish history, whose ambition and pursuit of the spotlight may be without rival."
The revelations contained in the leaked documents will be embarrassing to Spanish prosecutors who shared information on cases they were involved in, and whose identities the Americans wanted protected.
They included the attorney general, Candido Conde-Pumpido, national court chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, and fellow prosecutor Vicente González Mota, responsible for the CIA flights affair.
Zaragoza is revealed as a valuable source who accuses Garzón of opening some human rights cases in order to "drum up more speaking fees". He proved to be an ally as the US tried to stem a flood of investigations at Spain's national court – one of the world's most vigorous courts in exercising international jurisdiction over human rights crimes.
A major worry was a torture case brought by a Spanish non-governmental organisation against six senior Bush administration officials, including the former attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
Senator Mel Martinez, a former Republican party chairman, and the US embassy's charge d'affaires visited the Spanish foreign ministry to warn the investigation would have consequences. "Martinez and the charge underscored that the prosecutions would ... have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship," the officials reported.
Officials in Madrid discussed with Zaragoza ways in which a US investigation into the same allegations might be opened in order to force the Spanish court to close its own case. "Zaragoza has also told us that if a proceeding regarding this matter were underway in the US, that would effectively bar proceedings in Spain. We intend to further explore this option with him informally," they said.
Garzón, who opened a separate torture investigation, was deemed to put self-promotion first. "We suspect Garzón will wring all the publicity he can from the case unless and until he is forced to give it up," said the officials.
"Zaragoza said he had challenged Garzón directly and personally on this latest case, asking if he was trying to drum up more speaking fees," they reported.
They noted that Garzón was already in hot water over his investigation into human rights crimes committed under Spain's former dictator General Francisco Franco. As a result Garzón now looks set to be removed from his job by supreme court judges next year.
"Zaragoza doubts Garzón will risk a second such complaint," they said.
But US officials worried he would go down fighting. "It is hard for us to see why the publicity-loving Garzón would shut off his headline-generating machine unless forced to do so," they reported. "We also fear Garzón – far from being deterred by threats of disciplinary action – may welcome the chance for martyrdom, knowing the case will attract worldwide attention."
When another Spanish magistrate began investigating the alleged use of a Spanish airport for secret CIA flights carrying terror suspects, officials noted that US policy was to deal with these cases in closed-door conversations with governments.
They were especially alarmed when magistrates and prosecutors in both Spain and Germany began comparing notes. "This co-ordination among independent investigators will complicate our efforts to manage this case at a discreet government-to-government level," they warned.
Officials noted, however, that their own government had not explicitly denied the allegations. "Our ability to beat down this story is constrained by the fact that we do not ourselves know, factually, what might have transpired five or six years ago as the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq began yielding large numbers of potentially dangerous terrorist detainees and unlawful combatants," they observed.
"Baring (sic) a categorical statement from the US government that no detainees passed through Spain – and we understand that might be undesirable from a policy standpoint even if factually correct – nothing but time is going to make this go away," they said.
González Mota, who was handling the CIA flights, was a valuable source. "The prosecutors do not intend to request information on this case from the embassy or from the US government in general," US officials said after a conversation with him.
When another Spanish magistrate issued arrest warrants for three US soldiers involved in the death of Spanish television cameraman José Couso in Baghdad, senior ministers in Spain's socialist government moved to stop the investigation. Couso was killed in April 2003 alongside Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk when a tank opened fire on a hotel known to accommodate journalists.
"Top ministers moved quickly to let us know that the government is working to resolve this situation," the officials reported, naming the deputy prime minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, and justice minister, Juan Fernando López Aguilar.
"The [Spanish] government must act carefully as it tries to influence Spain's fiercely independent judiciary," they noted. " In order to avoid aggravating the situation, Spanish government leaders must publicly show their respect for the independent workings of the courts."
Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani cleared of 284 terror charges
Setback for Obama as first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in civilian court is convicted on just one of 285 charges
Chris McGreal in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 18 November 2010
Barack Obama's plans to try accused terrorists in civilian courts experienced a major setback last night when the first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in one was convicted on just one of 285 charges over the 1998 attack on US embassies in East Africa which killed 224 people.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a 36-year-old Tanzanian, was found guilty of conspiracy to destroy US government buildings and property for helping an al-Qaida cell to buy a lorry and bomb parts in the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam. But a US federal jury acquitted him of all the more serious charges of murder and conspiracy.
Ghailani faces 20 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in January. He had already been told that even if he was acquitted on all counts he would not be freed so long as America remains "at war" with al-Qaida.
However, the verdict is an embarrassment for US prosecutors who maintained that Ghailani played an important logistical role in the attacks but were unable to persuade a jury which showed signs of serious disagreement during deliberations, with one juror asking to be excused because of differences with other jurors. The judge, Lewis Kaplan, refused.
The failure to convict Ghailani on the more serious charges is also a blow to Obama's attempts to persuade a sceptical Congress and security establishment that civilian trials are better than the widely condemned military tribunals held at the Guantánamo detention centre. The trial was considered a test run.
The administration plans to put Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of masterminding the September 11 2001 attacks, on trial before a civilian court although it is now wavering over whether it should be in New York. At least four other Guantánamo detainees are also earmarked for civilian trials.
Prosecutors in the New York court faced greater constraints than at the Guantánamo trials. Judge Kaplan refused to admit some evidence collected while Ghailani was held after being captured in Pakistan six years ago and interrogated by the CIA at a secret location before being moved to Guantánamo Bay. Ghailani's lawyers said he was tortured by the CIA.
Prosecutors decided against using what they said were Ghailani's confessions made during interrogation.
The judge refused to allow the prosecution to put a witness on the stand. Hussein Abebe was to testify that he sold Ghailani the explosives used to attack the US embassy in Dar-es-Salaam. But other witnesses testified as to how Ghailani bought gas tanks used in one of the bombs.
His lawyers contended that he was duped into assisting with the bombings by al-Qaida operatives.
"Call him a fall guy. Call him a pawn. But don't call him guilty," said Ghailani's lawyer, Peter Quijano.
American officials assert that Ghailani was closely tied to the terror group. He fled to Pakistan on a one-way ticket under an alias the day before the bombings and then spent time in Afghanistan as a cook and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
They say that he later became a document forger for al-Qaida.
Iraq war logs: 'The US was part of the Wolf Brigade operation against us'
Omar Salem Shehab tells of torture at hands of notorious Iraqi police unit and says US forces were involved in his capture
Martin Chulov in Baghdad
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 October 2010 17.00 BST
During the foreboding months of 2005, one police unit struck more fear into Iraqis than the entire occupying US army. They were known as the Wolf Brigade.
Brutal even by Iraqi standards, their soldiers and officers seemingly answered to no one. They were seen as indiscriminate and predatory. The unit's reputation had been known Iraq-wide and results of their numerous raids are still bogged down in Iraq's legal system.
But the full range of their abuses and close co-operation with the US army remained in the shadows until the WikiLeaks disclosures showcased them in stark detail.
A visit from the unit to any neighbourhood was sure to bring trouble – as it it did for Omar Salem Shehab on 25 June that year.
"We were at home that night," Shehab recalled this week. "We were three brothers sleeping above my ice-cream shop. We were woken by soldiers entering our house by force. They came with Americans. They said we were wanted and produced a document. The Americans took our pictures, then the soldiers we now knew were the Wolf Brigade took us to the Seventh Division camp [of the Iraqi army]."
Shehab and his brothers lived in Dora, in Baghdad's south, a lethal enclave of the city that was rapidly deteriorating into chaos. Like most of Dora's residents, they are Sunni Muslims.
The trio were at the army camp for a day, then transferred to Baghdad's main prison, known as Tsferrat.
"We were tortured all the time, he said. "We were never investigated, just tortured. The commander of the Wolf Brigade, Abu al-Walid was one of the torturers. My brother had a kidney problem and they continued to torture him without giving him medicine.
"He died after a month and the doctor wrote 'kidney failure' as a cause of death, despite his body being covered with torture marks. When he died, they let me and my other brother out. I later learned that another man we had met in prison, Khalid Hussein, had also died."
Torture and death seemed synonymous with the almost exclusively Shia unit, which was tasked with rooting out Sunni insurgents from post-Saddam Iraq. As security unravelled across the country, they were often seen alongside US forces, particularly in Baghdad and Mosul.
Earlier in 2005, they had swept into Mosul with the US army in support. Muataz Salah Ahmed, now 40, was working in the al-Mas hotel that January when the men in the distinctive red berets and balaclavas burst through the doors.
"They arrested us all," he said. "There was an Iranian officer, his name was Ali. Many other officers with him were proud to tell us that they were not police, but Wolf Brigade. They said they had come from Baghdad to arrest us because we supported Saddam and deserved to be executed.
"One officer threatened to rape my wife. He tore at her dress and four of my colleagues were killed in front of my eyes. They drilled holes in my legs and arms and did all manner of things to me. They took me and around 1,500 other prisoners to a basement inside the police commander's headquarters."
The unit stayed in Mosul for five months. Ahmed remained in prison for eight months, before being released by a court without conviction.
"I have many documents proving who they were and what they did to me," he said. "Twelve families have complained against the general in charge of the unit; his name was Khalid. But they were the government, so what can be done about them?"
The Wolf Brigade unit was formed in late 2004, drawing many recruits from the impoverished Shia slums of Sadr city. By late 2005, it was around 2,000-strong and roaming the country with impunity. The unit notionally answered to the then interior minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, who became prime minister in April 2005 for 12 months as sectarian carnage spiralled out of control.
When Nouri al-Maliki replaced Jafari as prime minister, he pledged to crack down on the Wolf Brigade and any other units seen to be carrying out sectarian agendas. By then, most of its leaders had fled or been killed.
Questions have endured in the ensuing five years about the extent of US co-operation with the unit and whether US forces knew of the scale of their abuses.
"The Americans were there," said Shehab. "They weren't just witnesses. They were part of the operation against us."
Additional reporting: Enas Ibrahim
Iraq war logs reveal 15,000 previously unlisted civilian deaths
Leaked Pentagon files contain records of more than 100,000 fatalities including 66,000 civilians
guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 October 2010 21.32 BST
Leaked Pentagon files obtained by the Guardian contain details of more than 100,000 people killed in Iraq following the US-led invasion, including more than 15,000 deaths that were previously unrecorded.
British ministers have repeatedly refused to concede the existence of any official statistics on Iraqi deaths. US General Tommy Franks claimed in 2002: "We don't do body counts."
The mass of leaked documents provides the first detailed tally by the US military of Iraqi fatalities. Troops on the ground filed secret field reports over six years of the occupation, purporting to tot up every casualty, military and civilian.
Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, told the Guardian: "These logs contain a huge amount of entirely new information regarding casualties. Our analysis so far indicates that they will add 15,000 or more previously unrecorded deaths to the current IBC total. This data should never have been withheld from the public."
The logs record a total of 109,032 violent deaths between 2004 and 2009. It is claimed that 66,081 of these were civilians. A further 23,984 deaths are classed as "enemy" and 15,196 as members of the Iraqi security forces. The logs also include the deaths of 3,771 US and allied soldiers.
No fewer than 31,780 of the total deaths are attributed to the improvised landmines laid around Iraq by insurgents. There were 65,439 successful "improvised explosive device" (IED) blasts in the period, according to the logs, with another 44,620 IEDs found in time and disarmed.
The other major recorded cause of death is the civil war that broke out during the US military occupation. There are 34,814 victims of sectarian killings recorded as murders in the logs. The worst single month was December 2006 when 2,566 Iraqis were found dead.
The data cannot be relied upon as a complete record of Iraqi deaths. IBC, for example, had previously calculated that up to 91,469 civilians were killed from various causes during the period covered by the leaked database. While detailing the 15,000 previously unknown deaths, it also omits many otherwise well-attested civilian fatalities caused by US troops themselves. Nor does the Pentagon data cover any of the initial invasion fighting throughout 2003; IBC has identified 12,080 purely civilian deaths in that year.
The US figure is far lower than another widely quoted estimate of more than 650,000 "excess deaths" extrapolated on a different basis and published in a 2006 study in the Lancet.
A key example of the failure by US forces to record civilian casualties they have inflicted comes in the two major urban battles against insurgents fought in 2004 in Falluja. Numerous buildings were reduced to rubble by air strikes, tank shells and howitzers, and there were well-attested deaths of hundreds of civilians. IBC has identified between 1,226 and 1,362 such deaths during April and November. But the leaked US internal field reports record no civilian casualties at all.
One of the most publicised allegations was that a clinic in central Falluja was shelled on 9 November. Doctors claimed to international media that two strikes on the roof had killed scores of patients and staff. The IBC puts the total number of civilian deaths at 59.
The US military maintained these claims were "unsubstantiated", and the leaked database does not record any civilian deaths in the logs of these incidents.
But the logs do reveal corroborating evidence, furnished at the time by US troops involved in the fighting, that the clinic was a target for shelling.
A surveillance unit reported that it "observed anti-Iraq forces unloading a vehicle at the clinic south of the Hydra mosque … Another vehicle arrived and an unidentified number of armed individuals exited the vehicle."
On that morning of 9 November the field reports describe heavy street fighting as the area is surrounded and the mosque captured. A detachment of the 1st Battalion 8th US Marines called in repeated heavy artillery strikes.
At 6.53am the marines' Bravo company, "heavily engaged" by machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire, called in eight successive high explosive rounds from 155mm howitzers that landed in the mosque area.
The soldiers then signalled: "Battle damage assessment unknown." This is a frequent report about air and artillery strikes during the entire week of ferocious fighting.
At other times the troops record Iraqi deaths but invariably classify all the corpses as "enemy". When a helicopter gunship killed two Reuters journalists with a group of other men in a Baghdad street, in one notorious 2007 incident, all were listed as "enemy killed in action".
John Sloboda, IBC co-founder, has called for a British judicial inquiry into the civilian deaths, which he says have not been addressed by the Chilcot hearings. "If we try to hide the reality of what happened we are going to sow seeds of hatred among those whose trust we are trying to gain and in whose name we said we were doing all of this."