Posts

Aikins in Rolling Stone: Zakaria Kandahari Was in Facebook Contact With Special Forces After Escaping Arrest

This photo of Zakaria Kandahari appears in Aikens' Rolling Stone article.

This photo of Zakaria Kandahari appears in Aikins’ Rolling Stone article.

By now, you undoubtedly have heard about Matthieu Aikins’ blockbuster story published yesterday by Rolling Stone, in which he provides a full description of war crimes carried out by Special Operations forces in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardan province, Afghanistan. [If not, go read it in full, now!] I began following this story closely back in February when Hamid Karzai demanded the removal of all Special Operations forces from Maidan Wardak because of the crimes committed by this group. As more details of the crimes slowly emerged after that time, it became more and more clear that although several members of the US Special Operations A-Team participated in the crimes, a translator working for them, going by the name of Zakaria Kandahari, was central to the worst of the events. It eventually emerged that Karzai had demanded in January that the US hand Kandahari over for questioning, but the US eventually claimed that Kandahari had escaped. I had viewed that claim with extreme skepticism. Details provided by Aikins at the very end of his article provide justification for that skepticism, as it turns out that while Kandahari was “missing”, he appears to have used Facebook to stay in contact with the Special Operations team of which he had been a part.

Back in May, the New York Times carried an article detailing some of the charges against Kandahari and providing a description of his disappearance. Note especially the military’s multiple claims that they had nothing to do with the disappearance and did not know where he was:

Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.

According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.

The American official said the military was not trying to shield Mr. Kandahari. “The S.F. guys tried to pick him up, but he got wind of it and went on the lam, and we lost contact with him,” the official said. “We would have no reason to try to harbor this individual.”

And a spokesman for the American military, David E. Nevers, said General Allen “never had a conversation with General Karimi about this issue.”

That “we lost contact with him” is just one of the many lies put out by the military about this entire series of events. Look at what Aikins uncovered, just by finding Facebook traffic from the A-Team involved (but note that this moves Kandahari’s disappearance back to December from the previous accounts that put it in January): Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Afghanistan Claims Zakaria Kandahari Arrested Six Weeks Ago

The continuing saga of Zakaria Kandahari, who has been at the heart of the torture and murder cases that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces troops from the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardak Province took another huge twist Sunday, as Afghanistan confirmed that they have Kandahari in custody. An important point to keep in mind while reading the accounts of Kandahari and the US personnel he worked with is that a strong case can be made that Kandahari most likely was affiliated with the CIA, either directly as an agent or as a contractor. US denials of Kandahari working for Special Forces then become a ruse, since even if Special Forces were present with him, they likely would have been tasked to CIA for those particular missions, providing deniability for the entire group with respect to the missions being carried out by US Special Forces, ISAF or NATO.

From the New York Times story on Kandahari’s arrest:

Afghan officials confirmed Sunday that they had arrested and were questioning Zakaria Kandahari, whom they have described as an Afghan-American interpreter responsible for torturing and killing civilians while working for an American Special Forces unit.

The arrest of Mr. Kandahari, who had been sought on charges of murder, torture and abuse of prisoners, was confirmed by Maj. Gen. Manan Farahi, the head of intelligence for the Afghan Defense Ministry. He said Mr. Kandahari, who escaped from an American base in January after President Hamid Karzai demanded his arrest, had been captured in Kandahar by the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service. There had been speculation for the last three weeks that Mr. Kandahari was in custody.

The Times leaves out a few important details when they mention Karzai’s demand last January that Kandahari be arrested. Back in mid-May, they claimed it was the head of Afghanistan’s military who demanded the arrest and provided details on John Allen making false promises that he would be turned over:

Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.

According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.

Note that the Times said that there had been “speculation for the last three weeks” of Kandahari’s arrest. The article on the arrest in the Washington Post states that he was arrested about six weeks ago: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Afghanistan Arrests Colonel For Turning Over Prisoners to Zakaria Kandahari

Please tell me which country follows the rule of law and which one is in the process of rebuilding its political and legal systems after war has left its government lawless and dominated by corruption.

I just can’t stay away from the continually unfolding story of the death squad in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardak Province in Afghanistan. Recall that in this post, I came to the conclusion that the death squad seems virtually certain to have been run by the CIA or CIA contractors, making denials of involvement coming from the military meaningless. The role of the shady character known as Zakaria Kandahari, and especially his sudden and complete disappearance once the situation spiraled out of control, seems especially to fit that of someone under the control of a covert CIA paramilitary group that recruits and runs militia groups.

Today, Reuters is out with a report that gives this story yet another huge development. It appears that in the course of its investigations into the disappearance, torture and murders relating to a group of 18 missing men (with the New York Times telling us Saturday that up to 14 of those bodies have now been recovered), Afghanistan has now arrested a colonel in the Afghan army for turning prisoners over to the “rogue” militia:

An Afghan army colonel has been arrested by the government for illegally handing over prisoners to a man working with a U.S. special forces team that was accused of torture and killings, three sources have told Reuters.

/snip/

A senior Afghan government official in Kabul and two officials with international organizations said the colonel, who was based in Wardak, had admitted to handing over several prisoners to a man known as Zakeria Kandahari, a shadowy figure who has spent years working with U.S. forces.

Note that Reuters says that Kandahari has worked “with US forces” for years and then consider the military’s response to this development:

A senior U.S. military official and the senior Afghan official based in Kabul said Kandahari was working with or for the Americans at the time the prisoners were handed over to him. The senior U.S. official told Reuters Kandahari had no official status with U.S. forces in Wardak.

Hmmm. So Kandahari had worked with US forces for years, but when pushed, the military says he “had no official status with US forces in Wardak”. But someone who is being run by the CIA’s paramilitary arm wouldn’t have official status with US forces, would they?

The article then goes on to quote an Afghan official as saying that poor judgment on the part of the colonel for turning the prisoners over to Kandahari  for quesitoning (presumably, when the colonel knew the prisoners would be tortured) when Kandahari had no official status was why he was arrested.

Despite pervasive and convincing evidence that the US has repeatedly committed this same crime of turning prisoners over to foreign groups who then torture them, not a single US person has been arrested for the crime Afghanistan now seems prepared to punish. As I noted previously in the dust-up over indefinite detention without charges at Afghan prisons, there are times when Afghanistan seems more committed to the rule of law than the US.

Update: AP is now reporting that hundreds of people have blocked a highway outside Kabul displaying more bodies they claim were freshly dug up near the Nerkh base:

Hundreds of Afghans blocked a major highway south of Kabul on Tuesday, carrying freshly dug-up bodies they claimed were victims of torture by U.S. special forces and demanding the Americans be arrested, officials said.

/snip/

The three bodies were dug up earlier on Tuesday morning near a former U.S. special forces base in Nirkh district, according to Attaullah Khogyanai, the provincial governor’s spokesman. Six other bodies were unearthed there in the past few weeks.

As would be expected, the story quotes a US military official denying that US special force were involved. When will the Afghans start insisting on investigating the role of the CIA?

 

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Program US Heralds as Key to Afghan Stability Continues to Rely on Gang Rapes to Intimidate Locals

On Tuesday, I wrote about the disappearances, torture and murder for which the Afghan Local Police are known, comparing them to other death squad programs that the US has backed over the years in various military engagements. Sadly, there is another class of war crimes that US-trained death squads have engaged in. Rape, especially gang rape, also is a key tool employed by these groups in their efforts to intimidate local populations. (For one example, here are details of the brutal rape and murder of a group of US nuns in El Salvador in 1980, carried out by a US-trained death squad.)

Writing in the Daily Beast yesterday, Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau provided excruciating details on two victims of gang rapes carried out by groups in Afghan Local Police uniforms. From one of the accounts:

Seventeen-year-old Chaman Gul suffered a similar fate to that of Monizha. Relatives describe her as being a “healthy and attractive” young woman. In a phone interview with Newsweek/The Daily Beast, she described the ordeal she suffered two months ago in Aqsaee village, Darzab district, in the northern province of Jowzjan. As she, her relatives and other villagers tell it, she was brutally raped by seven men, including the local militia’s powerful commander, Murad Bai. “They broke down the door of our home and did to me, a number of times, horrible things that I can’t tell anyone or put into plain words,” she says from an undisclosed hiding place.

Other relatives and villagers confirm her account. One 60-year-old villager, who does not wish to be named for security reasons, says he watched as Bai and his men broke into Gul’s house. He says they were wearing the khaki-colored uniforms of the ALP. “They came just after noon and collectively raped her,” the villager says. “The village was so frightened no one could raise a voice against the ALP.”

Adds a close relative, who also wishes to remain anonymous: “The girl was raped for hours and was in such a terrible condition that we thought she would die.”

The family of Monizha, the victim of another attack described earlier in the article, chose to move to a refugee camp in Pakistan. In many respects, this is one of the ways that ALP “stabilize” villages in their vaunted Village Stability Operations: they strike so much fear into the local population that they remain silent or even leave the area. But the Gul family reacted differently:

Rather than quietly hiding her suffering, as most victims and their families do, Gul took her case to the district and provincial authorities—but to no avail. “I complained to everyone in the concerned departments, but no one heard my voice,” she says.

The Darzab district police chief even threw her father out of his office. “The district police chief never offered any help or sympathy,” she says. “Another senior policeman told us the commander (Murad Bai) is the darling of the Americans and no one can touch him.”

And that is the key to how these atrocities are carried out. The heads of the militias, whether they are officially within the Afghan Local Police, or supposedly unsanctioned, but wearing ALP uniforms (and I suspect in that case, these groups are more likely to be CIA-affiliated “A-teams” like the one headed by Zakarai Kandahari in my post from Tuesday), are working with the blessings of, and under the protection of, the US. The groups know that they will not be held accountable for anything they do and this unlimited power can lead to the atrocities that we have seen.

The US can not claim ignorance of these types of atrocities. In December of 2011, Human Rights Watch begged the US not to expand the Afghan Local Police program: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Body of Zakaria Kandahari’s Videotaped Torture Victim Surfaces, 200 Yards from US Nerkh Base

When last we left the saga of the US role relating to the “rogue” Afghan death squad in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardak province of Afghanistan, the New York Times was studiously transcribing denials from various US government officials of any US involvement  in the torture, disappearances and murders that are both the touchstone of US-trained death squad operations dating back at least to Central America in the 1980’s (if not all the way back to Vietnam) and the atrocities that prompted Hamid Karzai to announce that he was expelling US Special Forces from the province. Although Karzai eventually relented somewhat and agreed to only expel US Special Forces from the Nerkh District instead of the entire province, as I pointed out in my post on the Times’ transcription of US denials, evidence continues to accumulate that CIA paramilitary operations personnel almost certainly seem to have been involved in the training and deployment of the “rogue” Afghan Local Police unit based in Nerkh. With today’s new development, it seems very likely that these CIA paramilitary personnel (and their Afghan trainees) are still operating, with impunity, at the Nerkh base.

What we learn today is stunning and looks like a calculated move intended to strike fear into the local population around the Nerkh base (which is, of course, the aim of US-trained death squads organized under the COIN rubric). From the New York Times:

Family members on Tuesday found the body of a man missing since last November near the American Special Forces base to which he was last seen being taken, according to Afghan officials and victims’ representatives.

Afghan investigators said that after his disappearance, the man, Sayid Mohammad, was seen in a video undergoing torture at the hands of an Afghan-American named Zakaria Kandahari, who was the chief translator for an American Army Special Forces A Team stationed at the base in the Nerkh district of Wardak Province.

Mr. Mohammad’s body was found about 200 yards outside the perimeter of the Nerkh base, which is now occupied by Afghan special forces after the American unit was removed following protests by Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai.

Relatives of Mr. Mohammad said his body was largely intact but both of his feet had been cut off. They took his remains to the Nerkh district government center in protest. The partial remains of another missing person were also found near the base, family members and Afghan officials have said.

The article is silent on the question of how long the victim appeared to have been dead. Note that the Times reminds us that the Nerkh base no longer has US Special Operations Forces. I find it very hard to believe that a group of Afghan Local Police and Afghan Special Forces, after having drawn so much local anger and international attention to themselves through prompting Karzai’s outburst and expulsion of US Special Forces, would carry out such a brazen and brutal move on their own. However, if CIA paramilitary operatives are still present at the base and still directing (and protecting) the Afghan team, the move seems less surprising.

We also learn in today’s article that at least 17 people are now known to have been disappeared by this death squad. Nine of those victims have been found dead and eight are still missing. Afghan investigators are considerably less credulous of US denials of involvement than the Times is:

“There is no question that Zakaria directly tortured and murdered,” the investigator said. “But who is Zakaria? Who recruited him, gave him his salary, his weapons? Who kept him under their protection? He worked for Special Forces. That a member of their team was committing such crimes and they didn’t know it is just not credible.”

The description of the videotape of the torture session conducted by Kandahari (which still has not been released) has changed in one respect. Today’s article informs us that the Afghan investigator who was interviewed now says there were no voices with American accents on the tape.

Not that it really needs pointing out, but involvement of CIA paramilitary personnel at the Nerkh base would by definition be a covert mission covered by false, but official US government denials.

Oh, and there’s one last question I would have added to the Afghan investigator’s list above: Who helped Zakaria Kandahari to escape without a trace?

The answers to those questions would go a long way toward confirming or denying my speculation on CIA paramilitary personnel (including contractors) being central to these awful events.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Group Behind Deadly Kabul Blast Upset by Negotiations on US Troops Remaining in Afghanistan

There was a deadly blast in Kabul yesterday, shattering what had been several months of relative peace in the capitol. The suicide blast targeted a convoy of US vehicles. From the New York Times:

Hezb-i-Islami, a relatively small insurgent faction that often competes with the Taliban for influence, claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded more than three dozen Afghans. Haroon Zarghon, the group’s spokesman, reached by telephone in Pakistan, said the bombing was carried out by a 24-year-old man who had grown up south of Kabul.

More attacks against Americans will come soon, Mr. Zarghon added, saying that Hezb-i-Islami was dismayed by the current talks between Afghanistan and the United States about a long-term security deal under which thousands of American soldiers could be based in Afghanistan for years to come.

Hezb-i-Islami has a complex history and has been around Afghanistan for a long time. Even Kimberly Kagan’s Instutite for the Study of War admits that the CIA funneled significant support to this group in fighting the Soviets:

Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is an insurgent group active in Afghanistan. It is a splinter group of one of the prominent , and the most radical of the seven mujahedeen factions fighting the Soviets in the 1980s. Hekmatyar , a favorite of the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, received the greatest portion of foreign assistance to the mujahedeen.  Hekmatyar trained Afghan and foreign guerilla fighters in the refugee camps of Shamshatoo and Jalozai in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and also ran numerous schools and hospitals in NWFP. His organization  also received funds from Saudi charity organizations, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, and other wealthy Arabs.

The political side of the group, however, is active in the current government and is contemplating fielding a candidate for the upcoming Presidential elections:

The party’s deputy chief Ghairat Bahir said that a delegation of four senior party figures are in Kabul meeting local members to discuss the election and possible presidential candidates.

“We have sent a delegation to Kabul. The delegation is led by Mohammad Rassoul. Its purpose is to visit and discuses [sic] with Hezb-e-Islami members in Kabul, not to talk with [Afghan] government officials,” he told TOLOnews via telephone from Pakistan.

“The delegation has talked with the party members about the election and the party decided to introduce a candidate or support a competent candidate. We will soon make a final decision on this. I cannot name the candidate but our party’s nomination will be a prominent person in the country,” Bahir said.

The presence of US troops in Afghanistan is the primary concern for the group: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

NYTimes Carefully Transcribes Dubious Denials of US Role in Wardak Province Torture, Murders

As evidence from investigations carried out by Afghan officials continues to mount that a figure now named (although it seems quite likely to me that this is not a real name) Zakaria Kandahari is at the heart of the cases of torture and murder of Afghan civilians that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces from Maidan Wardak province in February, the US found it necessary to provide an anonymous official to the New York Times as they published the Afghan revelations. Here is the heart of the dispute as outlined in the Times article:

The accusations against the man, Zakaria Kandahari, and the assertion that he and much of his unit are American are a new turn in a dispute over counterinsurgency tactics in Wardak that has strained relations between Kabul and Washington. American officials say their forces are being wrongly blamed for atrocities carried out by a rogue Afghan unit. But the Afghan officials say they have substantial evidence of American involvement.

They say they have testimony and documents implicating Mr. Kandahari and his unit in the killings or disappearances of 15 Afghans in Wardak. Mr. Kandahari is of Afghan descent but was born and raised in the United States, they say. Included in the evidence, the Afghan officials say, is a videotape of Mr. Kandahari torturing one of the 15 Afghans, a man they identified as Sayid Mohammad.

As the discussion moves to the videotape, the anonymous official is trotted out:

Afghan officials who have seen the videotape say a person speaking English with an American accent can be heard supervising the torture session, which Mr. Kandahari is seen conducting.

An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, confirmed the existence of the video showing Mr. Kandahari but denied that he was an American citizen. “Everybody in that video is Afghan; there are no American voices,” the official said.

What appears not to be in dispute, then, is that Kandahari is torturing the victim in the tape. The US claims no Americans are present and even that the voice identified by the Afghans as having an American accent is not American. But how can the anonymous US official know whose voice is the one in dispute? If the person is not seen on the tape, then the only way the American official’s claim could be true is if they carried out voice analysis on a computer and got a positive match with a person known not to be American.

But the next denial from the anonymous official is even less believable. The US Special Forces group at the center of this controversy is now known to have been based in the Nerkh district of the province and to be an “A Team”, “who work with extra resources that the military calls “enablers””. Remarkably, the article doesn’t make the tiny leap that is needed to deduce that at least some of these “enablers” working with the A Team must be CIA, even though near the end of the article, it is noted that this group came to Nerkh from Camp Gecko in Kandahar and there is a definite CIA connection there: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Agreement Announced on Special Operations Forces in Wardak Province, Explanations Vary Widely

NATO is claiming that there now is an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai regarding the withdrawal of US Special Operations Forces from Maidan Wardak province in the wake of Karzai’s insistence last month that the troops leave immediately. Despite the presence of an agreement, however, there appear to be many different explanations for just what the agreement means for how long US SOF will be present in the province. Given the history of the US bargaining with Afghanistan in bad faith (see, for example, this post on the Parwan Prison handover and work backwards in time through the links and this post for a description of US reliance on semantics in making these sham agreements), it is not at all surprising to me that these initial reports on the agreement would cite a lack of specificity and that different news organizations would come up with widely differing descriptions of its expected effects.

Reuters puts its doubts about the meaning of the agreement right up front in its report:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces have reached an agreement on the departure of foreign troops from a strategically key province near the capital, coalition forces said, but it was unclear if U.S. special forces would leave.

An Afghan defense ministry spokesman told reporters in Kabul that the elite American force would quit Wardak within a few days, despite earlier U.S. concerns that their departure would leave a security vacuum.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said in a statement Afghan security forces would take over security from coalition forces in Wardak, but did specifically mention the withdrawal of U.S. special forces.

Note that Reuters knows that ISAF statements must be parsed carefully and they do a good job here of warning us that ISAF did not state outright that US SOF would leave the province.

Writing for AP, Kimberly Dozier provides less analysis of the statements received, and so her report provides conflicting information from ISAF and from an Afghan spokesman. The article opens:

The U.S. military and the Afghan government reached a deal Wednesday on a gradual pullout of American special forces and their Afghan counterparts from a contentious eastern province, officials said.

President Hamid Karzai has blamed the troops for egregious human rights abuses in Wardak province, allegations which U.S. military officials have steadfastly denied.

However, NATO forces said in a statement that commander Gen. Joseph Dunford agreed with Karzai to remove American troops first from Wardak’s Nerkh district and then later from other parts of the province.

But then the information from an Afghan spokesman presented next appears to conflict with the ISAF information:

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi confirmed there has been a deal in a news conference in Kabul on Wednesday.

“The international forces are ready to withdraw the special forces from Nirkh district of Maidan Wardak province and Afghan army units are going to replace them in the coming days,” Azimi said, adding that there are no other U.S. commando units in the rest of the province.

A U.S. military official explained that a small, mostly U.S. army special operations team would withdraw from Nerkh, as would the Afghan local police force that works alongside the Americans.

Azimi states outright that the only US Special Operations Forces in Wardak are in the Nerkh district and that these will be withdrawn. Dozier misses the point that Reuters parsed out, namely, that it appears that ISAF speaks of US forces withdrawing from the province while being silent on whether SOF also would withdraw.

There is a larger problem with Dozier accepting Azimi’s statement at face value, though. In this post, I addressed what is known (unfortunately, September, 2012 is the latest information from this map) about Afghan Local Police presence in Wardak: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Prison Handover Agreement Blows Up, Again, During Hagel’s First Visit to Afghanistan Quagmire

Exactly one year ago today, I posted on the agreement in principle that would hand over the Detention Facility in Parwan, located near Bagram Air Base, to full Afghan control. I noted at the time however, that the “agreement” depended heavily on semantics and that the US was in fact doing its best retain as much control as possible:

The agreement appears to use semantics to say that the prisons are being handed over today, but with the reality being that there will be a gradual process taking six months. From the New York Times:

The memorandum of understanding would officially hand over control of detainees to an Afghan official as of Friday, but would also allow for a six-month period of transition to full Afghan control of the American-held detainees, American officials said.

As a practical matter, American officials are expected to maintain day-to-day control over the 3,200 detainees, most of them suspected Taliban insurgents.

During the six months, custody of the American-held prisoners would gradually transfer to Afghan authority, with the first 500 prisoners to be transferred within 45 days, according to American military and diplomatic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy.

The move is a major concession to the Afghans, but the Americans will retain ultimate veto authority over releases of any insurgent detainees as long as American troops are in Afghanistan, and will continue to monitor humane treatment of the prisoners, the American officials said.

With the US maintaining veto power over release of any prisoners, perhaps Senator Graham will have to hold off on throwing his next tantrum, as his major objection to the handover had been that the Afghans would release prisoners who would immediately attack US troops. It’s not clear how the US will be monitoring humane treatment of the prisoners, since it is US training that put the torture methods in place to begin with.

The six month gradual handover phase has now been a full year, during which we have seen many rough patches. At the six month mark, I noted that the US balked on finalizing the handover because the Afghans refused to put into place a system for indefinite detention without trial. But throughout this process, the key really has been that the agreement itself has been a sham (just as with most of our agreements with Afghanistan) primarily because the US continues to maintain that it has final veto power on Afghan decisions to release prisoners.

On Wednesday of this week, the dispute over prisoner release came to a head, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced to the Afghan parliament that the final handover of Parwan would take place today and that he would immediately release a number of prisoners he said are innocent. Unsurprisingly, the US today unilaterally cancelled the final handover ceremony, throwing the whole agreement into disarray. From the New York Times: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.