Wednesday, May 25, 2005

NYT: "American F.B.I. agents repeatedly interrogated two United States citizens who were illegally detained . . . "

American F.B.I. agents repeatedly interrogated two United States citizens who were illegally detained for eight months and did nothing to stop them from being tortured by Pakistani authorities, a human rights group said Tuesday.
The brothers, Zain and Kashan Afzal, ages 23 and 25, respectively, both Americans of Pakistani descent, were arrested at their Karachi home last August and kept in secret Pakistani detention facilities for eight months until their release on April 22. No charges were ever filed, and for many months their family did not know where they were, according to a report by the group, Human Rights Watch.
"What crime did we commit?" a distraught Zain Afzal said in a brief telephone interview from Karachi. "If we did something wrong, would they let us go? It was an illegal detention."
The Afzal brothers' claims suggest a close collaboration of American and Pakistani intelligence officials in vetting terror suspects, and they raise questions about the responsibilities that the United States has for its own citizens abroad.

The above is from Salman Masood and Somini Sengupta's "F.B.I. Is Accused of Ignoring Abuse of 2 Americans in Pakistan" in this morning's New York Times. (And note, it's not written as a tone poem.)

Excerpt from the statement Human Rights Watch issued yesterday:

U.S. FBI agents operating in Pakistan repeatedly interrogated and threatened two U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin who were unlawfully detained and subjected to torture by the Pakistani security services, Human Rights Watch said today.
The brothers Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were abducted from their home in Karachi at about 2 a.m. on August 13, 2004. They were released on April 22, 2005 without having been charged. During eight months of illegal detention, Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were routinely tortured by Pakistani authorities to extract confessions of involvement in terrorist activities. During this period, FBI agents questioned the brothers on at least six occasions. The FBI agents did not intervene to end the torture, insist that the Pakistani government comply with a court order to produce the men in court, or provide consular facilities normally offered to detained U.S. citizens. Instead, they threatened the men with being sent to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay if they did not confess to involvement in terrorism. Human Rights Watch's information is based on extensive and separate interviews with the two brothers since their release and other sources. "It is outrageous that Pakistan abducts people from their homes in the middle of the night and tortures them in secret prisons to extract confessions, all the while ignoring court orders to produce their victims in court," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The United States should be condemning this, but instead it either directed this activity or turned a blind eye in the hopes of gaining information in the war on terror."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that Pakistan has a long and well-documented history of "disappearances," illegal and arbitrary arrests, and torture of individuals in government custody. According to the 2004 State Department human rights country report on Pakistan:
Police and security forces held prisoners incommunicado and refused to provide information on their whereabouts, particularly in terrorism and national security cases … Security force personnel continued to torture persons in custody throughout the country. Human rights organizations reported that methods used included beating; burning with cigarettes; whipping the soles of the feet; prolonged isolation; electric shock; denial of food or sleep; hanging upside down; and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters. Officials from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) estimated 5,000 cases of police torture annually. ... Prison conditions were extremely poor, except those for wealthy or influential prisoners. ... Shackling of prisoners was routine. The shackles used were tight, heavy, and painful, and reportedly led to gangrene and amputation in several cases.

Do we care yet? As a country, we averted our eyes when Muslim males here were required to register. We played the "other" and resorted to nonsense about 'fraternity hazing' when issues of torture came up before. We've turned our heads and closed our eyes as we've moved away from everything this country is supposed to stand for. Will we do so now as well?

Maybe we will.

Maybe we'll say, "Oh well they aren't Joe and Tammy down the street. They're not like you and me."

At some point, we're going to have to say "enough." But maybe we'll just push that off for future generations to address?

In the meantime, the noble ideas we used to tell ourselves that we believed in fall by the wayside.

And all the "cute" little headlines ("Was Canada Just Too Good to Be True?" wonders the Times today in an article by Clifford Krauss) and finger pointing won't change the fact that we've abandoned core beliefs and values.

Here's an ACLU press statement released yesterday (in full) that goes to issues of freedom:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence met today to consider legislation that would reauthorize - and expand - the Patriot Act. The American Civil Liberties Union denounced attempts to expand, rather than critically review and reform, the controversial provisions set to expire at the end of the year. A proposal to make the law’s most controversial provisions permanent, and to expand it by allowing FBI agents issue their own search orders with no advance court approval, will likely be voted on in secret Thursday.
"Now is the time to bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution - not expand it," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "Concerned citizens from across the political spectrum have spoken out against the Patriot Act’s secrecy: many provisions are implemented secretly, and the government has kept secret key information on how these extraordinary powers are being used. Now, some lawmakers are trying to keep debate and votes on legislation to reauthorize and expand the Patriot Act secret as well."
The bill would grant so-called "administrative subpoena" authority to the FBI, letting the bureau write and approve its own search orders for any tangible thing it deems relevant to an intelligence investigation without approval. This power would let agents seize personal records from medical facilities, libraries, hotels, gun dealers, banks and any other business, without having to appear before a judge, and without any evidence that the people whose records are swept in are involved in any criminal activity.
The proposal would also give the FBI broad new powers to track people’s mail in intelligence inquiries. It would force postal workers to disclose the name, address and other information appearing on envelopes delivered to or from people designated by the FBI, without any meaningful protections.
The bill would permit secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act searches and surveillance for the sole purpose of criminal prosecution for certain crimes, such as terrorism and espionage, allowing searches to proceed without following the requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. FISA searches were designed to be used a tool in intelligence gathering investigations, so they are held to lower evidentiary standards than criminal investigations.
Without limits on how the powers can be used, the proposed legislation creates the very real possibility that FISA will now be used to conduct searches and seizures in criminal investigations without probable cause that a crime has been committed, the ACLU said. In other words, it will let law enforcement do an end run around the Constitution.
The ACLU also noted that the proposed legislation would remove the one safeguard in place against using FISA warrants recklessly. Currently, FISA warrants cannot be issued against Americans when the investigation is "conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution." The proposed legislation would amend that limited protection so that FISA records searches can be conducted solely based on First Amendment activities so long as the investigation as a whole is not based solely on constitutionally protected activity.
"Protecting America also means protecting our Constitution," Graves said. "If adopted, these broad new powers would sidestep time-honored checks and balances. Lawmakers should hold an open process, and reject this reckless disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects the liberty and privacy of all Americans."
For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the proposed legislation:

Tomorrow this is addressed. Are we paying attention?

We'll close with a song Susan referenced in an e-mail last night, Carole King and Rick Sorenson's "Chalice Borealis" (from the Carole King album Speeding Time):

Oh whatcha gonna do when time runs out on you
Runs down ghost town
Barren pastures all around
How y' gonna explain it to your grandkids . . .

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