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Thread: Jeremy Scahill

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    Default Jeremy Scahill


    DIRTY WARS by Jeremy Scahill; pp. 248-253: PAKISTAN AND WASHINGTON, DC, 2009—

    As he settled into the Oval Office and his new role as commander in chief, President Obama

    tweaked Bush’s expansive Global War on Terror rhetoric, rebranding it as a “war against al-

    Qaeda and its allies.” On his third day in office, Obama signed a series of executive orders that

    were portrayed as “dismantling” the Bush-era torture and detention programs. “The message we

    are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle

    against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so

    effectively; and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our

    ideals,” Obama declared as he stood with sixteen retired military officers. “We intend to win this

    fight. We’re going to win it on our terms.” But, while dispensing with the Bush-era labels and

    cowboy rhetoric that marked the previous eight years of US foreign policy, Obama

    simultaneously moved swiftly to expand the covert US wars that had marked his predecessor’s

    time in office.

    The day after Obama signed his executive orders, CIA director Michael Hayden briefed

    him on an operation the Agency was about to conduct inside Pakistan: a drone strike near the

    Afghan border. The targets, Hayden told the president, were upper-tier al Qaeda and Taliban

    members. Later that day, two Hellfire missiles hit compounds in North and South Waziristan.

    The first strike hit in a small village near Mir Ali, in North Waziristan, around 5:00 p.m. local

    time. The second struck a compound in the village of Karez Kot in South Waziristan at around

    8:30 p.m. Hayden, weeks away from leaving the Agency, admitted to the president that the main

    HVTs had not been hit but told him that “at least five al Qaeda militants” had died. “Good,” said

    Obama, who made clear that he favored escalating drone strikes in Pakistan.

    As the US intelligence officers monitored the footage from the January 23 drone strikes,

    it became clear that civilians had been killed. John Brennan went straight to the president and

    told him what had happened. Five “militants” may have died in the strikes, but they were not the

    only ones killed. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the first strike in North

    Waziristan killed between seven and fifteen people, nearly all of them civilians.* Many of the

    slain were from one family. One boy was reported to have survived, albeit with a skull fracture, a

    perforated stomach and the loss of an eye.** The second strike in South Waziristan struck the

    “wrong house” and killed five to eight civilians, according to subsequent reports. Many of the

    dead, including at least two children, were the family members of a tribal elder, who was also

    killed. [“Obama 2009 Pakistan Strikes.”] The elder was reportedly a member of a “pro-

    government peace committee.” [Daniel Klaidman, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the

    Soul of the Obama Presidency
    (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), p. 40.]

    * “Obama 2009 Pakistan Strikes,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, August 10, 2011,

    ** Reprieve, “Complaint Against the United States of America for the Killing of Innocent

    Citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the UN Human Rights Council,” February 23,


    The complaint was filed on behalf of the victims of different strikes, including Ejaz Ahmad,

    whose relatives were among those killed and injured by the strike in question.

    Obama summoned Hayden for a face-to-face meeting and demanded a full briefing on

    the drone program’s protocols. Despite the scores of national security briefings Obama had

    received from the time he became the Democratic nominee for president, it was the first the new

    president had heard of what the CIA called “signature strikes.” Beginning in the closing months

    of the Bush administration, the Agency had begun targeting people based on patterns of life

    rather than specific intelligence. The CIA said that “military aged males” who were part of a

    large gathering of people in a particular region or had contacts with other suspected militants or

    terrorists could be considered fair targets for drone strikes. A positive ID was not necessary to

    strike, only some of the “signatures” the Agency had developed to identify suspected terrorists.

    After some convincing from Hayden, Obama decided not to reject the signature strike

    policy, although he added a constraint: the CIA director was to have the final say on all strikes,

    an authority that had been occasionally delegated to the deputy director or the head of the

    Agency’s counterterrorism center. Obama warned that he might withdraw the signature strike

    authority at a later time. But he didn’t. In the ensuing months, the new CIA director, Leon

    Panetta, enlisted the help of “undercover officers” from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and

    put the president through a “crash course” on targeted strikes. Panetta reviewed the drone

    program and other kinetic protocols, including the authorities needed in order to launch a strike.

    Obama and Panetta would hold one-on-one sessions after HVTs had been hit in Pakistan.

    During that first year in office, Obama began to hold regular hourlong meetings with top

    officials to discuss all matters of national security and counterterrorism. According to

    participants, these early meetings had a “tutorial” character. Intelligence and security threats

    were discussed, but Obama was still being introduced to new capabilities. For much of the first

    year, discussions about capturing or killing people outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan were for

    the most part theoretical. The vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, General “Hoss” Cartwright, and

    Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, were increasingly central to the

    deliberations, as was Admiral McRaven, the commander of JSOC. One of the first tasks on

    Obama’s national security agenda was a thorough review of Bush’s military executive orders.

    When it came to counterterrorism, Obama would preserve much of his predecessor’s policies,

    and he ended up sustaining most of the ExOrds without revision. In some cases, he sought to

    expand the authorities. Obama began striking Pakistan almost weekly.

    Obama inherited an already escalating drone program from Bush. The strikes in Pakistan had

    become more frequent in the waning months of 2008. Just before Obama won the election, Bush

    had “reached a tacit agreement to allow [drone strikes] to continue without Pakistani

    involvement.” The US policy was to inform Pakistan of attacks while they were under way, or

    minutes after they had been carried out. President Obama approved of the shift, which brought

    with it an uptick in drone activity, and he “fully endorsed the covert action program.” Obama

    also kept in place “virtually all the key personnel” from the CIA who had run the covert

    campaign under Bush. Part of this program, which Obama was read into by outgoing director of

    national intelligence Mike McConnell right after the election, was a HUMINT network within

    Pakistan. The spies provided on-the-ground intel that was a necessary counterpart to the drone

    surveillance and targeting. The spy program, five years in the making and reportedly expensive,

    was “the real [secret] that Obama would carry with him from that moment forward.”

    Soon after he assumed office, Obama began pressing Panetta about the hunt for bin

    Laden. By May 2009, Obama told the CIA director that he needed to make the manhunt his

    “number one goal” and instructed Panetta to deliver a “detailed operation plan” for locating bin

    Laden. Panetta had thirty days to put the plan together and then began providing the president

    with weekly updates on progress made on the effort, even when there was little to report.

    As the hunt for bin Laden intensified, the drone strikes continued. So too did the civilian

    deaths. On June 23, the CIA killed several alleged militants with a Hellfire missile in South

    Waziristan, then followed up hours later with an attack on the funeral mourning their deaths.

    Scores of civilians—estimates ranged between eighteen and forty-five—were killed. “After the

    prayers ended people were asking each other to leave the area as drones were hovering,” said a

    man who lost his leg in the attack. “First two drones fired two missiles, it created a havoc, there

    was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help...they fired the

    third missile after a minute, and I fell on the ground.”* US intelligence reportedly believed that

    Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban would be “among the mourners.” He was

    not, at least when the drones struck.

    The elusive Mehsud had already survived over a dozen reported attempts to kill him,

    between Bush and Obama, which had resulted in hundreds of collateral deaths. But then, in early

    August, US intelligence tracked Mehsud down to his father-in-law’s house in a village called

    Zanghara in South Waziristan. On August 5, CIA drones fired at him as he reclined on the

    house’s rooftop with family members and other guests. Two Hellfire missiles ripped Mehsud in

    half, killing eleven other people at the house. [Jane Mayer, “The Predator War: What Are the

    Risks of the C.I.A.’s Covert Drone Program?” New Yorker, October 26, 2009.]

    In October 2009, Obama reportedly expanded the “target boxes” in Pakistan, broadening

    the area in which the CIA could go after targets, gave the agency authorization to acquire more

    drones, and “increased resources for the agency’s secret paramilitary forces.” Obama had already

    authorized as many drone strikes in ten months as Bush had in his entire eight years in office.

    [“2009: The Year of the Drone,” Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative, New America Foundation,

    accessed December 17, 2012,

    * Agence France-Presse, “US Drone Fires on Taliban Territory,” National (UAE), June 24,


    Although the CIA would take much of the credit and criticism for the US drone program in

    Pakistan, it was not the only player. JSOC had its own intelligence operations inside Pakistan

    and, at times, conducted its own drone strikes. At the center of both the JSOC and CIA targeted-

    killing programs were members of an elite division of Blackwater, who assisted in planning the

    assassinations of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value

    targets and other sensitive actions inside Pakistan. Some elite Blackwater SELECT personnel

    worked for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s

    contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely

    piloted Predator aircraft.”

    Blackwater operatives also worked for JSOC on a parallel program that was run out of

    Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan. US military intelligence and company sources told

    me that some Blackwater personnel were given rolling security clearances above their approved

    level. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), the Blackwater

    personnel were granted entry to a Special Access Program. “With an ACCM, the security

    manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized

    programs far above ‘secret’—even though you have no business doing so,” a US military

    intelligence source told me. It allowed Blackwater personnel who “do not have the requisite

    security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified

    operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret.

    That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” As a result, Blackwater had access to “all source”

    reports that were culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the

    years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that

    regularly see things that top policymakers don’t unless they ask.”

    The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater-JSOC operation in Pakistan was

    referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served

    as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to

    be the brave new world,” he told me. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s

    meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you

    can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their

    people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in

    Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating

    under a classified mandate.”

    In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected al Qaeda and

    Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater teams also helped plan

    missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Blackwater

    did not actually carry out the operations, the military intelligence source told me, which were

    executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me

    because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said.

    “So, did I miss something? Did Rumsfeld come back into power?” When civilians are killed,

    “People go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the

    time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT or they’ve culled the

    intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s

    how it works.”

    CIA operations were subject to congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC ops.

    “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” my

    source told me in 2009. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified

    mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re

    going after and there’s thirty-four [other] people in the building, thirty-five people are going to

    die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that.

    It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

    As President Obama and his new cabinet began reviewing the covert actions and

    programs built up under Bush, they were faced with a series of tough choices on which to end

    and which to continue. The labyrinth of the CIA-JSOC-Blackwater covert action program in

    Pakistan was a legacy of the infighting and secrecy that had played out within the US counter-

    terrorism community since the early days after 9/11. As a senator, Obama was critical of

    Blackwater and introduced legislation to try to hold it and other private security companies

    accountable. Now, as commander in chief, he was confronted by briefings from the CIA and US

    military about their necessity to covert US operations. Laying out policy visions on the campaign

    trail was one thing, but confronting the most secretive, elite forces in the US national security

    apparatus would be no easy task. And, for the most part, Obama elected to embrace—not

    restrain—those very forces. The more the president became involved with the day-to-day

    running of the targeted killing program, the more it expanded. By the end of his first year in

    office, Obama and his new counterterrorism team would begin building the infrastructure for a

    formalized US assassination program.

    - pp. 303-312 (“If They Kill Innocent Children and Call Them al Qaeda, Then We Are All al

    Qaeda”): WASHINGTON, DC, AND YEMEN, 2009—On December 16, 2009, top US national

    security officials were given a file of “baseball cards” containing the bios of three alleged AQAP

    members whom Admiral McRaven wanted taken out by JSOC in a proposed “series of targeted

    killings” inside Yemen. Their code names were Objectives Akron, Toledo and Cleveland. JSOC

    wanted to move on the targets in less than twenty-four hours and needed an answer from the

    lawyers: yes or no. The officials who made up the killing committee had little time to review the

    intelligence. Both Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser, and his counterpart at the

    Pentagon, Jeh Johnson, reportedly had just forty-five minutes from the time they received the

    files until the JSOC-led teleconference that would decide if the missions were a go. This meeting

    was larger than most targeting meetings, involving some seventy-five officials. The Obama

    administration was about to start bombing Yemen, and the national security establishment was


    Admiral McRaven was beamed into the meeting via teleconference and, with the cold

    and direct tone he was famous for, laid out the military case for “kinetic action” against the

    “targets.” The main target, “Akron,” was Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al Kazemi, whom

    the United States had identified as an AQAP deputy in Yemen’s Abyan Province. JSOC had

    been hunting Kazemi and McRaven’s men had “tracked him to a training camp near the village

    of al-Majalah.” Kazemi had evaded JSOC for months. Now, McRaven said, the US intelligence

    had a dead lock on his position. After ruling out a capture operation and weighing other military

    options, the team decided on a JSOC-led cruise missile attack on the camp.

    Johnson felt “heavy pressure exerted by the military to kill” and believed he had been

    “rushed and unprepared” to weigh all of the options. Still, he gave his thumbs up. A short time

    later, Johnson watched the satellite imagery of al Majalah from a command center in the

    Pentagon. Figures that appeared to be the size of ants moved around. And then with a massive

    flash they were vaporized. The feed Johnson watched was referred to internally at JSOC as “Kill

    TV.” Now Johnson knew why.

    On the morning of December 17, Sheikh Saleh bin Fareed’s BlackBerry started ringing.

    Tribesmen from his Aulaq tribe told him there had been a horrible incident in a tiny Bedouin

    village in Abyan Province called al Majalah. Early that morning, missiles had rained down on

    the modest dwellings of a dozen families that lived in the remote, barren, mountainous village.

    Dozens of people had been killed, the callers told bin Fareed, many of them women and children.

    Bin Fareed turned on Al Jazeera just as the news was breaking. The announcer read a press

    release from the Yemeni government, which said that Yemeni warplanes had conducted an

    attack against an al Qaeda training camp, dealing a devastating blow to the militants. Bin

    Fareed called his chief bodyguard and his driver and ordered them to get his SUV prepared for

    the half-day’s drive from Aden to al Majalah.

    Bin Fareed is one of the most powerful men in southern Yemen. His family’s lineage traces back

    to the sultans who once ruled the Arabian Peninsula. After British colonialists arrived in southern

    Yemen in 1839, the Aulaq tribe became one of their most prized tribal allies. From 1937 to 1963,

    the southern Yemeni city of Aden existed as a Crown colony, with remote areas governed

    through a series of treaties with tribes. Bin Fareed, whose father was a sultan, was educated in

    British schools and grew up as royalty. In 1960, he went to the United Kingdom for college and

    military schooling and then returned to Yemen, where he joined the army. In 1967, Marxists took

    control of southern Yemen and the British withdrew. Bin Fareed and his family fled Yemen,

    believing they would return in a few months. It would be nearly a quarter century.

    Eventually, bin Fareed came to terms with the fact that he would live in exile. He worked

    much of his young adult life building up businesses elsewhere in the Gulf, and he spent extensive

    time at his family’s estate in the south of England. As the years passed, he became a major

    transportation and construction contractor in the Gulf. By 1990, bin Fareed was an extremely

    wealthy man. That year President Saleh unified North and South Yemen and he called bin

    Fareed. Saleh needed the tribes to help him consolidate his control over the south of the country,

    so he cut a deal with the tribal sheikhs to return. In 1991, bin Fareed was back in Yemen.

    By the time al Qaeda began to formally organize an affiliate in Yemen in 2009, bin

    Fareed had once again become a powerful figure in the country. He was a member of

    parliament, leader of a huge tribe and was building a massive private resort right on the Gulf of

    Aden . . . .

    Now, nine years later, bin Fareed watched as news reports alleged that an al Qaeda stronghold

    was right in the middle of his tribal areas. The reports said “that our government attacked al

    Qaeda in al Majalah where al Qaeda has a base, and a field for training. And they have huge

    stores for all kinds of weapons and ammunition, and rockets, all this. And it was a successful

    attack,” bin Fareed recalled. “And they did not mention the Americans at all.” Bin Fareed found

    it impossible to believe that there was an al Qaeda base in al Majalah. Even if there were al

    Qaeda members there, he thought, the government could easily have sent in a ground force to

    root them out. The reports he was getting about air strikes made no sense to him. It was a remote area, but it wasn’t Tora Bora.

    As soon as bin Fareed arrived in al Majalah, he was horrified. “When we went there, we could

    not believe our eyes. I mean, if somebody had a weak heart, I think he would collapse. You see

    goats and sheep all over, you see the heads of those who were killed here and there. You see

    their bodies, you see children. I mean some of them, they were not hit immediately, but by the

    fire, they were burned,” he told me. Body parts were strewn around the village. “You could not

    tell if this meat belongs to animals or to human beings,” he remembered. They tried to gather

    what body parts they could to bury the dead. “Some of the meat we could not reach, even. It

    was eaten by the birds.” As bin Fareed surveyed the carnage, most of the victims he saw were

    women and children. “They were all children, old women, all kinds of sheep and goats and cows.

    Unbelievable.” He examined the site and found no evidence that there was anything even

    vaguely resembling a training camp. “Why did they do this? Why in the hell are they doing

    this?” he asked. “There are no [weapons] stores, there is no field for training. There is nobody,

    except a very poor tribe, one of the poorest tribes in the south.”

    I later met with several survivors of the attack, in Abyan, including a local tribal leader

    named Muqbal, spared because he had gone out to run errands in a nearby village. “People saw

    the smoke and felt the earth shake—they had never seen anything like it. Most of the dead were

    women, children and the elderly. Five pregnant women were killed,” he told me. After the

    missiles hit, “I ran to the area. I found scattered bodies and injured women and children.” A

    woman who survived the strike sobbed as she recalled for me what happened. “At 6:00 a.m. [my

    family members] were sleeping and I was making bread. When the missiles exploded, I lost

    consciousness. I didn’t know what had happened to my children, my daughter, my husband.

    Only I survived with this old man and my daughter. They died. They all died.” In all, more than

    forty people were killed at al Majalah, including fourteen women and twenty-one children.

    [Amnesty International, “Yemen: Cracking Down Under Pressure,” August 25, 2010.]

    Muqbal, who adopted an orphaned child, was incredulous at the allegation that his village

    was an al Qaeda base. “If they kill innocent children and call them al Qaeda, then we are all al

    Qaeda,” he told me. “If children are terrorists, then we are all terrorists.”

    As bin Fareed examined the wreckage, he saw missile parts that appeared to be from

    Tomahawk cruise missiles. “Of course, our government does not have this kind of rockets. I

    mean, any ordinary man could tell that this belongs to a big nation, a big government,” he told

    me. Then he found a missile part labeled: “Made in the United States.” Al Majalah was also

    littered with cluster bombs. A few days after the strike, three more people were killed when one

    exploded. [Chris Woods, “The Civilian Massacre the US Neither Confirms Nor Denies,” Bureau

    of Investigative Journalism, March 29, 2012.]

    Al Majalah was the opening salvo in America’s newest war.

    Unlike the CIA’s “covert action” programs, which require formal notification to the House and

    Senate intelligence committees, this operation was done under a military “Special Access

    Program,” which gives the armed forces wide latitude to conduct lethal, secret operations with

    little, if any, oversight. In Yemen, the operations were all being coordinated by US Special

    Operations Forces based at the US-Yemen joint operations center in Sana’a, with JSOC’s

    intelligence division coordinating the intel, directing Yemeni forces in on-the-ground raids and

    providing coordinates for US missile strikes. Inside the facility, US and Yemeni military and

    intelligence officials had access to real-time electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-

    dimensional terrain maps. The US personnel inside Yemen fed intel and operational details back

    to the NSA in Fort Meade, the Special Operations Command in Tampa and to other intelligence

    and military agencies.

    This is how al Majalah went down. It was December 17 in Yemen. Soon after Obama’s

    committee met in Washington and approved the operation to assassinate Kazemi and the other al

    Qaeda members on Admiral McRaven’s kill list, JSOC launched surveillance aircraft to monitor

    the intended targets.* The operation kicked off in the early morning hours, as Tomahawk cruise

    missiles were fired from a submarine positioned in the waters off Yemen’s coast. It was armed

    with cluster munitions. The missiles slammed into a collection of dwellings in al Majalah.

    Meanwhile, another strike was launched in Arhab, a suburb of the capital, Sana’a, followed up

    by raids on suspected al Qaeda houses by Yemeni special ops troops from the US-trained CTU,

    backed by JSOC. Authorization for the US strikes was rushed through President Saleh’s office

    because of “actionable” intelligence that al Qaeda suicide bombers were preparing for strikes in

    the Yemeni capital. The target in Arhab, according to intel reports, was an al Qaeda house

    believed to be housing a big fish: AQAP leader Qasim al Rimi. In Abyan, an anonymous US

    official told ABC News, “an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned.”

    * Woods, “The Civilian Massacre the US Neither Confirms Nor Denies.” According to Woods,

    local residents had noticed a “spotter plane” overhead well before the strike.

    A military source familiar with the operation told me al Majalah was a “JSOC operation

    with borrowed Navy subs, borrowed Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy surveillance aircraft and

    close coordination with CIA and DIA on the ground in Yemen. Counting the crew of the sub

    we’re talking 350-400 [people] in the loop.”

    When word of the strikes first broke, Saleh’s government publicly took responsibility.

    Yemen’s defense ministry said its forces had mounted “successful pre-emptive operations”

    against al Qaeda, saying they had killed thirty-four terrorists and arrested seventeen others. The

    Pentagon refused to comment, directing all inquiries to Yemen’s government, which released a

    statement taking credit for the coordinated strikes, saying in a press release that its forces

    “carried out simultaneous raids killing and detaining militants.” President Obama called Saleh to

    “congratulate” him and to “thank him for his cooperation and pledge continuing American

    support.” Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak also phoned to express his satisfaction to Saleh.

    But as images of the al Majalah strike emerged, some military analysts who reviewed the footage

    of the aftermath questioned whether Yemen had the type of weapons used in the Abyan hit. Al

    Jazeera broadcast video of artillery shells with visible serial numbers and speculated that the

    attack was done with a US cruise missile. Abdulelah Haider Shaye was interviewed on the

    network describing the dead civilians he had seen in al Majalah. Among the munitions found at

    the scene were BLU 97 A/B cluster bomblets, which explode into some two hundred sharp steel

    fragments that can spray more than four hundred feet away. In essence, they are flying land

    mines capable of shredding human bodies.* The bomblets were also equipped with an incendiary

    material, burning zirconium, that set fire to flammable objects in the target area. The missile used

    in the attack, a BGM-109D Tomahawk, can carry more than 160 cluster bombs. None of these

    munitions were in Yemen’s arsenal. [Kim Sengupta, “US Cruise Missile Parts Found in Yemeni

    Village Where Fifty-two Died,” Independent (UK), June 7, 2010.]

    * Amnesty International, “Yemen: Cracking Down Under Pressure.” Details of the bomblets and

    munitions are also from the Amnesty International report.

    As news of the strike spread, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs, sat

    aboard his military aircraft returning from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and praised what he

    characterized as Yemeni operations supported by the United States. “We’ve actually done quite a

    bit there. I think we’re on a pretty good track,” he said. Referring to the attacks, Mullen said, “I

    really do applaud what they did, who they went after and specifically going after the Al Qaeda

    cell which has grown significantly over the last couple of years there.”

    But the vast majority of the victims killed in the strike were not, in fact, al Qaeda

    terrorists. Many of the victims, according to a classified US diplomatic cable, were “largely

    nomadic, Bedouin families who lived in tents near the AQAP training camp.”* . . . . For al

    Qaeda, the takeaway was clear: the strikes were a US operation. AQAP could use the images of

    the aftermath, including those of dead and disfigured children, to rally Yemenis to their cause.

    * US diplomatic cable 09SANAA2251, from Ambassador Stephen Seche, US Embassy Sana’a,

    “ROYG Looks Ahead Following CT Operations, but Perhaps Not Far Enough,” December 11,

    2009, released by WikiLeaks,

    Saleh Bin Fareed was livid as he watched the way the al Majalah bombing was covered in the

    international media. Virtually every Western news outlet that covered the story said that Yemen

    had targeted an al Qaeda training camp and that the strike had been a success. But bin Fareed had

    been there. He’d helped scrape the remains of poor Bedouin villagers off of trees. He had seen

    the bodies of dead children pulled from rubble. He had promised newly orphaned children that

    he would take care of them, and he had seen the markings on the missile parts that showed they

    came from the United States. He was determined to make sure that the world understood that the

    victims of the strike were not al Qaeda—and that America was responsible.

    On December 20, bin Fareed organized a massive gathering of tribal leaders from across

    Yemen—nearly 150 of Yemen’s most powerful sheikhs. It was no small feat. There were age-old

    disputes, current feuds and lethal hatred among some of the powerful tribesmen in attendance.

    But bin Fareed persuaded them all to pledge that they would put aside their differences for the

    task at hand. “We made an open invitation to many sheikhs from all tribes. They came from

    Marib, al Jawf. They came from the North, they came from the South,” he recalled. “We drove

    all the way from everywhere to Majalah, just to prove, and show all media that what our

    government says is not true. The Majalah disaster was done by the Americans. And there was not

    al Qaeda whatsoever.”

    Bin Fareed’s goal was to gather tens of thousands of Yemenis from across the country in

    al Majalah to show their solidarity with the victims of the missile strike. One of his estates was

    about one hundred miles from al Majalah, and he offered all of the visiting tribal leaders

    hospitality the night before, so that they could travel together as one unit to the demonstration the

    next day.

    At about 9:30 at night, as the tribesmen finished up their dinner and discussion of the

    logistics for the following day, one of bin Fareed’s guards approached him. He whispered to the

    sheikh that there were about a half dozen men who had pulled up to the compound. “They want

    to see you,” the guard told bin Fareed, who waved for them to be allowed into the house . . . .

    The men entered the house . . . . They made small talk. Bin Fareed asked them their

    names. He knew their tribes, but not the individuals. He asked them what they did for a living.

    The men laughed and looked at each other. “We are unemployed,” one said. Then he added,

    “They say we are al Qaeda.” “Are you?” bin Fareed asked. The men eventually admitted they

    were . . . . bin Fareed admonished them: “You are making a lot of trouble for your people. You

    are giving a bad reputation, to us and to our tribe . . . .”

    Bin Fareed was losing his patience. “What can I do for you?” he asked. The men told him

    that they had heard about the gathering in al Majalah and asked bin Fareed if they could address

    the crowd. “If you are coming tomorrow, as ordinary tribesmen, you are welcome,” bin Fareed

    told them, but not as al Qaeda representatives. “No,” one of them responded. “We want to come

    and give a speech and talk about al Qaeda.” Bin Fareed lost his temper. “This means that you are

    really idiots. Really idiots,” he told the young men. “Our gathering is to prove to the whole world

    that there is no al Qaeda” in al Majalah and that “those people who were killed were innocent.”

    If they came, he told them, the “media will say that all of us, we are al Qaeda.” He warned them

    not to show up. “If you do come,” he told them, “you shave my beard, if you survive three days.”

    It was a grave warning. In Yemen, under tribal customs, to have one’s beard shaved in public by

    another man is to be humiliated for life. Bin Fareed was telling the young al Qaeda men that he

    would have them killed if they stepped foot in al Majalah.

    The next morning at 4:30, bin Fareed and the scores of tribal leaders he had gathered at

    his home caravanned to al Majala. When they arrived, tens of thousands of Yemenis had already

    assembled. Tents had been set up and there were cars as far as the eye could see. “We estimate

    that day, that the gathering was between 50,000 and 70,000, some estimate it was more,” bin

    Fareed said. As bin Fareed settled into one of the massive tents and began going over the

    program for the day, his guards burst in. They told him that the men from last night—the

    members of al Qaeda—were standing on a car, giving a speech through a megaphone. Bin

    Fareed grabbed his automatic weapon and darted out of the tent. His men held him back. “Either

    they will kill me or I will kill them,” bin Fareed said. “I warned them.” It was too late. The al

    Qaeda men had already achieved their goal.

    As bin Fareed was grabbing his machine gun, one of the al Qaeda men, Muhammad al

    Kilwi, was standing on a car speaking to a crowd on the periphery of the demonstration. With a

    henna-dyed beard and a military jacket, he declared, “Al Qaeda’s war in Yemen is against the

    United States, not against the Yemeni military.” Standing aside the other al Qaeda men, who

    were wielding rifles, Kilwi vowed to avenge the deaths at al Majalah. “Our issue is with the

    Americans and their lackeys.” He finished his brief speech, and then he and his cohorts jumped

    back in the vehicles and disappeared into the mountains. That night, video of the speech was

    broadcast across the globe. Bin Fareed’s gathering was portrayed as an al Qaeda rally, just as he

    had feared.

    “They really spoiled our meeting,” bin Fareed recalled. But he was vindicated in the end.

    The men who had hijacked his rally were killed a few days later when the United States launched

    another cruise missile attack.* Maybe the Americans had tracked them after they showed up at

    the rally, bin Fareed speculated. “They were killed,” he said. “All of them.”

    In Yemen, outrage about al Majalah was spreading, fueled largely by the assumption that it was a

    US bombing. The Yemeni parliament dispatched a delegation to do an on-the-ground

    investigation. When they arrived in the village, they “found that all the homes and their contents

    were burnt and all that was left were traces of furniture” along with “traces of blood of the

    victims and a number of holes in the ground left by the well as a number of

    unexploded bombs.” Their investigation determined that the strike had killed forty-one members

    of two families, including fourteen women and twenty-one children. Some of the dead were

    sleeping when the missiles hit. The Saleh government insisted that fourteen al Qaeda operatives

    were killed, but the Yemeni parliamentary investigators said the government could only provide

    them with one name of an al Qaeda operative killed in the bombing—Kazemi, the “leader”

    known as Akron on JSOC’s list. Various Yemeni journalists and security analysts I interviewed

    were puzzled as to why Kazemi was being portrayed as an al Qaeda leader, pointing out that he

    was an aging veteran of the earlier wars in Afghanistan and was not a major figure within


    After the strike, a senior Yemeni official told the New York Times, “The involvement of

    the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary—but there is no

    doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda.”

    On December 21, ambassador Stephen Seche sent a cable from Sana’a back to

    Washington. Referencing the strikes, he said the Yemeni government “appears not overly

    concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to

    civilian deaths.” Seche said that Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al Alimi told him that “any

    evidence of greater U.S. involvement such as fragments of U.S. munitions found at the sites—

    could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S.” But the United States and

    Yemen knew Saleh’s forces did not have those bombs. In his cable, Ambassador Seche

    asserted that Yemen “must think seriously about its public posture and whether its strict

    adherence to assertions that the strikes were unilateral will undermine public support for

    legitimate and urgently needed CT operations, should evidence to the contrary surface.”

    Indeed, months after the strike, Amnesty International published photographic evidence

    of the US bombs found at the scene. The Pentagon would not respond to the group’s inquiries

    about the munitions. “A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt

    to detain them is at the very least unlawful,” said Philip Luther, deputy director of Amnesty

    International’s Middle East-North Africa division. “The fact that so many of the victims were

    actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible.” Amnesty

    noted that neither Yemen nor the United States had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions,

    a treaty designed to ban the very weapons used in the strikes. Without publicly confirming the

    strike was a US operation, unnamed American officials “cited strained resources” in the decision

    to use the cruise missile, alleging that with “the C.I.A.’s armed drones tied up with the bombing

    campaign in missiles were all that was available at the time.” [Scott Shane,

    Mark Mazzetti, and Robert F. Worth, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,”

    New York Times, August 14, 2010.]

    * Robert Worth, “Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan?” New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2010.

    - pp. 331-349: Although Obama had pledged to defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan, McChrystal’s

    time at the helm during the war would see a notable rise in support for the Taliban and a record

    number of US soldiers killed. [Joshua Partlow, “July Becomes Deadliest Month for U.S. Troops

    in Nearly Nine-Year Afghan War,” Washington Post, July 31, 2010.]

    Obama’s emerging twilight wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia received very little

    media attention in the early stages of his presidency. The overwhelming focus was on

    Afghanistan and the debate over the troop surge, but there was a far more significant

    development in the works. The White House, working closely with General McChrystal, began

    to apply its emerging global kill list doctrine inside Afghanistan, buried within the larger, public

    war involving conventional US forces. When I visited Afghanistan in 2010, Afghan police

    commanders told me that US Special Ops teams would enter their areas of responsibility

    without coordinating with local authorities or informing the main US military bases in the area.

    They would conduct operations, sometimes killing people in night raids or snatching people and

    flying them to other provinces. The raids, the commanders explained, were causing a major

    backlash against the conventional US forces and the US-supported Afghan police units. They

    told me that the night raids were actually helping the Taliban.

    The White House was well aware by that point of how serious the damage was in

    Afghanistan. In September 2009, a senior US diplomat in Afghanistan submitted a letter of

    resignation, in which he delivered a stinging indictment of the US war. Matthew Hoh, a

    decorated combat marine who had done multiple tours in Iraq and went on to serve as the top US

    civilian official in Zabul Province in Afghanistan, asserted that the “U.S. and NATO presence

    and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages” amounted to “an occupation force against which

    the insurgency is justified.” In a letter to the State Department, Hoh stated bluntly, “The United

    States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic

    message of the Pashtun insurgency.” He wrote:

    I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women

    in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda

    resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan,

    Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and

    insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may

    lose control of its nuclear weapons.

    The Washington Post reported that Hoh’s letter “sent ripples all the way to the White

    House.” Senior US officials, including the US ambassador and Obama’s Af/Pak envoy, Richard

    Holbrooke told the Post that he asked Hoh, “If he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce

    the cost of the war on lives and treasure,” shouldn’t he be “inside the building, rather than

    outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won’t have the same political impact?” Hoh

    ultimately declined the job offers and went public with his opposition to the war.

    When I met Hoh soon after his resignation, we discussed the night raids and the role

    JSOC was playing in Afghanistan. Hoh made clear that he had tremendous respect for Special

    Ops teams and that he believed there are dangerous people who “need to be killed.” But Hoh

    questioned the use of such an elite force to fight against what had effectively become a popular

    insurgency against a foreign occupation. JSOC, he said, is “the best strike force the world’s ever

    known,” yet “we’ve got them in Afghanistan chasing after mid-level Taliban leaders who are not

    threatening the United States, who are only fighting us really because we’re in their valley.” Hoh

    told me, “We found ourselves in this Special Operations form of attrition warfare.” He estimated

    that there were “fifty to a hundred” al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan at the time.

    Under McChrystal, the pace of night raids accelerated as JSOC mowed its way down a

    kill list that seemed bottomless. McChrystal knew how to promote his agenda with the White

    House, and when he fought for his vision to be embraced, he did so “with the same fearlessness

    he used to track down terrorists in Iraq: Figure out how your enemy operates, be faster and more

    ruthless than everybody else, then take the fuckers out,” noted journalist Michael Hastings, who

    traveled with McChrystal and spent time in Afghanistan. McChrystal and McRaven’s Special

    Ops task forces began expanding the target list, going after Taliban “facilitators” and “suspected

    militants.” The intelligence feeding the operations relied heavily on Afghan sources. Hoh told

    me it was common for Afghans to accuse their enemies of being Taliban operatives to settle

    grudges over land disputes or tribal conflicts. The feeding of such false intel to the American

    forces, in turn, created an environment in which a tremendous number of innocent Afghans

    found themselves facing US commandos bursting into their homes in the middle of the night,

    snatching or killing people. “A lot of times, yeah, the right guys would get targeted and the right

    guys would get killed,” Hoh recalled. “And then, plenty of other times, the wrong people would

    get killed. Sometimes it’d be innocent families. Other times it would be people and their families

    would had been turned in because of grudges or because of rivalries that existed well before we

    showed up. It was very much, whoever got to the Americans first was the person who turned his

    rival, or his enemy, or his antagonist in.”

    Hoh said there were also times when a JSOC task force “would kill someone who was

    important to us. They would kill a tribal leader or some type of government administrator who

    was working with us or we were making inroads with. In the middle of the night, you end up

    shooting the guy.” He added: “There’s nothing like going into a village in the middle of the

    night, knocking a door down and killing a woman or child to just undo” any progress civilian or

    conventional military officials had made in areas around Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, I

    investigated several botched night raids, in which it was clear that innocent people had been

    targeted. None of them was more gruesome than what happened just outside of Gardez in Paktia

    Province, in February 2010.

    On February 12, 2010, Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin had much to celebrate. He was a

    respected police officer who had recently received an important promotion, becoming head of

    intelligence in one of the districts of Paktia Province, in southeast Afghanistan. He was also the

    father of a newborn son. That night, Daoud and his family were celebrating the naming of the

    boy, a ritual that takes place on the sixth day of a child’s life. The party was taking place at their

    compound, in the village of Khataba, a short distance from Gardez, the capital of Paktia. There

    were two dozen people at their home for the celebration, along with three musicians. “We invited

    many guests and had music,” Daoud’s brother-in-law Mohammed Tahir told me when I visited

    the family. “During the party, people were dancing our traditional dance, the Attan.”

    The Sharabuddin family was not ethnic Pashtun, the dominant—almost exclusive—

    ethnicity of the Taliban. Their main language was Dari. Many of the men in the family were

    clean-shaven, or wore only mustaches. They had long opposed the Taliban. Daoud, the police

    commander, had gone through dozens of US training programs, and his home was filled with

    photos of himself with American soldiers. Another family member was a prosecutor for the

    US-backed local government, and a third was the vice chancellor at the local university. The area

    where they lived was near a Taliban stronghold, and the Haqqani network—an insurgent group

    that the United States alleged had close ties to al Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI spy organization--

    had been staging attacks against government and NATO forces. So when they began to notice

    something was amiss outside their compound, the family feared it might be a Taliban attack on

    their home.

    It was around 3:30 a.m., as the celebration was winding down, that the family and their

    guests noticed the main light to the compound had been shut off by someone outside the party.

    Around that time, one of the musicians went into the courtyard to use the outhouse and saw

    lasers scoping the grounds from the perimeter. The man ran back inside and told the others.

    “Daoud went to see what was happening,” Tahir told me. “He thought the Taliban had come.

    They were already on the roof.” As soon as Daoud and his fifteen-year-old son, Sediqulla,

    stepped out into the courtyard, they were both hit by sniper rounds and fell to the ground.* The

    family began hearing the voices of their attackers. Some were shouting commands in English,

    others in Pashtun. The family suspected the attackers were Americans.

    Panic broke out inside the house.

    “All the children were shouting, ‘Daoud is shot! Daoud is shot!’” Tahir recalled. Daoud’s

    eldest son was behind his father and younger brother when they were hit. “When my father went

    down, I screamed,” he told me. “Everybody—my uncles, the women, everybody came out of the

    home and ran to the corridors of the house. I sprinted to them and warned them not to come out

    as there were Americans attacking and they would kill them.” Meanwhile, Daoud’s brothers,

    Mohammed Saranwal Zahir and Mohammed Sabir, tried to come to his aid. “When I ran outside,

    Daoud was lying here,” Mohammed Sabir told me as we stood in the dusty courtyard at the very

    spot where Daoud was shot. “We carried Daoud inside.”

    As Daoud lay bleeding out on the floor in a hallway inside the compound, his brother

    Zahir said he was going to try to stop the attack by speaking to the Americans. He was a local

    district attorney and knew some English. “We work for the government!” he shouted outside.

    “Look at our police vehicles. You have wounded a police commander!” Three women from the

    family, Bibi Saleha, aged thirty-seven, and Bibi Shirin, aged twenty-two, and Gulalai, aged

    eighteen, clutched at Zahir’s clothes, pleading with him not to step outside. It didn’t make a

    difference. Zahir was gunned down where he stood, with sniper rounds hitting him and the three

    women. Zahir, Bibi Saleha and Bibi Shirin died quickly. Gulalai and Daoud held on for hours,

    but their besieged family members could do nothing for them and they eventually died from their


    * Jerome Starkey, “Nato ‘Covered Up’ Botched Night Raid in Afghanistan That Killed Five,”

    Times (UK), March 13, 2010.

    Somehow, in a matter of minutes, a jubilant family event had become a massacre. Seven

    people had died in all, according to family members. Two of the women had been pregnant. The

    women had sixteen children among them. [Richard A. Oppel Jr., “U.S. Admits Role in February

    Killing of Afghan Women,” New York Times, April 4, 2010.]

    It was 7:00 A.M. A few hours earlier, Mohammed Sabir had just seen his brother, his wife, his

    niece and his sister-in-law gunned down. Now he stood, shell-shocked, above their corpses in a

    room filled with American soldiers. The masked commandos had burst into the home and

    proceeded to raid it, searching every room. Sabir told me that Daoud and Gulalai were still alive

    at that point. US soldiers kept saying they would get them medical attention. “They didn’t let us

    take them to the hospital and kept saying that they have doctors and they would take care of the

    injured folks,” he said. “I kept asking them to let me take my daughter to the hospital because

    she had lost a lot of blood and we had a car right there,” Mohammed Tahir, Gulalai’s father,

    recalled. “But they didn’t let me take her to hospital. My daughter and Daoud were still alive.

    We kept asking, but we were told that a helicopter is coming and our injured will be taken to the

    hospital.” Both of them died before any helicopter came to retrieve them.

    Even as the American raid was under way, Mohammed Sabir and his nephew Izzat,

    along with the wives of Daoud and Sabir, prepared burial shrouds for those who had died. The

    Afghan custom involves binding the feet and head. A scarf secured around the bottom of the chin

    is meant to keep the mouth of the deceased from hanging open. They had managed to do this

    before the Americans began handcuffing them and dividing the surviving men and women into

    separate areas. Several of the male family members told me that it was around this time that they

    witnessed a horrifying scene: US soldiers digging the bullets out of the women’s bodies. “They

    were putting knives into their injuries to take out the bullets,” Sabir told me. I asked him bluntly,

    “You saw the Americans digging the bullets out of the women’s bodies?” Without hesitation, he

    said, “Yes.” Tahir told me he saw the Americans with knives standing over the bodies. “They

    were taking out the bullets from their bodies to remove the proof of their crime,” he said.

    Mohammed Sabir would not be able to attend his own wife’s burial, nor those of any of

    his dead family members. Following the raid, the American forces made everyone kneel or stand

    in the courtyard, barefoot, on a brutal winter morning, with their hands tied behind their backs.*

    Witnesses told me that those who tried to speak or plead with the soldiers were beaten. “They

    told me to raise my hands, but I thought it was my own house, why should I?” Daoud’s eldest

    son, Abdul Ghafar, told me. “They hit me several times. They fired on me and around me. I put

    myself on the ground. I told the [American’s Afghan] translator to tell them not to kill women,

    just do their search. We are pro-government people. We work with the government. They kicked

    me several times. I tried to stand, but they kicked me.” A witness later told a UN investigator

    that at least ten people were [seriously] assaulted by the US and Afghan team, including Hajji

    Sharabuddin, the sixty-five-year-old head of the household. “They told us that they were

    informed that forty to fifty Taliban are here,” Sharabuddin told me. “But, in fact, all of them

    were from my family and work for the government.” Sharabuddin demanded to know why they

    burst into his home in the middle of the night. “You could have searched my house in the

    morning,” he recalled telling them. “And if you could find any Talib in my house, then you could

    do anything to me or destroy and spoil my house and I would not blame you.”

    * Author copy of “briefing note” by United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

    (UNAMA) Human Rights unit, dated February 14, 2010.

    A subsequent UN investigation conducted two days after the raid which was never

    publicly released determined that the survivors of the raid “suffered from cruel, inhuman and

    degrading treatment by being physically assaulted by US and Afghan forces, restrained and

    forced to stand barefoot for several hours outside in the cold,” adding that witnesses alleged

    “that US and Afghan forces refused to provide adequate and timely medical support to two

    people who sustained serious bullet injuries, resulting in their death hours later.”

    Mohammed Sabir was one of the men singled out for further interrogation after the raid.

    With his clothes still caked with the blood of his loved ones, Sabir and seven other men were

    hooded and shackled. “They tied our hands and blindfolded us,” he recalled. “Two people

    grabbed us and pushed us, one by one, into the helicopter.” They were flown to a different

    Afghan province, Paktika, where the Americans held them for days. “My senses weren’t working

    at all,” he recalled. “I couldn’t cry, I was numb. I didn’t eat for three days and nights. They

    didn’t give us water to wash the blood away.” The Americans ran biometric tests on the men,

    photographed their irises and took their fingerprints. Sabir described to me how teams of

    interrogators, including both Americans and Afghans, questioned him about his family’s

    connections to the Taliban. Sabir told them that his family was against the Taliban, had fought

    the Taliban and that some of them had been kidnapped by the Taliban.

    “The interrogators had short beards and didn’t wear uniforms. They had big muscles and

    would fly into sudden rages,” Sabir recalled, adding that, at times, they would shake him

    violently. “We told them truthfully that there were not Taliban in our home.” One of the

    Americans, he said, told him they “had intelligence that a suicide bomber had hidden in your

    house and that he was planning an operation.” Sabir told them, “If we would have had a suicide

    bomber at home, then would we be playing music in our house? Almost all guests were

    government employees.” After three days in captivity, he told me, the Americans released him

    and the others. “They told us that we were innocent, that they are very sorry, and it was a very

    bad thing that they did in our house.” [Author interview, Mohammed Sabir, October 2010.] In

    public, however, the United States and its allies put forward a very different story about what

    happened that night in the compound in Gardez.

    While Mohammed Sabir and the others were in US custody, the headquarters of the International

    Security Assistance Force wasted little time in issuing a statement on the incident. Just hours

    after the raid, ISAF and the Afghan Ministry of Interior put out a joint press release. They

    asserted that a combined Afghan-international “security force” had made a “gruesome

    discovery” the night before. The force had been on a fairly routine operation near the village of

    Khataba. Intelligence had “confirmed” the compound to be the site of “militant activity.” As the

    team approached, they were “engaged” in a “fire fight” by several insurgents,” the statement

    read. The force killed the insurgents and was securing the compound when they made their

    discovery: three women who had been “bound,” “gagged” and then executed inside the

    compound. The force, the press release alleged, found them “hidden in an adjacent room.”

    “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals and terrorists who

    do not care about the life of civilians,” Canadian army brigadier general Eric Tremblay, ISAF’s

    spokesman, told the press, referring to the raid. He portrayed the commandos who had raided the

    home as heroes. A number of men, women and children were detained by the force as they tried

    to leave the compound, the release stated, and eight men had been taken into custody for further

    questioning. During the incident, medical support had been called in, the statement said.

    A few news agencies picked up the story that day and published more assertions from

    US, Afghan and ISAF officials. A “senior U.S. military official” told CNN that four victims had

    been found at the compound, two men and two women. The official confirmed the original

    statement’s lurid details of the women’s executions, adding that the killings seemed to have

    extreme cultural motives. “It has the earmarks of a traditional honor killing,” the official said, the

    implication being that the four people could have been murdered by their own family members.

    The official speculated that adultery or collusion with NATO forces could have been the


    The New York Times put out a brief the following day, largely summarizing NATO’s

    account. The Times reporter, Rob Norland, spoke to the Paktia Province police chief, Aziz

    Ahmad Wardak, who, he wrote, confirmed many details of the incident but said that three

    women and two men had been killed. He claimed the group had been killed by Taliban militants

    who attacked during a party celebrating a birth. US officials would later tell the press that the

    victims appeared to have deep cuts and puncture wounds, suggesting they had been stabbed.

    While international news agencies largely put forward the US version of events, local

    reporters began speaking with Afghan officials and family members. The Pajhwok Afghan News

    Agency spoke with the deputy police chief in the province, Brigadier General Ghulam Dastagir

    Rustamyar, who said that “US Special Forces” had killed the five people during an operation,

    evidently in response to an inaccurate or falsified tip-off.* “Last night, the Americans conducted

    an operation in a house and killed five innocent people, including three women,” Shahyesta Jan

    Ahadi, a deputy provincial council member in Gardez, told a local reporter for the Associated

    Press. “The people are so angry.” Ahadi denied the NATO claim that it was a joint Afghan-US

    force. “The [Afghan] government didn’t know about this,” he said. “We strongly condemn this.”

    [Amir Shah, “NATO: Raid Killed Militants; Family Says Civilians,” Associated Press, February

    12, 2010.]

    * Lemar Niazai, “Intelligence Official Among Five Killed by NATO Troops,” Pajhwok Afghan

    News, February 12, 2010.

    Within days of the raid, UN human rights investigators in Gardez spoke to “local

    authorities,” who said that US Special Forces had come from Bagram to Gardez days before the

    operation. They were also told that Afghan security officials had been notified about an

    impending operation but had not been given any details about the time or place. The United

    Nations concluded that neither the local Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) nor ISAF

    troops were involved in the raid.

    NATO had promised a “joint investigation,” but it never happened. After the incident,

    Afghan officials from the provincial capital were barred from entering the compound. “By the

    time we got there, there was a foreign guy guarding the bodies, and they wouldn’t let us come

    near,” said Wardak, of the Paktia police. Ultimately, the Interior Ministry in Kabul dispatched a

    delegation, headed by Kabul’s top criminal investigator, to investigate the raid. The group

    appeared to have worked largely independent of NATO.

    By the time Mohammed Sabir returned home after being held in American custody, he

    had missed the burial of his wife and other family members. Racked with grief, he imagined

    avenging his loved ones. “I didn’t want to live anymore,” he told me. “I wanted to wear a suicide

    jacket and blow myself up among the Americans. But my brother and father wouldn’t let me. I

    wanted jihad against the Americans.”

    There was clearly a cover-up. The family knew it. The United Nations knew it. And the Afghan

    investigators knew it. The force that raided the home was US-led, but who were the Americans

    who had stormed into that home in the middle of the night?

    It wasn’t until a British reporter, Jerome Starkey, began a serious investigation of the

    Gardez killings a month after they took place that the full story would begin to unfold. When

    Starkey first read the ISAF press release, he said he “had no reason to believe it wasn’t true.”

    When I visited him at his home in Kabul, Starkey told me, “I thought it was worth investigating

    because if that press release was true—a mass honor killing, three women killed by Taliban who

    were then killed by Special Forces—that in itself would have made an extraordinary and

    intriguing story.” But when he visited Gardez and began assembling witnesses to meet him in the

    area, he immediately realized ISAF’s story was likely false.

    The family had significant evidence that undercut the story circulated by ISAF and

    picked up by many news organizations. The family in Gardez showed Starkey and me a video

    from the night of the raid in which the musicians are seen playing and Daoud and his relatives

    are dancing in celebration of the naming ceremony for Daoud’s son. “I suppose the closest

    approximation we’d have is like a christening party,” Starkey recalled. “It’s the sixth night

    after a child is born. It’s named, usually by its grandparents, and you celebrate that by inviting

    all your friends and neighbors and cousins over to your house, effectively for a sort of feast or

    banquet and the dancing and music.” Starkey realized that the nature of the celebration “didn’t

    chime with the suggestion that they were Taliban. The Taliban are notorious for their very strict

    rules, and musical instruments were banned when they were in power. So here we’ve got video

    of guys, of a three-piece band, and we interviewed the musicians, who corroborated the story. It

    just, it really didn’t stack up. They clearly weren’t Talibs.”

    Starkey visited Gardez about a month after the raid and spoke to more than a dozen

    survivors, as well as local government and law enforcement officials and a religious leader. He

    also spoke to UN human rights investigators in the area who had conducted an investigation of

    their own. All of the people Starkey spoke to insisted that the mysterious US and Afghan

    shooters had killed the five people. In addition to learning new details about the killings on

    February 12, Starkey found that conventional coalition forces had likely not been behind the

    strike, suggesting that US “Special Forces” had been involved. US soldiers based in the area

    denied having been a part of any night raid in Khataba that day. And Afghan officials who,

    according to NATO protocol, should have been notified of an operation within their

    jurisdiction said they’d received no notice of a planned raid. “Nobody informed us,” said the

    deputy governor of Gardez, Abdul Rahman Mangal. “This operation was a mistake.”

    Under NATO rules, the team conducting the operation should have left information

    about its unit with the local people, but the family said they had received nothing. The family

    further accused the soldiers of trying to cover up the raid, abetted by NATO’s misinformation.

    Starkey contacted Rear Admiral Greg Smith, General McChrystal’s deputy chief of staff

    for communications, and confronted him with the discrepancies. NATO was guilty, Smith said—

    of poor word choice. The women, he conceded, had probably been prepped for a funeral, rather

    than “bound and gagged.” But Smith denied that a “cover-up” had taken place and insisted that

    the women had been dead for hours. He confirmed that the men had been killed by the US and

    Afghan forces. “They were not the targets of this particular raid,” Smith admitted. But they had

    been armed and showing “hostile intent,” he claimed, justifying the escalation of force. “I don’t

    know if they fired any rounds,” he said. “If you have got an individual stepping out of a

    compound, and if your assault force is there, that is often the trigger to neutralize the individual.

    You don’t have to be fired upon to fire back.”

    Despite the UN investigation and a smattering of mostly local news reports questioning

    ISAF’s version of events, the US-led NATO command wasn’t forced to publicly account for the

    wild discrepancies between what the family said happened and ISAF’s assertions. That is, until

    Starkey published a story in the Times of London, headlined: “Nato ‘Covered Up’ Botched Night

    Raid in Afghanistan That Killed Five.” Within hours of his story coming out, Starkey was

    receiving phone calls from his colleagues, warning him. “I was getting information from other

    journalists in Kabul, who were my friends, that NATO was briefing against me,” Starkey told

    me. “NATO was trying to discredit me, trying to say that the story was inaccurate, and

    effectively trying to kill it dead.”

    Rear Admiral Smith had put out a statement that dispensed with the diplomacy and

    allusion typical of official press releases. McChrystal’s press team was naming names. “The

    allegation made by Times UK reporter Jerome Starkey that NATO ‘covered up’ an incident that

    was conducted outside Gardez in Paktia province is categorically false,” the statement read. It

    went on to accuse Starkey of misquoting Admiral Smith in the article and claimed that the ISAF

    Joint Command had sent an investigative team to the compound within twelve hours of the

    incident. Smith and Duncan Boothby, McChrystal’s civilian press aide at the time, also “called

    up rival outlets and reporters to ‘brief’ against Starkey, saying he wasn’t a credible journalist”

    because of a stint at a British tabloid. “I’ve been living in Afghanistan for four years,” Starkey

    said. “I can’t remember another case where that has happened. To my knowledge, that was the

    only time that they’ve named a journalist, and singled out a journalist so specifically in a denial.”

    NATO “claimed to have a recording of my conversation which contradicted my

    shorthand record,” Starkey wrote in a Nieman Watchdog blog post the following week, referring

    to the alleged misquote. “When I asked to hear it, they ignored me. When I pressed them, they

    said there had been a misunderstanding. When they said recording, they meant someone had

    taken notes. The tapes, they said, do not exist.”

    Starkey pressed on, publishing another story describing the community’s anger over the

    raid and subsequent responses of NATO and the Afghan authorities. “I don’t want money. I want

    justice,” the family patriarch, Hajji Sharabuddin, told Starkey. He said that the government had

    offered them compensation for each slain family member after protests paralyzed the provincial

    capital. “All our family, we now don’t care about our lives. We will all do suicide attacks and

    [the whole province] will support us.”

    “Nato officials continued to brief journalists in Kabul yesterday that the women were

    victims of an ‘honour’ killing,” Starkey wrote. “However, they did not explain why the bodies

    would have been kept in the house overnight, against Islamic custom, nor why the family had

    invited 25 guests to celebrate the naming of a newborn child the same evening.”

    “My father was friends with the Americans and they killed him,” Daoud’s son, Abdul

    Ghafar, told Starkey, showing him a photography of his father with three smiling American

    soldiers. “They killed my father. I want to kill them. I want the killers brought to justice.”

    On March 15, 2010, the New York Times reported that General McChrystal had decided to bring

    most of the US Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan under his command. The decision was

    motivated in part by concerns about civilian casualties, the article noted, which were often

    caused by elite forces operating outside of the NATO command structure. The Times report

    largely seconded Starkey’s account of the Gardez raid, confirming that “Afghan police special

    forces paired with American Special Operations forces” had been behind the operation. Again,

    Admiral Smith avoided taking responsibility for the deaths of the women. “The regret is that two

    innocent males died,” Admiral Smith said. “The women, I’m not sure anyone will ever know how

    they died.” He added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet

    penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” Smith added that the women appeared to

    have been stabbed and slashed by knives, rather than shot. The Times spoke to Sayid Mohammed

    Mal, the father of Gulalai’s fiancé and the vice chancellor of Gardez University. “They were

    killed by the Americans,” he said. “If the government doesn’t listen to us, I have 50 family

    members, I’ll bring them all to Gardez roundabout and we’ll pour petrol on ourselves and burn

    ourselves to death.”

    Weeks later, in early April, Starkey received an unexpected phone call. “NATO phoned

    me up,” Starkey told me, “and they said, ‘Jerome, we just wanted to let you know that we’re

    preparing to put out a press release. “We’re changing our version of events.’” A so-called joint

    investigation had “determined that international forces were responsible for the deaths of three

    women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint

    Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent.” The report added, “While

    investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of

    forensic evidence, they concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint

    force firing at the men.” [“Gardez Investigation Concludes,” International Security Assistance

    Force—Afghanistan (ISAF), April 4, 2010, accessed December 12, 2012,

    The statement maintained that the men had shown “hostile intent” but were “later

    determined not to be insurgents.” “The [original] statement noted the women had been bound

    and gagged, but this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of

    the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs,” the statement said. When

    Starkey received the phone call, he had just filed another story for the Times of London. This

    was his most explosive story to date, based on a conversation with a senior Afghan official

    involved in the government investigation, as well as members of the family.

    The delegation had finished its report, and McChrystal was briefed on the findings as

    well. The press release, followed by news that McChrystal was ordering a second review of the

    incident, was meant to preempt a gruesome revelation. “US special forces soldiers dug bullets

    out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of the botched night raid, then washed the

    wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened,” Starkey asserted in

    his story, which came out the following day.* Afghan investigators told Starkey that the US

    soldiers had also removed bullets from the scene. Their investigation had determined that eleven

    bullets were fired, but only seven had been found. The missing bullets, combined with

    photographic evidence and witness testimony, had brought them to their conclusion about what

    the US Special Forces had done. “In what culture in the world do you invite...people for a party

    and meanwhile kill three women?” the senior Afghan official told Starkey. “The dead bodies

    were just eight meters from where they were preparing the food. The Americans, they told us the

    women were dead for 14 hours.” The Afghan government investigators had confirmed what the

    family had told Starkey—and later me—about the US forces digging bullets out of the women’s

    bodies. “Because we were aware that what we were looking into was potentially so controversial,

    we wanted to make sure that we were on solid ground,” Starkey told me, referring to the digging

    out of the bullets. “That allegation I left out of my original story. But when I heard it again, from

    this very senior, very credible Afghan source, we published that.”

    * Jerome Starkey, “US Special Forces ‘Tried to Cover Up’ Botched Khataba Raid in

    Afghanistan,” Times Online (UK), April 5, 2010.

    That same day, the New York Times reported some of the conclusions of the Afghan

    investigation. “We came to the conclusion that the NATO patrol was responsible for the killing

    of the two men and the three women, and that there was evidence of tampering in the corridor

    inside the compound by the members” of the assault team, said the lead investigator, Merza

    Mohammed Yarmad. “There was a mess at the scene.” NATO said the allegations had prompted

    another investigation but nonetheless rejected them outright. “We strongly deny having dug any

    bullets out of bodies. There simply is no evidence,” said a NATO military official. The officer

    appointed to conduct the second review was put under McChrystal’s direct “operational control”

    while still conducting the investigation. The results remained classified, but NATO continued to

    insist that there was “no evidence of a cover-up.”

    As rage in Afghanistan mounted over civilian deaths in raids like that in Gardez, there was a

    fierce debate within NATO about how to respond. At one point there was a plan for General

    McChrystal to travel to the village to personally apologize to the family. Instead, the actual

    commander of the force responsible for the raid would travel to Gardez and in the process reveal

    exactly which unit was behind the gruesome killings and cover-up of the massacre. It would also

    publicly reveal the face of JSOC. On the morning of April 8, shortly after 11:00, Admiral

    William McRaven, JSOC’s secretive commander, pulled up to the gates of the Sharabuddin


    The family had been told the night before that they would be receiving an important

    visitor. They thought it would be McChrystal himself. Mohammed Sabir and other family members

    told me that they had actually discussed killing McChrystal when he came the next day, but their

    local imam counseled them to instead show him hospitality and listen to him. Faced with this

    imminent meeting, the family decided to call an international witness: Jerome Starkey. NATO

    had tried to conceal the details and timing of the visit, but once Starkey got the call, he began the

    half-day drive to Gardez from Kabul. “We were obviously very keen to make sure that we were

    there when it happened and that was very, very difficult because nobody wanted to tell us. And I

    think, from the sort of PR spin side of things, that the image management within NATO probably

    didn’t really want to draw attention,” he told me. “They admitted they’d got it wrong. Again they

    were hoping it was going to go away but it wasn’t.”

    Starkey arrived at the family compound early in the morning and was sitting with the

    family drinking tea and talking.” At about eleven o’clock, up rolls a huge convoy of massive

    American armored cars, armored land cruisers, countless, I mean literally countless Afghan

    officers and soldiers,” Starkey recalled. “And among them is a man wearing a uniform that I

    recognized as sort of U.S. Marines, but it says U.S. Navy on his lapel.” His name tag simply read

    “McRaven.” “I didn’t know who he was at that stage,” said Starkey, one of the most experienced

    Western reporters in Afghanistan at the time. “And so, there unfolded perhaps one of the most

    extraordinary things I’ve ever seen in Afghanistan as they off-loaded a sheep from the back of an

    Afghan Army pickup truck. And three Afghan soldiers knelt on this sheep on the street outside

    the home where this operation had taken place, in the exact same place where these soldiers had

    been when they started the raid. And there with a knife, they sharpened the knife and there was

    an Afghan Army mullah who started praying and they were offering to sacrifice this sheep.”

    Hajji Sharabuddin, the family elder, intervened. “Don’t do it,” he told the soldiers.

    Starkey said that the Afghan forces and McRaven’s men had put the family in a difficult

    position. “When people come to your gate and ask forgiveness, according to Afghan law, it’s

    difficult to reject them,” Sharabuddin told Starkey, who added that the practice was “an ancient

    Afghan ritual known as nanawate where you offer to sacrifice a sheep at somebody’s door in

    order to ask for forgiveness.” The family, Starkey said, “was left with no option, no honorable

    dignified option other than to let these men into [their] house.”

    The Afghan soldiers tried to prevent Starkey’s photographer, Jeremy Kelly, from taking

    photos and to expel Starkey from the room once McRaven had entered. But the family insisted

    he remain. Otherwise, there would have been no evidence that this extraordinary event occurred,

    no proof of who the killers were. Inside the house, the commander of JSOC stood face-to-face

    with the survivors of the raid, including the fathers and husbands of the women his men had

    killed. “Admiral McRaven stood up and he gave an extraordinary speech. He drew similarities

    between himself and Hajji Sharabuddin, and he described them both as spiritual men, as men of

    God. He drew comparisons and found similarities between Christianity and Islam,” Starkey

    recalled. “Sir, you and I are very different,” McRaven told Sharabuddin. “You are a family man

    with many children and many friends. I am a soldier. I have spent most of my career overseas

    away from my family, but I have children as well and my heart grieves for you. But we have one

    thing in common. We have the same god. He is a god who shows great love and compassion. I

    pray for you today, sir, that in your grief he will show you love and compassion and ease your

    pain. I also pray today that he will show mercy on me and my men for this awful tragedy.”

    Starkey said McRaven then told the family, “My soldiers were responsible for deaths of these

    members of your family,” and then apologized. [Jerome Starkey, “US Army Chief Begs

    Afghans to Forgive,” Times (London), April 12, 2010.]

    - pp. 150-154: When JSOC first deployed to Iraq to lead the hunt for WMDs and Saddam’s top

    leadership, the prisoners they took early on were prioritized in terms of what, if any, intelligence

    or information they may have possessed that would produce results to support either of those

    missions. The harsh interrogation methods that were being refined in black sites and in

    Afghanistan were to be unleashed in Iraq. “There were two reasons why these interrogations

    were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” said a former senior intelligence

    official. “The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack

    [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also

    demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed]

    Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

    The Bush administration also wanted to find WMDs and to retroactively prove that its

    claims of Iraq possessing them were true. Rowan Scarborough, a conservative military journalist

    who wrote two books for which he received extensive access to Rumsfeld and his team,

    recounted how furious Rumsfeld would become each day when he was briefed on the lack of

    WMDs in Iraq. “Each morning, the crisis action team had to report that another location was a

    bust. Rumsfeld grew angrier and angrier. One officer quoted him as saying, ‘They must be

    there!’ At one briefing, he picked up the briefing slides and tossed them back at the briefers,”

    according to Scarborough. Horton added: “A lot of this intelligence gathering operation, at the

    outset...was driven by a need to produce information that would justify [the war]. And I think

    that the use of torture was authorized largely because of an expectation that that would produce

    results. I don’t think there was ever any expectation that it was going to produce the truth, but it

    would produce people saying what they wanted them to say, that would somehow back this up.”

    But as the months went on in Iraq and the WMD and al Qaeda claims fell apart, the

    focus of the interrogations began shifting to crushing the insurgency. The list of targets and

    suspects quickly grew from the original deck of cards representing the Saddam regime to a

    potentially infinite catalog of names. “You saw the French do this in Algeria and you saw the

    Americans do this in 2003 in Iraq,” recalled Exum, who was deployed to Iraq at the time. “You

    start out with a target list, and maybe you’ve got 50 guys on it, maybe you’ve got 200 guys on it,

    but you can work your way through those 50 or 200 guys, and then suddenly at the end of that

    target list you’ve got a new target list of 3,000 people on it.”

    McChrystal expanded JSOC’s role in detainee operations, but NAMA was up and

    running before he set foot in Iraq. The CIA, which inflicted more than its share of dirty deeds on

    prisoners, had become so shocked at the torture at NAMA that it withdrew its interrogators from

    the base in August 2003, though it continued to provide intelligence to the task force. In fact, the

    month before McChrystal assumed command at JSOC, an army investigator, as well as

    intelligence and law enforcement officials, were already voicing their warnings about detainee

    abuse, suggesting that the harsh techniques were being employed by JSOC. In September 2003,

    after a request from the “commander of the Special Mission Unit Task Force,” US military

    SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) instructors, whose official job was to prepare

    US service members to endure torture and captivity, arrived at Camp NAMA.

    The JSOC Task Force did not categorize Camp NAMA as a prison but rather as a

    “filtration site” where intelligence was being obtained. This gave cover for all the dirty activity

    and the secrecy that shrouded it. The Special Access Program that the task force operated under

    “would be given a mission and might be authorized to use all sorts of special practices, that not

    only deviate from normal military practices, but might actually violate military law, and military

    policy, and this would be done by means of a Special Access Program, that would usually come

    from the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence [Stephen Cambone]. There’s very clearly

    some criminal conduct,” said Horton, the human rights lawyer. “And yet, here in this special

    JSOC regime, this was being authorized—being incited—by officers who were running the

    camp, who were supposed to be prohibiting this kind of conduct.”

    The Battlefield Interrogation Facility at NAMA had four interrogation rooms and

    a medical screening room, where Saddam was first processed after his capture. Furnished with

    rugs, prayer mats, couches, tables and chairs, the “Soft Room” was where cooperative and high-

    ranking detainees were brought for questioning—and tea. The Blue and Red (or Wood) rooms

    were larger (about six by ten feet), rectangular and plain; the Blue Room had a coat of blue paint

    over the plywood walls. These rooms were used for medium-intensity interrogations, reportedly

    employing techniques approved by the US Army Field Manual. The Black Room was preserved

    from its days as a torture chamber under Saddam and, for good measure, the task force kept the

    meat hooks that hung from the ceiling during the Iraqi dictator’s reign of terror in place for their

    use. The Black Room was the largest room—approximately twelve by twelve feet. It was here

    that JSOC would perform its harshest interrogations.

    Detainees were moved between rooms, depending on their cooperation with the

    interrogators. “We would do that to show him if you tell us what we want to hear, then this is

    the treatment that you’ll get,” recalled “Jeff Perry,” the pseudonym of a former interrogator at

    NAMA who provided eyewitness testimony on his experiences at NAMA to Human Rights

    Watch. “If you don’t, then this is the treatment that you’ll get. So there was a lot of that, going

    back and forth between the rooms.” If a prisoner was believed to have info on Zarqawi, he

    would be sent to the Black Room. It would also be used if “the interrogator thinks he’s being

    lied to or he’s not going to get anywhere with just talking to him,” Perry recalled. “We would

    march with him into the black room.” It would also be used if interrogators were “angry at [a

    detainee] and want[ed] to punish him for some reason.”

    Inside the Black Room, the full-spectrum of SERE tactics were unleashed on detainees,

    along with a slew of medieval freestyle techniques. “It was painted black floor to ceiling. The

    door was black, everything was black,” recalled Perry. “It had speakers in the corners, all four

    corners, up at the ceiling. It had a small table in one of the corners, and maybe some chairs. But

    usually in the black room nobody was sitting down. It was standing, stress positions.” The

    interrogations there often incorporated extremely loud music, strobe lights, beatings,

    environmental and temperature manipulation, sleep deprivation, twenty-hour interrogation

    sessions, water and stress positions, and personal, often sexual, humiliation. The forced nudity of

    prisoners was not uncommon. Almost any act was permissible against the detainees as long as it

    complied with the “No Blood, No Foul” motto. But, eventually, even blood was okay. [John

    Sifton and Marc Garlasco, “No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq,”

    Human Rights Watch, July 23, 2006,

    One former prisoner—the son of one of Saddam’s bodyguards—said he was made to

    strip, was punched repeatedly in the spine until he fainted, was doused with cold water and

    forced to stand in front of the air-conditioner and kicked in the stomach until he vomited.*

    Prisoners held at other facilities also described heinous acts committed against them by

    interrogators and guards, including sodomizing detainees with foreign objects, beating them,

    forcing water up their rectums and using extreme dietary manipulation—nothing but bread and

    water for more than two weeks in one case. [Brigadier General Richard P. Formica, “Article

    15-6 Investigations of CJSOTF-AP and 5th SF Group Detention Operations,” November 8, 2004,

    pp. 20-21, 30; declassified June 7, 2006, released by the Department of Defense on Friday, June

    16, 2006,

    * Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall, “Task Force 6-26: Inside Camp Nama; in Secret Unit’s

    ‘Black Room,’ a Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse,” New York Times, March 19, 2006.

    Members of the task force would beat prisoners with rifle butts and spit in their faces.

    One member of the task force reported that he had heard interrogators “beating the shit out of the

    detainee.” According to a former interrogator with the task force, one of his colleagues was

    “reprimanded and assigned to desk duty because he pissed in a bottle and gave it to a detainee to

    drink.” Members of the task force would also interrupt non-harsh interrogations and begin

    slapping or beating detainees. On at least one occasion, they abducted the wife of a suspected

    insurgent being hunted by the task force “to leverage the primary target’s surrender.” The

    woman was a twenty-eight-year-old mother of three who was still nursing her six-month-old

    baby. After interviewing numerous members of the task force at NAMA, Human Rights Watch

    concluded, “the abuses appear to have been part of a regularized process of detainee abuse—

    ‘standard operating procedure.’”

    Steven Kleinman, at the time a lieutenant colonel in the air force, arrived at Camp

    NAMA in early September 2003, just as McChrystal was taking over as commander of JSOC.

    Kleinman was a veteran interrogator and an air force SERE instructor. When he was first

    dispatched to Iraq, he believed his job was to observe the interrogations at the camp and analyze

    how they could be done more effectively. A year earlier, Kleinman had investigated the program

    at Guantanamo and found “fundamental systemic problems” that he believed had undermined the

    stated goals of the interrogations. But the task force at NAMA had different plans. They told

    Kleinman they were having trouble getting actionable or reliable intelligence from their

    prisoners, and they wanted Kleinman and his SERE colleagues to help them apply SERE tactics

    to the interrogations. In essence, they wanted Kleinman and his colleagues to use the very torture

    tactics against detainees that they had taught US military personnel to resist.

    Kleinman agreed that the intel was a mess, but he did not believe it was because the

    interrogations were not harsh enough. He described a chaotic situation lacking any effective

    screening of new detainees, with some prisoners appearing to have no intelligence value. But the

    task force wanted Kleinman and his colleagues to participate in interrogations, and eventually,

    they were ordered to do so. Kleinman soon found himself in the Black Room at NAMA. “I

    walked into the interrogation room, all painted in black with [a] spotlight on the detainee. Behind

    the detainee was a military guard...with a[n] iron bar...slapping it in his hand,” Kleinman

    recalled. “The interrogator was sitting in a chair. The interpreter was to his left...and the detainee

    was on his knees.... A question was asked by the interrogator, interpreted, the response came

    back and, upon interpretation, the detainee would be slapped across the face.... And that

    continued with every question and every response. I asked my colleagues how long this had

    been going on, specifically the slapping, they said approximately 30 minutes.”

    Kleinman said he considered the tactics used on the prisoner to be “direct violations of

    the Geneva Conventions and [actions that] could constitute a war crime.” Kleinman says he told

    the commander of the Special Mission Unit at NAMA that his force was engaged in “unlawful”

    conduct and systematic violations of the Geneva Convention. It had no impact on the

    commander or Kleinman’s other JPRA/SERE colleagues. Kleinman said his superior told him

    that they had been “cleared hot to use SERE methods” in interrogations. Kleinman said he

    believed that was an “unlawful order,” adding that he “wasn’t going to have any involvement

    with it, and I didn’t think that they should either.” He was told that the prisoners were not

    entitled to Geneva Convention protection because they were “unlawful combatants.” The

    torture continued.

    Kleinman also recalled a detainee whom the task force was trying to break. His

    colleagues decided to make the man believe he was being released and actually drove him to a

    bus stop. Moments later, they snatched him again and returned him to NAMA. The man “was

    literally carried by two of the guards into the bunker struggling against them. He was taken

    down there,” Kleinman said. His two SERE colleagues “took over from that point.... They

    ripped his [clothing] off—not cut—they ripped it off...ripped off his underwear, took his shoes,

    they’d hooded him already, then they—they had shackled him by the wrist and ankles—being

    screamed at the entire time in his ear in English about essentially...what a poor specimen of

    human that he was.... And then the orders were given that he was to stand in that position for 12

    hours no matter how much he asked for help, no matter how much he pleaded, unless he passed

    out, the guards were not to respond to any requests for help.”

    Despite Kleinman’s objection to SERE tactics being expanded at NAMA, the task force

    and Kleinman’s bosses forged ahead. In September 2003, they began developing a CONOP, or

    “Concept of Operations,” for HVT “exploitation” for the camp. Similar to the “Exploitation

    Draft Plan” that SERE’s chief psychologist, Dr. Bruce Jessen, had developed a year earlier for

    use in Afghanistan, it called for taking enemy torture tactics used to train US forces and

    reverse-engineered them. The CONOP called for “tailoring detainee punishment consequences to

    maximize cultural undesirability.” Less than a month after he arrived, Kleinman was pulled out

    of NAMA, in the words of the Pentagon inspector general, because it “became apparent that

    friction was developing” between the task force and Kleinman. Kleinman later told the US

    Senate that “friction” was an understatement and that he believed his life was being

    threatened by members of the task force in retaliation for his dissent. One task force member, he

    said, sharpened a knife while telling Kleinman to “sleep lightly” because the task force does not

    “coddl[e] terrorists.” [Committee on Armed Services, Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in

    US Custody, S. Prt, 110-54, pp. 186, 176, etc. (2008)]

    Last edited by HERO; 02-11-2014 at 09:14 AM.

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    America is basically destabilizing Pakistan in a desperate attempt to prevent West and East Asian energy integration. But we'll take them to school, oh we will.
    Capitalism is the belief that the rich don't work hard when they don't earn enough, and that the poor don't work hard when they earn too much.

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    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    EII land
    EII INFj
    531 Post(s)
    6 Thread(s)



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