Aletho News


Adding Torture to Injury

By Pam Bailey | IPS | April 14, 2010
Samir Asfour  with a picture of his son, Ahmed, at a weekly protest in Gaza by  families of Israeli prisoners. / Credit:Pam Bailey/IPS
Samir Asfour with a picture of his son, Ahmed, at a weekly protest in Gaza by families of Israeli prisoners.

Credit:Pam Bailey/IPS

GAZA – It was bad enough that Ahmad Asfour was severely maimed by an Israeli drone strike outside his house on Jan. 9, 2009. But, his search for advanced treatment landed the journalism student, now 19, in Israeli prison where he remains.

According to Mahmud Abo Rahma of the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, not many Palestinians are arrested as Ahmed was, but it is increasingly common for patients entering Israel to be denied treatment unless the patient or family agrees to collaborate.

Al Mezan has joined the Physicians for Human Rights and the ADALA Centre (which defends the rights of Palestinian Arabs in Israel) to charge Israel with blackmailing Palestinian patients in Gaza, exploiting their need for medical treatment to pressure them into collaborating with its intelligence agencies.

Ahmad and four teenaged cousins were hit by fragments from a missile fired by an Israeli drone, east of Khan Younis, in the southern region of the Gaza Strip, just 14 days after Israel launched its massive, 22-day assault on the densely populated strip of land wedged between Israel and Egypt. The fragments lodged in his left eye, broke his jaw, shattered his teeth, severely lacerated both hands and right thigh, destroyed his genitals, and damaged his pancreas and intestines.

His father, Samir, was in Egypt at the time with one of Ahmad’s brothers, who had been injured just eight days before. Due to the siege imposed by Israel since Hamas took control in 2007, medical care in Gaza is often inadequate. Gazans have been unable to repair the 15 (out of 27) hospitals and 43 (of 110) primary healthcare facilities damaged in last year’s Israeli invasion, because of the ban on importation of construction materials.

Treatment in Egypt is not advanced and, according to Abo Rahma, the risk of contracting Hepatitis C is significant. Getting permission to enter Israel is difficult for Palestinians during normal times, and it was impossible during and immediately after the invasion. Even a year later, the UN reports that almost a quarter of the 1,103 patients who had sought permits for treatment in Israel in December 2009 were denied or delayed. As a result, 27 patients died while awaiting referral last year.

Ahmad and his cousins were rushed to the local hospital by his oldest brother, and the medical director sent them immediately to Egypt. Ahmad spent the next eight months there, but little could be done. In fact, because of the damage to his pancreas and the lack of appropriate treatment, he soon developed diabetes.

Doctors caring for Ahmad recommended he travel to Germany. But there was a catch: Ahmad needed a visa, and for that he was required to go to Tel Aviv – an impossibility for Gazans.

Finally, one physician suggested a hospital in Jerusalem, St. Joseph’s. As part of the approval process, Samir took his wheelchair-bound son to the Erez Crossing into Israel on Nov. 23. After waiting four hours, they were turned away, and told to return two days later. When they arrived, they were subjected to a harrowing ordeal.

“Here I am with my injured son, terrified about his health, and we were forced to remove all of our clothes so we could be strip searched. Then they took my son away from me,” recounted Samir through an interpreter. “Ahmad needed insulin every two hours, but I couldn’t give it to him…The next thing I know he is in shackles! They took the medication I had brought for Ahmed and all the money I had collected from charities (about US$2,500) and he was gone.”

It was 20 days, says Samir, before he finally found out what had happened to his son, after he sought help from human rights organizations.

Lawyers from the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights discovered that other young men who had gone before Ahmad to Erez and been interrogated had apparently implicated him, claiming he had been in possession of a gun and an explosive for one of the Gaza-based militias. (Samir claims the “explosive” was actually his son’s insulin vials.)

Ahmad maintained his innocence during his four hours of interrogation at Erez, and as a result, he was transferred to an Israeli prison in Ashkelon. After five consecutive days of further interrogation, Ahmad could take no more and confessed. The charges: ” membership in a terrorist organization, observation of and passing information to the enemy, providing services for a terrorist organization and possession of firearms.”

“He was subjected to practices that we consider torture and ill treatment, mainly in the form of forced stress positions for long hours, such as sitting on a chair with hands cuffed behind,” the Al Mezan legal team said in a response to an inquiry. “Torture is unconscionable at any time, but it is particularly cruel when the victim is already medically vulnerable.”

Samir, who receives information on his son from the attorneys and the Red Cross, said he learned later that his son had been told that his father was in jail as well, and that therefore he must cooperate with the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency. Meanwhile, Physicians for Human Rights learned that Ahmad was being denied all medical treatment except for his insulin, and has been advocating on his behalf. Samir says the latest news he received is that one of his son’s arms may need to be amputated.

Today, Ahmed is still in prison, although he has been transferred to Beersheba. Based on his “confession,” he was offered a plea bargain of 33 months incarceration or a shortened list of charges with sentencing to be determined. He rejected the “bargain” and at a Mar. 24 session, the court set a new hearing for June, to allow the prosecution to call its witnesses – the police who conducted the interrogation.

“Every Palestinian has the right to health, which is enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Al Mezan stated in a March 2009 report. “This right must be provided without any conditions hinged to it, a principle that Israel repeatedly violates. The Shin Bet has on numerous occasions pressured Palestinians in need of external medical treatment to become informants in exchange for permission to leave Gaza.’’

According to Physicians for Human Rights, agents interrogate Gazans who want to enter Israel for medical care about their relatives, neighbors and friends; those who don’t cooperate often don’t get travel clearance. It has received reports from 32 patients in Gaza who say they were denied permission to leave for refusing to cooperate with Israeli questioners at the Erez Crossing by answering questions about the political affiliations of relatives, friends and acquaintances.

Samir has hired an Israeli attorney to plead his son’s case, but so far doesn’t have the money to pay her. He will sell his house, he says, if he has to.

“My son is not guilty!” exclaims Samir in frustration and pain. “If my son was a militant, would I have tried to take him through Erez? He is just a boy who needs treatment, who is being used as part of their game.”

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | Comments Off on Adding Torture to Injury

Afghans ‘abused at secret prison’ at Bagram airbase

By Hilary Andersson | BBC News | April 15, 2010

Bagram – Afghan prisoners are being abused in a “secret jail” at Bagram airbase, according to nine witnesses whose stories the BBC has documented. The abuses are all said to have taken place since US President Barack Obama was elected, promising to end torture.

The US military has denied the existence of a secret detention site and promised to look into allegations.

Bagram was the site of a controversial jail holding hundreds of inmates, who have now been moved to another complex.

The old prison was notorious for allegations of prisoner torture and abuse. But witnesses told the BBC in interviews or written testimony that abuses continue in a hidden facility.

Sleep deprivation

“They call it the Black Hole,” said Sher Agha who spent six days in the facility last autumn.

“When they released us they told us we should not tell our stories to outsiders because that will harm us.”

Sher Agha and others we interviewed complained their cells were very cold.

“When I wanted to sleep and started shivering with cold I started reciting the holy Koran,” he said. But sleep, according to the prisoners interviewed, is deliberately prevented in this detention site.

“I could not sleep, nobody could sleep because there was a machine that was making noise,” said Mirwais, who said he was held in the secret jail for 24 days.

“There was a small camera in my cell, and if you were sleeping they’d come in and disturb you,” he added.

The prisoners, who were interviewed separately, all told very similar stories. Most of them said they had been beaten by American soldiers at the point of arrest before being taken to the prison.

Mirwais had half a row of teeth missing, which he said was from being struck with the butt of a gun by an American soldier.

No-one said they were visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross during their detention at the site, and they all said that their families did not know where they were.

In the small concrete cells, the prisoners said, a light was on all the time. They said they could not tell if it was night or day and described this as very disturbing.

Mirwais said he was made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet.

The ex-prisoners said they were imprisoned at the secret jail before being taken to the main detention centre at the Bagram airbase, a new complex called The Detention Facility in Parwan. Bagram’s prisoners were moved to the Parwan complex from the old notorious Bagram prison site on the airbase earlier this year… Full article

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | 4 Comments

Israeli Demolition Campaign in Three Towns Across the West Bank

Popular Struggle Coordination Committee | 14th April 2010
House demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the village of Al-Khader, near Bethlehem. [MaanImages/Luay Sababa]

In an aggravation of Israeli policy of home demolitions, a house and two shops were razed in the Central West Bank village of Hares this morning. An additional house was reduced to rubble in the village of alKhadder, west of Bethlehem and a 1,000 square meters factory was demolished in the town Beit Sahour.

In what seems a coordinated move, Israeli forces carried out demolitions in two different areas of the West Bank today, rendering at least 16 people homeless. In recent months, international pressure has caused a significant decline in the demolition of Palestinian houses in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. Israel uses its statutory authority in Area C, which spans over 60% of the West Bank, to dramatically limit Palestinian development. Palestinians fear that today’s concerted demolitions may be the opening salvo in a provocative change in Israeli policy.

Mahmoud Zwahare a popular committee member from the Bethlehem region said during the demolitions that “Israel keeps claiming it strives for peace and constantly complains about Palestinian incitement and violence. It is doing so while carrying out destructive and irreversible steps on the ground against ordinary civilians. The demolitions today have nothing to do with the security of Israelis and everything to do with provocation and injustice”.

A convoy of eight armored military jeeps and a D9 bulldozer entered the village of Hares in the early morning today and advanced towards the newly built house of Maher Sultan. The house, which Sultan had just finished constructing after five years, was to be home for himself, his wife and their five children. The two story house was quickly demolished by the bulldozer, which left nothing but rubble behind it.

The demolition order was posted on Sultan’s house a month ago, citing a Mohammed Mansour as the owner of the house, which complicated to procedures to stop the demolition. At the time of the demonstration, Sultan was actually at the DCO in Tulkarem to try an negotiate an injunction, unaware that his home is being razed.

After completing the demolition of Sultan’s house, the Israeli forces continued to demolish two stores in the outskirts of the village.

Almost simultaneously, a massive contingent of Israeli forces invaded the town of alKhadder, West of Bethlehem. The massive Israeli bulldozer demolished the house of Ali Mousa, which was home to nine people, including a one year old baby, as soldiers prevented anyone from nearing the house – including the family’s lawyer, who showed soldiers a 2006 court-issued injunction on the demolition.

After completing the demolition, an Israeli Civil Administration officer who was present at the scene informed people that more house demolitions will be carried in the near future.

Shortly after the alKhadder demolition, forces lead by the Israeli Civil Administration demolished a factory in the town of Beit Sahour. Roughly a year ago, Omar Ayyoub, the owner of the factory was served a halt-construction order by the civil administration, which he complied with and have been fighting ever since. When the bulldozers arrived today he pleaded with the officer in charge to stop the demolition, or at least present him with a valid demolition order. The officer refused and ordered  Ayyoub removed from the scene.

Home destroyed on 14 April 2010 under the pretext it was too close to Israel`s wall. [MaanImages/Haytham Othman]

Over 60 percent of the West Bank is currently classified as Area C, in which, under the Oslo accords, Israel has complete control, over both civil and security issues. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) some 70 percent of Area C, or approximately 44 percent of the West Bank, has been largely designated for the use of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military. The Israeli authorities generally allow Palestinian construction only within the boundaries of an Israeli-approved plan and these cover less than one percent of Area C, much of which is already built-up. As a result, Palestinians are left with no choice but to build “illegally” and risk demolition of their structures and displacement.

According to information released by the Israeli State Attorney’s Office in early December 2009, approximately 2,450 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C have been demolished due to lack of permit over the course of the past 12 years.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | 5 Comments

The Obama DOJ’s warrantless demands for emails

By Glenn Greenwald | April 15, 2010

A very significant case involving core privacy protections is now being litigated, where the Obama Justice Department is seeking to obtain from Yahoo “all emails” sent and received by multiple Yahoo email accounts, despite the fact that DOJ has never sought, let alone obtained, a search warrant, and despite there being no notice of any kind to the email account holders:

In a brief filed Tuesday afternoon, the coalition says a search warrant signed by a judge is necessary before the FBI or other police agencies can read the contents of Yahoo Mail messages — a position that puts those companies directly at odds with the Obama administration.

As part of a case conducted largely under seal and thus hidden from public view, the DOJ demanded these emails from Yahoo without any effort to demonstrate probable cause to believe the email user was involved in the commission of any crime, but instead merely based on the vague claim that there is “reasonable grounds to believe” the emails “are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”  If the DOJ position were accepted, Americans would have substantially less privacy protections in their email communications.

Federal law is crystal clear that a search warrant is required for the Government to obtain any emails that have been stored less than 180 days — one that requires a showing of probable cause and that the documents sought to be described with particularity.  In contrast to the nation’s largest telecoms’ eager cooperation with Bush’s illegal surveillance programs, Yahoo — to its credit — refused to turn over any such emails to the Government without a search warrant.  As a result, the DOJ is now seeking a federal court Order compelling the company to comply with its demands, and a coalition of privacy groups and technology companies — led by EFF and including Google — have now filed a brief supporting Yahoo’s position.  Both Yahoo and that coalition insist that federal law as well as the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure protection bar the Obama DOJ from acquiring these emails without a search warrant.

The law in question — the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. sec. 2703 — could not be clearer:

A governmental entity may require the disclosure by a provider of electronic communication service of the contents of a wire or electronic communication, that is in electronic storage in an electronic communications system for one hundred and eighty days or less, only pursuant to a warrant issued using the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by a court with jurisdiction over the offense under investigation or equivalent State warrant.

The DOJ’s blatantly twisted argument is that an email should be considered to be “in electronic storage” only for as long as it is unopened by the recipient; once it is opened, it is no longer “in electronic storage,” and no warrant is required for the Government to obtain and read it.  Based on this rationale, the DOJ argues in its Brief that “a previously opened subscriber email is not ‘in electronic storage’.”  In other words, claims the DOJ, the search warrant requirement protects your emails only to the extent you never read them, but as soon as you read them, the Government no longer needs a search warrant to obtain and read them; instead, it merely needs to claim to a court that the emails are somehow “relevant” to a criminal investigation, and then they must be turned over without any notice to you.

The DOJ insists upon this power notwithstanding a 2003 decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which explicitly rejected the claim that emails once read or downloaded are no longer “in electronic storage” under the Act.  Worse, a separate provision of the law — 18 U.S.C. sec. 2510(17) — explicitly defines “electronic storage” to include “any storage of such communication by an electronic communication service for purposes of backup protection of such communication”:  exactly what one does when one reads an email and leaves it on the server.  The Obama DOJ’s position is as radical as it is invasive; as Yahoo explained, it “is an attempt to reverse seven years of established precedent requiring law enforcement to follow carefully proscribed rules when seeking to obtain email content from providers like Yahoo.”

At least as important, Yahoo and the coalition of privacy groups and technology firms are arguing for the application of the seminal 1967 Fourth Amendment case of Katz v. U.S. to email communications.  In Katz, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment protects against government eavesdropping on telephone calls even though such calls are not technically “houses, papers [or] effects”; even though eavesdropping does not constitute a physical search of the individual’s property; and even though the telephone lines themselves are the property of the telephone company and not the individual.  That is because, explained the Katz Court, “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.”  Moreover, telephone calls had become such a common means of private communications by 1967 that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy as to their contents; thus, “to read the Constitution more narrowly is to ignore the vital role that the public telephone has come to play in private communication.”

That such reasoning extends at least as much to email communications is self-evident, as is the danger of allowing Government acquisition of emails without a search warrant.  According to a 2003 Pew survey, “102 million Americans were email users in December 2002” and “more than nine in ten online Americans have sent or read email.”  Those numbers were from 7 years ago and are obviously much higher now.  By itself, according to its Brief, Yahoo is used by 30 million people to send and receive email.

To allow the Government to access without search warrants the contents of one’s private email communications — as opposed to, say, merely information showing from whom one received or to whom one sent email — is as central a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee as can be imagined.  Of course, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 — which passed with Obama’s support and was designed to legalize much of the Bush NSA surveillance program — already legalized warrantless surveillance of most emails sent internationally without any real court oversight, but the Obama DOJ’s position here would result in a far lower protections being applied to purely domestic emails (albeit with some minimal court involvement).

The Fourth Amendment threats are obvious.  As the Katz Court said:  “The Government’s activities in electronically listening to and recording the Petitioner’s words violated the privacy upon which he justifiably relied.”  And numerous courts, including the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2007 decision, have explicitly invoked this reasoning to extend Katz‘s Fourth Amendment protections from telephone calls to email communications:

It goes without saying that like the telephone earlier in our history, email is an ever-increasing mode of private communication, and protecting shared communications through this medium is as important to Fourth Amendment principles today as protecting telephone conversations in the past.

I don’t want to oversimplify the Fourth Amendment questions raised by this case.  There are exceptions to the Constitutional warrant requirement which the DOJ likely will argue applies here [such as the claim that an individual has no “reasonable expectation of privacy” when communications are turned over to a third party, as emails technically are when they’re in the possession of service providers such as Yahoo (though no more so than a letter is “turned over” to the U.S. Postal Service)].  Whatever else is true, there is simply no viable way to distinguish the telephone conversations which the Katz court protected under the Fourth Amendment and the emails which most Americans now use on a daily basis for their most private communications.

If nothing else, consider the implications of allowing the U.S. Government to obtain and read emails simply by a vague showing of “relevance” to a criminal investigation, all without (a) any demonstration of probable cause, (b) a warrant from a court, (c) any notice provided to you that they’re doing so, and (d) any Fourth Amendment protections.  As the brief filed by EFF, Google and others puts it, granting the Government such authority would have “extremely significant implications for the privacy of Americans’ communications.”  Yet that is exactly the power the Obama DOJ is claiming it possesses.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Progressive Hypocrite | Comments Off on The Obama DOJ’s warrantless demands for emails

Did Banned Media Report Foretell of Gaza War Crimes?

By Jonathan Cook – Nazareth – April 15, 2010

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament is demanding that a newspaper be allowed to publish an investigative report that was suppressed days before Israel attacked Gaza in winter 2008.

The investigation by Uri Blau, who has been in hiding since December to avoid arrest, concerned Israeli preparations for the impending assault on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.

In a highly unusual move, according to reports in the Israeli media, the army ordered the Haaretz newspaper to destroy all copies of an edition that included Mr Blau’s investigation after it had already gone to press and been passed by the military censor. The article was never republished.

Mr Blau has gone underground in London after the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, demanded he return to Israel to hand back hundreds of classified documents they claim are in his possession and to reveal his sources.

He published several additional reports for Haaretz in 2008 and 2009 that severely embarrassed senior military commanders by showing they had issued orders that intentionally violated court rulings, including to execute Palestinians who could be safely apprehended.

Haneen Zoubi, an MP who previously headed an Israeli media-monitoring organisation, said it was “outrageous” that the suppressed report was still secret so long after the Gaza attack. She is to table a parliamentary question to Ehud Barak, the defence minister, today demanding to know why the army suppressed the article and what is preventing its publication now. Mr Barak must respond within 21 days.

She said publication of the article was important both because Israel had been widely criticised for killing many hundreds of civilians in its three-week assault on Gaza, and because subsequent reports suggested that Israeli commanders sought legal advice months before the operation to manipulate the accepted definitions of international law to make it easier to target civilians.

“There must be at least a strong suspicion that Mr Blau’s article contains vital information, based on military documentation, warning of Israeli army intentions to commit war crimes,” she said in an interview.

“If so, then there is a public duty on Haaretz to publish the article. If not, then there is no reason for the minister to prevent publication after all this time.”

Ms Zoubi’s call yesterday followed mounting public criticism of Haaretz for supporting Mr Blau by advising him to stay in hiding and continuing to pay his salary. In chat forums and talkback columns, the reporter has been widely denounced as a traitor. Several MPs have called for Haaretz to be closed down or boycotted.

A Haaretz spokeswoman refused to comment, but a journalist there said a “fortress mentality” had developed at the newspaper. “We’ve all been told not to talk to anyone about the case,” he said. “There’s absolute paranoia that the paper is going to be made to suffer because of the Blau case.”

Amal Jamal, a professor at Tel Aviv University who teaches a media course, said he was concerned with the timing of the Shin Bet’s campaign against Mr Blau. He observed that they began interviewing the reporter about his sources and documents last summer as publication neared of the Goldstone report, commissioned by the United Nations and which embarrassed Israel by alleging it had perpetrated war crimes in Gaza.

“The goal in this case appears to be not only to intimidate journalists but also to delegitimise certain kinds of investigations concerning security issues, given the new climate of sensitivity in Israel following the Goldstone report.”

He added that Mr Blau, who had quickly acquired a reputation as Israel’s best investigative reporter, was “probably finished” as a journalist in Israel.

Shraga Elam, an award-winning Israeli reporter, said Mr Blau’s suppressed article might also have revealed the aims of a widely mentioned but unspecified “third phase” of the Gaza attack, following the initial air strikes and a limited ground invasion, that was not implemented.

He suspected the plans involved pushing some of Gaza’s population into Egypt under cover of a more extensive ground invasion. The plan had been foiled, he believed, because Hamas offered little resistance and Egypt refused to open the border.

On Monday, an MP with the centrist Kadima Party, Yulia Shamal-Berkovich, called for Haaretz to be closed down, backing a similar demand from fellow MP Michael Ben-Ari, of the right-wing National Union.

She accused Haaretz management of having “chosen to hide” over the case and blamed it for advising Mr Blau to remain abroad. She said the newspaper “must make sure the materials that are in his possession are returned. If Haaretz fails to do so, its newspaper licence should be revoked without delay.”

Another Kadima MP, Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, this week urged Haaretz readers to boycott the newspaper until Mr Blau was fired.

A petition calling on the Shin Bet to end its threat to charge Mr Blau with espionage has attracted the signatures of several prominent journalists in Israel.

“We believe the Blau case is unique and are concerned this unique case will create a dangerous precedent,” their letter states. “Until now, prosecution authorities have not sought to try reporters for the offence of holding classified information, an offence most of us are guilty of in one way or another.”

A group of Israeli human rights organisations is due to submit a letter this week to the government demanding that the investigation concentrate on lawbreaking by the army rather the “character assassination” of Mr Blau and his sources.

Yesterday, the supreme court tightened restrictions on Anat Kamm, one of Mr Blau’s main informants, who has been under house arrest since December for copying up to 2,000 military documents while she was a soldier. She is accused of espionage with intent to harm the state, a charge that carries a tariff of 25 years in jail.

The papers copied by Ms Kamm, 23, included military orders that violated court rulings and justified law-breaking by soldiers.

Judge Ayala Procaccia said: “The acts attributed to the respondent point to a deep internal distorted perception of a soldier’s duties to the military system he or she is required to serve, and a serious perversion from the basic responsibility that a citizen owes the state to which he or she belongs.”

Ms Kamm, the court decided, must not leave her apartment and must be watched by a close relative at all times.

Media coverage of the case in Israel has been largely hostile to both Ms Kamm and Mr Blau. Gideon Levy observed in Haaretz today: “The real betrayal has been that of the journalists, who have betrayed their profession — journalists who take sides with the security apparatus against colleagues who are doing their job bringing light to the dark.”

Calling Israel “a Shin Bet state”, Mr Levy added: “If it depended on public opinion, Kamm and Blau would be executed and Haaretz would be shut down on the spot.”

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | Comments Off on Did Banned Media Report Foretell of Gaza War Crimes?

When the Army Uses “Enhanced Interrogation” on an American Soldier

Joshua Kors | The Nation | April 14, 2010

I had been covering veterans’ issues for several years and thought I’d developed a thick skin. But the pain on the other end of the telephone line was difficult to stomach. Sergeant Chuck Luther, now back from Iraq, was describing his journey to hell and back. The worst part, he said, wasn’t battling insurgents or even the mortar blast that tossed him to the ground and slammed his head against the concrete — it was the way he was treated by the U.S. Army when he went to the aid station and sought medical help.

In gruesome detail, Luther described what happened to him at Camp Taji’s aid station. He thought he would receive medical care. Instead he was confined to an isolation chamber and held there for over a month, under enforced sleep deprivation, until he agreed to sign papers saying that he was ill before coming to Iraq and thus not eligible for disability and medical benefits. “They wanted me to say I had a ‘personality disorder,'” Luther told me.


Luther’s call did not come out of the blue. For two years I had been investigating this personality disorder scandal: how military doctors were purposely misdiagnosing soldiers, wounded in combat, as having this pre-existing mental illness. As in the civilian world, where people can be locked out of the insurance system if they have a pre-existing condition, soldiers whose wounds can be attributed to a pre-existing illness can be denied disability benefits and long-term medical care.

My reporting began with the case of Specialist Jon Town, who was wounded in Iraq, won a Purple Heart and was then denied disability and medical benefits. Town’s doctor had concluded that his headaches and hearing loss were not caused by the 107-millimeter rocket that knocked him unconscious but by a pre-existing personality disorder.

The spotlight on Town prompted military doctors to step forward and talk about being pressured by their superiors to purposely misdiagnose wounded soldiers. One doctor spoke of a soldier who returned from Iraq with a massive chunk missing from his right leg. The doctor quit after he was pressured to diagnose that soldier as having personality disorder.

Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with personality disorder (PD), saving the military billions in disability and medical benefits.

My articles on the scandal sparked a Congressional hearing, a Law and Order episode, and before leaving office, President Bush signed a law requiring the Pentagon to investigate PD discharges. In the wake of those developments, I was flooded with calls from soldiers who had fractured bones and been pierced by grenade shrapnel, only to be told that their wounds came from a problem with their personality — a pre-existing illness that had somehow gone undetected with each military screening and only popped up now, after they returned wounded from combat.

Luther was one of thousands severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan now facing a lifetime without medical care. I had spoken to dozens of soldiers in his shoes. But his call haunted me. He sent me photos of the isolation chamber. It was the size of a walk-in closet and was crammed with cardboard boxes, a desk and a bedpan. Armed guards monitored him 24 hours a day. Luther told me how they stopped him from sleeping, keeping the lights on and blasting heavy metal music at him all through the night: Megadeth, Saliva, Disturbed. When he rebelled, Luther was pinned down and injected with sleeping medication.

“This was an aid station,” he said, “but it felt a lot more like enhanced interrogation than medical care.”

After a month, Luther was willing to sign anything — and did. Soon after he signed his name to a personality disorder discharge, he was whisked back to Fort Hood and informed about a PD discharge’s disastrous consequences. No disability pay, no long-term medical care, and because he didn’t serve out his contract, he’d have to pay back a portion of his signing bonus. “They told me I now owed the Army $1,500.”

I would spend the next two years investigating Luther’s case: reading the stacks of medical records written by Luther’s doctors, which document his confinement; talking with a fellow soldier who visited Luther during his month in the aid station; and interviewing his commander, who confirmed all the details.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | 10 Comments

Settlers uproot WB olive orchards

Press TV – April 15, 2010

Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian orchards in central West Bank, damaging a vast area of olive stands by uprooting hundreds of trees.

The assault came Monday night in groves near the village of Mukhmas, a few kilometers northeast of Jerusalem (al-Quds), close to the illegal outpost of Migron, Haaretz reported.

Locals said this was the third time the settlers had attacked their gardens in the relatively quiet area, seldom a scene of confrontations with Israelis.

The extent of the destruction and the damage done to the trees across a wide swathe suggested the raid had been well-organized and carried out by a group of people.

The deputy mayor of the village, Mohammed al-Haj, said the village had seen similar attacks once in May 2008 and again in October 2009, where more damage was done to local olive orchards.

The villagers filed complaints with the police and the Civil Administration, while rights groups regret very few investigations into the uprooting cases have resulted in indictments.

Palestinian villagers complain that if Israeli forces guarded them as they guard the settlers, “none of it would have happened.”

Some of the villagers that own groves close to Migron accused Israeli settlers of sparking clashes every time Palestinians go there to take care of their trees, inflicting immense financial losses on the grove owners.

Palestinian olive orchards have long been a target of attacks by Israeli forces and settlers, something the Palestinians have described as a systematic move aimed at mounting financial pressure on Palestinian families and further undermine the territory’s crashing economy.

Earlier this month, Palestinian sources accused the Israeli regime of destroying some 400,000 trees during their incursions into territories under the Palestinian Authority’s rule in the last two years.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | 2 Comments