Archive for February 28, 2012

By Joshua Philipp
August 29, 2011

Cell Block 3 was in flames as prison riots continued in the next block over. The Taliban had grown too powerful, and the confinements of Afghanistan’s Pol-e-charki prison became little more than protective walls rendering them untouchable from the war raging outside.

The December 2008 riots at Pol-e-charki prison on the outskirts of Kabul served as a wake-up call to the severity of the corruption that had crept in through padded pockets and turning blind eyes. Captured Taliban commanders and radicalized prisoners had formed an operating center within Cell Block 3—armed with weapons, and with their own Shura Council to hold trials, vote, and eliminate those who refused to cooperate.

“The guards were not even allowed to go down into the cell block because they would be killed or kidnapped—I mean, its the Wild West out there,” said Drew Berquist, a former U.S. intelligence agent and author of “The Maverick Experiment,” in a phone interview.

Attention fell on the prison after the riots, and rebuilding efforts became focused on increasing security. This included eliminating cells for large groups, and replacing them with cells for smaller groups of between two and eight.

“You had a prison that was run by the Afghan government, but really, entire facilities within that prison were being used as training and education grounds for insurgent elements,” said Drew Quinn, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs director at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, on the NATO Channel in Nov. 2009.

Resolving such issues is no simple matter, and the battle behind prison walls continues to this day.

A rare news conference in Kabul, held by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence service in February, highlighted the breadth of the problem—noting that despite efforts to root out operations at Pul-e-Charkhi, it is still going strong.

Taliban commander Talib Jan, a prisoner at Pul-e-Charkhi, is one of the more extreme cases. He organizes suicide bombings across Kabul from within his cell—including the Jan. 28 suicide bombing of a supermarket that killed 14 people.

“Most of the terrorist and suicide attacks in Kabul were planned from inside this prison by this man,” said National Directorate of Security spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, at the conference, New York Times reported.

The problem, according to Berquist, runs deep.

“The prison systems are corrupt,” Berquist said. “The safest place for the Taliban is the prisons because they can’t get caught again.”

Prisoners often use cell phones to communicate with, and give commands to, insurgents operating outside. Meanwhile, since captured Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders from across the country are at times detained together, the prisons give them an otherwise nonexistent opportunity to network and coordinate—since they are wary of gathering too many leaders in one place outside the prisons for fear of attack by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or special operations raids.

“The culture becomes so tough to break because these guys become so powerful within the prison,” Berquist said, adding that when they try to dismantle networks by moving prisoners to different cells, “they meet additional people and all it does is end up expanding things.”

A Corrupt System

Pol-e-charki is haunted by significant infamy, even for Afghanistan—its Soviet past of violence, terror, and political turmoil has been reanimated to face a new war. Impassible roads through communities supportive of the insurgents lead to its gates, while the now empty mass graves of political prisoners nearby stand as painful reminders of the prison’s Soviet founders in the late 1970s.

The problem is not limited to Pol-e-charki, however, as other Afghan prisons have met with similar problems.

The April 25 Taliban “Great Escape” at Saraposa prison in Kandahar dealt a blow to the image of Afghan prison security, when 500 inmates escaped through a 1,000-foot-long tunnel, and with the help of corrupt guards.

The incident happened after Saraposa was revamped, similar to Pol-e-charki, after a 2008 attack on the prison that freed 900 inmates in broad daylight. The whole area was known for corruption, with “assassinations of investigators, bribery of prosecutors, intimidation of justices, and attacks upon witnesses” that “obscured both evidence and law,” stated Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins in a Feb. 10 Department of Defense video conference, according to the Pentagon transcript.

Illegal use of cell phones by prisoners is one of the key problems, since they act as enablers for commanding troops outside, and efforts to take their phones have met with little success. “Most of them operate either with their own phones smuggled in, or they pay corrupt guards to use their phones to call not just people inside the prison, but also to other people in Afghanistan, and across the border into Pakistan,” Berquist said.

Meanwhile, non-insurgents going into the prisons can be thrown into a cycle of radicalization through Taliban and al-Qaeda members inside. Prisoners arrested for more extreme crimes also rarely serve their full sentences, which becomes a problem since “they start to get street cred having been in prison, when they get out,” Berquist said, “You get guys who become more extreme in prison then come out as a much bigger problem than when they went in.”

He added that, “because of how corrupt the system is, people frequently do get out because there are a lot of dirty parliamentarians and other government officials who take bribes.”

The flow of corruption into Afghan prisons is difficult to put a cap on.

“If you didn’t go in dirty there’s a reasonable chance you’re going to turn dirty because you’re going to get frustrated by how monotonous and how difficult it is to be in those positions, and just how tough life is there,” Berquist said. “Eventually that money starts to sound good, and it’s a slippery slope once you do that.”

Source: The Epoch Times.

Tue Aug 30, 2011

Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) has demanded the extradition of fugitive Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s wife and three of his sons from Algeria, where they earlier fled to.

Mahmoud Shammam, the TNC’s Information Minister, said on Tuesday that Algeria’s decision to accept members of the Gaddafi family was an “aggressive act against the Libyan people’s wish,” Reuters reported.

“We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them … to find them and arrest them,” Shammam added.

He noted that TNC would formally demand their extradition and make arrangements to ensure their fair trial in Libya.

“We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals,” the official noted, adding that the Libyan council considers Algeria’s move to give refuge to the Gaddafi family members “an act of aggression.”

The developments come after Algerian foreign ministry confirmed the fleeing family arrived in Algeria on Monday.

“Muammar Gaddafi’s wife Safia, his daughter Aisha, his sons Hannibal and Muhammed, accompanied by their children, entered Algeria at 8:45 am (0745 GMT) through the Algerian-Libyan border,” the Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Libyan opposition officials announced on Monday that Gaddafi’s son Khamis was killed in a battle near Libya’s capital Tripoli and buried in the western city of Ziltan.

Opposition fighters want to capture the country’s fugitive dictator and his associates so they can proclaim final victory in the six-month-old uprising.

Source: PressTV.

Tue Aug 30, 2011

Algeria’s UN envoy Mourad Benmehidi has defended his country’s decision to give refuge to family members of Libya’s fugitive ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

In an interview with the state-run BBC on Tuesday, Benmehidi described the move as “the holy rule of hospitality.”

He made the remarks after opposition forces demanded Algeria to return Gaddafi’s wife and daughter, along with two of his sons Muhammed and Hanibal.

The opposition called the move an “act of aggression against the Libyan people.”

On Monday, Algeria announced that several members of Gaddafi’s family had crossed into its territory at 08:45 local time (0745 GMT).

Meanwhile, clashes between opposition forces and troops loyal to Gaddafi are underway near the fugitive ruler’s hometown of Sirte, which is one of the last areas still under control of loyalists.

Chairman of the Transitional National Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Tuesday gave an ultimatum to pro-Gaddafi troops to surrender until Saturday.

Source: PressTV.

Mon Aug 29, 2011

Interview with Sheikh Walid El Saadi, leader of the Africa to Gaza Aid Convoy, from Gaza.

The Africa to Gaza Aid Convoy has bypassed the Israeli blockade and reached the Gaza Strip where they are giving aid and supplies to the oppressed Palestinians.

In an exclusive interview with Press TV, Sheikh Walid El Saadi, leader of the Africa to Gaza Aid Convoy, tells us about his 60-day journey across rough African terrain to reach the impoverished Palestinians in Gaza.

Press TV: You arrived in yet another difficult time for Gaza, but can you tell me the feeling for your African convoy about being there now?

El Saadi: Indeed. Successfully yesterday, thanks God, we arrived in Gaza last night after a long journey. Sixty days driving from the city of Durban in South Africa right through Africa to Al Arish, to Egypt where we had a little bit of difficulty to cross last night because it was late and Gaza wasn’t safe – they said it was being bombed. But we insisted that we will come inside Gaza, yesterday, even if the Israelis are bombing.

It was ten o’clock in the evening that we were in Gaza, thanks God, and the Gaza people received us in such a way that you cannot believe it. Our hearts were crying. Happiness by entering Gaza, successfully, completing our mission which started on June 26 and ended on August 26, today. Sixty days on the road.

It’s a good feeling for my team, the 20 of us, and the team who joined us from Sudan, also, the 16 of them. So, we were 36 members in the convoy, all of us shouting “God is Great”, “Praise to God”, “Glorious is God,” honor us to enter Gaza after 60 days of driving through Africa, the most challenging roads, and to deliver the aid which we were carrying.

But the most important part of our trip was to conscientize Africa about what’s happening in Gaza, what’s happening in Palestine, the Holy Land.

Press TV: What is your aim now that you’re there for the 36 of you? Are you staying with families there? Do you have some specific activities you hope to do in Gaza?

El Saadi: Sure. Today, because it’s a Friday, we have met most of the organization leaders and we have Friday Jummah Salat [prayers]. And this evening is a big night, as you know, which is the 27th day of Ramadan.

From today until the last day of Ramadan, everyday in Ramadan, we’ll have three tables of Iftar, each table with 300 people. We’re going to split up, the 36 of us, to three groups with every group in a different table of Iftar.

Then we will have aid baskets distributed, about 2,500 of them. Then we will distribute the aid which we’ve been carrying with us which is medicine, wheelchairs, medical mattresses, milk powder for children, sweets for children, stationary, seven of our ambulances, and three trucks to give to the municipality of Gaza, God willing.

We hope to have the Eid celebration with the people of Gaza, it would be a pleasure to have it, God willing, but it depends on how the program will go.

Press TV: We wish you safety and congratulate you on a successful mission. I know that you’ll be looked after well by the people of Gaza. Thank you very much.

Source: PressTV.

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI – Associated Press
Tue, Aug 30, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Since the rebel takeover of Tripoli, evidence has been mounting that Moammar Gadhafi may have lied about the death of his adopted baby daughter Hana in a 1986 U.S. airstrike.

The strike hit Gadhafi’s home in his Tripoli compound, Bab al-Aziziya, in retaliation for the Libyan-sponsored bombing of a Berlin nightclub earlier that year that killed two U.S. servicemen. At the time, Gadhafi showed American journalists a picture of a dead baby and said it was his adopted daughter Hana — the first public mention that she even existed.

Diplomats almost immediately questioned the claim. But Gadhafi kept the story alive through the years.

Then, when investigations into the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, pointed to a Libyan hand in the attack, some theorized that Gadhafi had ordered it to avenge Hana’s death in the U.S. airstrike.

But when Libyan rebels took over Tripoli and Bab al-Aziziya last week, they found a room in Gadhafi’s home with Hana’s birth certificate and pictures of a young woman with the name “Hana” written on the back, possible indications that she lived well beyond infancy. A Tripoli hospital official surfaced, saying Hana worked for him as a surgeon up until the rebels came to town.

And on Tuesday, Swiss officials confirmed that Hana’s name had briefly appeared earlier this year on a Swiss government document listing the names of senior Libyan figures targeted for sanctions.

Many Libyans believe Hana was never killed and talked about her existence openly.

Adel Shaltut, a Libyan diplomat at the U.N. in Geneva, said it was common knowledge that Hana Gadhafi wasn’t killed in the airstrike.

“All Libyans knew from the very beginning that it’s a lie,” he told The Associated Press, saying that Hana was married and had children.

However, some in Libya believed that after Hana’s death, Gadhafi adopted another daughter and gave her the same name in a memorial tribute.

Adding to the mystery, two AP photographs from the 1990s show an adolescent girl identified in captions as Gadhafi’s daughter Hana. In one of them from 1999, she is standing next to South African President Nelson Mandela, with his arm around her, during a family visit to Cape Town. Gadhafi’s only biological daughter, Aisha, stands on Mandela’s other side and Gadhafi’s wife Safiya is next to the girl identified as Hana.

In another AP photo from 1996, Gadhafi is seen wiping the face of a girl identified in the caption as his daughter Hana Gadhafi.

Despite these sightings of Hana, in 2006 Gadhafi organized an event called the “Hana Festival for Freedom and Peace” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death. Performers reportedly included Lionel Richie and Spanish tenor Jose Carreras.

Last week, after rebels stormed the Bab al-Aziziya compound where Gadhafi and family members lived, journalists saw a room in his home filled with stuffed animals, photos of a young woman with the name “Hana” written on the back in Arabic and a birth certificate of “Hana Gadhafi.”

Rebels touring the room told reporters that everyone in Libya knew that the daughter who the world thought was dead was, in fact, alive.

Hana’s current whereabouts are unknown. Her mother, sister Aisha and two brothers fled to Algeria on Monday, with their spouses and children. She was not identified among those who had left the country. Her father and brother Seif al-Islam, once the heir apparent to rule Libya, are believed to still be in Libya.

Gassem Baruni, head of the Tripoli Medical Center, said Hana worked for him as a surgeon before she disappeared Friday.

“She was very tense and nervous as soon as the revolution started,” Baruni told the AP. “She told me not to treat the rebels, but I told her: ‘If we don’t treat everyone, it would be a crime.'”

The doctor said he used her influence to stock up the hospital with supplies and medicine, keeping the fact he was coordinating with rebels secret from her.

“I pretended that we needed the stuff to treat the Gadhafi troops,” Baruni said.

The British Council confirmed that someone named Hana Gadhafi studied English at the British Council in Tripoli in 2007, and again in 2009.

“We can confirm that a student by the name of Hana Gadhafi did study English with us in Libya. However, we don’t have access to any documents as we don’t have access to our Tripoli office, which we had to leave earlier this year,” a spokesman told the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with council policy.

“Our country director in Libya did query this, given reports of Hana Gadhafi’s death,” he said.

“The widely held belief in Libya at the time was that this was a different daughter, adopted by Col. Gadhafi after Hana’s death, and given the same name as a tribute. This is, in fact, a common practice in Libya as a memorial to a dead child.”

A Swiss government document earlier this year listed the names of senior Libyan figures who were to be targeted for sanctions briefly included Hana Gadhafi’s name, but it was quickly removed, Swiss officials said Tuesday. They were responding to questions by the AP.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Adrian Sollberger, said the list was revised to conform with sanctions imposed by the United Nations. He declined to say why someone with the name Hana Gadhafi had featured on the original sanctions list, and whether Switzerland had evidence the Libyan leader’s daughter was alive.

Libyans said Gadhafi wanted to drum up sympathy for himself and hatred toward the west by claiming Hana was killed in 1986 and Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Arab was killed in May during a NATO airstrike.

Mohammed Ammar, a Tripoli resident who said his cousin graduated with Hana from medical school last year, was among those who believe the death of Hana was a myth.

“It is not surprising he would lie about his own child’s death,” he said. “He is capable of killing a whole population, why not his own child?”


Associated Press reporters Jill Lawless in London and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Aug. 29 (UPI) — A rebel leader was sentenced to death by a Sudanese court for his role in fighting against Sudanese forces in South Kordofan, a judge said.

A judge in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan state, sentenced Al-Tom Hamed after Hamed was convicted on charges of undermining the constitution and “stirring up war,” the state-run Sudan News Agency reports.

The rebel leader was captured by Sudanese forces following a raid by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement against military forces in South Kordofan.

The state news agency identified Hamed as JEM’s political representative in the Nuba Mountains. He denied playing a role in attacks in the southern state.

Conflict erupted in June following attempts to disarm ethnic Nuban fighters along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Khartoum denies allegations that it was involved in an ethnic cleansing campaign in the region.

A report from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights documents serious rights violations near the Nuba Mountains in the region. The report accuses the north’s armed forces and the south’s army of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other atrocities.

The Sudanese ambassador said the United Nations should wait to discuss the matter until Khartoum conducts its own investigation into the claims.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

August 29, 2011 — BEIRUT (AP) — Syrians should not take up arms in their uprising against President Bashar Assad or invite foreign military action like the intervention that helped topple the government of Libya, a prominent activist group warned Monday.

There have been scattered reports of some Syrians using automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised weapons to repel government troops, but there appears to have been no organized armed resistance to Assad during the five-month uprising.

Calls to launch such a resistance have been rare, but they were more widely reported than usual by witnesses at protests in Syria on Friday, at the end of a week that saw Tripoli fall to rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi with the help of NATO.

“While we understand the motivation to take up arms or call for military intervention, we specifically reject this position,” said a statement emailed by the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group with a wide network of sources on the ground across Syria. “Militarization would … erode the moral superiority that has characterized the revolution since its beginning.”

The prime minister of Turkey, a former close ally, warned Assad that his regime could face a demise like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya if the violent suppression of protests does not stop. The comments were some of the bluntest warnings yet and were particularly biting because they came from a leader whose government had extensive diplomatic ties with Syria.

“The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in his monthly address aired on Turkish TV late Sunday. “We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness.”

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising in March. Witnesses and activists said the crackdown continued Monday as Syrian security forces pursuing anti-government protesters stormed several towns and villages, killing at least six people — including a child — and wounding many others during raids and house-to-house searches.

The largest operation appeared to be in Sarameen in the northern Idlib province, where the London-based Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed and more than 60 wounded. One person also died during raids in Qara, a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

Similar raids were reported in the village of Heet near the border with Lebanon, along with a military buildup just outside the central town of Rastan, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

The Syrian government has placed severe restrictions on the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify witness accounts. Syria’s opposition has no clear leadership or platform beyond the demands for more freedom and for Assad to step down, and several attempts to form a national council have failed because of disagreements between opposition figures, and in particular, divisions between the opposition inside and outside Syria.

In a sign of just how fragmented the opposition is, a relatively unknown dissident Monday announced the formation of a 94-member national council. The announcement, made in Ankara, Turkey, was greeted with excitement on social networking sites — but the celebrations were premature. Several opposition figures whose names appeared on the list told The Associated Press they had not been consulted.

Meanwhile, in New York, Security Council ambassadors met behind closed doors Monday to discuss rival U.N. resolutions on Syria. Russia introduced a resolution Friday that called for Assad’s government to halt its violence against protesters and expedite reforms, but it made no mention of the sanctions sought by the U.S. and European nations in draft resolution circulated earlier this month.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private, said afterwards that it was a useful and constructive session and all 15 council members agreed on the necessity of adopting a resolution. Council members will continue discussing what should be included in the resolution, the diplomats said.

After months of deadlock, the Security Council finally responded to the escalating violence in Syria on Aug. 3, condemning Assad’s forces for attacking civilians and committing human rights violations in a weaker presidential statement. It called on Syrian authorities to immediately end all violence and launch an inclusive political process.

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.