Archive for the ‘Evil’ Category

Think Again: Guantánamo

 By Karen Greenberg        Posted January 2009
 The risks posed by released detainees are overblown. Closing the prison at Guantánamo won’t be easy, but that’s a small price to pay to right a legal and moral wrong seven years in the making.

“The Detainees at Guantánamo Are Hardened Terrorists”

Not the majority. Since the prison opened seven years ago, confusion has reigned about exactly who is detained at Guantánamo. Officials at the prison initially knew almost nothing about their first 300 detainees beyond the hearsay reports that they were the “worst of the worst.” The detainees’ names, countries of origin, and even the languages they spoke were not immediately apparent. The circumstances of their capture and their association with al Qaeda or the Taliban were equally opaque. Only after investigators from various U.S. agencies began interviewing and interrogating the detainees, and combing through information from foreign police departments and intelligence agencies, did they find that many of their quarry had nothing to do with terrorism at all.

Even today, evidence to back up criminal charges against most of the prisoners — now numbering 243 — is scant. By all reports, about four dozen or so of the detainees will eventually be brought to trial, including the 14 high-value detainees that were transferred to Guantánamo in 2006, among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, another alleged planner of the 9/11 attacks. Another group may be labeled too dangerous to release due to statements they have made and associations they are suspected to have. For most of these men, there is insufficient evidence to convict them at trial, or the evidence could be rejected on the grounds that it was coerced and therefore is not admissible. A large group, likely the majority of the remaining 243, will be categorized as neither indictable nor posing a danger to the United States and released.


“Gitmo Detainees Released in the United States Will Pose a Danger to Civilians”

No. A “not in my backyard” attitude has dominated talk of detainee releases: No one wants them, for fear they’ll pose a danger to civilians or plan fresh attacks.

But there are no plans, to my knowledge, to release any of the Guantánamo detainees onto U.S. soil. Therefore, the only danger would come from their breaking out of prison or attracting a terrorist attack. On the first point, the U.S. military has more than enough professional expertise to detain these prisoners securely. If U.S. prison authorities are capable of incarcerating hardened criminals without fear of their escaping, similar conditions can be created for these detainees. And an attack around one of the prisons is unlikely; among the places named as temporary holding facilities are prisons in South Carolina, Kansas, and Southern California. The Department of Homeland Security and other parts of the national security matrix have spent seven years devising ways of preventing terrorist attacks in far more densely populated and vulnerable locations.

“If Released Abroad, Former Gitmo Detainees Will Mount Attacks Against U.S. Targets”

In most instances, no. The specter of releasing a future terrorist has loomed large over the Guantánamo debate. According to U.S. government statistics, as many as 61 of the detainees who have been transferred or released from Guantánamo (from a total of 557 releases and transfers during the past seven years) have demonstrated some sort of terrorism-related activity since their release. But so far, those releases that proved problematic were ordered not by civilian courts after weighing evidence, but by executive-branch officials acting unilaterally without judicial supervision. Many of the now-free detainees were released early to European countries as a matter of diplomatic courtesy rather than as a result of responsible legal review. With a more serious evidentiary hearing to assess the potential danger posed by the detainees, fewer such mistakes could be made.

Recently, two former Guantánamo detainees were arrested for rejoining terrorist groups in Yemen. Whether their radicalization came due to their incarceration at Gitmo, or whether their alleged terrorism association predated Guantánamo, the fact remains that there will always be some risk of returning the detainees home. Aggressive diplomacy over conditions of release and attentiveness to terrorism threats in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Afghanistan will of necessity be a large part of the transfer and release agreements the new administration creates.

“Closing Guantánamo Is Primarily a Legal Issue”

Nope, it’s largely a diplomatic one. It isn’t only personnel at the Defense Department and the Justice Department who need to put in overtime figuring out how to close the prison at Guantánamo. It’s also the diplomats at the State Department.

Nearly 800 terrorists have been held at Guantánamo during the past seven years. Nearly 560 of them have been released or transferred to their countries of origin or to third countries through diplomatic means. Of those returned, more than 300 have been sent either to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Most of those returns have been done absent any trial.

Going forward, aggressive diplomacy will be the single vital tool in closing Guantánamo. Detainees from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan constitute the majority of those remaining in U.S. custody. To get them home, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have to put pressure on these countries to ensure that the prisoners won’t be subjected to torture after they are returned. The Obama-Clinton team will also have to get assurances that if the individuals are released, local law enforcement will keep abreast of their activities if such surveillance is necessary. And violations of these agreements will be taken seriously.

“The United States Needs a Special National Security Court for Hard Cases”

Not yet. More than 700 terrorism-related defendants have gone through U.S. courts since September 2001. Nearly all of these cases have resulted in convictions of some sort, though often on lesser charges because the evidence of terrorism is often tenuous. For example, defendants initially arraigned on terrorism charges are frequently convicted of immigration violations or document fraud. As a result of the lack of terrorism convictions, the courts have appeared inadequate to the task of trying such suspects. But going forward, solid cases — with clear evidence and clear terrorism links — would likely fare just as well in the courts today as they did in the 1990s, when federal courts successfully tried and convicted hardened terrorists such as the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing and the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa.

A new and untried national security court would be time-consuming to create and might not even solve the problems of prosecuting terrorists. Waiting for all the glitches to be ironed out would drain energy from the pressing legal issues that need to be addressed at this point in time, including how to assess evidence against alleged terrorists and on what grounds to bring terrorism-related indictments, including material support charges.

“Thanks to Gitmo, It Will Take Years to Rebuild Goodwill Toward the United States”

No. On the contrary, the resolution of Guantánamo is a unique opportunity to heal, with a stroke of the pen, the American image in the world. Obama’s executive orders on his first day in office are a symbolic announcement of a new and different United States. More can and should be done along these lines, including formal apologies to the detainee population, as well as the possibility of reparations for those who are deemed, in future days, to have been held erroneously. Maher Arar sued the Canadian government for his rendition to Syria and was awarded $11.5 million. Whether or not there are reparations, there needs to be acknowledgment that the United States made mistakes in apprehending most of the Guantánamo detainees. We can only hope that under this new administration, the country is confident enough to admit to its mistakes and right the many legal, not to mention moral, wrongs of the past seven years.

Karen Greenberg is executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law and author of the forthcoming The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days (New York: Oxford University Press, February 2009).

Pentagon Spending Billions on PR to Sway World Opinion

Associated Press finds that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year

WASHINGTON– As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls “the human terrain” of world public opinion. In the process, it is raising concerns of spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law.

An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That’s almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006.

This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.

“We have such a massive apparatus selling the military to us, it has become hard to ask questions about whether this is too much money or if it’s bloated,” says Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Committee on Media and Democracy, which tracks the military’s media operations. “As the war has become less popular, they have felt they need to respond to that more.”

Yet the money spent on media and outreach still comes to only 1 percent of the Pentagon budget, and the military argues it is well-spent on recruitment and the education of foreign and American audiences. Military leaders say that at a time when extremist groups run Web sites and distribute video, information is as important a weapon as tanks and guns.

“We have got to be involved in getting our case out there, telling our side of the story, because believe me, al-Qaida and all of those folks … that’s what they are doing on the Internet and everywhere else,” says Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. “Every time a bomb goes off, they have a story out almost before it explodes, saying that it killed 15 innocent civilians.”


On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the Joint Hometown News Service point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.

What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors’ names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work — 50 percent more than in 2007.

The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon’s rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

In a yearlong investigation, The Associated Press interviewed more than 100 people and scoured more than 100,000 pages of documents in several budgets to tally the money spent to inform, educate and influence the public in the U.S. and abroad. The AP included contracts found through the private FedSources database and requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Actual spending figures are higher because of money in classified budgets.

The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Staffing across all these areas costs about $2.1 billion, as calculated by the number of full-time employees and the military’s average cost per service member. That’s double the staffing costs for 2003.

Recruitment and advertising are the only two areas where Congress has authorized the military to influence the American public. Far more controversial is public affairs, because of the prohibition on propaganda to the American public.

“It’s not up to the Pentagon to sell policy to the American people,” says Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who sponsored legislation in Congress last year reinforcing the ban.

Spending on public affairs has more than doubled since 2003. Robert Hastings, acting director of Pentagon public affairs, says the growth reflects changes in the information market, along with the fact that the U.S. is now fighting two wars.

“The role of public affairs is to provide you the information so that you can make an informed decision yourself,” Hastings says. “There is no place for spin at the Department of Defense.”

But on Dec. 12, the Pentagon’s inspector general released an audit finding that the public affairs office may have crossed the line into propaganda. The audit found the Department of Defense “may appear to merge inappropriately” its public affairs with operations that try to influence audiences abroad. It also found that while only 89 positions were authorized for public affairs, 126 government employees and 31 contractors worked there.

In a written response, Hastings concurred and, without acknowledging wrongdoing, ordered a reorganization of the department by early 2009.

Another audit, also in December, concluded that a public affairs program called “America Supports You” was conducted “in a questionable and unregulated manner” with funds meant for the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The program was set up to keep U.S. troops informed about volunteer donations to the military. But the military awarded $11.8 million in contracts to a public relations firm to raise donations for the troops and then advertise those donations to the public. So the program became a way to drum up support for the military at a time when public opinion was turning against the Iraq war.

The audit also found that the offer to place corporate logos on the Pentagon Web site in return for donations was against regulations. A military spokesman said the program has been completely overhauled to meet Pentagon regulations.

“They very explicitly identify American public opinion as an important battlefield,” says Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University. “In today’s information environment, even if they were well-intentioned and didn’t want to influence American public opinion, they couldn’t help it.”

In 2003, for example, initial accounts from the military about the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch from Iraqi forces were faked to rally public support. And in 2005, a Marine Corps spokesman during the siege of the Iraqi city of Fallujah told the U.S. news media that U.S. troops were attacking. In fact, the information was a ruse by U.S. commanders to fool insurgents into revealing their positions.


The fastest-growing part of the military media is “psychological operations,” where spending has doubled since 2003.
Psychological operations aim at foreign audiences, and spin is welcome. The only caveats are that messages must be truthful and must never try to influence an American audience.

In Afghanistan, for example, a video of a soldier joining the national army shown on Afghan television is not attributed to the U.S. And in Iraq, American teams built and equipped media outlets and trained Iraqis to staff them without making public the connection to the military.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of strategic communications for the U.S. Central Command, says psychological operations must be secret to be effective. He says that in the 21st century, it is probably not possible to win the information battle with insurgents without exposing American citizens to secret U.S. propaganda.

“We have to be pragmatic and realistic about the game that we play in terms of information, and that game is very complex,” he says.

The danger of psychological operations reaching a U.S. audience became clear when an American TV anchor asked Gen. David Petraeus about the mood in Iraq. The general held up a glossy photo of the Iraqi national soccer team to show the country united in victory.

Behind the camera, his staff was cringing. It was U.S. psychological operations that had quietly distributed tens of thousands of the soccer posters in July 2007 to encourage Iraqi nationalism.

With a new administration in power, it is not clear what changes may be made. Obama administration officials have said they intend to go through the Department of Defense budget closely to trim bloated spending.

The emphasis on influence operations started with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2002, Rumsfeld established an Office of Strategic Influence that brought together public affairs and psychological operations. Critics accused him of setting up a propaganda arm, and Congress demanded that the office be shut down.

Rumsfeld has declined to speak to the press since leaving office, but while defense secretary he spoke bluntly about his desire to revamp the Pentagon’s media operations.

“I went down that next day and said, ‘Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I’ll give you the corpse,”‘ Rumsfeld said on Nov. 18, 2002, according to Defense Department transcripts of a speech he delivered. “‘There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”‘

In 2003, Rumsfeld issued a secret Information Operations Roadmap setting out a plan for public affairs and psychological operations to work together. It noted that with a global media, the military should expect and accept that psychological operations will reach the U.S. public.

“I can tell you there wouldn’t be a single American disappointed with anything that we’ve done that might be out there, that they don’t know about,” says Col. Curtis Boyd, commander of the 4th PSYOP Group, the largest unit of its kind. “Frankly, they probably wouldn’t care because maybe they are safer as a result of it.”

In January 2008, a new report by the Defense Science Board recommended resurrecting the Office of Strategic Influence as the Office of Strategic Communications. But Congress refused to fund the program.

In February, the Army released a new eight-chapter field manual that puts information warfare on par with traditional warfare.

The title of an entire chapter, Chapter 7: “Information Superiority.”

Exotic dancer set on fire outside LA nightclub

Thursday, February 5, 2009

(02-05) 13:40 PST LOS ANGELES, (AP) —

An exotic dancer was set on fire outside the nightclub where she worked early Thursday, burning more than 60 percent of her body, police said. They were searching for two suspects.


A woman and a man called the 27-year-old dancer outside around 1 a.m. and then doused her with a flammable liquid next to the Babes & Beer sports club in the San Fernando Valley, police said.

Police identified the suspects as Rianne Celine Theriault-Odom, 27, and Nathaniel Marquis Petrillo, 22, both frequent patrons of the club. They were being sought for investigation of attempted murder, police said.

“Given the condition of this victim, they may be responsible for ultimately her murder,” Deputy Chief Michel Moore said. “This is a terrible, terrible attack.”

Moore said the dancer, a mother of two, was in grave condition after being burned over more than 60 percent of her body. Her identity was not immediately released.

A message left at the club was not immediately returned.

Prosecutors: Russian girl’s killers ate body parts

February 04, 2009

Two young men _ one of them a butcher _ have been arrested on suspicion of killing a 16-year-old girl and eating parts of her body, Russian prosecutors said Wednesday.

The girl disappeared after leaving her home in St. Petersburg for school on Jan. 19, city prosecutor’s spokesman Sergei Kapitonov said. He said she was killed that night, and that body parts believed to be hers were found in plastic bags scattered around the city.

Police arrested Yuri Mozhnov, a florist, and Maxim Golovatskikh, a street-market butcher and one-time psychiatric patient on Saturday, Kapitonov said.

The suspects, both 19, knew the victim, and she accompanied them voluntarily to an apartment rented by another acquaintance on the day she went missing, Kapitonov said. Prosecutors believe they drowned the girl in a bathtub.

‘The arrestees said they ate the girl’s body parts because they were hungry,’ Kapitonov said. They told investigators they baked some body parts with potatoes, he said.

They allegedly disposed of her bagged remains in garbage containers and bodies of water. Bags with body parts were found in at least two locations, he said. Both men are being held on suspicion of murder.

St. Petersburg news Web site cited a top city prosecutor, Andrei Lavrenko, as saying investigators believe the suspects decided to kill the victim after an argument erupted between her and Golovatskikh.

Moscow-based tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on Wednesday cited a department head at the St. Petersburg forensic medicine office, Vitaly Sysoyev, as saying the body parts had not been positively identified as those of the girl, who he said was still officially listed as missing.

Kapitonov said he was unaware of that.

Lavrenko said investigators found traces of blood when they ripped out plumbing and floorboards in the apartment, reported.

Mozhnov was convicted of robbery in 2005, Kapitonov said. He said Golovatskikh had been treated in the past at a psychiatric hospital.