Over 500 ‘Al-Qaeda militants’ escape Iraq’s Abu Ghraib in violent break-out
Published time: July 22, 2013 15:55
Edited time: July 23, 2013 18:19
Edited time: July 23, 2013 18:19
A manhunt is underway in Iraq for hundreds of convicts, including senior Al-Qaeda terrorists, who broke out of Abu Ghraib prison after a military-style raid to free them, authorities said on Monday.
The militant Islamist organization has claimed responsibility for the assaults on Iraq’s Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons, Reuters quoted Al-Qaeda’s statement posted on militant forums.
The attacks were allegedly carried out after months of preparations on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is a merger between Al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq.
Between 500 to 1,000 prisoners have escaped as a result of the attack, “most of them were convicted senior members of Al-Qaeda and had received death sentences," said Hakim Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament.
Suicide bombers drove cars with explosives into the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night, while gunmen attacked guards with mortar fire as well as rocket propelled grenades.
Other militants held the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad, as several insurgents wearing suicide vests entered Abu Ghraib on foot to help free the inmates.
Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the fighting, which continued until early Monday, when military helicopters arrived to help regain control.
By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib. The security forces arrested some of them, the rest are still free, Zamili commented.
“It's obviously a terrorist attack carried out by Al-Qaeda to free convicted terrorists with Al-Qaeda,” another security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Jihadist accounts on Twitter claimed that not 500, but thousands of prisoners had escaped from the detention facility. A number of users also posted similar claims on the Honein jihadist forum, AFP news agency reports.
The Abu Ghraib capable of holding around 15,000 inmates has become notorious a decade ago after photographs showing abuse of prisoners by US soldiers were made available to the public.
A simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, to the north of Baghdad, had a similar scheme, but guards prevented a break-out. 16 soldiers and six militants were killed there.
The attacks on the tow prisons came a year after Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi front group announced that it would be targeting the country’s justice system.
“The first priority in this is releasing Muslim prisoners everywhere, and chasing and eliminating judges and investigators and their guards,” said an audio message attributed to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2012.
Sunni rebels, including Al-Qaeda-affiliated, have been gaining strength and regularly striking Shiite Muslims and security forces. The violence has increased fears of a return to conflict in the country.
But ultimately, Flounders concludes that the international audience shouldn’t be surprised at the news, because Western efforts in Iraq have not shown any signs of addressing the actual spread of sectarian violence in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. In the city of Mosul to the north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle with explosives behind a military convoy, killing at least 22 soldiers and three passers-by, police reported.
Recent attacks have targeted mosques, football matches, shopping areas and cafes where people meet after breaking the daily fast for the holy month of Ramadan.
However, despite widespread claims that the escapees are largely affiliated with Al-Qaeda, there is no way of knowing, says Sara Flounders, head of the International Action Center. She also told RT that not much is known about Abu Ghraib itself after the US handed over control to the Iraqi government, following its withdrawal from the country.
“The state of security hasn’t substantially improved since. We know also there are many operatives left in Iraq that continue US policy aims. There’s a lot that’s uncertain and unknown today in Iraq. We do know there was a prison break. But before we rush to label everyone Al-Qaeda, let’s be aware that Abu Ghraib itself as a prison was notorious for US torture techniques… it was turned back over to the Iraqi government and we have no idea if any conditions improved.”
But ultimately, Flounders concludes that the international audience shouldn’t be surprised at the news, because Western efforts in Iraq have not shown any signs of addressing the actual spread of sectarian violence after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, while billions of dollars were misspent – an opinion shared by defense consultant Moeen Raoof.
“The Iraqi government isn’t controlling anything… [It] hasn’t been spending its oil funds on security… the toppling of Saddam Hussein was a fatal, fatal mistake,” one that will be repeated in Afghanistan, after complete US withdrawal, he believes.
Nearly 600 people have been killed in militant attacks across Iraq so far this month, according to the monitoring group Iraq Body Count.
Defense contractor awards Abu Ghraib torture victims meager $5 million settlement
Published time: January 09, 2013 17:55
Edited time: January 09, 2013 22:07
Edited time: January 09, 2013 22:07
A US contractor responsible for torturing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has paid 71 former detainees $5.28 million in compensation, a meager amount compared to similar cases in the US.
Between 2003 and 2007, the prisoners were subjected to mock executions, severely beaten, stripped naked, threatened with rape and forced to drink water until vomiting blood.
“Private military contractors played a serious but often under-reported role in the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib,” Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, tells the Associated Press. “We are pleased that this settlement provides some accountability for one of those contractors and offers some measure of justice for the victims.”
The Virginia-based defense contractor Engility Holdings Inc. was heavily involved in the treatment of the Iraqi detainees and agreed to pay a total of $5.28 million in payments to 71 former inmates because of it during a deal reached last year. Only now, however, has the AP become aware of the details of the settlement.
L-3 Services Inc., a subsidiary of Engility, sent more than 6,000 private translators to Iraq and “permitted scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners over an extended period of time throughout Iraq,” states the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Greenbelt, Md. in 2008. The company “willfully failed to report L-3 employees’ repeated assaults and other criminal conduct by its employees to the United States or Iraq authorities.”
One inmate says he was subjected to a mock execution, in which contractors pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger for the entertainment of the staffers. Another was knocked unconscious by being repeatedly slammed against a wall. One man says he was stripped naked with his hands and legs chained together, fearing rape. Some of the inmates claim the contractors did indeed rape them, after which they were beaten and left naked for long periods of time.
In 2004, photographs were released picturing naked inmates piled on top of each other, hooded and wired for electric shocks. A military investigation that year discovered 44 incidents of detainee abuse at the prison, but did nothing to stop L-3 Services from working for the federal government.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that a lawsuit was filed against the defense contractor and until 2012 that the victims were compensated. Such compensation is rare: the US Army has been unable to document a single US government payment for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and other defense contractors accused of being involved have refused to make settlements. The Virginia-based company CACI International Inc., which provided interrogators to the US military during the Iraq War, is facing a separate lawsuit by four Iraqis who accused the company’s employees of subjecting them to torture. CACI is taking the case to trial, claiming the “plaintiffs bring claims seeking money damages for their detention and treatment while in the custody of the US military in the midst of a belligerent occupation in Iraq.”
Although monetary compensation in such cases is rare and Engility has been praised for its settlement, the contractor’s payments to the victims are scant in comparison to settlements made in the US. If divided equally, the settlement equates to about $74,000 per detainee. Azmy declined to tell AP how the money was distributed between the victims.
But in the US, victims of mistreatment are often awarded hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in compensation. The wrongful arrest of 55-year-old Doug Miller and his 30-year-old son in Palm Beach County, Fl., ended up in a $600,000 payment. An elderly couple in Baltimore received $500,000 for being falsely arrested for kidnapping their grandchild.
Settlements for prison abuse in the US have been even higher: an inmate who had his head slammed against a cement wall by a corrections officer in a New Jersey state prison received a $1.5 million settlement for his mistreatment. In Virginia, nine women who sued a state prison for sexual harassment were paid $10 million – more than $1 million each.
Even in cases where hundreds of prisoners are involved, the compensation numbers are higher than those paid to the Iraqi victims. The state of Michigan paid $100 million to about 500 female prisoners who said they were sexually assaulted by prison guards, which equates to about $200,000 per victim, if divided equally.
The average $74,000 compensation for each Abu Ghraib victim of rape, torture, death threats and physical harm seems almost inconsiderable in comparison, especially given the high levels of torture the Iraqi prisoners were subjected to. And many more Iraqi victims of abuses are unlikely to receive any sort of compensation at all.
“No court in the United States has allowed aliens – detained on the battlefield or in the course of postwar occupation and military operations by the US military – to seek damages for their detention,” CACI told the federal court.
9/11 suspects' lawyers demand CIA 'black sites' to be preserved as evidence
Self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defenders claim they were tortured in Guantanamo, prompting their lawyers to call for the preservation of the CIA secret prisons to use them as evidence.
The pretrial hearing for the suspected terrorist conspirators began Monday. Facing the death penalty for their involvement in the deadly attacks that killed 2,976 people on September 11, 2001, the five prisoners are making a last-ditch attempt to reduce sentence by describing their torture experiences at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base.
Mohammed previously accused the US government of killing millions of people and employing inhumane torture procedures “under the name of national security.” Attorneys representing the defendants are now calling for the judge to demand the preservation of the CIA “black sites” to use as evidence in the case against the US government. If the attorneys are able to prove that any of the evidence against the conspirators was obtained through torture, then this evidence may be excluded during the trial and lead to reduced sentences.
The defense team has also asked the judge to order the US government to give all White House and Justice Departments documents about the CIA’s handling of the prisoners to the defense. The agency moved its al-Qaeda prisoners across borders to the Guantanamo prison after the 9/11 attacks and questioned them without a judicial review. Documents regarding the actions of the intelligence agency have not yet been made available to the defense.
This week’s pretrial hearing is “the first step toward finding what happened in the torture of these men,” James Connell, an attorney for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, an accused 9/11 conspirator and nephew of Mohammed, said in a press conference on Sunday.
Mohammed and the other defendants will argue that they were subjected to torture including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and threats. The prisoners were allegedly also forced to endure painful positions while having their arms and legs tightly chained.
The preservation of the “black sites” could open the doors for investigation and analysis regarding the treatment of its inmates.
“If a person is in isolation,” Connell argues, “how that isolation is enforced is a relevant legal factor as to whether they’ve been illegally punished, and the building design is relevant to that.”
The legality of torture is negated by the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture, and its practice is illegal in the US. The CIA has not always been opposed to torturous interrogation techniques, but their implementation was allegedly reduced in 2004 and banned after President Obama took office.
The team of defense lawyers in the 9/11 case will attempt to have some of their defendants’ charges dismissed by bringing up the misconduct that the CIA may have committed in torturing the detainees.
"By its nature, torture affects the admissibility of evidence, the credibility of witnesses the appropriateness of punishment and the legitimacy of the prosecution itself," the defense lawyers wrote in court documents.
Ordering the preservation of a CIA “black site” is difficult, but not impossible: in 2004, the judge overlooking the 9/11 trial ordered the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to be preserved as a crime scene – even though Iraq was still under US occupation.
It is unclear whether the black sites are at risk of destruction, and in an interview with Wired, Connell said he can “neither confirm nor deny that”, but that the defense should have access to the evidence.
“If the government wants to go forward with a case seeking the death penalty against these men, it has to make the evidence which may still exist available to them,” Connell says. “If they will not make relevant evidence available, the law suggests the prosecution cannot go forward with the case. ”
CIA’s secret prison: ‘Poland dragging out investigation’
Published time: January 27, 2013 13:21
Edited time: January 30, 2013 15:09
Edited time: January 30, 2013 15:09
Reportedly, the results of this investigation could link some of Poland’s most senior politicians with illegal detention and torture, as well as impact negatively on the relationship between Poland and its key ally, the US, according to Reuters.
The news agency’s sources, including lawyers and human rights activists, reveal that the investigation was halted after the original investigators were taken off the case early last year.
The probe began in 2008 with prosecutors from the capital Warsaw, but in early 2012 the prosecutor-general transferred the investigation to the southern city of Krakow.
"The image is of a complete lack of action," Mikolaj Pietrzak, lawyer for Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri who says he was detained in a CIA jail on Polish soil, told Reuters. "The case is obviously, in my opinion, under political control … The most convenient thing politically is for the case to drag on," Pietrzak added.
Bartlomiej Jankowski, a lawyer for the second alleged ex-detainee, Abu Zubaydah, has confirmed this.
"I am not receiving any information [from prosecutors] about new documents, nor am I informed about any new hearings. This is something that worries me," Jankowski said.
CIA-run prison was discovered in a small remote village Stare Kiejkuty and was operational from December 2002 to the fall of 2003. It was used to transport suspected Al-Qaeda members outside the US territory to interrogate without having to adhere to US law.
Polish officials say the investigators are still in the midst of collecting evidence and the investigation is taking so long because US officials have not been responding to information requests.
In 2006, then-President George W. Bush revealed the US had CIA detention facilities overseas, but no details came out as to their exact locations.However, human rights groups named Afghanistan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Thailand as the most likely hosts.
The CIA’s black sites in Europe are rumored to have detained and tortured suspected terrorists, and to hold them in custody before being transported to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The sites and the prisoners existed in legal limbo, with no oversight from citizens of the host countries. The CIA is believed to have operated with the knowledge and cooperation of the governments of those countries.
Poland is the second country to have opened a criminal investigation into the matter, after Lithuania (though that case has been closed).
Polish investigation is entering its fifth year, scheduled to end this month, but there are reports that the prosecutors may apply for an extension.
‘Investigation implicated senior levels of Polish government’One of the main problems with the investigation is the fact that it affects top levels of Polish government, argues Polish Senator Jozef Pinior, who has pushed for a full investigation.
" [The government] are in a sandwich between opening this issue up and the pressure from the hard core of the Polish state, the secret service, the prosecutor's office, who say: 'Let's keep this secret'," Pinior told Reuters.
In response, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's office stated that the investigators are independent from external influence. "No executive body can influence the prosecutor's actions," it said in a statement.
Rumors about Poland hosting a CIA-run prison had circulated for years, though the country's authorities dismissed them as absurd.However, the UN and the Council of Europe had long claimed they had evidence of the site’s existence.
Also aware of the CIA program was Marek Dukaczewski, who was head of military intelligence when the alleged jail was in operation. He was the only one to acknowledge the CIA prison publicly in 2010.
Two prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, claimed they were prisoners at this black site. Polish prosecutors have already given the two ‘victim status’.
Among other possible detainees are self-proclaimed 9/11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, perpetrator of the 2000 USS Cole bombing Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Palestinian terror suspect Abu Zubaydah.
CIA ‘should pay for Nazi-like Poland prison’
Former U.S. president George W. Bush stipulated that important prisoners should be interrogated in a special way, which implied having a secure place to do so. The Polish facility was one of these, former CIA officer Raymond McGovern, who followed the story for years, told RT.
“How it came to be? Of course, there was probably some money that passed hands,” McGovern said, adding that he will be very interested in the results of the investigation to see how much the head of Polish intelligence was able to gain from the venture.
“This is the kind of thing the Nazis did in WWII,” McGovern stated.
The practice of harsh interrogation techniques has often come under fire in the last few years. While President Bush insisted it helps to prevent terror acts, U.S. Army intelligence suggests that “no good information is ever made available through harsh interrogation techniques”, McGovern quotes.
“Everyone knows torture does not give reliable information,” the former CIA officer stressed, “if you want unreliable information – torture works like a charm.”
“If you want to “prove” that Saddam Hussein had ties with Al Qaeda and cannot do it yourself – give those people over to the Egyptians, they know how to make people “confess”,” McGovern said, explaining that this was how the information was obtained about Saddam Hussein being somehow related to 9/11.
Obviously, it was not only Polish secret service that violated the law. The CIA agents interrogating prisoners are also guilty, and should be held accountable for their actions, McGovern said.
He stresses that since the Nuremberg Trials, “I was only following orders” has not been a good enough excuse.
“That does not work, ok? Nuremberg says that does not work,” McGovern stated.
“Accountability is a noun that has been missing from the vocabulary of Washington officials and even jurists. If the Poles can do this – maybe we can all do this,” he concluded.
The former CIA officer also told RT that the extraordinary rendition programs of the US are a “puzzle”.
“The US administration has asserted the right to do rendition, but I have no indication that the kind of abuses that happened under the Cheney/Bush regime are continuing anywhere else in the world,” McGovern acknowledged.