HAITI: An American earthquake survivor writes to Ezili Danto

JANUARY 28, 2010 9:10PM

An American earthquake survivor writes to Ezili Dantò/HLLN

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From Haiti -An American earthquake survivor and witness writes to the Ezili Dantò/HLL network

Thursday, January 28, 2010 6:58 PM
From:Haiti earthquake survivor and witness of Trees for Life Haiti
To: Zili 

I have not had internet access until now.....I am an american living in Haiti for over 20 years and established Trees for Life Haiti. see treesforlife.org. I had my computer with me to write what I am sending. I want to thank everyone on your site for the information and motivation to change the way life is here. Mother Earth has broken the system and it is time for a new system and a new way of living in this beautiful country with its amazing and beautiful people.

GS - Haiti earthquake survivor and witness
Trees for Life Haiti


Today is the 3rd day after the earthquake in Haiti and I am in my tent on Boutillier. I am from the US and lived in California for many years thru a few low point quakes and tremors. I am used to the kind of response that I would experience in the US after such a great disaster, but today in Haiti it is both heartbreaking and heartwarming to see the reaction of the people who have never been thru any kind of disaster on this level and most do not understand what has happened. Where I am and where I have seen in parts of Petionville Delmas and listening to others who have been in other part of this city and the country. NO RESPONSE for 3 days. No police vehicles, no Red Cross, no NGOs, no Minustah. No one on the streets to offer any help or direction. Only the radio announcers telling everyone to stay outside. Thousands have slept in the parks in Petionville with the stench of dead bodies. Some have no damage to homes but are told to sleep outside and breath the contaminated air.

It is almost 4pm and the Americans have just secured the airport. The first response we hear on the radio is to put toothpaste under our noses while they spray “something” in the air for the smell and rotting of dead bodies that have been laying in the streets for 3 days. What are they going to spray us with???? “something is all the Haitians are told. Something will be sprayed soon and what will it do to the survivors and all those still sleeping and living outside? The country is now in control of the US Marines or whatever entity which has announced the “takeover of Haiti." Food and water is not entering by the airport but diverted to the Dominican Republic and trucked in. I guess this is as close to a “rapid response” for the people who are out of food and water today.

Maybe this is why they have ask all Americans to leave. I am not leaving by choice as I have family ties and many friends since living here for 20 years. 

On Boutillier 7 people died in a church that collapsed. Walls built around the big mansions collapsed and houses built close to the Laboulle sand quary buried. Many people lost homes and family. This morning the only boutique having 5 gallon water were purged by the rich families. The boutique had 9 gallons 5 and were being all purchased by one rich person til I ask her please to leave 3 bottles for others to buy. I could only buy one bottle for 11 people who are sleeping next to our tent and are part of my husband's family. I see no caring or concern for the poor people who are tramatized and very scared that another quake will happen and more loss and injuries.

CNN reported after the quake the following morning that help had already arrived. We can see the airport and we drove the streets in the afternoon and we saw no help. Today around 2pm we drove by the airport seeing no response or help in any of the areas we drove. 

One thing that is amazing to me is that there is very little looting or damage by people to property and everyone is staying together and taking some actions like clearing the rubble and taking bodies to the Morgue. The destruction is massive in some areas of the city but in the upper part where people are basically just in shock and looking for food and water, a response is manageable and could save lives. 

I don’t know if we will have water or food tomorrow or the next day. I cannot reach anyone by my Digicel phone but I have heard that we can get help sometime soon but not how or when.

The window of opportunity has opened for a great takeover and we shall see how the Americans and the foreign response value the lives of the survivors.

I am an American living in Haiti for many years. We established trees for Life Haiti and have been planting trees and teaching agro technique and increase of food production in the rural areas. I have visited 42 localities over the years and what we do goes against the international agenda. We are not an NGO nor are we registered with the government. We have very little funding but we do what we can to teach others to care and respect our Great Mother Earth. She has made Her great Power known to this country and I hope and pray that this great tragedy will finally change the way Haitians and the powers-that-be have destroyed her for survival and greed. Haitians cannot continue to rape this country of trees and natural resources if they wish to survive this next generation.

Today is the 11th day since the quake and I finally received a money transfer from Trees for Life for food and gas and we are able to give food to 16 people. We drove to Petionville and saw some bags of rice in the areas where people are camping in the park. NO ONE who lives in small home will sleep inside. We have had two tremors today and people are still traumatized and very afraid. A young girl with an injured and bleeding foot asked for money. She was alone and very disoriented. We see the outside markets are now selling their goods and food but very few are buying for lack of money. My friend who has a small market with a Western Union station says he has no business but maybe 200 people waiting to receive transfers. These people are lucky to have loved ones to send money. Millions do not have outside support of any kind and must depend on relief aid, which I have not seen in this part of city. We see very few cars in the streets and we did not see any official cars or aid workers or response teams or police.

I was told by a friend today who witnessed the mob justice of an armed robber. He was arrested by two police and then turned over to the crowd. They beat him and then burned him til nothing was left but his bones. I have heard a few accounts of police shooting innocent people, including a 15 year old girl who was in a market. The UN trained and armed police seem to have never heard of human rights or been trained to handle any kind of disaster situation. But they do know how to shoot their new guns and proudly wear their uniforms.

I visited the offices of a magazine that is hosting some French journalists but I felt no desire to speak to anyone. I do know some of what is really happening here is being reported but I suspect that countries like France, the US and European Union would not want it reported how unorganized and inhumane the rescue and response has been….or not been. There will be the standard excuses and much talk from government officials as to the lack of infrastructure and the fear of violence while more suffer from lack of medical care and food. I still wonder how all these millions of dollars pledged to this country will be used and who will be spending it and where. Haiti does not need any more vultures to pick at the bones of the poor, Haiti needs sincere benevolent assistance with no hidden agenda of opportunist greed. 

I cannot see the future today, I cannot feel any certainty that more lives will be saved and survivors will have homes and means to continue living but I do see a real opportunity to transform this country. I only hope that this catastrophe has finally broken and exposed a system that has held millions in poverty for a century.


Today is Saturday the 12th day after the quake and I stood in a Western Union line for 4 hours to receive the money my daughter sent so we can get more food and gas. We are the only people who will use our truck to give rides and buy food in the markets.

Yesterday someone brought (not an agency) several dozen eggs and today a few bags of rice to the mountain where I am, but not enough for all the people who need food.

We expect more money transfers from friends and family to give more help next week. And because of this we will be OK for however long the funds are there. I only hope more assistance will reach this area. My feeling today is that we will have to go to the UN outposts or the Embassy soon and ask for tents and food. I do not think anyone will come here. 

I got a phone call at 5:00 AM from a friend who told me a friend of ours died in a collapsed house in Delmas. Her family in the states does not know yet as of this morning because of the busy telephone networks it is hard to get thru. He body was bulldozed and put in a mass grave or burned somewhere.

I have been told by friends who have been witnessing the bulldozing of bodies and the dumping in mass graves or being taken outside the city and burned. These actions are all carried out by government directives, which so far is the only real response visible to us. It seems that this is all they seem capable of doing for their population. Bulldozing and digging mass graves. Maybe I am being too cynical, but my I finally broke down and cried for all those still suffering so needlessly. There is help here and not only have Haitians died and been displaced, but people from all over the world have been living here for several years have died and been injured. The delay in response sort of seems like a kind of torture when you hear on the news that so much is here but being controlled.

I spoke to my very good friend Jane Wynne tonight. Her Mother-in-law died today in a nursing home and the nuns have no way to take care of the body nor are there any morgues to receive the body so Jane had to go in her small jeep and carry her mother-in-law’s body to Kenscoff mountain where she will bury her on her land in the mountains tomorrow. Jane also told me there is no sign of help with food or shelter where she is, so like me she will do what she can to ask for food and help. Our problem is we have no idea where to go for help, yet. I have seen UN personal on Boutillier fixing communication towers and they could not tell me anywhere to go.

She also told me that she passed the parks in Petionville today and they were finally trying to distribute food but the crowds were unmanageable. A friend who lives in Petionville said the organization giving out food is a private one and not part of the International team for assistance. He said they have been giving food to the people camping in the part for a few days but there is no organized system and fighting for food is happening now.


Today is the 13th day after the quake and we still felt two slight tremors. Some people I know with no damage to their homes are returning. Some friends came up to visit today and have no home any longer. We talked about how this is a great tragedy but the system must and will change because we are now witnessing the total inept way the government is not giving the help to the people.

I live in a house in Vivy Michel with my friend Neil and his family. He came to see us today on the mountain and he is the first person I have talked to who was downtown and at the General Hospital the night of the earthquake. His wife’s aunt was leg injured and in downtown and was taken to GH by family. So he had to spend the night outside the hospital waiting for her to get treated. What he then told me was very gruesome but I feel like people have to know how the Haitian government Hospital doctors treated these disaster victims. My friend told me he saw so many people coming to the hospital and these are the very poor and also in the area of the greatest devastation so I will say the doctors were totally unprepared and overwhelmed. Most of the victims had severe limb damage or had lost an arm, leg or hand and were carrying their severed limbs in some hope they could be re attached. But the most horrific scene he describes is that the doctors started amputating damaged and gangrene limbs of these people every 15 minutes or so with NO anesthesia and then gave the patients a prescription and sends them away with family or friends if they have any with them. The ones that don’t are laid in the corridors or even outside the hospital on the ground to recover. The scene is so surreal that he describes to me and I just cover my mouth and can’t speak.

I just cannot imagine that this is a government that the UN insists should be in charge and given support to take care of its citizens when it has been so inept for so many years. It was this government that allowed the poor people to build unsafe structures on mountainsides surrounding the city.


Today is the 14th day after the quake and I finally could reach a few friends when the circuits are not busy. I will probably have to go visit one of the nicer people living in the big houses here who has kindly said I could use his internet.

I received another transfer today from my daughter. She was able to raise $130 from her co workers and today we needed to replenish our food. I am so thankful for anyone who sends help. However, the dollar exchange is dropping everyday and we are paying higher prices for everything. We are still able to give food to 20 people today.

We still do not see anyone on the mountain except the teams coming to install new communication systems for the recovery effort. I met two very nice men from the U.S . sent by FEMA and who are part of this team. I ask them is there was any help they saw reaching anyone in the city and they said no. They told me the UN, the US, England and France are fighting with the Haitian government for control of distribution. One man also was in Indonesia and Katrina and said he saw the same slow response after these disasters. You would think at least we would see Red Cross teams or medical teams, or tents and ways to have some shelter and food. He said only a few private groups and local churches are giving food but the crowds are huge and hungry. He recommended I did not leave the mountain or go past Petionville even to ask for help. Then he offered me two army ration meals which we tried but only ate the deserts. Sorry I sound ungrateful but I am not in the military nor am I any where near being hungry enough to eat the salty mushy, plastic, beef stew ,yet. It was a nice gesture though even though he did make sure to ask the members of the team if they were going to eat their rations before he offered. 


It is now two weeks past the event that has shaken this country and I hope it has shaken the world to witness how a country so close the Washington D.C. and with so many relatives of Americans living here can be made to suffer because the “powers” that control the goods and money sent cannot agree on how it should be done. 

Oh yeah, we heard from a friend of ours whose brother was eligible to return to the states on the plan offered to any Haitian with citizenship in the States who can receive one family member from Haiti. Our friend’s brother wants to come back because his family in the states does not cook Haitian food and he doesn’t like the American food. Imagine that…

God Bless us…….

*” Haitians, as a people, struggle to transform this below, knowing no matter the misery, loss and suffering in time, that out of time, Nan Ginen, our safety lies - lives- wholly unformed by any storylines, (even our own), since before this 'New World's' time began." (Excerpt from Bwa Kayiman, 2007 and the case of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine.) In addition, power concedes nothing, unless it has to, and the Haitian experience with the "Mulatto" Oligarchs also reveals that the Mulatto's definition of liberty and freedom differs from that of the African-Haitian masses. Ultimately, social stratification, oppressive laws, injustice, profit-over-people rulers, organized exclusion of the masses, the impunity of the economic elite, structural elitism, the monstrosities of US/Euro ethno-centricism, (racism, Nazism, financial colonialism, neo-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, forced assimilation) and deliberate containment-in-poverty won't be eradicated unless profit-over-people VALUES are changed.”

Quote: Ezili Dantò


Today is the 15th day after the quake and still no relief sent to where we are. I know I will receive some funds today from Trees for Life and we will keep feeding people and doing what we can. 

I received a phone call today from a missionary in O’kay in the south and she told me someone from her church was trying to contact me. She told me that they are getting help from other missions and that planes were landing there with relief. She said the number of “refugees” meaning those Haitians that were from there are returning to their families but the number is so great and their families don’t have anything either. 

I heard the plan announced on the radio, and this is a government response, that there are specific stations that will bus people back to their home province with 500gds($15.00) and some food. That amount of money will buy food for 4 people for one or two days. There are now some clinics and temporary medical facilities to treat people. And the Red Cross is mentioned, too. It appears the government is trying to get as many people to leave the city.

We have not heard that that the tons of goods that have been flown into the International airport are being distributed yet. Mostly local organizations are giving some help but the international teams are not presently organized or giving help as of today. The government response is slow and incredibly ineffective. There is still a good supply of goods and food in the markets in our area but people have no money to purchase.

I have friends who are giving help on their own anyway they can. One college student I know is organizing a way to get clothes to some of the people living in the parks in Petionville. So many Haitians I know are helping everywhere with frustration because of such a lack of organized ways of delivery of relief. People are calling me to find out how they can volunteer or get some kind of jobs with the relief teams but there is no central location for these teams, yet or any information given on the radio.

We have heard that an area called Leogone is 90% destroyed and no help there yet.


We are very lucky to have a big cistern for our use for water to wash etc, but no free drinking water or food has arrived on Boutillier as of today……

My brother just called me and said that Trees for Life has just wired a substantial donation to our account and we will be able to help many others now……Thank you God and thank you to the generous donor.

We just spoke to the local authority for the area damaged on Boutillier and he gave a list of families we will be helping.

Today is the 16th day after the earthquake and we are listening to the radio of people being interviewed by local journalists still crying for food and water. The slums are reporting that they heve received food from some local agencies but now they have no water. Jacmel people are demonstrating today because they have received no help, yet. Jacmel is about 3 hours drive from PAP. If the roads are not passable, we see many helicopters that could drop supplies but we have heard that the UN has blocked the Americans from doing this. Fritz’s nephew told me he went downtown yesterday and did not see so many people as many have been evacuated but he said the smell was so bad he could not be there long.

My friend Rosmond called this morning to tell us her 15 year old son died in the quake while in his school on Delmas and she was in so much pain from her loss. So many people, so many people have lost so much and I can feel the pain and anguish of those whose pain is intensified by the lack of basic human needs such as food, water, and shelter. And we all know how many cargo planes have landed since the quake and how it is mostly all still held in the airport and UN compound. I truly do not understand . My only guess is that the Haitian government believes that there are countries such as the U.S., France, Canada are trying to install themselves here to continue to illegally remove the resources here. Anyone can Google” resources of Haiti” and learn about the two Canadian oil companies here that have already drilled for oil by the border and how much uranium and irridium to make bombs has been removed by the U.S. All this documented by Haitian Lawyers Leaders Network.

I am sure there is very little news coverage now on CNN, etc. I have not seen TV for weeks but I imagine the story of Haiti’s disaster is now old news. But believe me the real story of Haiti’s recovery is just beginning……..basketball in the street and ask them if they had eaten today. All shook their heads “no”….God Bless us.


Today is the 16th day since the earthquake and I have a list of all the people living in the different zones on Boutiller mountain. I know a man living in the big houses who has a business and came to tell me I could go with him tomorrow to the UN compound next to the airport and request assistance for food, water and tents in the name of Trees for Life Haiti. Since we have an organization we were told this is the only way that help is reaching people so we will go thru the disaster zones and get some help up here. I have dispersed a few funds to some very needy and homeless people so far but the need is so great that we must get some aid relief up here. Since I have the official paperwork for the projects we were to implement before the quake it should make it easier to get what we need up here. I already had my laptop and all the papers from the UN with me, along with my bank books and passport. If I had left them at my house I would not be able to get them.

I met a British journalist today visiting the mountain and she told me the same thing, that there were vast amounts of goods to be given and this is how we must do it now. I am very grateful that I was here or I do not know how the people would get help. She also told me that there were doctors here that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and this is the worst scene they have encountered. She said that at the hospitals that are operating now, the foreign doctors are performing 100 amputations a day at each hospital. Those who had to wait so long for treatment have no choice but to lose their injured limbs.

I will have access to internet later today so will be checking all the messages and good wishes from friends and family. The phones seem to be working better today and I can reach some people that I have not talked to since the quake. 

Forwarded by Ezili's Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network


IRAQ: Blackwater's Youngest Victim

Blackwater's Youngest Victim

By Jeremy Scahill

January 28, 2010

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Mohammed Kinani

Every detail of September 16, 2007, is burned in Mohammed Kinani's memory. Shortly after 9 am he was preparing to leave his house for work at his family's auto parts business in Baghdad when he got a call from his sister, Jenan, who asked him to pick her and her children up across town and bring them back to his home for a visit. The Kinanis are a tightknit Shiite family, and Mohammed often served as a chauffeur through Baghdad's dangerous streets to make such family gatherings possible.

An accompanying slideshow of Ali Kinani, his family, and the Nisour massacre can be found here.

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Mohammed had just pulled away from his family's home in the Khadamiya neighborhood in his SUV. His youngest son, 9-year-old Ali, came tearing down the road after him, asking his father if he could accompany him. Mohammed told him to run along and play with his brothers and sister. But Ali, an energetic and determined kid, insisted. Mohammed gave in, and off the father and son went.

As Mohammed and Ali drove through Baghdad that hot and sunny Sunday, they passed a newly rebuilt park downtown. Ali gazed at the park and then turned to his father and asked, "Daddy, when are you gonna bring us here?"

"Next week," Mohammed replied. "If God wills it, son."

Ali would never visit that park. Within a few hours, he would be dead from a gunshot wound to the head. While you may have never heard his name, you probably know something about how Ali Mohammed Hafedh Kinani died. He was the youngest person killed by Blackwater forces in the infamous Nisour Square massacre.

In May 2008 Mohammed flew to Washington to testify in front of a grand jury investigating the shooting. It was his first time out of Iraq. The US Attorney, Jeffrey Taylor, praised Mohammed for his "commendable courage." A year after the shooting, in December 2008, five Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges, while a sixth guard pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed Iraqi. American justice, it seemed to Mohammed, was working. "I'm a true believer in the justness and fairness of American law," Mohammed said.

But this past New Year's Eve, federal Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out all the criminal charges against the five Blackwater guards. At least seventeen Iraqis died that day, and prosecutors believed they could prove fourteen of the killings were unjustified. The manslaughter charges were dismissed not because of a lack of evidence but because of what Urbina called serious misconduct on the part of the prosecutors.

Then, a few days after the dismissal of the criminal case, Blackwater reached a civil settlement with many of the Nisour Square victims, reportedly paying about $100,000 per death.

Blackwater released a statement declaring it was "pleased" with the outcome, which enabled the company to move forward "free of the costs and distraction of ongoing litigation." But Mohammed Kinani would not move on. He refused to take the deal Blackwater offered. As a result, he may well be the one man standing between Blackwater and total impunity for the killings in Nisour Square.

On September 15, 2009, the night before the second anniversary of his son's death, Mohammed Kinani sued Blackwater in its home state of North Carolina, along with company owner Erik Prince and the six men Mohammed believes are responsible for his son's death. In an exclusive interview providing the most detailed eyewitness account of the massacre that has yet been published, Mohammed told his story to The Nation.


Mohammed Kinani, 38, is a gentle man, deeply religious and soft-spoken. When we meet, he takes off his hat as he greets me with a slight bow. He then presents me with a gift--a box of baklava--and insists that we try some right away. Before we sit down to discuss the events that led to the death of his son, Mohammed goes out of his way to assure me that no question is off limits and that he wants Americans to know what happened that day. It was as though he was telling me it was OK to ask him to relive the horror. "Those few minutes in Nisour Square, I will never forget; so whatever you ask me, I will answer with absolute clarity," he said.

Before we talk about Nisour Square, Mohammed tells me about his life. He was born in Baghdad in 1971 and grew up in a large home with his siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. His father, Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Sadeq Kinani, was a merchant who traded cars and auto parts. After high school, Mohammed enrolled at a technical institute in Baghdad but ultimately dropped out to take over the family business with his brothers. He avoided mandatory military service in Saddam's forces by paying his way out. He married a relative from his mother's side of the family and bought a home in Baghdad's al Adel neighborhood, and they had three sons and a daughter. Mohammed said his family despised Saddam, "a dictator who stole people's freedom."

Mohammed welcomed the arrival of US forces in Baghdad in April 2003. "On the first day the US Army entered Baghdad I was personally giving away free juice and candy in the street," Mohammed remembers. He and Ali would give out water and take photos with the troops when when Humvees passed by their house. "One of the soldiers even carried Ali on board one of the Humvees and took a photo with my son," Mohammed remembers. "My son loved the American Army."

In November 2006, as sectarian violence spread across Baghdad, Mohammed and his family were driven from their home by a prominent Sunni militia leader, and they moved into Mohammed's parents' home. Mohammed was devastated, but he also saw it as part of the price of freedom. "We cannot question God's plans," he says.

Before September 16, 2007, Mohammed had never heard of Blackwater. When he would stop at a US checkpoint, he would smile at the soldiers and thank them for being there. Ali enjoyed sticking his head out the window at checkpoints and telling Iraqi police, "I'm in the Special Forces." The police would laugh, Mohammed recalls, and wave him through, saying, "You're one of us." So when Mohammed found himself in a traffic jam that he thought was the result of a US military checkpoint at Nisour Square, nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him.

To pick up his sister, Mohammed would have to pass Nisour Square twice. The first time he passed, he noticed it was extremely congested. There was a construction project nearby and Iraqi police lingering on the roadside directing traffic. Eventually, he and Ali picked up Jenan and her three children and began the return journey.

A few blocks from the square, they encountered two Iraqi checkpoints and were waved through. As they approached the square, they saw one armored vehicle and then another, with men brandishing machine guns atop each one, Mohammed recalls. The armored cars swiftly blocked off traffic. One of the gunners held both fists in the air, which Mohammed took as a gesture to stop. "Myself and all the cars before and behind me stopped," Mohammed says. "We followed their orders. I thought they were some sort of unit belonging to the American military, or maybe just a military police unit. Any authority giving you an order to stop, you follow the order." It turns out the men in the armored cars were neither US military nor MPs. They were members of a Blackwater team code-named Raven 23.

As the family waited in traffic, two more Blackwater vehicles became visible. Mohammed noticed a family in a car next to his--a man, woman and child. The man was staring at Mohammed's car, and Mohammed thought the man was eyeing Jenan. "I thought he was checking my sister out," Mohammed remembers. "So I yelled at him and said, 'What are you looking at?'" Mohammed noticed that the man looked frightened. "I think they shot the driver in the car in front of you," the man told him.

Mohammed scanned the area and noticed that the back windshield of the white Kia sedan in front of him was shattered. The man in the car next to Mohammed began to panic and tried to turn his car around. He ended up bumping into a taxi, and an argument ensued. The taxi driver exited his car and began yelling. Mohammed tried to break up the argument, telling the taxi driver that a man had been shot and that he should back up so the other car could exit. The taxi driver refused and got back into his vehicle.

At that point, an Iraqi police officer, Ali Khalaf Salman, approached the Kia sedan, and it started to slowly drift. The driver had been shot, and the car was gliding in neutral toward a Blackwater armored car. Salman, in an interview, described how he tried to stop it by pushing backward. He saw a panicked woman inside the car; she was clutching a young man covered in blood who had been shot in the head. She was shrieking, "My son! My son! Help me, help me!" Salman remembered looking toward the Blackwater shooters. "I raised my left arm high in the air to try to signal to the convoy to stop the shooting." He said he thought the men would cease fire, given that he was a clearly identified police officer.

"As the officer was waving, the men on the armored cars started shooting at that car," Mohammed says. "And it wasn't warning shots; they were shooting as in a battle. It was as though they were in a fighting field. I thought the police officer was killed. It was insane." Officer Salman managed to dive out of the way as the bullets rained down. "I saw parts of the woman's head flying in front of me," recalled his colleague, Officer Sarhan Thiab. "They immediately opened heavy fire at us."

That's how the Nisour Square massacre began.

"What can I tell you?" Mohammed says, closing his eyes. "It was like the end of days."

Mohammed would later learn that the first victims that day, in the white Kia, were a young Iraqi medical student, Ahmed Haithem Al Rubia'y, and his mother, Mahassin, a physician. Mohammed is crystal clear that the car posed no threat. "There was absolutely no shooting at the Blackwater men," he says. "All of a sudden, they started shooting in all directions, and they shot at everyone in front of them. There was nothing left in that street that wasn't shot: the ground, cars, poles, sidewalks; they shot everything in front of them." As the Blackwater gunners shot up the Rubia'ys' vehicle, Mohammed said, it soon looked like a sieve "due to how many bullet holes it had." A Blackwater shooter later admitted that they also fired a grenade at the car, causing the car to explode. Mohammed says the Blackwater men then started firing across the square. "They were shooting in all directions," he remembers. He describes the shooting as "random yet still concentrated. It was concentrated and focused on what they aimed at and still random as they shot in all directions."

One of the Blackwater shooters was on top of an armored vehicle firing an automatic weapon, he says. "Every time he would finish his clip, he would throw it on the ground and would load another one in and would start shooting again, and finish the new one and replace it with another." One young Iraqi man got out of his car to run, and as he fled, the Blackwater shooter gunned him down and continued firing into his body as it lay on the pavement, Mohammed says. "He was on the ground bleeding, and they're shooting nonstop, and it wasn't single bullets." The Blackwater shooter, he says, would fire at other Iraqis and cars and then return to pump more bullets into the dead man on the ground. "He sank in his own blood, and every minute the [Blackwater shooter] would shoot left and right and then go back to shoot the dead man, and I could see that his body would shake with every bullet. He was already dead, but his body was still reacting to the bullets. [The shooter] would fire at someone else and then go back to shoot at this dead man." Shaking his head slowly, Mohammed says somberly, "The guy is dead in a pool of blood. Why would you continue shooting him?"

In his vehicle, as the shooting intensified, Mohammed yelled for the kids to get down. He and his sister did the same. "My car was hit many times in different places. All I could hear from my car was the gun shots and the sound of glass shattering," he remembers. Jenan was frantic. "Why are they shooting at us?" she asked him. Just then, a bullet pierced the windshield, hitting Jenan's headrest. Mohammed shows me a photo of the bullet hole.

As gunfire rained on the SUV, Jenan grabbed Mohammed's hair, yanked his head down and covered him with her body. "My young sister was trying to protect me by covering me with her body, so I forced myself out of her grip and covered her with my body to protect her. It was so horrific that my little sister, whom I'm supposed to protect, was trying to protect me." Mohammed managed to slip his cellphone from his pocket and was going to call his father. "It's customary that when in agony before death, you ask those close to you to look after your loved ones," he says. Jenan demanded that Mohammed put down the phone, reminding him that their father had had two strokes already. "If he hears what's happening, he'll die immediately," she said. "Maybe he'll die before us."

At that moment, bullets pierced the SUV through the front windshield. A bullet hit the rearview mirror, causing it to whack Mohammed in the face. "We imagined that in a few seconds everyone was going to die--everyone in the car, my sister and I and our children. We thought that every second that passed meant one of us dying." He adds, "We remained still, my sister and I. I had her rest her head on my lap, and my body was on top of her. We'd sneak a peek from under the dashboard, and they continued shooting here and there, killing this one and that one."

And then the shooting stopped.


Ali and his father were inseparable. Ali's older brothers called him "Daddy's favorite," and the family affectionately called him by his kid nickname, Allawi. "He was the closest of my sons to me. He was my youngest and was always indulged," recalls Mohammed. "He would sleep on my arm. He's 9 and half years old but still sleeps on my arm. He has his own room, but he never slept alone." When the boy turned 9, Ali's father thought, "This can't go on--him sleeping on my arm as his pillow. So I said, 'Son, you're older now; go sleep like your brothers, in your bed in your room. It doesn't work anymore; you're getting older. You're gonna be a man soon.'"

"As you wish, father," Ali said. "He always said that," Mohammed recalls. "As you wish, father." Ali left the room, but Mohammed looked over and saw the shadow of Ali's feet under the door. "So I called him in, and Ali opened the door and said, 'Daddy, I'm Allawi, not Ali,'" Mohammed remembers. "He was telling me that he's still young." Mohammed gave in, and Ali slept in his arms again. "He never had a pillow besides my arm," says Mohammed.

As he sat in his severely damaged SUV, Mohammed thought that, in the midst of horror, a miracle had blessed his car. We are alive, he thought. As the Blackwater forces retreated, Mohammed told Jenan he was going to go check on the man who had been repeatedly shot by Blackwater. "I was deeply impacted by that man they continued shooting at," Mohammed recalls. As he exited his car, Mohammed's nephew yelled, "Uncle, Ali is dead. Ali is dead!" Jenan began to scream.

Mohammed rushed around to Ali's door and saw that the window was broken. He looked inside and saw his son's head resting against the door. He opened it, and Ali slumped toward him. "I was standing in shock looking at him as the door opened, and his brain fell on the ground between my feet," Mohammed recalls. "I looked and his brain was on the ground." He remembers people yelling at him, telling him to get out while he could. "But I was in another world," he says. Then Mohammed snapped back to consciousness. He put Ali back in the car and placed his hand over his son's heart. It was still beating. He got in the driver's seat of his car, tires blown out, radiator damaged, full of bullets, liquids leaking everywhere, hoping still that he could save Allawi's life. Somehow he managed to get the car near Yarmouk Hospital, right near the square. He picked up Ali and ran toward the hospital. He nearly collapsed on the road, and an Iraqi police officer took Ali from his arms and ran him into the hospital.

Mohammed checked that the other children were safe and then dashed to the hospital. "I entered the emergency room, and blood was everywhere, dead people, injured people everywhere," he remembers. "My son was in the last bed; the doctor was with him and had already hooked him with an IV line." As Mohammed stood by Ali's bed, the doctor told him that Ali was brain dead. "His heart is beating," the doctor said, "and it will continue to beat until he bleeds out and dies." The doctor told him that if there were any hope to be found, it would require taking Ali in an ambulance to a neurological hospital across town. The fastest route meant that they had to pass through Nisour Square. Iraqi police stopped them and told them they could not pass. "The US Army is here and won't let you through," the officer told them. The driver took an alternate route and was going so fast the ambulance almost crashed twice. When they got to the hospital, Mohammed offered to pay the driver--at least for the gas, which is customary. The driver refused. "No, I would like to donate blood to your son if he needs it," he told Mohammed. A few moments later, Mohammed stood with a doctor who told him there was nothing they could do. Ali was dead.

Mohammed wanted to take his son's body home with him, but the hospital regulations required that he get papers from the police. So Mohammed had to leave. He spent hours tracking down the right authority to sign off. Finally he was able to take Ali's body to prepare him for a Muslim burial. That night there was no electricity in Baghdad, so they had to run a generator to keep air-conditioning going to protect Ali's body from the sweltering heat. The next morning they took Ali to the southern holy city of Najaf to be buried at the family plot. "As Muslims, we believe that Ali died innocent with no obligation," says Mohammed. "My son died at an age where there were no strings attached. My son was young and innocent, so he flew up [to heaven] like a white dove. This is what's making it easier on me. I always tell my wife that your son is a bird in heaven, he's with God and when we die we will be united eternally." Mohammed looks down and then up. "I still thank God for everything. I thank him because we were six in that car, and he's the only one to go. Although that one is piece of my heart, it happened and I can't change it. I have my other kids that I will raise, and hopefully I'll be able to keep them safe."


After Ali's death, some of Mohammed's friends came to him and asked him if the death had changed his attitude toward the Americans. It hadn't, he told them. "I honestly separate distinctly between Blackwater and the American people and the American government," he says. "I honestly love America and the American people. What happened to my family is totally isolated from the American people and government."

Mohammed carries with him a letter to his family signed by Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, dated June 25, 2009. The letter is the result of an extraordinary gesture made by the Kinanis after Ali's death. The US Embassy offered to provide a $10,000 condolence payment to the families of the victims of Nisour Square, making clear it was not a remedy for what happened and not a substitute for any potential legal action against the shooters. Initially Mohammed refused the money, but the embassy pursued his family, urging them to take it. They eventually did, but with one condition: that the US military accept a $5000 donation from the Kinanis to the family of a US soldier killed in Iraq. Mohammed's wife, Fatimah, delivered the gift to the US Embassy. "My wife labeled it as a gift from a mother who sacrificed a son on the path to freedom, a gift from Ali's family to whichever US military family the embassy chose, to any soldier's family that was killed here in Iraq, who lost his life in Iraq for the sake of Iraq." Soon thereafter, Fatimah received the letter from General Odierno. "Your substantial generosity on behalf of the families of fallen American soldiers has touched me deeply," Odierno wrote.

After Ali's death, the thought of suing Blackwater didn't cross Mohammed's mind. He readily cooperated with the US military and federal investigators, and he believed that justice would be done in America. But when he would go to the US Embassy, Mohammed recalls, he would get "hammered there. They all wanted me to shut up so they could defend Blackwater." He says an embassy official tried to convince him that there had been a firefight that day, not a massacre. Mohammed was unfazed by what he considered a grand lie and continued to cooperate with the US investigation. Then, he says, Blackwater stepped in.

In a letter to ABC News threatening a defamation lawsuit for a story the network had done about Nisour Square, a Blackwater attorney denied that Blackwater had killed Ali, claiming instead that he was killed by "a stray bullet" possibly fired by the US military "an hour after Blackwater personnel had departed the scene." The letter claimed Ali was killed by a "warning shot" that "ricocheted and killed the nine-year-old boy." It said it was not "even possible" Blackwater "was responsible."

Then an Iraqi attorney working with Blackwater approached Mohammed. But he wasn't just any lawyer. Ja'afar al Moussawy was the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal, which prosecuted Saddam Hussein and other leading officials. He was the Iraqi lawyer.

Mohammed agreed to meet with Moussawy and Blackwater's regional manager. When Mohammed arrived at the Blackwater headquarters in the Green Zone, there was a lunch spread laid out on the table. Moussawy asked Mohammed if he wanted to eat, and Mohammed said he would, "to show you that I have nothing against you personally." Mohammed says he told them, "My problem is not with any of you, rather with the guys who killed my son." After lunch, the manager asked Mohammed to tell him what happened in the square that day. Mohammed did. The manager then said he had an offer for him.

"We want to give you $20,000," Mohammed recalls the Blackwater manager saying.

"I'm not taking a penny from you," Mohammed told him. "I want no money."

Mohammed asked for a blank piece of paper and a pen. "Look I have the paper and I can sign and waive all my [legal] rights. All my rights, I will sign away now, but under one condition: I want the owner of Blackwater to apologize to me publicly in America and say, 'We killed your son, and we're sorry.' That's all I want."

The Blackwater manager asked Mohammed why it was so important to have an apology. Mohammed reminded him of Blackwater owner Erik Prince's Congressional testimony two weeks after the Nisour Square shootings. In his testimony, Prince said his men "acted appropriately at all times" at Nisour Square and that the company had never killed innocent civilians, except perhaps by "ricochets" and "traffic accidents." At that hearing, on October 2, 2007, a document was produced showing that before Nisour Square the State Department, Blackwater's employer, had coordinated with Blackwater to set a low payout for Iraqi shooting victims because, in the words of a Department security official, if it was too high Iraqis may try "to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family's future."

Mohammed said he wanted Prince to publicly reject this characterization of "Iraqis as mercenaries." The Blackwater manager, he says, told him Blackwater does not apologize. "You killed my son!" Mohammed exclaimed. "What do you want, then? Why did you bring me here?"

Mohammed then confronted the Blackwater manager about the letter to ABC News. "I told him that Blackwater was trying to stain the reputation of the American Army" by blaming Ali's death on US soldiers. Mohammed recalls asking, "Aren't you an American company, and this is your national army? Why would you do this to your own?" Mohammed says he threw the pen and paper at the Blackwater manager and left. In a statement to The Nation, a Blackwater spokesperson confirmed that the company had offered Mohammed a "condolence payment" and that he declined it.

It was then that Mohammed decided that his best recourse would be to cooperate with the US criminal investigation of the incident and to sue Blackwater in civil court the United States. "I want Blackwater, who refused to apologize, to get what they deserve according to the rule of law," Mohammed says. "I had no other option but to go down the legal path, to have justice applied--something that will be comforting to victims' families and something that might deter other criminals from committing the same act."


Mohammed's American lawyers contend, as did federal prosecutors, that the Blackwater men disobeyed orders from superiors not to leave the Green Zone, which ultimately led to the shooting at Nisour Square, and that they did not follow proper State Department guidelines for the use of force, instead shooting unprovoked at Mohammed's car and the other civilians in the square. They also allege that Blackwater was not guarding any US official at the time of the shooting and that the Nisour Square killings amounted to an offensive operation against unarmed civilians. "Blackwater was where it shouldn't have been, doing something it was not supposed to do," says Mohammed's lawyer Gary Mauney. They "weren't even supposed to be in Nisour Square, and if they hadn't have been, no shootings would have occurred."

Unlike the other civil suits against Blackwater, which were settled in federal court in January, Mohammed's case was filed in state court in North Carolina. It is also different because Mohammed is directly suing the six Blackwater men he believes were responsible for the shooting that day. The suit also argues that Prince and his network of Blackwater companies and affiliates are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the men at Nisour Square. The Blackwater shooters "weren't doing anything related to their work for the government," Mauney says. "After the events happened, Blackwater came out and said, 'We support what they did. We think it was justified.' They ratified the conduct of their employees."

Moreover, Mohammed's lawyers contend that the evidence that was ruled inadmissible in the criminal Nisour Square case because it was obtained in exchange for a promise of immunity and reportedly under threat of termination is valid evidence in their civil case. Several statements by Blackwater guards who were at the square that day directly bolster Mohammed and other Iraqis' claim that it was an unprovoked shooting.

Perhaps the most potent piece of evidence in Mohammed's case comes from one of the men he is suing. Jeremy Ridgeway, a turret gunner on the Raven 23 team that day, pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed civilian. In his sworn proffer that accompanied his guilty plea, Ridgeway admitted that he and the other five defendants "opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians...killing at least fourteen people" and wounding at least twenty others. "None of these victims was an insurgent, and many were shot while inside of civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee" the Blackwater forces. Ridgeway also admitted that Raven 23 had "not been authorized" to leave the Green Zone and that after they departed, they "had been specifically ordered" by US Embassy officials to return. "In contravention of that order," they proceeded to Nisour Square. Ridgeway admitted to shooting and killing Dr. Al Rubia'y in the Kia sedan, adding that another Blackwater shooter launched an M-203 grenade, "causing the vehicle to erupt in flames." He acknowledged that "there had been no attempt to provide reasonable warnings to the driver." As the Raven 23 convoy exited the square against the flow of traffic, Ridgeway admitted, Blackwater forces "continued to fire their machine guns at civilian vehicles that posed no threat to the convoy."

Evidence in the criminal case also reveals that three other men on the Raven 23 convoy--Adam Frost, Mark Mealy, Matthew Murphy--were "horrified" at what their colleagues had done in the square that day. In a journal entry he wrote after the shooting, Frost recounted returning to the Green Zone, where he and Murphy confronted the men who did the killings at Nisour Square. "We started to curse at them and tell each other how fucked up they were," he wrote. "We could not believe what we had just seen." Murphy told the grand jury his colleagues were shooting "for nothing and for no reason." Mealy described two of the defendants, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough, giving each other high-fives, "patting each other on the back and bragging about what a great job they had done." In his testimony, Murphy described what he had seen that day as "pretty heinous shit."

Frost, who prosecutors say did not fire his weapon at Nisour Square, wrote in his journal that he "prayed for comfort to be given to those families that we had broken." When the FBI launched its investigation of the shooting, Frost said he was "strongly encouraged," though not ordered, by Blackwater management not to answer its questions. He said a Blackwater manager had told him that the company was already fully cooperating with the State Department and had been honest in detailing the shooting. "I thought to myself, you fuckers have been anything but honest with the State Department and their investigation," Frost wrote.

Mauney and his partner, Paul Dickinson, believe that these statements and others like them, along with the accounts of scores of Iraqi witnesses and forensic evidence, paint a case of overwhelming guilt on the part of the Blackwater shooters who killed Ali Kinani and the other Iraqis that day. "I think it's important for folks to know that Blackwater has not won," says Mauney. In addition to Mohammed, Mauney and Dickinson represent five other families impacted by Nisour Square, including those of two others killed by Blackwater. "They've come here with a heart full of belief in the US justice system," says Dickinson. In late January on a visit to Baghdad, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States would appeal the dismissal of the criminal cases, saying the judge's ruling was "not an acquittal." Blackwater's lawyers have said they believe the appeal will fail.

As we wrap up the interview, Mohammed Kinani gathers up all the photos he has brought to show me: pictures of Ali and his other children, pictures of his wife and of his severely damaged car. He stops and stares at a school portrait of Ali. We look at a video on his laptop of his home--the one currently occupied by the Sunni militia leader--and then he pauses and clicks on another video file. The screen pops up, and there is Ali, hopping around a swimming pool with his cousins and siblings. With a wide smile, Ali approaches Mohammed's cellphone camera and says, "I am Allawi!"

Mohammed tells me, "I wish the US Congress would ask [Erik Prince] why they killed my innocent son, who called himself Allawi. Do you think that this child was a threat to your company? This giant company that has the biggest weapons, the heaviest weapons, the planes, and this boy was a threat to them?" he says. "I want Americans to know that this was a child that died for nothing."

About Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. more...

Story about the youngest victim of Blackwater massacre in Baghdad, Iraq. Be sure to view the slideshow.

OBAMA: ET TU OBAMA? — Tomgram: Anand Gopal, Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan | TomDispatch

With the dawn of the Obama era, there has been much discussion of counterinsurgency, or COIN.  Far less discussed, or reported on, has been the counterterror war in Afghanistan which is evidently ramping up.  The truth of counterinsurgency (though you’ll seldom see it said) is that, as a strategy, it has no chance unless its underpinning is a robust program of counterterror.

You don’t know what counterterror is?  Not so surprising.  The truth is, if you’re not a complete news jockey, you probably don’t know much about targeted assassinations, night raids, secret detention centers, disappearances, and other acts of counterterror (which is really terror in uniform or at least under state orders).  Of course, the Afghans know well enough.  For them, it’s not a secret war, particularly in the southern parts of the country, where the Taliban is strongest; it’s but one particularly frightening aspect of everyday life. 

It’s just we Americans who are ignorant.  Our secret war is essentially kept secret from us.  Our Special Forces operatives, along with the CIA (and possibly private contractors), have long been involved in the “night raids” that Anand Gopal describes below.  And regularly enough, if you’re reading closely, you’ll see news bubbling to the surface about their results -- like those eight students in grades 6-10, who were taken from their beds by “Americans” in a night raid in Kunar Province, handcuffed, and then evidently executed. (A statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that they were “martyred” and the UN has confirmed that they were students.)  Or consider the recent night raid in Ghazni Province that killed at least four Afghan villagers, including an 11-year-old.  Both incidents led to angry protests; both resulted in denials by the U.S. military that the dead were anything but “insurgents” or “bomb-makers.”   

In this country, the night raids and the secret U.S. military detention centers that go with them have received next to no coverage -- until now.  I’m proud to say that Anand Gopal, who has been reporting for the Wall Street Journal from Kabul, produces here the single most extensive report so far on American night raids in Afghanistan and the military holding areas that are the“black sites” of this moment.  (His investigation, a shared project of TomDispatch.com and theNation magazine, appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation.  To catch him in an audio interview with TomDispatch’s Timothy MacBain discussing how he got this story, click here.) 

Even if inherited from the Bush administration, the Afghan night raids, the accompanying killings, disappearances, incarcerations, and abuses, as well as the secret military detention centers are now, after a full year in office, Obama’s.  Tom 

Obama’s Secret Prisons 
Night Raids, Hidden Detention Centers, the “Black Jail,” and the Dogs of War in Afghanistan 
By Anand Gopal

[The research for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.]

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished.  He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dust-doused streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaar-goers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat, handwritten note on Red Cross stationary to the family.  In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. U.S. forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families. 

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

One Dark Night in November

It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin.  He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they -- both children -- refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates, and forced open closets. Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. He had spent time in Kuwait, and the Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of al-Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin of his to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, U.S. forces released Rahman’s cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

“We’ve called his phone, but it doesn’t answer,” says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor, and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar’s family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were “enemy militants [that] demonstrated hostile intent.”  

Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. “Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government,” Qarar says. “Rahman couldn’t even leave the city because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him.”

Beyond the question of Rahman’s guilt or innocence, however, it’s how he was taken that has left such a residue of hate and anger among his family. “Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?” Qarar asks. “They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn’t they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply.”

“I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners,” he adds. “But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don’t care if I get fired for saying it, but that’s the truth.”

The Dogs of War

Night raids are only the first step in the American detention process in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on U.S. military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.

In the early years of the war, these were but way stations for those en route to Bagram prison, a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior. As a spotlight of international attention fell on Bagram in recent years, wardens there cleaned up their act and the mistreatment of prisoners began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites.

Of the 24 former detainees interviewed for this story, 17 claim to have been abused at or en route to these sites. Doctors, government officials, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, a body tasked with investigating abuse claims, corroborate 12 of these claims.

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, U.S. forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field Detention Site at a nearby U.S. base.  “They interrogated me the whole night,” he recalls, “but I had nothing to tell them.” Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom U.S. forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. “They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed.”  They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. “Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me.” he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

An investigation of Sher Khan’s case by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and an independent doctor found that he had wounds consistent with the abusive treatment he alleges. U.S. forces have declined to comment on the specifics of his case, but a spokesman said that some soldiers involved in detentions in this part of the country had been given unspecified “administrative punishments.” He added that “all detainees are treated humanely,” except for isolated cases.

The Disappeared

Some of those taken to the Field Detention Sites never make it to Bagram, but instead are simply released after authorities deem them to be innocuous. Even then, some allege abuse. Such was the case with Hajji Ehsanullah, snatched one winter night in 2008 from his home in the southern province of Zabul. He was taken to a detention site in Khost Province, some 200 miles away. He returned home 13 days later, his skin scarred by dog bites and with memory difficulties that, according to his doctor, resulted from a blow to the head. U.S. forces had dropped him off at a gas station in Khost after three days of interrogation.  It took him ten more days to find his way home.

Others taken to these sites never end up in Bagram for an entirely different reason. In the hardscrabble villages of the Pashtun south, where rumors grow more abundantly than the most bountiful crop, locals whisper tales of people who were captured and executed. Most have no evidence. But occasionally, a body turns up. Such was the case at a detention site on an American military base in Helmand province, where in 2003 a U.S. military coroner wrote in the autopsy report of a detainee who died in U.S. custody (later made available through the Freedom of Information Act): “Death caused by the multiple blunt force injuries to the lower torso and legs complicated by rhabdomyolysis (release of toxic byproducts into the system due to destruction of muscle). Manner of death is homicide.”

In the dust-swept province of Khost one day this past December, U.S. forces launched a night raid on the village of Motai, killing six people and capturing nine, according to nearly a dozen local government authorities and witnesses. Two days later, the bodies of two of those detained -- plastic cuffs binding their hands -- were found more than a mile from the largest U.S. base in the area. A U.S. military spokesman denies any involvement in the deaths and declines to comment on the details of the raid. Local Afghan officials and tribal elders, however, steadfastly maintain that the two were killed while in U.S. custody. American authorities released four other villagers in subsequent days. The fate of the three remaining captives is unknown.

The matter might be cleared up if the U.S. military were less secretive about its detention process. But secrecy has been the order of the day. The nine Field Detention Sites are enveloped in a blanket of official secrecy, but at least the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations are aware of them. There may, however, be others whose existences on the scores of military bases that dot the country have not been disclosed. One example, according to former detainees, is the detention facility at Rish Khor, an Afghan army base that sits atop a mountain overlooking the capital, Kabul.

One night last year, U.S. forces raided Zaiwalat, a tiny village that fits snugly into the mountains of Wardak Province, a few dozen miles west of Kabul, and netted nine locals. They brought the captives to Rish Khor and interrogated them for three days. “They kept us in a container,” recalls Rehmatullah Muhammad, one of the nine. “It was made of steel. We were handcuffed for three days continuously. We barely slept those days.” The plain-clothed interrogators accused Rehmatullah and the others of giving food and shelter to the Taliban. The suspects were then sent on to Bagram and released after four months.  (A number of former detainees said they were interrogated by plainclothed officials, but they did not know if these officials belonged to the military, the CIA, or private contractors.)

Afghan human rights campaigners worry that U.S. forces may be using secret detention sites like Rish Khor to carry out interrogations away from prying eyes. The U.S. military, however, denies even having knowledge of the facility.

The Black Jail

Much less secret is the final stop for most captives: the Bagram Internment Facility. These days ominously dubbed “Obama’s Guantanamo,” Bagram nonetheless offers the best conditions for captives during the entire detention process.

Its modern life as a prison began in 2002, when small numbers of detainees from throughout Asia were incarcerated there on the first leg of an odyssey that would eventually bring them to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the years since, however, it has become the main destination for those caught within Afghanistan as part of the growing war there.  By 2009, the inmate population had swelled to more than 700.  Housed in a windowless old Soviet hangar, the prison consists of two rows of serried cage-like cells bathed continuously in white light.  Guards walk along a platform that runs across the mesh-tops of the pens, an easy position from which to supervise the prisoners below.

Regular, even infamous, abuse in the style of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison marked Bagram’s early years. Abdullah Mujahed, for example, was apprehended in the village of Kar Marchi in the eastern province of Paktia in 2003. Mujahed was a Tajik militia commander who had led an armed uprising against the Taliban in their waning days, but U.S. forces accused him of having ties to the insurgency.  “In Bagram, we were handcuffed, blindfolded, and had our feet chained for days,” he recalls. “They didn’t allow us to sleep at all for 13 days and nights.” A guard would strike his legs every time he dozed off.  Daily, he could hear the screams of tortured inmates and the unmistakable sound of shackles dragging across the floor.

Then, one day, a team of soldiers dragged him to an aircraft, but refused to tell him where he was going. Eventually he landed at another prison, where the air felt thick and wet. As he walked through the row of cages, inmates began to shout, “This is Guantanamo! You are in Guantanamo!” He would learn there that he was accused of leading the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (which in reality was led by another person who had the same name and who died in 2006). The U.S. eventually released him and returned him to Afghanistan.

Former Bagram detainees allege that they were regularly beaten, subjected to blaring music 24 hours a day, prevented from sleeping, stripped naked, and forced to assume what interrogators term “stress positions.” The nadir came in late 2002 when interrogators beat two inmates to death.

The U.S. Special Forces also run a second, secret prison somewhere on Bagram Air Base that the Red Cross still does not have access to.  Used primarily for interrogations, it is so feared by prisoners that they have dubbed it the “Black Jail.”

One day two years ago, U.S. forces came to get Noor Muhammad, outside of the town of Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. Muhammad, a physician, was running a clinic that served all comers -- including the Taliban. The soldiers raided his clinic and his home, killing five people (including two patients) and detaining both his father and him. The next day, villagers found the handcuffed corpse of Muhammad’s father, apparently dead from a gunshot.

The soldiers took Muhammad to the Black Jail. “It was a tiny, narrow corridor, with lots of cells on both sides and a big steel gate and bright lights. We didn’t know when it was night and when it was day.” He was held in a concrete, windowless room, in complete solitary confinement. Soldiers regularly dragged him by his neck, and refused him food and water. They accused him of providing medical care to the insurgents, to which he replied, “I am a doctor.  It’s my duty to provide care to every human being who comes to my clinic, whether they are Taliban or from the government.”

Eventually, Muhammad was released, but he has since closed his clinic and left his home village. “I am scared of the Americans and the Taliban,” he says. “I’m happy my father is dead, so he doesn’t have to experience this hell.”

Afraid of the Dark

Unlike the Black Jail, U.S. officials have, in the last two years, moved to reform the main prison at Bagram. Torture there has stopped, and American prison officials now boast that the typical inmate gains 15 pounds while in custody. Sometime in the early months of this year, officials plan to open a dazzling new prison -- that will eventually replace Bagram -- with huge, airy cells, the latest medical equipment, and rooms for vocational training. The Bagram prison itself will be handed over to the Afghans in the coming year, although the rest of the detention process will remain in U.S. hands.

But human rights advocates say that concerns about the detention process still remain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that inmates at Guantanamo cannot be stripped of their right to habeas corpus, but stopped short of making the same argument for Bagram.  (U.S. officials say that Bagram is in the midst of a war zone and therefore U.S. domestic civil rights legislation does not apply.) Unlike Guantanamo, inmates there do not have access to a lawyer. Most say they have no idea why they have been detained.  Inmates do now appear before a review panel every six months, which is intended to reassess their detention, but their ability to ask questions about their situation is limited. “I was only allowed to answer yes or no and not explain anything at my hearing,” says Rehmatullah Muhammad.

Nonetheless, the improvement in Bagram’s conditions begs the question: Can the U.S. fight a cleaner war? This is what Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal promised this summer: fewer civilian casualties, fewer of the feared house raids, and a more transparent detention process.

The American troops that operate under NATO command have begun to enforce stricter rules of engagement:  they may now officially hold detainees for only 96 hours before transferring them to the Afghan authorities or freeing them, and Afghan forces must take the lead in house searches. American soldiers, when questioned, bristle at these restrictions -- and have ways of circumventing them. “Sometimes we detain people, then, when the 96 hours are up, we transfer them to the Afghans,” says one U.S. Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They rough them up a bit for us and then send them back to us for another 96 hours. This keeps going until we get what we want.”

A simpler way of dancing around the rules is to call in the U.S. Special Operations Forces -- the Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and others -- which are not under NATO command and so are not bound by the stricter rules of engagement.  These elite troops are behind most of the night raids and detentions in the search for “high-value suspects.” U.S. military officials say in interviews that the new restrictions have not affected the number of raids and detentions at all. The actual change, however, is more subtle: the detention process has shifted almost entirely to areas and actors that can best avoid public scrutiny: Special Operations Forces and small field prisons.

The shift signals a deeper reality of war, American soldiers say: you can’t fight guerrillas without invasive raids and detentions, any more than you could fight them without bullets. Through the eyes of a U.S. soldier, Afghanistan is a scary place. The men are bearded and turbaned. They pray incessantly. In most of the country, women are barred from leaving the house. Many Afghans own a Kalashnikov. “You can’t trust anyone,” says Rodrigo Arias, a Marine based in the northeastern province of Kunar. “I’ve nearly been killed in ambushes but the villagers don’t tell us anything. But they usually know something.”

An officer who has worked in the Field Detention Sites says that it takes dozens of raids to turn up a useful suspect. “Sometimes you’ve got to bust down doors. Sometimes you’ve got to twist arms. You have to cast a wide net, but when you get the right person it makes all the difference.” 

For Arias, it’s a matter of survival. “I want to go home in one piece. If that means rounding people up, then round them up.” To question this, he says, is to question whether the war itself is worth fighting. “That’s not my job. The people in Washington can figure that out.”

If night raids and detentions are an unavoidable part of modern counterinsurgency warfare, then so is the resentment they breed.  “We were all happy when the Americans first came. We thought they would bring peace and stability,” says former detainee Rehmatullah. “But now most people in my village want them to leave.” A year after Rehmatullah was released, his nephew was taken. Two months later, some other villagers were grabbed.

It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage. 

The people of this village therefore have begun to fear the night raids more than the Taliban. There are now nights when Rehmatullah’s children hear the distant thrum of a helicopter and rush into his room. He consoles them, but admits he needs solace himself. “I know I should be too old for it,” he says, “but this war has made me afraid of the dark.”

Anand Gopal has reported in Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal.  His dispatches can be read at anandgopal.com. He is currently working on a book about the Afghan war.  This piece appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation magazine.  To catch him in an audio interview with TomDispatch’s Timothy MacBain discussing how he got this story, click here

Copyright 2010 Anand Gopal

Obama, my man, do we really another war? Read this deep analysis of what's going on in Afghanistan written by Anand Gopal, who has been reporting for The Wall Street Journal.

OP ED: Staceyann Chin: Talkin Bout A Revolution Sounds Like A Whisper... | Dyke Culture in Bloom

As I ponder the passing of Howard Zinn, one of the most radical minds of our time, I am hard-pressed to speak on anything but the way of dissent, of revolution, of progress, of change. His work was instrumental in my turning the corner from liberal to radical. And it is with his spirit, his words, his legacy that I pen these ruminations.

I've always loved a good struggle. Show me a wall and I'll show you how to scale it. Give me the road and I will march the length of it. Raise me a rebel voice and I will scream along with it. Show me a woman who has got some sizable ovaries and I will get wet in the panties for her courage.

Zinn and Chin

People who stand fierce in the face of difficult struggle are sexy. Women who resist tyranny. Men who dare to be vulnerable. Hearts insist on mending after being shattered. I love a women who can fall in love, get dumped, fall in love, get dumped and then fall in love again. Perseverance is the stuff of which good sex, good people, good friendship is made.

Dissenters make me particularly horny. They make me want to do things. To make the world better.

In the 1930s Ghandi wrestled with the Brits and rubbed salt in their wounds. In 1955, Montgomery, AL. Rosa Parks refused to get up and give a white person a seat on the bus. They arrested her, and all hell broke loose.

In the 1969 the gay community in New York City pushed back at cops who routinely closed down gay clubs and harassed the patrons. Out of that push-back the LGBT movement was born.

It would be years before the nation was energized to rise up again.

It is about 40 years later. Blacks and Latinos and Native Americans can ride where they will on public transportation. We can eat at the same restaurants as white folks, sort of. (Most times we can't afford to.) We can drink from the same water fountains- if we can get close enough. White kids buy music made by Black musicians, and Black kids dance all night to music made by folks from all around the world.

But here in America, Black and Latino kids aren't graduating. Our boys are being pipelined from high school to prison. And those who aren't in prison are killing each other. Most of those that actually defy those racist odds and head to the Ivy leagues become so disconnected from their racial identity that we don't know what to do with them, and they don't know what to do with us.

Most of the white working class in this country can't afford to send their kids to college. The middle class is struggling to keep their house, and cars, and health, and all the other necessary "luxuries" they have been told will come if you work hard and obey the laws.

On the books, everybody in the US all can cross 'tween the sheets and flit across lines of race and class and sexuality. There are no laws that prevent LGBT people from being with each other. There are no laws that say Blacks can't marry Whites, or go to school with Asian kids. The laws do not state that kids on the south side of Chicago can't go visit their friends in Hyde Park. But the realities of safety and economics and freedom make it almost impossible for poor people, for people of color, for LGBT folks to live, eat, and exist in particular neighborhoods.

Gays boys can march in parades with their ass cheeks "out" for all the world to see. They can teach straight guys to dress well on TV. Lesbians can host talk shows. We can play professional tennis, and basketball. We can be the star of prime time sitcoms. Our stories can become comic relief. But we can't marry in most of the zip codes in America. We can't get federal spousal/partner benefits; health insurance, social security, immigration rights for those with which we partner. In many states we are not allowed parental rights. And we were still being fired from our jobs for being LGBT. And we were still being turned away from many spaces because we were too openly gay.

Then came Barak Obama. Smart as he was sexy. Even-tempered. And he had a strong, sensible wife. He had equal parts white blood. He spoke in a universal language. He appealed to both camps. He looked good to those of us who needed to see something good.

Some of us took a while to cross over to Obama-land. The most radical of us mainstream democrats/liberals were with Edwards. Then Edwards' penis went astray; his mistress turned up pregnant, and he jumped ship. Largely because he knew Americans like their leaders chaste- or at least SEEMINGLY chaste.

Soon after Hillary lost the scuffle. So there was only Obama. Well, Obama or McCain.

So Obama it was.

And he was promising the world. Hope. Hope. And More Hope. And healthcare. And education that was affordable. And rights for the weary LGBT. He promised to go after the wealthy. He promised he would go after the corporations that siphoned off too much of the communal pie. The crowds roared when he spoke. People invoked Dr. King. And the rest of us, wanting so badly to be a part of something wonderful went along with him -some kicking and screaming, some with a willing song of hope in their hearts.

When he won we couldn't believe it.

There would be perms in the White House. Imagine! Melanin behind those walls. Black kids crawling on the Oval floors. Collard greens in the Oval pots. The sinew of Black flesh sleeping/making love on the oval beds. It was euphoric. So we sang. And danced. And dared to believe.

But six Months into Obama's presidency and folks are becoming a little antsy about what he hasn't delivered. The national LGBT sentiments, so forcefully pro-Obama during the presidential campaign, turned impatient, and a little sour. Folks began to call for action.

My dear comrade/sista Staceyann Chin opines on radicalizing the radical movement and the inspiration of Howard Zinn.

OBAMA: obama drama - a one act play

Marvin X Speaks

Obama Drama, A One Act Play



Unless our first black president makes a radical policy shift in his State of the Union speech, we expect he shall retire or be retired after his first four year term. We understand Hillary Clinton has informed Tavis Smiley she will not serve a second term as Secretary of State, probably so she can resume her run for president since she was so rudely interrupted by Obama.


What is clear is that our president doesn't seem to get it, especially with respect to the least of those, the poor, homeless, imprisoned and those forced into acts of violence and other criminality due to economic circumstances.


His focus has been to aid the rich and middle class, neglecting the working poor, the under and unemployed, temporary and contract workers. Yet he has allocated billions to employ poor insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Logically, if the poor and violent persons in the hood would aim their guns at the White House, there would be an immediate policy shift toward the home front.


Even mass protest by the poor, homeless, unemployed and mentally ill might force his administration to shift its focus. Imagine, nearly one million children go to school homeless in America! And addiction to crass materialism is the major reason 2.4 million people are imprisoned in this nation. Of course, many of the imprisoned are dual diagnosed, suffering drug addiction and mental illness. We must help the least of these, the captives, the broken hearted, the rejected and despised.


Obama's focus on saving the financial system may work in the short term, but there is no future for capitalism with its free market exploitation of poor nations and their resources. As we enter the Age of Consciousness, the free market system of cheap labor and resources, will not stand.

What is the real cost of exploiting poor nations of their wealth so the West can grow fat with conspicuous consumption, devouring 25% of the world's energy while only 4% of the population?

This is white supremacy pure and simple, and all those who enjoy the spoils of free market capitalism shall endure the wrath of those who rise up to claim their labor and natural resources.

Free market exploitation is the breeding ground of so called terrorism and revolution. Many so called terrorists are simple freedom fighters reclaiming their land from foreign occupiers and neo-colonial running dogs.

The insurgents are fighters who are fed up with poverty, disease and ignorance. Some are poor farmers, others educated urban dwellers who are unemployed, too poor to get married. Of course they are sitting ducks for radical ideology, whether Islamic or Marxist, nationalist or socialist.


And so our President will need to get on the right path. He, his administration and the Democratic party, had a wake up call in Massachusetts with the Republication senate victory. This was clearly the result of Democratic arrogance and myopia, a tragic flaw in classic drama.

This same blindness caused him to focus on health care while millions are unemployed and homeless, victims of the sub-prime loan scam, the pyramid scheme of global finance. How will they pay for health insurance while unemployed and homeless?


How in the hell did he earn the Nobel Peace Prize in the midst of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia? Yet violence in American cities outnumber American deaths in all those nations--we don't count the innocent thousands killed by Americans.


While he is putting out the fires of war abroad, American cities burn in a low intensity war of the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth. Unless it is a high profile case, most deaths in the hood go unmentioned, with traumatized families suffering in silence.


The ghettos of America are little Haiti's, full of ignorance, disease, poverty and drug abuse. How else can one live in hell except under medication? Unless one chooses revolution, the only therapy for the oppressed.


Youth in the Bay Area have the highest rates of STDs and HIV/AIDS in the State of California. And yet denial is the order of the day, with no national concern from the White House, after all, Washington DC is the capital of HIV/AIDS in America. The President need only look in his backyard to see the suffering that is nationwide, coast to coast. But his focus is on so called terrorists in Afghanistan. And after the war there is concluded, we shall discover a nation of people addicted to opium, and Pakistan is suffering same fate as we speak.


Is our first black president suffering the Hamlet syndrome, to be or not to be--to be for the people or for the bankers and wall street robber barons who are global and transnational, who don't give a damn about American workers, white or black, if they don't fit into the free market economy of global exploitation and domination. Have you heard the President mention the word poor or the word Black? Why is he terrified of the poor and Black?


Let's see what this Negro does in the second year of his first term, but the die is set, especially with the ever expanding wars abroad to the neglect of the home front. Why does it take thirty thousand US troops to hunt down 100-500 Al Qaeda said to be in Afghanistan? And the cost is staggering: 30,000 men/women at one million dollars each per year. Why not pay the 100-500 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan a million dollars each to leave or at least stop their violence, especially since the US did so in Iraq and is preparing to pay the Taliban to lay down their arms.


What is the need for an additional surge of 30,000 troops, unless there is an ulterior motive.

We see the US slowly edging its way into Pakistan with the use of drones and more recently with the mercenary Black Water army of professional killers. Supposedly it bombed a market in Pakistan and blamed it on the Taliban who refused to take credit as it usually does for its actions.

Blackwater, part of the US hidden hand government, no doubt seeks to destabilize Pakistan so the US can seize their nuclear weapons before Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who probably have access to such weapons since they both originated from Pakistani intelligence services and, ironically, the CIA, when Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban were aided by the US in the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.


While we hoped for peace, all we have is war and more war to come. And the political Left is as effete as the Right is hawkish, with their usual agenda of militarism is good for capitalism. But the Left is pitiful, with hardly a peep from the anti-war movement, yet thousands of people are dying at the hands of the US war machine, just as the Left, including those same sex marriage people so addicted to their sexuality that it is the their sole focus for existence--consequently their racism is so pronounced the black same gender loving people say the gay flag does not represent them--just as thousands of young black men and women are maimed and killed in the concrete jungles of American cities due to their underclass status as collateral damage of technological advance.

Yet these children and youth are ingenious at packaging and marketing drugs, accounting and security, but America can find no use for them except as birds in the cages of prisons and jails to the benefit of correctional officer unions where the birds are a valuable commodity, not only of the officers, but the wider community since manufacturing and other jobs have been outsourced. The jailing of blacks and other minorities is big business, for some communities the only business.


The economic forecast is that things are not getting worse, but not getting better--12.4% official unemployment in California. In the hood, 20-50% unemployment. Yes, while the hood is in the emergency room and the middle class in intensive care, the bankers and transnational global bandits of Wall Street are in recovery and back to business as usual, multi-million dollars bonuses included.


When Hamlet made his equivocal speech to Muslims in Cairo, Egypt (I come in the name of As-Salaam Alaikum), he proceeded to expand the US occupation of Muslim land: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia (a proxy war using Christian Ethiopia). Hamlet talks peace, but makes war with his Crusader army.


If and when America ceases her global and domestic terrorism, only then can she have time to ponder a new economic order that is truly equitable and just to all concerned. Latin American nations have configured a free market system devoid of the naked robbery of the poor. Can America envision the same. We thought Obama had the vision with his talk of change, but maybe it was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


With all his progressive pronouncements, President Obama yet seems mired in the world of bourgeoisie, right wing duplicity. He promised openness, yet practices secrecy. He promised to close Gitmo, yet it remains open. He has not ruled out the torture of the Bush era, and of course he has made no mention of closing the torture chambers of American jails, prisons and juvenile facilities. Why not a general amnesty--at least this was the last act of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.


Nowadays, my friends chide me for my unabashed support of Obama early on, but these days they mock me for being an emotional old fool, for not understanding all politicians are liars and schemers with the next election high on their agenda.


But if he can make a radical shift in policy, he can restore my faith and trust, and perhaps the world will acknowledge him worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

--Marvin X



HAITI: New Statesman - The kidnapping of Haiti

The kidnapping of Haiti

John Pilger

Published 28 January 2010

With US troops in control of their country, the outlook for the people of Haiti is bleak

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured "formal approval" from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to "secure" roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in a US naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now a US military base and relief flights have been rerouted to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US air force dropped bottled water to people suffering dehydration.

A very American coup

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter despatched from Washington, seemed on the point of hyperventilating as he brayed about the "violence" and need for "security". In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens' groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even a US general's assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that "looting is the only industry" and "the dignity of Haiti's past is long forgotten".

Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. "There's no doubt," reported Frei in the aftermath of America's bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, "that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East . . . is now increasingly tied up with military power."

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W Bush's policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700bn. He has become, in effect, the spokes­man for a military coup.

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed Bush to the "relief effort": a parody lifted from Graham Greene's The Comedians, set in Papa Doc's Haiti. Bush's relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans's black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him to Africa. The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti's sweatshops.

When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing binding machines at the Superior baseball plant in Port-au-Prince. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pyjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti's sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the town and jerry-built housing. Year after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their speciality from the Philippines to Afghanistan. Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN's man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as "Mr Nice Guy . . . bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land", Clinton is Haiti's most notorious privateer, demanding deregulation that benefits the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed "tourist playground".

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth-biggest embassy. Oil was found in Haiti's waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington's "rollback" plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela's abundant petroleum reserves, and sabotage of the growing regional co-operation long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

Obama's next war?

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against the Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya, who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama's secret support for the illegal regime in Honduras carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the Americans seven military bases to "combat anti-US governments in the region".

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama's next war. In December, researchers at the University of the West of England published first findings of a ten-year study of BBC reporting on Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of Hugo Chávez's government, while the majority denigrated his extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Such distortion and servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti, deserve our support.

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  • This article was originally published on 28 January 2010 in the issue Unforgiven

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    1 comment from readers

    28 January 2010 at 09:49

    Well, well, well. Your last sentence is correct, but much of the rest of your report is grotesquely off-target. You've been there - I haven't - let me say that up ahead, but I can't let some of your statements go uncommented.

    "The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude." No it hasn't. It has been slow and unending. When did Haiti win its independence? Nothing swift about the exploitation and enslavement there is there?

    "Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and

    evacuated. " There are hundreds of thousands of injured, starving and homeless Haitians waiting for

    help of some kind. The Haitian 'government' issues figures on the number of victims - 180,000 this

    morning. How they arrived at this figure is a mystery, but Mr. Pilger seems to ignore the sheer enormity of the catastrophe which is probably the greatest natural catastrophe ever. The U.N. has been 'in control' for years - why don't you comment on the weaknesses of the UN role? What are the civil structures that could offer immediate and effective first aid to the Haitians in the face of this disaster? A million or more traumatised People wandering through the ruins and all Mr. Pilger can think of is to rave against American imperialism. If you have been there, why don't you tell us about the reasons why nothing works and why the Haitians are victims of their own political ineptitude?

    As a pice of journalism, this was a catastrophe itself.

    Post your comment

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    A concise albeit broad overview of the political situation in post-earthquake Haiti. Be sure to read the comment section for a rebuttal that accuses Pilger of under-estimating the catastrophe. Haiti needs help, not a military take over.

    DVD Pick of the Week: Che

    Jurgen & Marcy's Independent Film Blog

    By Jurgen Fauth & Marcy Dermansky, About.com Guides to Independent Film

    DVD Pick of the Week: Che

    Wednesday January 20, 2010


    Steven Soderbergh's obsessively detailed two-part biopic about the Argentine revolutionary is boldly ambitious, with a bravura performance by Benicio del Toro at its center. By focusing on two specific periods of Guevara's life, Soderbergh Che manages to avoid all of the biopic's cliched pitfalls and instead offers an epic combat adventure that is also a deconstruction of genre expectations, a study of guerrilla warfare, and a vivid portrait of a larger-than-life personality.

    Supervised and approved by director Steven Soderbergh, the Criterion Collection release of the film -- available in DVD and Blu-Ray -- offers a bevy of special features, including the documentary Making "Che", interviews with participants in and historians of the Cuban Revolution and Che's Bolivian campaign, deleted scenes and more.

    About.com recommendation of Che, a Steven Soderbergh biopic about Che Guevara.