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September 2013

The CIA’s Secret Sites in Somalia

Renditions, an underground prison and a new CIA base are elements of an intensifying US war, according to a Nation investigation in Mogadishu.

    July 12, 2011             |                  This article appeared in the August 1-8, 2011 edition of The Nation.

Nestled in a back corner of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport is a sprawling walled compound run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the facility looks like a small gated community, with more than a dozen buildings behind large protective walls and secured by guard towers at each of its four corners. Adjacent to the compound are eight large metal hangars, and the CIA has its own aircraft at the airport. The site, which airport officials and Somali intelligence sources say was completed four months ago, is guarded by Somali soldiers, but the Americans control access. At the facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted “combat” operations against members of Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda.


  • Jeremy Scahill
  • Slide Show: Tracking the CIA in Somalia

About the Author

Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater…

As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners. The existence of both facilities and the CIA role was uncovered by The Nation during an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Mogadishu. Among the sources who provided information for this story are senior Somali intelligence officials; senior members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG); former prisoners held at the underground prison; and several well-connected Somali analysts and militia leaders, some of whom have worked with US agents, including those from the CIA. A US official, who confirmed the existence of both sites, told The Nation, “It makes complete sense to have a strong counterterrorism partnership” with the Somali government.

The CIA presence in Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counterterrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations. The US agents “are here full time,” a senior Somali intelligence official told me. At times, he said, there are as many as thirty of them in Mogadishu, but he stressed that those working with the Somali NSA do not conduct operations; rather, they advise and train Somali agents. “In this environment, it’s very tricky. They want to help us, but the situation is not allowing them to do [it] however they want. They are not in control of the politics, they are not in control of the security,” he adds. “They are not controlling the environment like Afghanistan and Iraq. In Somalia, the situation is fluid, the situation is changing, personalities changing.”

According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans. “They support us in a big way financially,” says the senior Somali intelligence official. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

According to former detainees, the underground prison, which is staffed by Somali guards, consists of a long corridor lined with filthy small cells infested with bedbugs and mosquitoes. One said that when he arrived in February, he saw two white men wearing military boots, combat trousers, gray tucked-in shirts and black sunglasses. The former prisoners described the cells as windowless and the air thick, moist and disgusting. Prisoners, they said, are not allowed outside. Many have developed rashes and scratch themselves incessantly. Some have been detained for a year or more. According to one former prisoner, inmates who had been there for long periods would pace around constantly, while others leaned against walls rocking.

A Somali who was arrested in Mogadishu and taken to the prison told The Nation that he was held in a windowless underground cell. Among the prisoners he met during his time there was a man who held a Western passport (he declined to identify the man’s nationality). Some of the prisoners told him they were picked up in Nairobi and rendered on small aircraft to Mogadishu, where they were handed over to Somali intelligence agents. Once in custody, according to the senior Somali intelligence official and former prisoners, some detainees are freely interrogated by US and French agents. “Our goal is to please our partners, so we get more [out] of them, like any relationship,” said the Somali intelligence official in describing the policy of allowing foreign agents, including from the CIA, to interrogate prisoners. The Americans, according to the Somali official, operate unilaterally in the country, while the French agents are embedded within the African Union force known as AMISOM.

Among the men believed to be held in the secret underground prison is Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan, a 25- or 26-year-old Kenyan citizen who disappeared from the congested Somali slum of Eastleigh in Nairobi around July 2009. After he went missing, Hassan’s family retained Mbugua Mureithi, a well-known Kenyan human rights lawyer, who filed a habeas petition on his behalf. The Kenyan government responded that Hassan was not being held in Kenya and said it had no knowledge of his whereabouts. His fate remained a mystery until this spring, when another man who had been held in the Mogadishu prison contacted Clara Gutteridge, a veteran human rights investigator with the British legal organization Reprieve, and told her he had met Hassan in the prison. Hassan, he said, had told him how Kenyan police had knocked down his door, snatched him and taken him to a secret location in Nairobi. The next night, Hassan had said, he was rendered to Mogadishu.

According to the former fellow prisoner, Hassan told him that his captors took him to Wilson Airport: “‘They put a bag on my head, Guantánamo style. They tied my hands behind my back and put me on a plane. In the early hours we landed in Mogadishu. The way I realized I was in Mogadishu was because of the smell of the sea—the runway is just next to the seashore. The plane lands and touches the sea. They took me to this prison, where I have been up to now. I have been here for one year, seven months. I have been interrogated so many times. Interrogated by Somali men and white men. Every day. New faces show up. They have nothing on me. I have never seen a lawyer, never seen an outsider. Only other prisoners, interrogators, guards. Here there is no court or tribunal.’”

After meeting the man who had spoken with Hassan in the underground prison, Gutteridge began working with Hassan’s Kenyan lawyers to determine his whereabouts. She says he has never been charged or brought before a court. “Hassan’s abduction from Nairobi and rendition to a secret prison in Somalia bears all the hallmarks of a classic US rendition operation,” she says. The US official interviewed for this article denied the CIA had rendered Hassan but said, “The United States provided information which helped get Hassan—a dangerous terrorist—off the street.” Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have documented that Kenyan security and intelligence forces have facilitated scores of renditions for the US and other governments, including eighty-five people rendered to Somalia in 2007 alone. Gutteridge says the director of the Mogadishu prison told one of her sources that Hassan had been targeted in Nairobi because of intelligence suggesting he was the “right-hand man” of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, at the time a leader of Al Qaeda in East Africa. Nabhan, a Kenyan citizen of Yemeni descent, was among the top suspects sought for questioning by US authorities over his alleged role in the coordinated 2002 attacks on a tourist hotel and an Israeli aircraft in Mombasa, Kenya, and possible links to the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

An intelligence report leaked by the Kenyan Anti-Terrorist Police Unit in October 2010 alleged that Hassan, a “former personal assistant to Nabhan…was injured while fighting near the presidential palace in Mogadishu in 2009.” The authenticity of the report cannot be independently confirmed, though Hassan did have a leg amputated below the knee, according to his former fellow prisoner in Mogadishu.

Two months after Hassan was allegedly rendered to the secret Mogadishu prison, Nabhan, the man believed to be his Al Qaeda boss, was killed in the first known targeted killing operation in Somalia authorized by President Obama. On September 14, 2009, a team from the elite US counterterrorism force, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), took off by helicopters from a US Navy ship off Somalia’s coast and penetrated Somali airspace. In broad daylight, in an operation code-named Celestial Balance, they gunned down Nabhan’s convoy from the air. JSOC troops then landed and collected at least two of the bodies, including Nabhan’s.

Hassan’s lawyers are preparing to file a habeas petition on his behalf in US courts. “Hassan’s case suggests that the US may be involved in a decentralized, out-sourced Guantánamo Bay in central Mogadishu,” his legal team asserted in a statement to The Nation. “Mr. Hassan must be given the opportunity to challenge both his rendition and continued detention as a matter of urgency. The US must urgently confirm exactly what has been done to Mr. Hassan, why he is being held, and when he will be given a fair hearing.”

Gutteridge, who has worked extensively tracking the disappearances of terror suspects in Kenya, was deported from Kenya on May 11.

The underground prison where Hassan is allegedly being held is housed in the same building once occupied by Somalia’s infamous National Security Service (NSS) during the military regime of Siad Barre, who ruled from 1969 to 1991. The former prisoner who met Hassan there said he saw an old NSS sign outside. During Barre’s regime, the notorious basement prison and interrogation center, which sits behind the presidential palace in Mogadishu, was a staple of the state’s apparatus of repression. It was referred to as Godka, “The Hole.”

“The bunker is there, and that’s where the intelligence agency does interrogate people,” says Abdirahman “Aynte” Ali, a Somali analyst who has researched the Shabab and Somali security forces. “When CIA and other intelligence agencies—who actually are in Mogadishu—want to interrogate those people, they usually just do that.” Somali officials “start the interrogation, but then foreign intelligence agencies eventually do their own interrogation as well, the Americans and the French.” The US official said that US agents’ “debriefing” prisoners in the facility has “been done on only rare occasions” and always jointly with Somali agents.

Some prisoners, like Hassan, were allegedly rendered from Nairobi, while in other cases, according to Aynte, “the US and other intelligence agencies have notified the Somali intelligence agency that some people, some suspects, people who have been in contact with the leadership of Al Shabab, are on their way to Mogadishu on a [commercial] plane, and to essentially be at the airport for those people. Catch them, interrogate them.”

* * *

In the eighteen years since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, US policy on Somalia has been marked by neglect, miscalculation and failed attempts to use warlords to build indigenous counterterrorism capacity, many of which have backfired dramatically. At times, largely because of abuses committed by Somali militias the CIA has supported, US policy has strengthened the hand of the very groups it purports to oppose and inadvertently aided the rise of militant groups, including the Shabab. Many Somalis viewed the Islamic movement known as the Islamic Courts Union, which defeated the CIA’s warlords in Mogadishu in 2006, as a stabilizing, albeit ruthless, force. The ICU was dismantled in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2007. Over the years, a series of weak Somali administrations have been recognized by the United States and other powers as Somalia’s legitimate government. Ironically, its current president is a former leader of the ICU.

Today, Somali government forces control roughly thirty square miles of territory in Mogadishu thanks in large part to the US-funded and -armed 9,000-member AMISOM force. Much of the rest of the city is under the control of the Shabab or warlords.  Outgunned, the Shabab has increasingly relied on the linchpins of asymmetric warfare—suicide bombings, roadside bombs and targeted assassinations. The militant group has repeatedly shown that it can strike deep in the heart of its enemies’ territory. On June 9, in one of its most spectacular suicide attacks to date, the Shabab assassinated the Somali government’s minister of interior affairs and national security, Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan Farah, who was attacked in his residence by his niece. The girl, whom the minister was putting through university, blew herself up and fatally wounded her uncle. He died hours later in the hospital. Farah was the fifth Somali minister killed by the Shabab in the past two years and the seventeenth official assassinated since 2006. Among the suicide bombers the Shabab has deployed were at least three US citizens of Somali descent; at least seven other Americans have died fighting alongside the Shabab, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in Washington or Mogadishu.

During his confirmation hearings in June to become the head of the US Special Operations Command, Vice Admiral William McRaven said, “From my standpoint as a former JSOC commander, I can tell you we were looking very hard” at Somalia. McRaven said that in order to expand successful “kinetic strikes” there, the United States will have to increase its use of drones as well as on-the-ground intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. “Any expansion of manpower is going to have to come with a commensurate expansion of the enablers,” McRaven declared. The expanding US counterterrorism program in Mogadishu appears to be part of that effort.

In an interview with The Nation in Mogadishu, Abdulkadir Moallin Noor, the minister of state for the presidency, confirmed that US agents “are working with our intelligence” and “giving them training.” Regarding the US counterterrorism effort, Noor said bluntly, “We need more; otherwise, the terrorists will take over the country.”

It is unclear how much control, if any, Somalia’s internationally recognized president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has over this counterterrorism force or if he is even fully briefed on its operations. The CIA personnel and other US intelligence agents “do not bother to be in touch with the political leadership of the country. And that says a lot about the intentions,” says Aynte. “Essentially, the CIA seems to be operating, doing the foreign policy of the United States. You should have had State Department people doing foreign policy, but the CIA seems to be doing it across the country.”

While the Somali officials interviewed for this story said the CIA is the lead US agency on the Mogadishu counterterrorism program, they also indicated that US military intelligence agents are at times involved. When asked if they are from JSOC or the Defense Intelligence Agency, the senior Somali intelligence official responded, “We don’t know. They don’t tell us.”

In April Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali man the United States alleged had links to the Shabab, was captured by JSOC forces in the Gulf of Aden. He was held incommunicado on a US Navy vessel for more than two months; in July he was transferred to New York and indicted on terrorism charges. Warsame’s case ignited a legal debate over the Obama administration’s policies on capturing and detaining terror suspects, particularly in light of the widening counterterrorism campaigns in Somalia and Yemen.

On June 23 the United States reportedly carried out a drone strike against alleged Shabab members near Kismayo, 300 miles from the Somali capital. As with the Nabhan operation, a JSOC team swooped in on helicopters and reportedly snatched the bodies of those killed and wounded. The men were taken to an undisclosed location. On July 6 three more US strikes reportedly targeted Shabab training camps in the same area. Somali analysts warned that if the US bombings cause civilian deaths, as they have in the past, they could increase support for the Shabab. Asked in an interview with The Nation in Mogadishu if US drone strikes strengthen or weaken his government, President Sharif replied, “Both at the same time. For our sovereignty, it’s not good to attack a sovereign country. That’s the negative part. The positive part is you’re targeting individuals who are criminals.”

A week after the June 23 strike, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, described an emerging US strategy that would focus not on “deploying large armies abroad but delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us.” Brennan singled out the Shabab, saying, “From the territory it controls in Somalia, Al Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States,” adding, “We cannot and we will not let down our guard. We will continue to pummel Al Qaeda and its ilk.”

While the United States appears to be ratcheting up both its rhetoric and its drone strikes against the Shabab, it has thus far been able to strike only in rural areas outside Mogadishu. These operations have been isolated and infrequent, and Somali analysts say they have failed to disrupt the Shabab’s core leadership, particularly in Mogadishu.

In a series of interviews in Mogadishu, several of the country’s recognized leaders, including President Sharif, called on the US government to quickly and dramatically increase its assistance to the Somali military in the form of training, equipment and weapons. Moreover, they argue that without viable civilian institutions, Somalia will remain ripe for terrorist groups that can further destabilize not only Somalia but the region. “I believe that the US should help the Somalis to establish a government that protects civilians and its people,” Sharif said.

In the battle against the Shabab, the United States does not, in fact, appear to have cast its lot with the Somali government. The emerging US strategy on Somalia—borne out in stated policy, expanded covert presence and funding plans—is two-pronged: On the one hand, the CIA is training, paying and at times directing Somali intelligence agents who are not firmly under the control of the Somali government, while JSOC conducts unilateral strikes without the prior knowledge of the government; on the other, the Pentagon is increasing its support for and arming of the counterterrorism operations of non-Somali African military forces.

A draft of a defense spending bill approved in late June by the Senate Armed Services Committee would authorize more than $75 million in US counterterrorism assistance aimed at fighting the Shabab and Al Qaeda in Somalia. The bill, however, did not authorize additional funding for Somalia’s military, as the country’s leaders have repeatedly asked. Instead, the aid package would dramatically increase US arming and financing of AMISOM’s forces, particularly from Uganda and Burundi, as well as the militaries of Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia. The Somali military, the committee asserted, is unable to “exercise control of its territory.”

That makes it all the more ironic that perhaps the greatest tactical victory won in recent years in Somalia was delivered not by AMISOM, the CIA or JSOC but by members of a Somali militia fighting as part of the government’s chaotic local military. And it was a pure accident.

Late in the evening on June 7, a man whose South African passport identified him as Daniel Robinson was in the passenger seat of a Toyota SUV driving on the outskirts of Mogadishu when his driver, a Kenyan national, missed a turn and headed straight toward a checkpoint manned by Somali forces. A firefight broke out, and the two men inside the car were killed. The Somali forces promptly looted the laptops, cellphones, documents, weapons and $40,000 in cash they found in the car, according to the senior Somali intelligence official.

Upon discovering that the men were foreigners, the Somali NSA launched an investigation and recovered the items that had been looted. “There was a lot of English and Arabic stuff, papers,” recalls the Somali intelligence official, containing “very tactical stuff” that appeared to be linked to Al Qaeda, including “two senior people communicating.” The Somali agents “realized it was an important man” and informed the CIA in Mogadishu. The men’s bodies were taken to the NSA. The Americans took DNA samples and fingerprints and flew them to Nairobi for processing.

Within hours, the United States confirmed that Robinson was in fact Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a top leader of Al Qaeda in East Africa and its chief liaison with the Shabab. Fazul, a twenty-year veteran of Al Qaeda, had been indicted by the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings and was on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. A JSOC attempt to kill him in a January 2007 airstrike resulted in the deaths of at least seventy nomads in rural Somalia, and he had been underground ever since. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Fazul’s death “a significant blow to Al Qaeda, its extremist allies and its operations in East Africa. It is a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents.”

At its facilities in Mogadishu, the CIA and its Somali NSA agents continue to pore over the materials recovered from Fazul’s car, which served as a mobile headquarters. Some deleted and encrypted files were recovered and decoded by US agents. The senior Somali intelligence official said that the intelligence may prove more valuable on a tactical level than the cache found in Osama bin Laden’s house in Pakistan, especially in light of the increasing US focus on East Africa. The Americans, he said, were “unbelievably grateful”; he hopes it means they will take Somalia’s forces more seriously and provide more support.

But the United States continues to wage its campaign against the Shabab primarily by funding the AMISOM forces, which are not conducting their mission with anything resembling surgical precision. Instead, over the past several months the AMISOM forces in Mogadishu have waged a merciless campaign of indiscriminate shelling of Shabab areas, some of which are heavily populated by civilians. While AMISOM regularly puts out press releases boasting of gains against the Shabab and the retaking of territory, the reality paints a far more complicated picture.

Throughout the areas AMISOM has retaken is a honeycomb of underground tunnels once used by Shabab fighters to move from building to building. By some accounts, the tunnels stretch continuously for miles. Leftover food, blankets and ammo cartridges lay scattered near “pop-up” positions once used by Shabab snipers and guarded by sandbags—all that remain of guerrilla warfare positions. Not only have the Shabab fighters been cleared from the aboveground areas; the civilians that once resided there have been cleared too. On several occasions in late June, AMISOM forces fired artillery from their airport base at the Bakaara market, where whole neighborhoods are totally abandoned. Houses lie in ruins and animals wander aimlessly, chewing trash. In some areas, bodies have been hastily buried in trenches with dirt barely masking the remains. On the side of the road in one former Shabab neighborhood, a decapitated corpse lay just meters from a new government checkpoint.

In late June the Pentagon approved plans to send $45 million worth of military equipment to Uganda and Burundi, the two major forces in the AMISOM operation. Among the new items are four small Raven surveillance drones, night-vision and communications equipment and other surveillance gear, all of which augur a more targeted campaign. Combined with the attempt to build an indigenous counterterrorism force at the Somali NSA, a new US counterterrorism strategy is emerging.

But according to the senior Somali intelligence official, who works directly with the US agents, the CIA-led program in Mogadishu has brought few tangible gains. “So far what we have not seen is the results in terms of the capacity of the [Somali] agency,” says the official. He conceded that neither US nor Somali forces have been able to conduct a single successful targeted mission in the Shabab’s areas in the capital. In late 2010, according to the official, US-trained Somali agents conducted an operation in a Shabab area that failed terribly and resulted in several of them being killed. “There was an attempt, but it was a haphazard one,” he recalls. They have not tried another targeted operation in Shabab-controlled territory since.

    July 12, 2011             |                  This article appeared in the August 1-8, 2011 edition of The Nation.

Also by the Author

         Was the Assassination of Four US Citizens Legal?  (Foreign Policy, Covert Ops, US Wars and Military Action)

Obama discussed the targeted killing operation today, but will anything really change?

How three US citizens were killed by their own government in the space of one month in 2011.

J Street: We Have Made It, We Are Part Of The Jewish Establishment!

25 Sep

Has any “alternative” organization ever gone establishment as quickly as J Street? Only five years old, J Street is as much of an old fart organization as the B’nai B’rith or the American Jewish Committee.

No, I don’t compare J Street to AIPAC because AIPAC has stayed lean and become evermore mean. It set out 50 years ago not to ingratiate itself with the traditional organizations but to, first influence them, and then to own them. Today every major Jewish organization gets its marching orders on Israel from AIPAC.

J Street is no AIPAC because it isn’t about anything EXCEPT gaining acceptance by the monied old Jewish establishment. Not a single Jewish organization — the very establishment that J Street has been absorbed by — has moved any closer to J Street’s ostensible position on ending the occupation than it was before J Street came on the scene. J Street has become “them” while “they” have moved farther to the right.

Here is Jeremy Ben Ami explaining J Street’s success in Ha’aretz today. The headline is: J Street’s Message — We’ve Arrived

All across the country we’re making progress in getting representation on JCRCs,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s founder and director, told JTA, referring to the Jewish community relations councils that operate in most American Jewish communities.

“We’ve done several hundred events at Jewish communal institutions. Our rabbinic cabinet is over 700. There is a growing understanding that this is a very important part of the American Jewish landscape, that we have a very important seat at the table,” he said.

Ben-Ami is unabashed in describing how he has striven for establishment acceptance. He noted that J Street, having passed its fifth birthday, is now eligible for the ultimate imprimatur of Jewish establishment credentials: membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Presidents Conference, the main communal umbrella group on foreign policy issues, confirmed that J Street had submitted a formal application but would not comment further, citing the confidentiality of the process.

Hilarious. Ben Ami’s definition of success is gaining acceptance by Jews who support the Israeli government, right or wrong, are utterly indifferent to the horrors of the occupation and who will oppose (as J Street also does) any pressure on Israel ever.

I suppose that gauging success by acceptance by the establishment and by getting Vice President Biden to their dinner makes sense. After all, J Street has had no legislative accomplishments to its name unless one counts its joining AIPAC in blocking any Palestinian recognition at the United Nations and supporting sanctions on Iran.

it’s very strange to me? Why would anyone want to be part of the Jewish Establishment? Maybe it’s the rich people you get to hobnob with. Maybe it’s the food. I mean, has the Jewish Establishment been right about anything in half a century?


Abandoning Chemical Weapons

Maysaloon – ميسلون

Posted: 24 Sep 2013 01:56 PM PDT


There has been a lot of talk amongst Syrians, both pro-regime and against it, about Assad’s sudden decision to “abandon” chemical weapons. Firstly this regime does nothing unless it has to, so all these rumours about Assad “pulling the rug” from the feet of America, or even Israel, is nonsense. Assad did so because for a very short period of time he was absolutely terrified that his forces will be bombed by the United States. That may or may not happen now, but I am firmly convinced that this is the only thing that frightens him.
As for the chemical weapons, some Syrians are feeling upset about Assad giving up Syria’s “strategic” capability. They seem to think that even with Assad removed then chemical weapons must remain a deterrent. At best, they argue that Assad has no right to decide unilaterally in this regards, but for me this whole discussion is absurd. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are horrible weapons because their effects are so unpredictable and long lasting, and there is a reason why they are considered a red line for the international community.
The fundamental point we as Syrians should be discussing is not about whether or not Assad has a “right” to give up these weapons. The point we should be discussing is by what “right” did his father or any Syrian government introduce these weapons into Syria. Furthermore, the idea that a Syrian government, any Syrian government, or the Syrian army can ever be trusted with weapons like this again is something that the Syrian people need to consider very carefully. The fact is we have no government or army worthy of the name and it is unlikely that we will have anything like that in the near future. Before we worry about deterring our “enemies” with chemical weapons, we need to have a debate about how to deter our own governments from killing Syrians – and the first step is to make sure that power is never left concentrated and unchecked in the hands of the few.

Propaganda Terms in the Media and What They Mean – Noam Chomsky


Watch the full speech:…

United States and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensively
during the Cold War. Both sides used film, television, and radio
programming to influence their own citizens, each other, and Third World
nations. The United States Information Agency operated the Voice of
America as an official government station. Radio Free Europe and Radio
Liberty, which were, in part, supported by the Central Intelligence
Agency, provided grey propaganda in news and entertainment programs to
Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. The Soviet Union’s
official government station, Radio Moscow, broadcast white propaganda,
while Radio Peace and Freedom broadcast grey propaganda. Both sides also
broadcast black propaganda programs in periods of special crises.

1948, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office created the IRD (Information
Research Department), which took over from wartime and slightly post-war
departments such as the Ministry of Information and dispensed
propaganda via various media such as the BBC and publishing.

ideological and border dispute between the Soviet Union and People’s
Republic of China resulted in a number of cross-border operations. One
technique developed during this period was the “backwards transmission,”
in which the radio program was recorded and played backwards over the
air. (This was done so that messages meant to be received by the other
government could be heard, while the average listener could not
understand the content of the program.)

When describing life in
capitalist countries, in the US in particular, propaganda focused on
social issues such as poverty and anti-union action by the government.
Workers in capitalist countries were portrayed as “ideologically close”.
Propaganda claimed rich people from the US derived their income from
weapons manufacturing, and claimed that there was substantial racism or
neo-fascism in the US.

When describing life in Communist
countries, western propaganda sought to depict an image of a citizenry
held captive by governments that brainwash them. The West also created a
fear of the East, by depicting an aggressive Soviet Union. In the
Americas, Cuba served as a major source and a target of propaganda from
both black and white stations operated by the CIA and Cuban exile
groups. Radio Habana Cuba, in turn, broadcast original programming,
relayed Radio Moscow, and broadcast The Voice of Vietnam as well as
alleged confessions from the crew of the USS Pueblo.

Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual
textbooks on the use of propaganda. Though not set in the Soviet Union,
these books are about totalitarian regimes that constantly corrupt
language for political purposes. These novels were, ironically, used for
explicit propaganda. The CIA, for example, secretly commissioned an
animated film adaptation of Animal Farm in the 1950s with small changes
to the original story to suit its own needs.

The United States
and Iraq both employed propaganda during the Iraq War. The United States
established campaigns towards the American people on the justifications
of the war while using similar tactics to bring down Saddam Hussein’s
government in Iraq.

The extent to which the US government was
guilty of propaganda aimed at its own people is a matter of discussion.
The book Selling Intervention & War by Jon Western argued that
president Bush was “selling the war” to the public.

George W. Bush gave a talk at the Athena Performing Arts Center at
Greece Athena Middle and High School Tuesday, May 24, 2005 in Rochester,
NY. About half way through the event Bush said, “See in my line of work
you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the
truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

People had
their initial reactions to the War on Terror, but with more biased and
persuading information, Iraq as a whole has been negatively targeted.
America’s goal was to remove Saddam Hussein’s power in Iraq with
allegations of possible weapons of mass destruction related to Osama Bin
Laden. Video and picture coverage in the news has shown shocking and
disturbing images of torture and other evils being done under the Iraqi

What the US’s ‘Banned Books Week’ Is Missing

By on September 25, 2013 • ( 0 )

I, like most of you, was appalled and slightly titillated when the Randolph County Board of Education removed Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man not just from its 11th grade recommended reading list, but also from its school libraries, with one board member claiming not to have seen any “literary value” in the book:bannedThis is important not just for the ostensible battle (over the book’s cuss words and “sexual content” vs. its “literary value”), but because Ralph Ellison’s voice, and his beautiful writing about visibility, is important for US teens to hear and read. And because of what this book’s exclusion means. And because of Jonathan Ferrell. And a hundred other becauses.

But the focus of the US’s BBW is — broadly — not about what Ellison’s exclusion from a school curriculum means. Generally, the battlegrounds exposed by BBW are whether teen readers should be exposed to sex, drugs, and suicide (in literature) or whether they should be “protected” from knowing about these scourges. When challenges to the curricular inclusion of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian are discussed, commenters generally focus on Alexie’s one-off mention of masturbation.

This past summer, I gave Alexie’s book to my then-nine-year-old to read. He didn’t notice the “sexual” content, which sailed right over his head, but he did understand the discussion of racism and bullying. I didn’t give him the book because I want my now-10-year-old to know about sex (uh, yikes!) but because I want him to read fun, beautifully crafted literature that takes him into many places beyond White America. (Meanwhile, I see that this “underpants” book has been removed from some school curricula. Yawn.)

Completely “banning” a book (once it exists) is fairly difficult in contemporary times, at least in places where access to the internet is widespread and where communities are relatively affluent. A book might be officially banned in Saudi, or kept out of the Kuwait book fair, but that doesn’t mean a clever reader can’t find a way to get a copy. Magdy al-Shafee’s Metro has been illegally reprinted in Egypt, and is sold in at least one bookstore. Egyptian authors can be bullied or even arrested, but they also have many venues for their work. While Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man might be kept out of Randolph County public schools — or maybe the board will reverse their decision today — a teenager with a library card can still pick up a copy at the local public library.

Of course, all these restrictions still matter. In some cases, where restrictions and red lines are suffocating to creators, they matter a great deal.

But access to art is always restricted in some way or another: A limited number of texts can be in a school curriculum; a limited number of reviews can appear in mainstream publications; a limited number of books are translated each year from other languages. (In the Anglophone case, an excessively limited number of books.)

How many translations are there in school curricula? How many US students have read Zeina Abirached’s beautiful graphic novel A Game for Swallows, trans.  Edward Gauvin? (Abolutely clean! No sex or cussing! Oh, but there’s a good bit of smoking….) Or how many Canadian curricula include Fatima Sharafeddine’s self-translated YA novel Faten / The Servant? What about Ghada Abdel Aal’s I Want to Get Married, trans. Nora Eltahawy, as a jumping-off point to discuss the maqama tradition, the translatability of humor, and notions of gender?

Of course these books haven’t been “banned” from anyone’s curriculum — or, at least, not to my knowledge — and the fights over what’s “appropriate” is an important topic. But so are the quieter battles over what is included, and isn’t.


Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger on the Inside Story of Snowden NSA Leaks

State Department Is Keeping Pakistani Drone Victim’s Lawyer Out of the Country So Survivors Won’t Testify in Front of Members Of Congress (with Video and Petition)

The State Dept. prevented the lawyer challenging U.S.-led drone attacks from appearing before Congress.
September 24, 2013  |
Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer challenging US-led drone warfare in Pakistan, has been blocked by the U.S. Department of State from appearing before a Congressional ad hoc hearing with his clients who have survived drone strikes in their town. Rafiq ur Rehman – a teacher in a primary school in North Waziristan – lost his mother in the same October 2012 drone attack that hospitalized his children Nabila and Zubair.
It is necessary for Mr. Akbar  to accompany  his client Mr. Rehman and his two children,  in order for them to come to D.C. Such testimony would be the first time that drone victims from Pakistan have come to Capitol Hill to present the on-the-ground reality of America’s drone policy.

Congressman Alan Grayson (FL-09) has requested that the State Department give Shahzad Akbar a visa to bring his clients to testify. He explained: “Congress would like to conduct an ad hoc hearing on drones, and it is very important for us to hear from victims of drone strikes. Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher in Pakistan, lost his 67-year old mother in a drone strike, and two of his children also suffered drone-strike-related injuries. The State Department has granted the visas of Rafiq and his children to  travel to the U.S. and share their stories with Congress. However, it has not yet issued a visa for the family’s lawyer and translator, Shahzad Akbar. Without Mr. Akbar, Rafiq and his children will not be able to travel to the U.S.. I encourage the State Department to approve Mr. Akbar’s visa immediately.”

Robert Greenwald, who is the director of the forthcoming documentary  Unmanned  met and interviewed  Mr. Akbar and Mr. Rehman in Pakistan and shared their stories with Congressman Grayson.

Greenwald recounts:  “While filming  Unmanned in Pakistan, I saw first-hand the critical role Mr. Akbar is playing in reaching, protecting, and encouraging those, like Rafiq and his family, affected by tragic drone attacks to use the legal system – not violence. This man should be welcomed and celebrated, not silenced.”

“I also met and interviewed Rafiq and his family and know that if Mr. Akbar were allowed into America by the State Department, Congress and the American people would be as moved as I was about the plight of these survivors in a covert war.”

Greenwald’s film,   Unmanned: America’s Drone War investigates the impact that U.S. drone strikes have across the globe—the violation of international law, the loss of life, the far-reaching implications for the communities that live under drones, and blowback the United States faces.

For the film,  Greenwald traveled to Pakistan in the fall of 2012 and interviewed more than 35 victims, witnesses, psychiatrists, and Pakistani leaders. The film will include  exclusive footage  from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Jirgas, and  interviews with many drone policy experts.

As for Mr. Akbar – who is a  legal fellow at Reprieve, an international  justice organization  —  he explained  that before his work with drone victims, he freely traveled to the US:

“Before I began representing civilian victims in 2010, I used to travel regularly to the U.S. My visa would be processed in 3 working days. Then, in 2011, I applied for a visa to talk at a conference about my work with drone strike victims. Suddenly, I was told my visa required additional processing which took 14 months. This time, the denial is to stop me from talking to American lawmakers who have invited me to speak about what I have witnessed. I hope to tell them about the impact of drone strikes  and also to shed light on the fact that policies like drone strikes are actually a challenge to America’s national security.

Akbar represents  156 civilian drone strike victims and families, families he says   who have lost children, parents, and siblings, are now trying through legal means to achieve justice.

Watch a one-minute clip of Rafiq ur Rehman interviewed in the forthcoming documentary Unmanned.  Sign the petition urging the State Department to give a visa to Mr Akbar.


Syria’s chemical weapons

Brian Whitaker continues to follow the strange case of a widely circulated article alleging chemical weapons were used by Syrian rebels — one of whose alleged authors has been vainly trying to remove her byline.

Mint Press named the journalists who wrote the story as Dale Gavlak (an established freelance based in Jordan who has worked regularly for the Associated Press) and Yahya Ababneh (a young Jordanian who claims to have carried out journalistic assignments “in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Libya for clients such as al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, Amman Net, and other publications”).

The story got more attention than it might otherwise have deserved because Gavlak’s relationship with the Associated Press gave it an air of credibility. Ababneh, on the other hand, is virtually unknown and Google searches for examples of his previous journalistic work drew a blank.

Yesterday, however, Gavlak issued a statement denying that she was an “author” or “reporter” for the article. “Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author,” she said. It was a carefully-worded statement which did not specifically exclude the possibility that Gavlak had been involved in some other capacity in helping to produce the story.

Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph publishes an interview with a former chemical weapons chief in the Syrian army:

Gen Sakat says he was ordered three times to use chemical weapons against his own people, but could not go through with it and replaced chemical canisters with ones containing harmless bleach.

He also insists that all such orders had to come from the top – President Assad himself – despite insistent denials by the regime that it has never used chemical weapons.

Now he also claims to have his own intelligence that the Syrian president is evading the terms of a Russian-brokered deal to destroy his chemical weapons by transferring some of his stocks to his allies – Hizbollah, in Lebanon, and Iran.


Adraa Women’s Prison is turning into Just another

bandannie apologizes for the poor presentation

– Press Statement


Violation Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) has been informed that Adraa

Women’s prison

has become similar to syrian security branches in many aspects, especially

regarding the way female detainees are treated, the poor health conditions and the lack of


This prison is located in Adraa City in Damascus suburbs, just next to the men’s prison in

the south-eastern side. It has recently witnessed accelerated events, the most recent of which

has been an open hunger strike carried out by women detainees few weeks ago, to demand

better conditions of detention and to accelerate their standing before courts.

Adraa Women’s Prison is divided into two sections:

– Criminal Section:

specialized in various Criminal charges

Political Section: divided into two lockups:

1. Commitment lockup:

includes all detainees transferred from various security

branches. At the present time, the number of detainees there is about women,

and this number is subject to changes according to the number of detainees that are

being transferred daily from other security branches, or those who are being moved


2. Arrest lockup:

currently includes more than 40 detainees who have appeared before

the court. This number continues to increase as a result of the large number of

detainees that has been transferred to the judiciary from various security branches.


Criminal Section also includes a number of political detainees. This was confirmed by a

lawyer who encountered more than ten cases of detainees that got arrested by security

branches, either because of their participation in revolutionary activities or due to their

political backgrounds, and was consequently admitted to the criminal section, to be sent, later

on, to criminal trials facing purely criminal charges such as prostitution, theft and drug abuse.


One of the former female detainees told

VDC that after she had been detained by the Raid

Detachment Branch

215, the subsidiary of Military Intelligence Department, she was

surprisingly transferred to the ” Criminal Section” with dozens of women prisoners who had

been facing criminal charges, on top of which was prostitution, although she had been

arrested in

March 2013 for her revolutionary media and field activism.

Most of the former women detainees whom

VDC interviewed agreed that Adraa Women’s

Prison does not differ much from any other security branch. Many detainees even confirmed

that it turned into a mere security branch, especially the “Commitment Section”, after the

officer in charge of the prison, General “Faisal Oqla

from Deir ez-Zor, banned all the

privileges that central prisons usually have. He prohibited TVs, radios, refrigerators, buying

any vegetable or meat, and handmade crafts such as

“beads and wool”. He also prohibited the

detainees from making any phone calls, and prohibited the parents from bringing books or

any kind of food for the detainees

. Moreover, prisoners from the “Prostitution Section” were

brought to inspect the other detainees’ personal items in a provocative way

without any

justifiable reasons. All of those mentioned actions began in August 2012.

In Adraa Prison, female detainees are exposed to several kinds of punishments by

the prison guards; such as leaving detainees in the individual cell for long periods,

beating them with truncheons, pull their hair, or beat them on the feet ‘Falaqah’.

One of the female detainees told


“Once, a few security guards entered the prison dormitory, and

started beating

more than 20 of the detainees with truncheons. Then, they took one of them-after

taking off her ‘Hijab’ (veil) and pulling her hair-to the ‘torturing room’, where she was

brutally beaten on her feet. She couldn’t walk properly for three days after that. This

happened, specifically, last May 2013.

On another time, during an inspection, they found one of the detainees reading the

Holy Quran. She had a quarrel with them and then they hit her and stepped on the

Holy Quran. This happened, specifically, in July 2013, a few days before Holy


Slow death” is how one of the former female detainees described the condition of some

sick women there. Despite the fact that there were pregnant women, babies, elderly women,

and women with malignant diseases, there were no specialized doctors in Adraa Prison. The

Administration of the Prison justified the lack of medical care by saying that the road to the

hospital is so dangerous due to the clashes, and that sending a detainee to the hospital

requires the ‘approval of some authority’ which they didn’t name. Many deaths have

happened in the prison, the last of which was the death of a detainee, who was very sick and

had some kind of stroke or shortness of breath and died immediately. One of the detainees

who witnessed the incident stated to VDC that

“The other detainees did not know the nature of the disease of (Huda 39 years old,

Homs), as she suffered some kind of “stroke” or “shortness of breath”. Despite the fact that

other detainees asked the guards to take her to the medical clinic, but they refused, which

caused her immediate death. This was in the first week of February 2013.

According to another former detainee testimony, one of her cellmates tried to commit

suicide by cutting her ‘artery’ because they did not provide milk for her 10

-month-old baby,

to whom she gave birth during her detention period in Homs’ Central Prison before being

transferred to Adraa prison. Also, in another incidence recorded few weeks ago, an 8-daysold

baby died in the same prison, due to the lack of nutrition and the absence of newborn


The VDC in Syria appeals to all humanitarian and human rights international

organizations to intervene immediately in order to release all female detainees from the

prisons of the Syrian regime, and to stop the heinous practices against Adraa W


Prison detainees.

Violation Documentation Center in Syria

September 2013

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