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US secretly releasing Taliban fighters

US secretly releasing Taliban fighters, report says

The US has been secretly releasing captured Taliban fighters from a detention center in Afghanistan in a bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the insurgent group, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The “strategic release” program of high-level detainees is designed to give the US a bargaining chip in some areas of Afghanistan where international forces struggle to exercise control, the report said.

Under the risky program, the hardened fighters must promise to give up violence and are threatened with further punishment, but there is nothing to stop them resuming attacks against Afghan and American troops.

“Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” a US official told the Post.

In a visit to Afghanistan last week, President Barack Obama confirmed that the US was pursuing peace talks with the Taliban.

“We have made it clear that they [the Taliban] can be a part of this future if they break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban — from foot soldiers to leaders — have indicated an interest in reconciliation. A path to peace is now set before them,” Obama said.

A stumbling block in the US-Taliban peace talks has been the US refusal to approve the transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, which the Taliban says is necessary for negotiations to proceed.

The clock is ticking also on the US handover of security control to the Afghans.

At the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, the US coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead in combat operations across the country next year.

During his short visit, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a partnership deal that charts a 10-year relationship between the US and Afghanistan once the majority of American and foreign forces pull out of the country in 2014.

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Obama to release Top Taliban Leaders from Guantanamo…..Will they kill again?


Administration briefs Senate leaders on Taliban transfer

Josh Rogin

Top Obama administration officials briefed eight senior Senate leaders Tuesday on a pending deal to transfer as many as five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar.

The Cable staked out the classified briefing in the basement of the Capitol building Tuesday afternoon. The eight senators who attended the briefing were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Intelligence Committee heads Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senate Armed Services chiefs Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

The identities of the administration briefers were not shared, but we were told it was a high-level interagency briefing team.

All of the senators refused to discuss the contents of the briefing as they exited the secure briefing room in the Senate Visitors’ Center. But Levin and McCain both discussed the issue in question before entering the briefing, namely the administration’s negotiations with the Taliban over transferring the Taliban prisoners into Qatari custody.

Levin told reporters Tuesday that the briefing was “about the ongoing Taliban reconciliation efforts.” Levin is open to the idea of transferring Taliban members to Qatar, but said the devil was in the details.

“It depends on what assurances we have from the [Qatari] government that they are not going to be released,” Levin said. “But I also think the Afghans have to be very much involved in any discussions and any process. They weren’t for a while.”

“We’re not releasing them. As I understand it they will be imprisoned in Qatar,” Levin continued. But can the Qataris be trusted to keep them behind bars? “That’s the question,” Levin said.

Levin said he didn’t know what the United States was getting in exchange for transferring the prisoners to Qatar, where the Taliban are preparing to open an office. But he said the possible transfer was not a significant concession to the Taliban, provided the prisoners remain in custody. “If that’s what [the Taliban] are getting, it’s not much of a gain [for them], going from one prison to another.”

McCain, talking to reporters before the briefing, lashed out at the idea that the prisoners would be moved to Qatar in a possible exchange for a Taliban statement renouncing international violence, as has been reported.

“The whole idea that they’re going to ‘transfer’ these detainees in exchange for a statement by the Taliban? It is really, really bizarre,” McCain said. “This whole thing is highly questionable because the Taliban know we are leaving. I know many experts who would say they are rope-a-doping us.”

McCain said that Congress probably can’t stop the administration from going ahead with the transfer if that’s what it decides.

“I don’t think right now we can do anything about it, but these people were in positions of authority. One of them was responsible for deaths of several Americans,” said McCain, referring to reports that the prisoners being considered for transfer include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan, and former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund.

Is McCain confident that the Qataris will keep the Taliban prisoners locked up? “No I am not. And the Taliban don’t think so either, otherwise the Taliban wouldn’t want them transferred,” he said.

McCain said he was last briefed about the potential deal in December.

Some of the confusion about the negotiations was caused when the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said on Jan. 22 that talks with the Taliban were a long way off and that no deal to transfer prisoners had been finalized. Grossman was in Kabul when he made the statements and he traveled to Qatar the next day.

On Jan. 28, several former members of the Taliban government said that talks with the United States had begun over the prisoner transfer. “Currently there are no peace talks going on,” Maulavi Qalamuddin, the former minister of “vice and virtue” for the Taliban, told The New York Times. “The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo, which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar.”

At Tuesday morning’s open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Chambliss pressed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus, and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matthew Olsen to confirm that the Taliban under consideration for transfer were still viewed as too dangerous to release by the U.S. intelligence community.

“It appears from these reports that in exchange for transferring detainees who had been determined to be too dangerous to transfer by the administration’s own Guantánamo review task force, we get little to nothing in return. Apparently, the Taliban will not have to stop fighting our troops and won’t even have to stop bombing them with IEDs,” Chambliss said. “I have also heard nothing from the IC[intelligence community] that suggests that the assessments on the threat posed by these detainees have changed. I want to state publicly as strongly as I can that we should not transfer these detainees from Guantánamo.”

Clapper said he stood by the original intelligence community assessments, which concluded that the Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo were too dangerous to be released.

“I don’t think anyone in the administration harbors any illusions about the potential here,” said Clapper. “And of course, part and parcel of such a decision if it were finally made would be the actual determination of where these detainees might go and the conditions in which they would be controlled or surveilled.”

Olsen, who led the review task force that evaluated the Guantanamo detainees in 2009, confirmed that the 5 prisoners being considered for transfer “were deemed too dangerous to release and who could not be prosecuted,” but Olsen said he had not evaluated those five prisoners since then.

Petraeus said that his staff had been asked for a more recent evaluation of the five prisoners and that the CIA completed risk analyses based on different possible conditions for the Taliban prisoners’ transfer.

“In fact, our analyst did provide assessments of the five and the risks presented by various scenarios by which they could be sent somewhere, not back to Afghanistan or Pakistan, and then based on the various mitigating measures that could be implemented, to ensure that they could not return to militant activity,” Petraeus said.

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It’s not the brutality that is ‘systematic’. It’s the lying about it

Robert Fisk: It’s not the brutality that is ‘systematic’. It’s the lying about it

Iraqi prisoners held by 1QLR in 2003 in a photograph shown at the inquiry

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It was Baha Mousa’s dad I will always remember. On an oppressively scorching day in Basra, Daoud Mousa first spoke of his son’s death, telling me how the boy’s wife had died of cancer just six months earlier, how Baha’s children were now orphans, how – not long after the British Army had arrested Baha Mousa and beaten him to death, for that is what happened – a British officer had come to his home and stared at the floor and offered cash by way of saying sorry.

“What do you think I should do?”
Daoud asked me. Get a lawyer, I said. Tell Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Let me write about it. When I called at the British base at Basra airport, one officer laughed at me. “Call the Ministry of Defence,” he said dismissively. He didn’t care.

I had spent years in Belfast, listening to the same kind of arrogant, vicious, indifferent reaction to the Army’s brutality. It was always the same. Terrorists. Terrorist propaganda. The extraordinary discipline of British squaddies under enormous pressure, etc, etc, etc. Then – when the game was up and the evidence too fresh and too overwhelming – I used to get what we would today call the “Abu Ghraib response“. A “few bad apples”. Always a “few bad apples”.

Hundreds of thousands of fine British soldiers behaving with exemplary courage and courtesy, in danger of their lives 24 hours a day – you will read this stuff in the usual newspapers today. They were the real victims of these “bad apples” – the actual victims, the 14 Catholic dead on Bloody Sunday in Derry, Baha Mousa in Basra, were the sub-victims who had somehow got in the way. They could be lied about.

Where did all these “bad apples” come from, I used to ask, along with their complacent, complicit officers? I recall the day the Gloucestershire Regiment ran amok in Belfast, smashing all the downstairs windows of a Catholic street just before they returned to Britain. Untrue, of course. Terrorist propaganda. Then a “few bad apples”. Was I on the side of the IRA? And so it went on. And on.

It wasn’t the brutality that was “systematic”. It was the lying that was systematic. In Northern Ireland, among the Americans after Abu Ghraib and Bagram and the black prisons and the renditions. Baha Mousa received 93 wounds. There was an inquiry, I was imperiously told. It was all sub judice.

Even the moment of Baha Mousa’s arrest has never been truly investigated. Colonel Daoud Mousa – for Baha’s father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol and wear his blue uniform, hardly the father of a terrorist – actually saw his boy after his arrest, lying under orders on the floor of the hotel in which he worked.

The soldiers had found some weapons – perfectly normal in Basra where almost every household contained guns – but what the British didn’t want to talk about just then was that Baha had told his father that several British troops had opened the hotel safe and stuffed currency into their pockets.

That, Colonel Mousa believed, was the real reason he was killed. Baha had been a snitch. He was a witness to theft. The British officer in the hotel had told the colonel that his son would be returned to him safe and sound. Bullshit, of course. The 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment saw to that.

When I went to see one of Baha’s friends – newly released by his British killers – he appeared to have lost a kidney to the treatment he had received. He wept. His face was blue with bruises. Yes, this was my country which had done this. No comment. Call the Ministry of Defence.

Baha Mousa’s nose was broken. There was blood above the corpse’s mouth. The skin had been ripped off his wrists. According to his friend, Baha had been crying and pleading for his life from beneath his hood. “They gave us the names of footballers and cursed us with them as they attacked us,” he said.

The Brits did the same in Northern Ireland, I remember. Catholics would often tell me they were given the names of footballers before the beatings began.

A bit systematic, perhaps? “They were kick-boxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back…” Baha’s friend said. “He kept asking them to take the bag off and said he was suffocating. But they laughed at him and kicked him more.”

And always there were screwball parallels from officers. We treat the Catholics a lot better than the French Paras treated the Algerians, an officer told me once near Divis Flats. We’re not as bad as Saddam. Nor Hitler, I’m glad to say.

My own Dad was a soldier, older than my Mum, fought in the Third Battle of the Somme, in the First World War, in 1918. He was in what was to become The King’s Regiment. Thank God it wasn’t The Queen’s.

The soldiers: Four men who ‘bear a heavy responsibility’

The 1st Battalion Queen’s Lancashire Regiment was handed control of Basra in July 2003. It was involved in tackling counter-insurgency and was praised for restoring order. QLR soldiers were at the centre of the first allegations of abuse against Iraqi soldiers by the Daily Mirror but the photos were withdrawn as fakes.

The inquiry identifies four soldiers who should “bear a heavy responsibility” for the death of Mr Mousa and injuries to nine other civilians.

Corporal Donald Payne was jailed for 12 months and discharged from the Army in 2006 after admitting inhumane treatment of Mr Mousa. Described as a “violent bully”, he conducted the “choir” which involved assaulting each man in turn.

Lt Craig Rodgers is held responsible for the breakdown in discipline including a “free for all” when soldiers took turns in kicking, punching, and slapping the hooded men. He did not face disciplinary action.

Major Michael Peebles was responsible for the welfare of the detainees but did not intervene. He was acquitted by the court martial.

Col Jorge Mendonca, the commanding officer, ought to have known about the violence and banned techniques being used. Charges against him were dropped at the court martial. The inquiry names 19 soldiers as responsible for inflicting violence. Those still serving could face disciplinary action; all could be subject to criminal or civil actions

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A Tale of Two Prisoners

A Tale of Two Prisoners

By MICHAEL TEITELMAN

The Wiki Guantanamo files are as fascinating as they are dismaying, but their principal contribution does not lie in exposing how the Bush administration debased American moral, political, and constitutional values. There has been an abundance of that over the years. Their significance lies in their pulling back the curtain on how stupidly, haphazardly, arbitrarily, incompetently, and how contemptuously of detainees it was all done. The national security warriors couldn’t even keep the paperwork in order.

The Wiki files display the incredibly tangled ethical, legal, and administrative morass created by the Bush administration at Guantanamo. It took more than a year for Obama’s Attorney General to review the key case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed “mastermind” of the September 11 attack, and to decide that the Department of Justice would be able to win a conviction without using evidence obtained through months of waterboarding and other tortures. So the Attorney General ordered the transfer of the prosecution from the jurisdiction of a military commission at Guantanmo to the federal district court in Manhattan where Mohammed would be tried by the same rules as anybody charged with a crime by the government.

Holder’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court was a welcome departure from the Obama administration’s failure to fulfill its pledge to rectify the ethical and constitutional transgressions of the Bush administration. The administration has backed off from prosecuting torturers and CIA officials who destroyed evidence of torture; the prison at Guantanamo will not be closed in the foreseeable future; the government will continue to try detainees in military courts. Trying Mohammed in federal court would open the trial to global scrutiny and would display the government’s re-commitment to the rule of law in its response to Islamist radicalism and terrorism.

Last month Eric Holder reversed himself. He capitulated to the demagoguery and fear mongering of militaristic Islamophobes and ordered the trial back to a military tribunal in Guantanamo. Opponents of the commissions are understandably dismayed by his retreat. As a practical matter, they regard the commissions as unworkable. No serious prosecution has yet been brought to completion. But the paramount criticism of the tribunals is that they are irredeemably defective. The organization and procedures of the tribunal fall unacceptably short of the constitutional norms that prevail in civilian courts. So in the court of world opinion, conviction by a military commission would worsen the moral blemish of Guantanamo. Justice will not be seen to be done, and in many cases justice won’t in fact be done. The Wiki files make it abundantly clear that fairness and common sense were not among the prevailing values at Guantanamo.

The basic premise in this critique of the tribunals is that the norms and practices of the federal court system are so far superior to the tribunals that justice will be done only when radical Islamists are prosecuted in civilian courts. This is an attractive proposition in the abstract. But when the actualities of cases are examined, the prosecutions look a lot less savory.

It is no news that there are many injustices, large and small, in the criminal justice system. As Lenny Bruce put it, “In the halls of justice, the justice is in the halls.” However, counterterrorism prosecutions have some distinctive pitfalls. The defendants are pariahs and may be regarded with intense displeasure in the communities from which the jury of their peers is selected. They can be convicted of violations of the Patriot Act for actions whose criminality is highly disputable. “Providing material support to terrorist organizations” covers a lot of ground. The Supreme Court has opined that it may encompass sending money abroad for schools and medical clinics or teaching political groups techniques of non-violent protest.

Finally, national security agencies and political rulers at the highest level may, in special cases, decide to throw their weight around in counterterrorism prosecutions. They influence or control of the case is not played out in public. They may deliberately cover their tracks. The following tale of two prisoners displays how the prosecution of radical Islamists in the civilian legal system has its own infirmities when rulers and guardians become invested in a case.

Each prisoner is a thirty year old, a Moslem, and an American citizen. Mohammed Junaid Babar is married and has a two year old daughter. He has served four years and eight months in prison; he is now free subject only to probationary supervision. The second man, who I will call here Abdul Hamid, is, serving the eighth year of a twenty year sentence in a federal penitentiary in Indiana.

It is hard to know whether Baba is just a very lucky man for having dodged a thirty year imprisonment for serious terrorist crimes, or whether he is a man with startlingly superficial loyalties and a robust knack for self-preservation, or perhaps all of the above. As for Abdul Hamid who has twelve more years to run on his sentence, it is hard to know whether he has worse luck in his timing or in the perfidiousness of his persecutors.

A few days after the September 11 attacks, Babar declared his allegiance to the radical Islamist jihad, quit his job and traveled to South Waziristan, Pakistan. He spent the next two years working for al Queda and was arrested when he returned to the United States.

He appeared in federal district court in New York City on June 3, 2004 where he was charged with violations of the Patriot Act. Babar was up to his eyeballs in working for al Queda. A five count information charged him with “providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization,” which included organizing training camps, arranging transportation for recruits, supplying military gear, obtaining money and procuring explosives. He was specifically charged with attempting “to purchase ammonium sulfate and aluminum powder for destructive devices and bombs to be used in attacks in the United Kingdom.” He set up a training camp in which Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 2005 London suicide bombers, learned how to manufacture explosives. Fifty two people died and seven hundred were injured in the attack on the London transport system.

Babar plead guilty to all charges. This was no lone operator with explosives in his underwear or shoe but an organization man responsible for logistics. In his personal statement, he acknowledged providing “night vision goggles, sleeping bags, water proof socks, water proof ponchos, and money to a high al Queda official in South Waziristan.” He set up a training camp in Pakistan where jihadis on the way to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan “could learn how to use weapons…and any explosive devices that they wanted to test out over there.” And for the people who “had ideas…about plotting some targets in the United Kingdom, I provided some of the materials, like…aluminum nitrate ammonium nitrate, and aluminum powder that was then tested out at the training camp.”

Babar faced a maximum sentence of seventy years. The judge ordered a sentencing report from the Probation Office and scheduled a sentencing hearing in six months. The hearing did not occur for six years. In the interim, Babar served four years and 8 months in prison and was free on bail for the next two years until he appeared before the judge on December 10, 2010. The Probation Office recommended the thirty year mandatory minimum sentence set by federal sentencing guidelines. The judge sentenced Babar to the time he had already served and parole for ten years.

Although he was lucky to escape a lifetime in prison, Babar had to earn his good fortune. He switched his allegiance from al Queda to the United States and went to work as a “cooperator”. The judge was empowered to depart from the guidelines’ minimum only if the Justice Department formally declared that Babar was comprehensive and truthful in cooperating with counterterrorist investigators.

Babar was a prized informant because he had worked inside al Queda; he knew about the organization’s logistics, internal administration and daily operations. He was a prosecution witness in trials of former compatriots who had formed terrorist cells in Great Britain. The Government called his cooperation “extraordinary,” and the judge rewarded him.

Now consider the case of another thirty year old Moslem American citizen, Abdul Hamid whose journey through the criminal justice system was markedly different. In his teenage years, he became interested in Islam. He studied it seriously in his hometown in California. After his conversion, he traveled to Yemen to learn Arabic and the Quran. Seeking an ultra orthodox approach to Sunni Islam, he enrolled in a madrasa in Pakistan in the fall of 2000 where he was inculcated in the idea of militant jihad. He resolved to defend the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (the Taliban regime) against the Northern Alliance, the rump coalition of warlords that had been holding out against the Taliban since 1995. He received rudimentary military training in Pakistan. Al Queda operatives were present; he even heard a speech by bin Laden himself. He declined to join al Queda because his goal was to defend the Islamic government and not battle with the world beyond Afghanistan.

With exquisitely bad timing, Hamid arrived on the front in northern Afghanistan on September 6, 2001. At that moment, the Twin Towers were standing, the Pentagon was intact, and the United States was not at war. Hamid was appalled by 9/11, but he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Opting out was not an option. The Taliban would have treated him as a Moslem deserter or as an American spy. Defection to the other side was out of the question; General Dostum was not taking live prisoners.

In late November, Hamid was among five hundred Taliban fighters captured by the Northern Alliance. The surrender morphed into a week long chaotic melee in which more than four hundred prisoners died. Hamid was shot in the leg, and the man standing next to him, Mike Spann, one of two CIA operatives on the scene, was killed. During his entire truncated and misbegotten career as a jihad fighter, Hamid never fought against American soldiers.

He was handed over to the U.S. military and briefly mistreated with a nastiness that presaged the Bush-Cheney repudiation of the Geneva Conventions. Because Hamid had more first hand experience of the Taliban than any American on the planet at that time, he was interrogated by the U.S. military for most of the next two months. A January 14, 2002 memo recently released by Donald Rumsfeld charts his progress from military custody in Afghanistan to prison in America:

I don’t really care what happens to Walker [sic] at this stage. I know he going to the Department of Justice—the question is when.

He is on the USS BATANN, and the military doesn’t want him anymore. We could put him in Guantanmo Bay until we are absolutely certain that we not going to get anymore [sic] information about him or from him, or we could just give him to DoJ now.

Hamid’s citizenship spared him a trip to Cuba. He surfaced in a federal district court in northern Virginia in early February, 2002 to face a ten count indictment including a count of conspiracy to murder Mike Spann. After several months of legal skirmishing, a suppression hearing on a defense motion to exclude evidence from the interrogations was scheduled for July 15, 2002. Defense attorneys would have elicited highly embarrassing testimony from military personnel about the Government’s conduct and in the very unlikely event the judge had the courage to exclude the self-incriminating interrogations, the Government might have been left with an unwinnable prosecution. Three days before the hearing, the Justice Department made a non-negotiable plea offer of twenty years in prison; the offer was good for only three days. Hamid took the plea because the risk of conviction in a trial and forty years in prison was too great in the post-9/11 climate of hysteria, paranoia, and revenge.

The disparity in the actions of these two individuals is enormous. Babar chose to go over to America’s enemies. He joined al Queda and participated in the training of jihadists who then went into battle against American soldiers. He was involved in a spectacular, heinous terrorist attack in London. Hamid, on the other hand, arrived unluckily just days before 9/11, joined the Taliban before they were an enemy of the United States, fought only against other Afghan groups and never against Americans, had nothing to do with al Queda, and was not involved in terrorist actions.

The disparity in their treatment by the Government is also enormous. Each man cooperated with the Government; each was tried in a federal court; each was represented by highly experienced lawyers from arraignment to sentencing. But the far more morally reprehensible person was punished mildly, whereas the other, who was more hapless than bad and had no blood on his hands, was punished severely. Babar went to prison for four and a half years and Hamid for twenty.

The explanation of this disparity reflects the darkness of the first years of the “war on terror” after 9/11 and the abuse of power by political leaders.

Within days of his capture, Hamid had asked to see a lawyer; defense attorneys had notified the Departments of Justice, Defense, and State that they had been engaged by his family to represent him. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination provide an accused individual a modicum of protection from the overwhelming power of the state. The Government made short shrift of Hamid’s rights. They did not allow his lawyers to meet with him until they had milked him dry of useful information.

In contrast to Babar’s lawyers who could bargain his storehouse of information and courtroom testimony against former comrades in exchange for a livable sentence, Hamid’s lawyers had nothing more to offer. The government had extracted all that he knew before he was allowed to meet his lawyers. So Babar was out of prison in less than 5 years, whereas Hamid could either go on trial in a hostile courtroom down the road from the mangled Pentagon and risk a forty-plus year imprisonment or he could take whatever sentence reduction the Government deigned to offer.

Because Hamid was no longer useful as a cooperator, the Government had no reason to be generous. This raises the question as to why they bothered to make any plea offer at all. They made the offer because they needed to cover up their violation of his constitutional rights and to deter his lawyers from publicly challenging the admissibility of Hamid’s self-incrimination. Attorney General John Ashcroft and lawyers in the White House were warned by an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility that questioning Hamid without his lawyers being present violated professional norms and that the interrogations would not be admissible in a trial. The Bush administration quashed the warning by firing the lawyer Jesselyn Radeck and “losing e-mails” pertaining to her memo when Congress tried to investigate.

Compared to Babar’s offenses and punishment, Hamid’s sentence is utterly disproportionate to his offense. This raises the question as to why the Government was so harsh. It stands to reason that a lesser sentence would have been just as effective in deterring the defense from pressing its case. But the Bush administration had political reasons for imposing a draconian punishment. Hamid, who is better known in the U.S. as John Walker Lindh, was the administration’s poster child for its new War on Terror. Lindh was the very first detainee in the Afghan war. John Ashcroft, Karl Rove and other major domos of the Bush administration called for his scalp. He was branded the “American Taliban,” a fanatic enemy and a traitor who had to be locked away as a sign of resolution and toughness.

The harshness of Lindh’s sentence was calibrated not to the seriousness of his offense but the political imperatives of the Bush administration. The violation of his constitutional rights in the first two months of custody cleared the way to the untrammeled flexing of their political muscle, which is exactly what those rights are supposed to limit. Their treatment of Lindh also cleared the way to more egregious breaches of established constitutional and international norms in the “war on terror”.

In the ten years since his arrest, Lindh has appeared only once publicly, in an iconic photograph of a haggard, corpse-like figure strapped into a container. He is unmentioned by the media. Ashcroft’s vilification endures. While many have forgotten Lindh, those who recall him confuse him with Richard Reid the shoe bomber, or view Lindh as “an enemy fighting our guys,” “a traitor,” “working for al Queda,” “a terrorist,” “a murderer.” Using his Moslem name in this essay was intended to filter out the persisting effects of John Ashcroft’s demagoguery and the distorted memory and prejudice of the public and the media in order to display clearly the Government’s illegality and injustice.

This is where matters stand for John Walker Lindh. If he is not a political prisoner in the traditional sense, he is a prisoner of the politics of a very dark time in our recent history. He has another decade to run on his sentence. The only possibility for an earlier exit is a presidential commutation. And that, sadly for Lindh and also for those who care about repairing the damage of the Bush administration, is unlikely to happen in the current political climate in which rancor and indifference to truth and fairness prevail.

Michael Teitelman lives in New York. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Teitelman’s previous stories on John Walker Lindh:

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