US Priorities at Parwan: $60 Million Prison Built Quickly, $2.7 Million Courthouse Languished

The incomplete courthouse at Parwan.

The incomplete courthouse at Parwan.

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: Read more

Despite Metaphysical Impossibility, US Government Repeatedly Attempts Retroactive Classification

On Friday, I noted that the New York Times had dutifully repeated information from military sources who had provided them with a “classified” report (pdf) on how cultural differences between NATO troops and Afghan troops are resulting in increasingly frequent killings of coalition troops by coalition-trained Afghan troops.  On Friday morning, the Times put up a correction, noting that the Wall Street Journal had published an article about the May 12, 2011 report on June 17, 2011.

I mentioned in my Friday post that the Wall Street Journal article included a link to what was said to be a copy of the report, but that the link was now dead. It is quite curious that the Journal article would have that link, as the opening sentence mentions that the report is classified. In comments on the post, Marcy Wheeler posed the question of whether the study “was intentionally buried after the WSJ story? Maybe that’s what NYT’s claim that it is classified is about?” So, in other words, was the study retroactively classified because of the Wall Street Journal article?

With only a little searching after reading both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles, I found what appeared to be a complete copy (pdf) of the same report (or at least a copy with the same title and number of pages), clearly stamped “UNCLASSIFIED” at the top and bottom of each page. Several hours after my post was published, the Times added a second correction to their story:

The article also referred incompletely to the military study’s secrecy. While it was classified, as the article reported, it was first distributed in early May 2011 as unclassified and was later changed to classified. (The Times learned after publication that a version of the study has remained accessible on the Internet.)

So it turns out that Marcy’s hunch was correct. The report initially was published as unclassified and then later classified, in a clear case of retroactive classification. There is perhaps just a hair of wiggle room in the Times’ statement that “a version of the study has remained accessible on the internet”, providing for the remote possibility that there are differences between the “classified” version provided to the times and the complete version on the internet, but that seems highly unlikely. The copy on the internet is almost certainly a copy from the time period when the study clearly was unclassified.

This sequence of events also is confirmed somewhat in the Wall Street Journal article itself: Read more

The Beat from Hell: Carol Rosenberg’s Decade Covering Gitmo

For the record, Carol Rosenberg has been covering Gitmo for more than the decade that has elapsed since she arrived there on January 9, 2002 to cover the impending arrival of the first war on terror detainees. She filed this story on March 22, 1999 and another a month later for the Charlotte Observer, when she covered the de-mining of the island.

This is “Gitmo,” 45 square miles of U.S.-controlled territory stranded in a time warp and shrinking in resources in the post-Cold War era. Two years ago, it had 6,000 residents, both military and civilian; it will have half that later this year.

Formally called the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, this hemisphere’s last outpost against Communism also is a curious island of Americana on the eastern end of Cuba.


Since [Base Commander Larry] Larson arrived two years ago from the Naval War College, the former test pilot has presided over a campaign of cutbacks and downsizing – in keeping with a military-wide austerity kick caused by the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

When he arrived, about 6,000 people – both civilian and military – lived and worked out of some 1,890 buildings, ranging from World War II vintage pump houses to bachelors’ quarters. Their budget was $41 million.

By October 1999, he plans to operate only out of 900 buildings, to cut the budget to $24 million and the population to about 2,500.

But it was 10 years ago today when Rosenberg first started covering the base’s use as a prison for alleged terrorists. As I’ve heard others who have made the trip explain, Rosenberg is now the institutional memory of the place, often describing what a space was used for years before DOD’s current press minders ever showed up. Or, as she described in a National Press Club speech last year, what the rules used to be for journalists and attorneys.

It’s a place the Pentagon likes to call the most transparent detention center on Earth. Hundreds of reporters have visited there, they say, since the first al Qaida suspects arrived eight years ago.

They skip the part about how few go back more than once — stymied by the sheer frustration at the rules, the hoops, the time, and the costs of doing basic journalism. Being a court reporter. Writing a feature story. Conducting an interview.

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Bradley Manning Protest: White House Bans Journalist for Doing Journalism

To a degree, this reminds me of the Joshua Claus moment, when DOD banned reporters like Carol Rosenberg and Michelle Shephard because they uttered the name “Joshua Claus” in their coverage of his testimony in Omar Khadr’s trial. (Shephard had interviewed him previously, so they were basically asking her to forget information she had gathered independently to be able to cover Gitmo.)

White House officials have banished one of the best political reporters in the country from the approved pool of journalists covering presidential visits to the Bay Area for using now-standard multimedia tools to gather the news.

The Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci – who, like many contemporary reporters, has a phone with video capabilities on her at all times – pulled out a small video camera last week and shot some protesters interrupting an Obama fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel.

She was part of a “print pool” – a limited number of journalists at an event who represent their bigger hoard colleagues – which White House press officials still refer to quaintly as “pen and pad” reporting.

As with coverage of Omar Khadr’s trial, the Obama Administration seems to be demanding that journalists abdicate their jobs and their instincts to play by the rules.

But the event reminds me of something else: how the White House asked (and persuaded) all the big US outlets to suppress the widely discussed news that Raymond Davis was a spy, even while publications overseas and dirty fucking hippie bloggers were reporting on it.

As the account of Marinucci’s treatment makes clear, the rules they want to enforce on pool reporting basically put her at a disadvantage to everyone else in the room who had and used a cell phone video.

Carla cannot do her job to the best of her ability if she can’t use all the tools available to her as a journalist. The public still sees the videos posted by protesters and other St. Regis attendees, because the technology is ubiquitous. But the Obama Administration apparently wants to give the distinct advantage to citizen witnesses at the expense of professionals.

While there’s a bit of professional snobbery here, it is entirely justified. The White House bizarrely imagines it can manage Obama’s image by imposing rules on journalists it can’t impose on others. Not only does that not do a damn thing to prevent videos like this from getting out. It profoundly corrupts the role of journalists, imposing requirements that ensure they offer only a highly scripted and obviously false view of an event.

It’s simply not fair to require that journalists not tell stories that are already out there in the public sphere. That turns them, once and for all, into stenographers. That’s not what our country needs from presidential press coverage.

The US Believes It’s Okay to Threaten Teenagers with Rape

Carol Rosenberg tweets:

Omar Khadr’s military judge just ruled that ALL of his confessions from Afghanistan to #Guantanamo will go to trial. None suppressed.

The Toronto-born captive’s defense had wanted his interrogations excluded on grounds they were not voluntary. Col. Patrick Parrish disagreed

#Khadr‘s war court judge also agreed to use at trial a homemade video of the 15-year-old allegedly building, planting mines in Afghanistan

So in spite of the fact that Joshua Claus threatened Omar Khadr with rape and potentially death, our military “justice” system does not believe that taints Khadr’s confession.

So nice to see our Kangaroo Court is living up to billing. It shames the US terribly in the process.

Update: it sounds like Khadr’s lawyer takes the same lesson from this I do:

Omar #Khadr‘s Canadian lawyer, Edney, calls Army judge “a disgrace” for admitting the Canadian’s admissions as a 15-year-old at trial.

Will DOD Ban Itself for Publishing Joshua Claus’ Name?

Carol Rosenberg tweets:

Just got formal notice: Pentagon publicly naming Interrogator No. 1 who testified remotely to #Guantanamo as ex-Army Sgt. Joshua Claus

Army Maj. Bradsher read me a Pentagon policy statement that said Claus’ “own actions” mean publishing his name does not violate ground rules

You’ll recall that DOD banned Carol Rosenberg and three other key Gitmo journalists when they published Claus’ name–even though one of them, Michelle Shephard, had published an on-the-record interview with him in the past. Yet now DOD says–on the eve of the Khadr trial–that it’s okay to publish his name? And as justification, they say his own actions, rather than the public nature of his name, means publishing it does not violate ground rules?


Because if you’re going to pretend your arbitrary and capricious system of censorship is not arbitrary and capricious, you might want to come up with better excuses than that.

DOD Allows Carol Rosenberg to Return to Gitmo Next Week

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.

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Press Groups Call Gitmo Banning Prior Restraint

“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.

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Obama Administration Defends Stupid Counterterrorism Decisions, Again

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.

The stupid counterterrorism decision, of course, was to ban four journalists–including one who wrote a book on Omar Khadr and another with by far the most expertise on Gitmo–because they published the name of Joshua Claus. The seem to think people are too dumb to discover this stuff on their own. And it appears they’d like to avoid admitting that a guy who was convicted in relation to the death of Dilawar also implicitly threatened rape and death with Khadr. As a result, one of those acts which would, if done correctly, win some credibility with those we’re trying to persuade, is instead made out to be a kangaroo court where reporters are asked to purge their mind of all relevant knowledge when they walk in the trial room.

[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]

Joshua Claus: The Rape Threat and the Dead Detainees

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.

Read more