In a report issued today (pdf), SIGAR provides details on how a project to build a courthouse at the Parwan complex languished with incompetent construction and poor oversight. It was only after SIGAR provided a draft version of their report that the contracting authority changed the status of their stop-work order from one that would have allowed the contractor to receive the rest of the funds without completing the work to a status that prevented a huge financial reward for shoddy and incomplete work.
But this courthouse project does not sit in isolation. The Parwan complex, and its predecessor, the prison at Bagram, have a deep history that provides a microcosm of the atrocities and incompetence that the US war in Afghanistan has come to represent. Never forget that it was at Bagram where Joshua Claus murdered innocent taxi driver Dilawar. Dilawar was murdered at Bagram only a few short days after Habibullah was murdered there, as well. But the US had grand plans for the Bagram air base complex. From the background section of the SIGAR report:
The U.S. and Afghan governments signed a Letter of Agreement in 2006 that committed to improve governance by enhancing the administration of justice and rule of law. A key element in implementing this strategy was the development of a criminal justice facility known as the Justice Center in Parwan (JCIP). JCIP was designed to provide a secure facility for transferring Afghan combatants from U.S. military custody into the Afghan criminal justice system. The U.S. government was to assist with building, equipping, and operating the JCIP, as well as mentoring and training Afghan government personnel assigned to the facility. JCIP was planned as a complex of 11 buildings—a courthouse, offices, laboratory facilities, meeting hall, and housing—located adjacent to the existing Parwan Detention Facility, which is next to the Bagram Airfield north of Kabul. The courthouse was expected to be the centerpiece for Afghan national security trials.
But even though there was a detention facility at Parwan when that agreement was signed in 2006, the US quickly saw that its plans to detain thousands of Afghan citizens meant that a much bigger prison was needed. And indeed, a shiny new $60 million prison was opened in 2010. And yet, the contract on the courthouse at Parwan wasn’t signed until 2011:
On June 13, 2011, DOD’s Bagram Regional Contracting Center (BRCC) 3 awarded a $2.38 million firm fixedprice contract (W91B4N-11-C-8066) to CLC Construction Company (CLC) to build a courthouse at the JCIP complex.4 The design documents called for construction of a 2-story courthouse, including 4 courtrooms, 6 judge’s chambers, 23 individual offices, and 4 holding cells. CLC was given 155 days to complete the project after the notice to proceed was issued on July 16, 2011. The contract also required CLC to perform engineering, review, verification, and concept design functions. On November 11, 2011, the contract was modified to increase the height of the courthouse ceilings and, as a result, the contract value was increased from $2.38 million to $2.67 million.
It does seem that 155 days is a very short time frame for a construction project of over $2 million, especially if engineering and concept design are also included. But CLC fell behind immediately and what work they did was ridiculously incompetent: Continue reading
There are two pieces of good news in this McClatchy story reporting that Carol Rosenberg, one of four journalists banned from Gitmo because she published the previously reported name of Omar Khadr’s first interrogator, Joshua Claus, will be allowed to return next week rather than after August 5, as they had previously decided. The first piece of good news is that Rosenberg, easily the best and most experienced Gitmo reporter out there, will be back on the job.
The Pentagon on Thursday reversed its ban on a Miami Herald reporter from covering military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and said the reporter can return to the naval base there to cover a hearing next week.
The other piece of good news is that McClatchy appears uncowed by DOD’s efforts to intimidate. The story reports precisely the piece of news for which Rosenberg got banned in the first place!
Before a May hearing, Rosenberg and the three Canadian journalists published the name of a witness that the government had said should be identified as “Interrogator No. 1.” The name of the witness, former Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, had been known for years after he voluntarily gave a newspaper interview to one of the banned Canadian reporters denying that he had abused Khadr.
Claus also had been convicted by a U.S. court martial of abusing detainees in Afghanistan and sentenced to five months in prison. [my emphasis]
So much for DOD’s efforts to prevent readers from learning that the same guy that threatened Khadr with rape was convicted in association with Dilawar’s death.
“Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity” … The Government “thus carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the imposition of such a restraint.” SCOTUS Pentagon Papers Decision
A coalition of press outlets have written DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson, calling that the banning of four Gitmo reporters for publishing the name of Omar Khadr interrogator Joshua Claus an unconstitutional example of prior restraint.
In a letter to Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, the organizations argue that the Pentagon’s interpretation of the rules is “plainly illegal” because it bars publication of information considered “protected” even if the information is already widely known and publicly available.
Such a restriction is “a ‘classic example’ of a prior restraint” that “the Supreme Court repeatedly has refused to allow . . . even in the name of national security,” the organizations said.
The organizations include McClatchy Newspapers, which owns The Miami Herald and 30 other newspapers, The Associated Press, Dow Jones & Co., The New York Times, Reuters and The Washington Post.
“There must be a sufficiently strong, legitimate government interest before a contractual condition may legally restrict a citizen’s First Amendment rights,” attorney David Schulz wrote on the news organizations’ behalf. “As demonstrated above, no such legitimate interest justifies the overly broad censorship imposed by the ground rules.”
The news organizations are also taking issue with the way DOD reviews and deletes images for classification reasons.
What’s particularly interesting about this challenge, IMO, is how the timing is going to work out. As the article notes, DOD has agreed to lift the ban on the four reporters on August 5 (though I believe the reporters will have to “reapply” for credentials, providing one more opportunity for mischief).
The Pentagon has agreed to lift the ban on the four reporters on Aug. 5. That, however, isn’t enough, the organizations said, noting that the hearing the reporters were covering resumes on July 12.
That is, in a show of faux-reasonableness, DOD has agreed to let the three best Canadian Gitmo reporters and the best Gitmo reporter, period, apply for credentials again on August 5. But, as the article makes clear, that means the journalists won’t be able to attend “the hearing the reporters were covering” which starts up again in a week. Canada’s best Khadr reporters and Carol Rosenberg will be able to reapply to cover Khadr’s actual trial, but they won’t be able to cover the rest of his suppression hearing, which reconvenes on July 12.
That hearing, of course, concerned whether or not Omar Khadr’s confessions should be thrown out because of abuse he suffered at the hands of his interrogators.
Only this time, those decisions were made by his own Administration:
The Department of Defense said Monday it acted correctly when it barred three journalists, including Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, from covering military hearings at Guantánamo Bay.
But it left open the door to reinstating the reporters.
David A. Schulz, the attorney representing Rosenberg and reporters from Canwest News Service and the Toronto Star, had asked for a reversal of the coverage ban. The exclusion also affects a fourth reporter from The Globe and Mail who appealed independently.
“It is my determination that officials of the Department were correct to take the actions they did against these three individuals,” Bryan G. Whitman, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, wrote Monday in a letter to Schulz.
[Hi there Wheelheads, bmaz here - I am about to board the plane and Marcy is already in the air. We are going to San Francisco to cover closing arguments in the Prop 8 Gay Marriage case. You all behave, and keep the joint tidy. If there is WiFi in the plane I will post from there. Otherwise hoop it up and don't completely drain the liquor cabinet]
Jim White catalogued some of the hesitancy among the traditional media (and, frankly, the blogosphere) to highlight the precise piece of news that DOD banned four reporters from Gitmo over: the name of the witness dubbed Interrogator #1 who testified at the Omar Khadr hearing the other day, Joshua Claus. Kudos to HuffPo and CNN for refusing to accept DOD’s censorship by printing Claus’ name.
Joshua Claus, Joshua Claus, Joshua Claus.
Froomkin aptly describes DOD’s ridiculous demand that reporters not report on a name that is in the public domain as a demand for amnesia:
Jack Newfield, the legendary investigative reporter, once wrote that if government officials had their way, journalists would be “stenographers with amnesia.”
The “amnesia” part, at least, was generally considered a bit of an exaggeration.
But now, the Pentagon has banned four reporters from covering the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because they refused to forget something that had already been reported to the world.
But DOD claims it is doing something different: making sure that Joshua Claus, whose role in the Dilawar killing has been documented, is not connected to this week’s hearing.
Pentagon officials said it didn’t matter that Claus’ name was already widely known.
“If his name was out there, it was not related to this hearing. Identifying him with Interrogator No. 1 was the problem,” Lapan said.
Which really ought to encourage those of us who would like to confound DOD”s attempt at censorship to focus on what new information can now be connected to Joshua Claus: specifically, that the same guy involved in the killing of the Afghan taxi driver Dilawar also implicitly threatened Omar Khadr with rape.
Both Steven Edwards and Michelle Shepherd (who are both among the journalists banned on Thursday) previously reported that Claus conducted most of Khadr’s interrogations at Bagram. Both raised the question whether Khadr was subjected to the same kind of abuse Claus used on other detainees, most of all Dilawar, who died after abuse in US custody. But in his on-the-record interview with Shepherd, Claus insisted that Khadr wasn’t subject to any of that same kind of abuse.
In the first interview he has given since leaving the army, Joshua Claus told the Toronto Star that he feels he has been unfairly portrayed concerning his work as an interrogator at the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan.
“They’re trying to imply I’m beating or torturing everybody I ever talked to,” Claus said by telephone yesterday. “I really don’t care what people think of me. I know what I did and I know what I didn’t do.”
Claus was 21 at the time, and the assignment was his first deployment. But he said yesterday it was unfair to compare his interrogation of Khadr to that of Dilawar or the other detainees.
“Omar was pretty much my first big case,” Claus said, noting that they’d talk for six to eight hours a day. “With Omar I spent a lot of time trying to understand who he was and what I could say to him or do for him, whether it be to bring him extra food or get a letter out to his family … I needed to talk to him and get him to trust me.”
He said he was trying to find a “symbiotic relationship” with Khadr, who was 15 at the time of his capture.
Claus wants us (or at least wanted us) to believe a “symbiotic relationship” existed between him and Khadr. And that’s, frankly, how DOD would like it to remain, with Claus’ denials that Khadr was subject to any of the same abusive treatment that Claus used on others.