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Abuse: The treatment of Guantanamo detainees has provoked outrage around the world

Abuse of Guantanamo prisoners has got much WORSE since Obama took office, claims lawyer

Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office, a lawyer has claimed.
Ahmed Ghappour, who represents some of the detainees, believes prison guards are ‘getting their kicks in’ before the camp is closed.

According to the human rights lawyer, abuse began to increase in December after Obama was elected.

British resident Binyam Mohamed was freed from the camp this week: He claims he was tortured during his time there

He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.

The Pentagon said on Monday that it had received renewed reports of prisoner abuse during a recent review of conditions at Guantanamo, but had concluded that all prisoners were being kept in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

‘According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in abuse since President Obama was inaugurated,’ said Ghappour, a British-American lawyer with Reprieve, a legal charity that represents 31 detainees at Guantanamo.

‘If one was to use one’s imagination, (one) could say that these traumatised, and for lack of a better word barbaric, guards were just basically trying to get their kicks in right now for fear that they won’t be able to later,” he said.
‘Certainly in my experience there have been many, many more reported incidents of abuse since the inauguration.’

Ghappour has visited Guantanamo six times since late September and based his comments on his own observations and conversations with both prisoners and guards.

He stressed the mistreatment did not appear to be directed from above, but was an initiative undertaken by frustrated US Army and Navy jailers on the ground.

It did not seem to be a reaction against the election of Obama, a Democrat who has pledged to close the prison camp within a year.

Instead Ghappour, who helped secure the release this week of British resident Binyam Mohamed, put it down to the realisation that there was little time remaining before the last 241 detainees, all Muslim, are released.

‘It’s “hey, let’s have our fun while we can,”’ he said.
‘I can’t really imagine why you would get your kicks from abusing prisoners, but certainly, having spoken to certain guards who have been injured in Iraq, who indirectly or directly blame my clients for their injuries and the trauma they have suffered, it’s not too difficult to put two and two together.’

Following an order from Obama on January 22, the US Defence Department conducted a two-week review of conditions at Guantanamo ahead of the planned closure of the prison on Cuba.

Admiral Patrick Walsh, the review’s author, acknowledged this week that reports of abuse had emerged but concluded all inmates were being treated in line with the Geneva Conventions.
‘We heard allegations of abuse,’ he said, asked if detainees had reported torture.

‘And what we did at that point was to go back and investigate the allegation... What we found is that there were in some cases substantiated evidence where guards had misconduct, I think that would be the best way to put it.’

A detainee is taken for questioning: Abuse allegedly ranges from beatings to over-forcefeeding prisoners on hunger strike.
Walsh said his review looked at 20 allegations of abuse, 14 of which were substantiated, but he did not go into details.
Generally he said the abuse ranged from ‘gestures, comments, disrespect’ to ‘preemptive use of pepper spray.’

Ghappour said he had spoken to army guards who, unsolicited, had described the pleasure they took in abusing prisoners, whether interrupting prayer or physical mistreatment.
He said they appeared unconcerned about potential repercussions.

He also saw evidence of guards pulling identity numbers off their uniforms or switching them once they were on duty in order to make it more difficult for them to be identified.

Ghappour said he had filed two complaints of serious detainee abuse since December 22 but received no response from US authorities.
In one case his client had his knee, shoulder and thumb dislocated by a group of guards, Ghappour said.

In one of the six main camps at Guantanamo, the lawyer said all the detainees he knew were on hunger strike and subject to force-feeding, including with laxatives that induced chronic diarrhoea while they were strapped in their feeding chairs.

‘Several of my clients have had toilet paper pepper-sprayed while they have had haemorrhoids,’ Ghappour said. Another area of concern was evidence that detainees were being abused on the way to meetings with their lawyers – sometimes so badly that they no longer wanted to meet with counsel for fear of the beatings they would receive, he said.

‘Some detainees are convinced they are going to be locked up there forever, despite the promises to close the camp,’ he said.
(Mail Online)


Aborigines angry a year after ‘sorry’

This time last year, Aborigines in the Northern Territory boarded buses for the three-day drive to Canberra, drawn to the nation’s capital by the promise of a single word: Sorry.
It was uttered three times by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, as he apologised to indigenous Australians for the past injustices.

In the public galleries of parliament and at live sites around the country, the “sorry speech” was met with applause, tears and thanks.
Australia’s Day of Atonement, as some called it, was deemed a triumph.
But 12 months on, I was in Alice Springs to watch a group of Aborigines embark on the same journey, this time to protest at the foot of Parliament Hill.

There is deep-felt resentment that not more has changed since the apology, and fury that the Rudd Government has not only kept the rudiments of the previous government’s Northern Territory intervention in place, but extended elements of it to Queensland. The intervention was former Prime Minister John Howard’s forceful response to a report which revealed that child sex abuse had reached crisis levels in more than 70 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
Declaring a national emergency, Howard banned the sale, transport and consumption of alcohol in indigenous communities, as well as pornography.

Big signs went up at the entrances to these communities designating them “prescribed areas” where the new regulations applied.
Welfare payments were partly quarantined, which meant that tough restrictions came into force dictating how they were spent.

Instead of cash payments, Aborigines received plastic cards that could be redeemed for food and produce, but not for alcohol, or grog as it more commonly known in the Northern Territory.
To prevent legal challenges to these policies, the government suspended the landmark 1975 Racial Discrimination Act.

Some Aboriginal leaders, like Noel Pearson, gave these policies a cautious welcome, arguing that a crisis situation required a drastic response. Others have been enraged.
Harry Nelson, an Aboriginal elder, was amongst those boarding the protest bus.
“The apology is nothing. I don’t think the apology has changed anything,” he said.
He is particularly aggrieved about the restrictions placed upon welfare payments.
“Of course it does annoy me. I mean we don’t tell the Canberra mob, the white people, how to spend their money.

“What I would like to see is the government people have their money to be quarantined, as well. I bet you they wouldn’t like it.”
But the government would say that it has reduced alcohol consumption and the myriad problems it brings, I suggested.
“The majority of the people don’t spend all their money on grog,” he replied.
Barbara Shaw is another Aboriginal leader. She lives in a town camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs which has been designated a “Prescribed Area,”

“That’s what we are now,” she said. “Prescribed area people. Everybody behind those signs are either alcoholics or paedophiles – and that’s not the case.”
“You think the signs are stereotyping you,” I asked.
“Yeah, and demonising our people. Stereotyping our men as child abusers and mothers that neglect their children.

“You are basically saying that all Aboriginal people are alcoholics beyond those signs.”
Another common complaint surrounds the suspension of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act, which has been condemned by many human rights lawyers in Australia.

“At an international level, Australia’s track record in human rights is being tarnished, and our standing in the global community diminished,” says Claire Smith from the University of Newcastle.

“At a time when we are angling for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations’ Security Council, our own transgressions prevent us from meeting our international obligations.”
As Claire Smith points out, this year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, is scheduled to make a formal visit to Australia.

There is a concern, as well, that the Rudd Government’s priority now is to stave off recession and to rebuild the fire-affected communities in Victoria.
Closing the gap, that 17-year difference in the life expectancy of black and white Australians, is no longer such a pressing national issue.

Pat Turner, a former Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, notes: “Aboriginal affairs is always the first casualty. And now we’ve got this international global financial crisis Aboriginal affairs is off the agenda.

“You do the symbolic things, that’s what governments and white Australia is comfortable with, but when it comes to putting money on the table, it’s not going to happen.”

We had planned to speak to Jenny Macklin, the government’s minister for indigenous affairs.
But she is now coordinating the government’s response to the Victorian wildfires – which Aboriginal leaders would say speaks of the problem.
(BBC News)


Verdict on Kosovo war crimes due

A United Nations war crimes court is due to deliver a verdict in the case of Serbian ex-President Milan Milutinovic.
Along with five other Serbian ex-officials, he is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict in Kosovo in the 1990s.

It is the court’s first ruling on crimes allegedly committed by Serbs in the Kosovo conflict.
Prosecutors in The Hague are seeking jail terms of between 20 years and life for the men, who all deny the charges.

The charges in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) focus on an alleged campaign of terror and violence which included the expulsion of 800,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

The allegations also include the murders of hundreds of civilians.
Milutinovic was seen largely as a figurehead president of Serbia during the conflict in Kosovo, with real power in the hands of his mentor, Slobodan Milosevic, the then-President of Yugoslavia.
Slobodan Milosevic died in tribunal custody in 2006, before a verdict was delivered in his own trial, giving this trial much greater significance, says BBC correspondent Helen Fawkes in Belgrade.
It is the largest case at the UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia that has ever reached this stage.

The six defendants were on trial from July 2006 to August 2008.
The other five defendants are Serb former Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, ex-defence minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, ex-army commanders Nebojsa Pavkovic, and Vladimir Lazarevic, and former public security service chief Sreten Lukic.

Although Milutinovic was indicted during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, he served out his full five-year term as president until the end of 2002.
It was only after he lost his immunity as president that he surrendered.


Zimbabwe farmer: ‘I’m not giving up’

Dozens of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe have reportedly been invaded by supporters of President Robert Mugabe this month as the long-time opposition joined a national unity government.

Some suspect this is part of an attempt by hardline Mugabe supporters to scuttle the agreement. Catherine Meredith, 40, tells the BBC what happened to her farm.

On February 6, a crowd of 30 men showed up on our land. Most of them were young, many of them wearing [President Mugabe’s] Zanu-PF T-shirts.

I was away in South Africa visiting my son at university but my husband had stayed behind. We had a feeling that something could happen so we decided one of us should stay.
They told my husband that our farm was now being taken over by a local businessman. Their manner was boastful and arrogant.

When I came back from South Africa a few days later, I was advised by the French embassy not to return to the farm (I’m originally from France).
This is because in 2008 there were similar invasions of white-owned farms and it got quite violent. Back then, there were people threatening to kill us and we had to leave our farm for some time.

This time, there was less violence, but I was in touch with my staff on the mobile from Harare. They told me the invaders had been menacing towards them and stopped them from working.

This made my staff very angry, but they were under strict instructions from me not to lose it.
After a week, my husband and I returned to the farm. In the meantime we had obtained a court order in Harare saying the squatters had no right to our land.

The crowd was still there. The atmosphere was very tense, very unpleasant.
We calmly handed the eviction papers to the leader of the pack. We want to follow the law by the letter. The local sheriff was with us. He explained to them that they had no right to be there.

They kept saying they hadn’t been violent. But that isn’t true. Last week they seized a member of my staff and pushed his face to the ground to get him to hand over the keys to our garden gate.
Then, 17 of them broke into our garden. Luckily, the police for once stuck up for us and prevented them from breaking into our house.

These squatters are arbitrary people who have been paid to squat on our farm. We call them ‘rent-a-crowd.’

But generally the local police haven’t been very helpful. Despite the eviction order, they haven’t tried to force the squatters off our land. They claim they haven’t got the manpower to help us.
There are several reasons why these people have invaded our land now, just as a new unity government emerges.

Either it’s a last push from Zanu-PF to seize all commercial white farms.
Or it’s an attempt by the old regime to endanger the new government and show that it isn’t working.
Or it’s just the last attempt of a group of greedy people who don’t own their own farm to grab one from others.

Although the men that invaded our farm were wearing Zanu-PF T-shirts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are members of the party.

They might just be one of the few t-shirts they own – Zanu has handed out so many.
But the businessman who ordered the invasion is a Zanu-PF member. He seems to be a collector of farms – he already owns three others that he has taken by force.

Financially this has cost us a great deal. The man who ordered the crowd to seize our land has allowed his cattle to walk through our maize fields. This has partly destroyed our crops.
Emotionally, it’s absolutely draining. You think you are protected by the law and then this happens.

All of our children are grown up and have moved away and thank goodness for that. Otherwise we would have to worry about their safety as well. On the surface, this invasion seems more peaceful than the one last year. But there are still about 12 of them on our land and you never know what they are capable of.

They drink and smoke pot quite a bit, and it worries me.
I have lived here since I was 23. Zimbabwe is my home now, I wouldn’t know where else to go.
My husband was born in this area and he speaks Shona. We belong here.

We are not giving up. We strongly believe that change is coming to Zimbabwe.
My feeling is that we are very near the end of these troubles. We have a new prime minister now.
I’m 100% confident that in five years’ time, I’ll still be living on this farm.


Ski respite for war weary Kashmiris

This winter, the attraction of the sun-washed snow slopes of Gulmarg in Indian-administered Kashmir has led many middle class people into shedding their pherans (traditional woollen gowns) and kangri (earthen fire pot hand warmers) for the thrill of winter sports.

On a wooden ramp inside the dimly lit ski shop in Gulmarg, Sabiha Nabi, 14, stomps the heels of her boots into her skis.

Her father, Ghulam Nabi, makes sure they fit properly.
“Papa, it is fine,” she whispers looking over her shoulder. Sabiha is now ready to go.
Sabiha is not the only person preparing to descend.

There is a crowd outside the ski shop in Gulmarg where young girls and boys accompanied by their parents are all dressed for slaloming down the slopes.
For the first time, local Kashmiris outnumber foreign adventure tourists here. All are enjoying a welcome respite from the years of bloodshed that have meant recreational activities such as this have not been possible.

As Sabiha takes position for her first downhill run, she looks back, her eyes glinting.
“I want to represent Kashmir in the Olympics one day.” Her father flaunts a proud smile. “She will make me and Kashmir proud one day,” he says.

From five-year-old Samia Gul to 42-year-old Siraj Ahmad, everyone whizzes down the snow. It is an activity that is becoming increasingly popular – the slopes of Gulmarg have seldom been so busy.
“I came here last winter as well but I felt a bit shy to ski. Actually I was afraid that I would fall and everyone would laugh,” says Irfan Shafi, a college student from Srinagar.

“But then I tried it this year. Of course I fell but no-one laughed at me. In fact, another skier pulled me up and I saw everyone giving tips to each other and I have learnt some basic controls in two days only. Skiing feels great now.”

In Gulmarg, everything is painted with snow - its dazzling whiteness lines the streets, the pine branches, the wooden roofs and the mountains.
Gulmarg – 58 km (36 miles) from Srinagar – is not far from the Line of Control that separates Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir.

Several ski courses are being conducted by the state youth services and sports department.
Foreign skiers are holding free ski courses for local Kashmiri children.

“We usually enrol 60 students in a course but this year we have been forced to take 90 because of the huge number of applicants,” says Nisar Wani, an instructor.

“We have rejected more applications than we have accepted this year. We were not expecting so many Kashmiri children to come forward.”

The ski instructors now bemoan the lack of equipment and accommodation facilities for the increasing number of enthusiasts.
“There are not enough skis or slopes for the number of people who have started to come here,” Nisar Wani says.

It is hoped that the new chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, may provide a lifeline.

“Omar learnt skiing here with us and he is a very good skier today. We are sure that he will make Gulmarg a place for professional skiing and provide more facilities to skiers,” says Abdul Quyoom, another instructor.

A few steps away, Mr Abdullah’s sister, Sara, gets in position to tackle the slope. “I love skiing and more so in Gulmarg. I come here often and it is good to see that Kashmiri boys and girls have started to come here,” she says.

Ms Abdullah begins to ski. At first she is slow but soon she gains momentum, cutting arcs to the bottom of the slope where she finally joins other skiers, wearing colourful jackets, all waiting in the queue for their turn at the ski-lift.

There are famous slopes in Gulmarg – Shark Fins, G-4, Beta, Gujjar Hut and Sunshine Peak. They are definitely not for the faint hearted – only top skiers dare tackle them.
Even in the evening, when the ski shop and ski lift close, skiers continue their sport. As they clamber up the sharp slopes they chat to each other and form new friendships.