BBC: Hundreds Escape from Afghan Prison

More than 470 inmates at a prison in southern Afghanistan have escaped through a tunnel hundreds of metres long and dug from outside the jail.  Officials in the city of Kandahar said many of those who escaped from Sarposa jail were Taliban insurgents. The Kandahar provincial governor’s office said at least 12 had since been recaptured but gave no further details.

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the escape was a “disaster” which should never have happened. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said it had taken five months to build the 360m (1,180ft) tunnel to a cell within the political wing.

We had the support of skilled professionals – people who were trained engineers, who advised us on the digging” said Zabiullah Mujahid Taliban spokesman.  He said it was dug from a house north-east of the prison that was rented by “friends” of the Taliban, and had to bypass security checkpoints and the main Kandahar-Kabul road. About 100 of those who escaped were Taliban commanders, he added. Most of the others are thought to have been insurgents. The prison holds about 1,200 inmates.

Second jailbreak

A tunnel hundreds of metres long was dug from the south of the prison into the prison and 476 political prisoners escaped last night,” said prison director General Ghulam Dastageer Mayar.  One escapee told the BBC it had taken him about 30 minutes to walk the length of the tunnel. The escape took most of the night and vehicles were waiting at the exit point to take prisoners away.

Kandahar’s provincial authorities said a search operation was under way.  So far, only about a dozen of the prisoners have been recaptured. Police said they were looking for men without shoes – many escaped barefoot. The jailbreak is the second major escape from the prison in three years.

In June 2008 a suicide bomber blew open the Kandahar prison gates and destroyed a nearby checkpoint, freeing about 900 prisoners, many of them suspected insurgents. Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said some of the prisoners had been found.  After that, millions of pounds were spent upgrading the prison. The 2008 breakout was followed by a major upsurge in violence.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the escape is a further setback for security in the area, and for the fight against the insurgency. “This is a blow,” Afghan presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said. “A prison break of this magnitude, of course, points to a vulnerability.”

The Afghan politician and former MP, Daoud Sultanzai, told the BBC that the escape exposed “the porousness of our security apparatus”. The prison is under Afghan control, but the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said it was ready to provide assistance if requested by Afghan officials.  Insurgents considered to be the most dangerous are likely to be held at a high-security facility outside the US Bagram air base, north of Kabul, rather than at the Sarposa prison, analysts say.

Our correspondent says the jailbreak will be felt most in the villages and orchards around Kandahar, where Nato and Afghan soldiers spent a long summer last year fighting the Taliban. Some of the men they captured are now free again, and with the fighting season about to start their enemy has just had its ranks replenished, he adds.

Nato forces are preparing for the long process of withdrawal. The first stage is the transfer of security powers to local forces from July, but Kandahar is not among the first tranche of provinces.

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The Guardian Guantanamo Bay Files: Al Queda Assasin ‘worked for MI6’


An al-Qaida operative accused of bombing two Christian churches and a luxury hotel in Pakistan in 2002 was at the same time working for British intelligence, according to secret files on detainees who were shipped to the US military’s Guantánamo Bay prison camp.  Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Hamlili, an Algerian citizen described as a “facilitator, courier, kidnapper, and assassin for al-Qaida”, was detained in Pakistan in 2003 and later sent to Guantánamo Bay.

But according to Hamlili’s Guantánamo “assessment” file, one of 759 individual dossiers obtained by the Guardian, US interrogators were convinced that he was simultaneously acting as an informer for British and Canadian intelligence.  After his capture in June 2003 Hamlili was transferred to Bagram detention centre, north of Kabul, where he underwent numerous “custodial interviews” with CIA personnel. They found him “to have withheld important information from the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service and British Secret Intelligence Service … and to be a threat to US and allied personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

The Guardian and the New York Times published a series of reports based on the leaked cache of documents which exposed the flimsy grounds on which many detainees were transferred to the camp and portrayed a system focused overwhelmingly on extracting intelligence from prisoners.

A further series of reports based on the files reveal:

• A single star informer at the base won his freedom by incriminating at least 123 other prisoners there. The US military source described Mohammed Basardah as an “invaluable” source who had shown “exceptional co-operation”, but lawyers for other inmates claim his evidence is unreliable.

US interrogators frequently clashed over the handling of detainees, with members of the Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF GTMO) in several cases overruling recommendations by the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) that prisoners should be released. CITF investigators also disapproved of methods adopted by the JTF’s military interrogators.

• New light on how Osama bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora as American and British special forces closed in on his mountain refuge in December 2001, including intelligence claiming that a local Pakistani warlord provided fighters to guide him to safety in the north-east of Afghanistan.

The Obama administration on Monday condemned the release of documents which it claimed had been “obtained illegally by WikiLeaks”. The Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said in many cases the documents, so-called Detainee Assessment Briefs, had been superseded by the decisions of a taskforce established by President Barack Obama in 2009.  “Any given DAB illegally obtained and released by WikiLeaks may or may not represent the current view of a given detainee,” he said.

According to the files, Hamlili told his American interrogators at Bagram that he had been running a carpet business from Peshawar, exporting as far afield as Dubai following the 9/11 attacks.  But his CIA captors knew the Algerian had been an informant for MI6 and Canada’s Secret Intelligence Service for over three years – and suspected he had been double-crossing handlers. According to US intelligence the two spy agencies recruited Hamlili as a “humint” – human intelligence – source in December 2000 “because of his connections to members of various al-Qaida linked terrorist groups that operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

The files do not specify what information Hamlili withheld. But they do contain intelligence reports, albeit flawed ones, that link the Algerian to three major terrorist attacks in Pakistan during this time. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed architect of the 9/11 attacks, told interrogators an “Abu Adil” – an alias allegedly used by Hamlili – had orchestrated the March 2002 grenade attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave that killed five people, including a US diplomat and his daughter.

He said Abu Adil was also responsible for an attack that killed three girls in a rural Punjabi church the following December, and that he had given him 300,000 rupees (about $3,540) to fund the attacks. The church attacks have previously been blamed on Lashkar I Jhangvi, a Pakistani sectarian outfit that has developed ties with al-Qaida in recent years.

Separately, US intelligence reports said that Hamlili was “possibly involved” in a bombing outside Karachi’s Sheraton hotel in May 2002 that killed 11 French submarine engineers and two Pakistanis.  But the intelligence against the 35-year-old Algerian, who was sent home last January, appears deeply flawed, like many of the accusations in the Guantánamo files.

Some of the information may have been obtained through torture. US officials waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times at a CIA “black site” in Thailand during his first month of captivity. And little evidence is presented to link Hamlili to the Karachi hotel bombing, other than that he ran a carpet business – the same cover that was used by the alleged assassins to escape.

What is clear, however, is that Hamlili was a decades-long veteran of the violent jihadi underground that extends from northern Pakistan and Afghanistan into north Africa. From the Algerian town of Oran, he left with his father in 1986, at the age of 11, to join the fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Later he fell into extremist “takfir” groups, recruited militants to fight in the Algerian civil war, and gained a reputation for violence.

Under the Taliban the Algerian worked as a translator for the foreign ministry and later for the Taliban intelligence services, shuttling between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the runup to 9/11. Last January Hamlili and another inmate, Hasan Zemiri, were transferred to Algerian government custody. It was not clear whether they would be freed or made to stand trial.

Clive Stafford Smith, whose legal charity, Reprieve, represents many current and former inmates, said the files revealed the “sheer bureaucratic incompetence” of the US military’s intelligence gathering.  “When you gather intelligence in such an unintelligent way; if for example you sweep people up who you know are innocent, and it is in these documents; and then mistreat them horribly, you are not going to get reliable intelligence. You are going to make yourself a lot of enemies.

The Guantánamo files are one of a series of secret US government databases allegedly leaked by US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning to WikiLeaks. The New York Times, which shared the files with the Guardian and US National Public Radio, said it did not obtain them from WikiLeaks. A number of other news organisations yesterday published reports based on files they had received from WikiLeaks.

Love and the Law: An exerpt from Bulleh Shah (Required reading if you have studied the law)

Bulleh Shah (1680 – 1757) was a Punjabi Sufi poet, a humanist and philosopher from what is now considered Pakistan. As one of the leading figures in social thought and spiritualism, Bulleh Shah continually challenged the norms of society, be it materialism or hate for one’s fellow man.

While his work is expansive, the following passage was picked for a personal reason.  Throughout my career as a law school student I have felt an internal stuggle between what I would call my “Universal Self” (or innate sensibility of “fairness”) and the technical nature of the law as embraced by practioners and academics. Several justices over the years, the worst of which is Justice Scalia, have treated the cases that come before the US Supreme Court as a time to showcase thier talent of rationally explaing a inhuman or heartless decision by the court.

Most law school students in the first year, before they have been indoctrinated to accept the notion that injustice can/must be done in order to maintain the court’s precedent, always raise questions of a court not deciding the “right way” even though the Justices were maintained a high level of technical legal analysis. That is because we come into law school believing in our own internal moral compass, again what I would call a relationship to the Universal Self, and the process of learning the law forces one to take actions that may violate one’s own moral code becuase it is the “technically” correct thing to do.  

So I present Bulleh Shah’s verse which I will label as Love and Law. Though he presents teh argument as lambasting the laws created around religions by organizations and priests, but it easily translates to the abject focus on technical rationality in the modern legal forum.  This has been a more significant and epiphany inducing peice than anything I have read in law school- so for all the young lawyers, PLEASE READ THIS!

Love and Law are struggling in the human heart.
The doubt of the heart will I settle by relating questions of Law
And the answers of Love I will describe, holy Sir;

Law says go to the Mullah (priest) and learn the rules and regulations.
Love answers, “One letter is enough, shut up and put away other books.”
Law says: Perform the five baths and worship alone in the temple (reffering to the 5x daily prayer of Muslims) 
Love says: Your worship is false if you consider yourself seperate from the Universal Self.

Law says: Have shame and hide the enlightenment
Love says: What is this veil for? Let the vision be open
Law says: Go inside the mosque and perform the duty of prayer
Love says: Go to the wine-house and drinking the wine, read a prayer

Law says: Let us go to heaven; we will eat the fruits of heaven
Love says: There, we are custodians or rulers, and we ourselves will distribute the fruits of heaven
Law says: O faithful one, come perform the hajj (pilgrimage), you have to cross the bridge
Love says: The door of the Beloved (God/Allah) is in ka’baa; from there I will not stir 

Law says:  We placed Shah Mansur (a contraversial Sufi Saint) on the stake
Love says: You did well, you made him enter the door of the Beloved (God/Allah)
THE RANK OF LOVE IS THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, THE CROWN OF CREATION.
OUT OF LOVE, HE (Allah/ God) has created Bulleh, humble, and from dust.   

Charles Kenny- Dont Mess With Taxes

Published in Foreign Policy

Every spring, the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group, announces Tax Freedom Day: the date by which the average employed American will have earned enough income to pay off his or her taxes for the year. This year, that day will be April 12. The Adam Smith Institute, a London-based, free-market think tank that makes a similar calculation for Britain, suggests that British taxpayers will have to work until around May 30 to pay off their own dues.

Tax Freedom Day is a clever-enough gimmick if your aim is to stir up ire over the government stealing income that rightfully belongs to the good people who have earned it through the toil of their labors. In an environment where Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is considered an expert on fiscal policy, it might even work. But it is worth remembering that, from a global perspective, how much we earn is actually 95 percent luck and maybe 5 percent toil. And it isn’t heavy-taxing big government that affects your income — it’s bad government.

The idea that anyone who works hard enough can become rich is a powerful one; for Americans, it’s not just appealing but central to national identity. The problem is that this vision of social mobility doesn’t hold true within the United States — and on a global scale, it’s just plain silly. The reason you earned as much as you did last year has far less to do with how hard you worked than with where and to whom you were born. In the United States, of those children born to parents in the bottom 10 percent of incomes, around one-third remain at the bottom as adults, and over half remain in the bottom 20 percent. Only one out of 77 children born into the bottom 10 percent of incomes reaches the top 10 percent as an adult, according to Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

But the advantages of being born rich rather than poor in America — large though they are — pale in comparison with the advantages of being born in a wealthy country rather than a developing one. The average rural Zambian will enjoy a lifetime income of about $10,000, compared with a lifetime income of around $4.5 million for the average resident of New York City. That’s not because Zambians are all soulless and corrupt. It’s because a Zambian with the same skills, intelligence, and drive earns a lot less in Zambia than she would in the United States — as is made abundantly clear every time a Zambian moves to the United States and starts earning a lot. The same people doing exactly the same job earn much, much more if they move from a poor to a rich country to do that job. In 1995, a construction carpenter’s wage in India was $42 a month. In Mexico, it was $125 a month. A South Korean carpenter, by contrast, made almost 10 times what his Mexican counterpart did; an American one made almost 20 times more.

For those of us lucky enough to be living in a rich country, are taxes really holding us back from a life of ease? In a word, no. Over the (not very) long term, it isn’t tax rates that decide how much money you take home — it is rates of economic growth. If a British person in 1984 paid no taxes at all, receiving as manna from heaven infrastructure, health care, education, policing, pensions, welfare benefits, and all the other services that the state provides, his or her take-home income (adjusted for inflation) would still be below that of post-tax Britons today. The same would be true of an American in 1988. People in the West are lucky enough to have been born in — or nearly as lucky to have moved to — countries that have seen a lot of economic growth over the past two centuries. That’s the reason they’re rich.

 Of course, an anti-tax advocate would respond that low taxes and a correspondingly small government are the secret to a country’s riches — an idea that is appealing, widespread, and very wrong. The last 100 years or so have seen the fastest rates of global economic growth in history; they’ve also seen the biggest governments of all time. From William Easterly and Sergio Rebelo writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research to Ross Levine and David Renelt in the American Economic Review (as well as numerous other analyses), economists have consistently failed to find robust cross-country evidence that a government’s size — measured by tax take or spending as a percentage of GDP — has any bearing, positive or negative, on its economic growth. Want further proof? Many developing countries see personal income tax receipts that would make a Tea Partier tip his tri-cornered hat in admiration, amounting to less than 2 percent of GDP. If a small income tax burden really was the determining factor in driving growth, those countries would all be richer than Luxembourg.

But while there isn’t a proven link between government size and economic growth, there is an important relationship between the quality of government and growth. If a government can’t ensure a basic level of security, stability, fair dealing, and public goods like infrastructure and education, whether it’s large or small is irrelevant — that country will be poor. If the government is providing those basic requirements, it doesn’t matter if it’s also blowing 10 percent of its GDP on bridges to nowhere, high-tech bombers for the last war, or corporate subsidies for ethanol production — that country will be rich. Better government equals richer people — it is as simple as that.

So why do rich people think it is all about effort rather than the luck of the draw? For one thing, there’s the oft-repeated finding from social psychology that people blame their own failures on circumstances beyond their control (“I was fired because the boss never liked me”) and the failures of others on personal flaws (“He was fired because he never did any work”). The reverse also holds: People take far more credit than they should for successful performance as part of a group, particularly if they do not know other group members personally. All of us — not only the rich — are just incredibly narcissistic by nature.

The second factor is that when we make comparisons it is usually to our peers, not the world as a whole. And our peers tend to have gone to the same type of school, work in the same field, and live in the same part of the world. Within these narrow groups, income differences — however small on a national or global scale — are more likely to be about ability and hard work. The fact that you earn more than your colleague who joined the firm at the same time as you did probably does have something to do with your different personal characteristics. The fact that you earn more than a peasant farmer in Lesotho doesn’t. At the same time, you rarely stop to care about how much a peasant farmer in Lesotho earns — despite the fact that the income gap between you and the farmer is many multiples larger than the gap between you and your colleague. However powerful our psychological foibles and narrow frames of reference may be, though, they are beside the point when it comes to public policy.

There are lots of reasons to hate current tax codes — not least because they are ridiculously complex and stuffed with loopholes for groups that can afford the best lobbyists. And governments the world over remain wasteful and spendthrift — including America’s, of course. Especially in poor countries, people ought to be focused on making government more efficient, equitable, and transparent — an effort that will entail lower government revenues in some cases and less government regulation in lots of cases. But the focus should be on better government, not smaller government. And the idea that taxation takes money that is rightfully ours alone, or that if only we managed to reduce the tax burden by a few percentage points we’d all be rich, is laughable. If you are in a wealthy country and it is tax time, be thankful you live somewhere where government works — and pay up.

NY Times: Clandestine CIA Operatives Gather Information in Libya


WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.

While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.

In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.

American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.

In addition, the American spies are meeting with rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi, said United States government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities.  American officials cautioned, though, that the Western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.  The United States and its allies have been scrambling to gather detailed information on the location and abilities of Libyan infantry and armored forces that normally takes months of painstaking analysis.  “We didn’t have great data,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, who handed over control of the Libya mission to NATO on Wednesday, said in an e-mail last week.   “Libya hasn’t been a country we focused on a lot over past few years.”

Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the C.I.A. to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels, American officials said Wednesday. But weapons have not yet been shipped into Libya, as Obama administration officials debate the effects of giving them to the rebel groups. The presidential finding was first reported by Reuters. In a statement released Wednesday evening, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, declined to comment “on intelligence matters,” but he said that no decision had yet been made to provide arms to the rebels.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that he opposed arming the rebels. “We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement.

Because the publicly stated goal of the Libyan campaign is not explicitly to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi’s government, the clandestine war now going on is significantly different from the Afghan campaign to drive the Taliban from power in 2001. Back then, American C.I.A. and Special Forces troops worked alongside Afghan militias, armed them and called in airstrikes that paved the rebel advances on strategically important cities like Kabul and Kandahar. 

In recent weeks, the American military has been monitoring Libyan troops with U-2 spy planes and a high-altitude Global Hawk drone, as well as a special aircraft, JSTARS, that tracks the movements of large groups of troops.  Military officials said that the Air Force also has Predator drones, similar to those now operating in Afghanistan, in reserve.

Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint eavesdropping planes intercept communications from Libyan commanders and troops and relay that information to the Global Hawk, which zooms in on the location of armored forces and determines rough coordinates. The Global Hawk sends the coordinates to analysts at a ground station, who pass the information to command centers for targeting. The command center beams the coordinates to an E-3 Sentry Awacs command-and-control plane, which in turn directs warplanes to their targets.

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who recently retired as the Air Force’s top intelligence official, said that Libya’s flat desert terrain and clear weather have allowed warplanes with advanced sensors to hunt Libyan armored columns with relative ease, day or night, without the need for extensive direction from American troops on the ground.

But if government troops advance into or near cities in along the country’s eastern coast, which so far have been off-limits to coalition aircraft for fear of causing civilian casualties, General Deptula said that ground operatives would be particularly helpful in providing target coordinates or pointing them out to pilots with hand-held laser designators.

 The C.I.A. and British intelligence services were intensely focused on Libya eight years ago, before and during the successful effort to get Colonel Qaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program. He agreed to do so in the fall of 2003, and allowed C.I.A. and other American nuclear experts into the country to assess Libya’s equipment and bomb designs and to arrange for their transfer out of the country.  

 Once the weapons program was eliminated, a former American official said, intelligence agencies shifted their focus away from Libya. But as Colonel Qaddafi began his recent crackdown on the rebel groups, the American spy agencies have worked to rekindle ties to Libyan informants and to learn more about the country’s military leaders.

A former British government official who is briefed on current operations confirmed media reports that dozens of British Special Forces soldiers, from the elite Special Air Service and Special Boat Service units, are on the ground across Libya. The British soldiers have been particularly focused on finding the locations of Colonel Qaddafi’s Russian-made surface-to-air missiles.  A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss the operations of British Special Forces.

Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from London, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

The Guardian: Obama Lifts Suspension on Gitmo Trials


Barack Obama  has given the green light to resume military trials of terror suspects detained at Guantánamo Bay, making a sharp departure from his election promises to close the camp and bring America’s fight against terrorism back into the remit of civilian law.  The US president lifted a suspension on so-called “military commissions” which he had imposed on his first full day in the White House. By so doing, he permitted the revival of trials conducted by military officers, with a military judge presiding.

Obama also signed an executive order that moved to set into law the already existing practice on Guantánamo of holding detainees indefinitely without charge. The president sought to sweeten the pill among civil rights and liberal groups of the resumption of two of the most widely criticised aspects of George Bush‘s war on terror by emphasising that he still wished to see Guantánamo close. When he came into office in January 2009, he repeatedly promised to have the campclosed within one year. It was set up in the wake of 9/11 in 2001 and thereafter the war in Afghanistan.

As another sweetener, he also defied Republican opposition and said he would continue to allow terror suspects to be tried in federal civilian courts, known as Article III courts, on the US mainland. “I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al-Qaida and its affiliates. We will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system including Article III courts to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened,” he said.

But civil rights groups condemned what they saw as a decision that flew in the face of the president’s earlier promises to close the camp. “The irony could not be more pronounced,” said Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “He came into office saying it was one of his national security priorities to close Guantánamo, yet he has now become one of the first presidents to codify a policy of indefinite detention.”

Critics see the resumption of the military trials as confirmation that Guantánamo will be closing no time soon. Under the executive orders allowing detention without charge, there is an in-built review process that allows cases to be reconsidered after the first year and then every four years thereafter. CCR said that was in itself a tacit admission that Guantánamo would remain a place of extra-judicial detention. Dixon said that the four-year reviews were also, in legal terms, strikingly similar to the so-called combatant status review tribunals set up by the Bush administration in 2005 and struck down by the supreme court as essentially unconstitutional in 2008. “This is creating a bureaucratic morass that will achieve nothing legally but will ensure Guantánamo remains open,” he said.

Some relatives of victims of the September 2001 attacks said that they were also disappointed by the resumption of military trials. Colleen Kelly, whose brother Bill Kelly Jr died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, said that she knew all too well how important it was to protect all people, not just Americans, from the threat of terrorism. “There are some seriously dangerous people being held in Guantánamo Bay, I think the world understands that.

But I think there’s also a huge opportunity here being missed to show the world that not only does the US talk the talk, we walk the walk also.” She said that the past nine years since 9/11 showed that the criminal system of justice had proven to be fully robust enough to deal with difficult terrorism cases. “There have been more than 170 successful anti-terror prosecutions in civilian courts since 9/11, which to me suggests they work.” Some 172 detainees remain in Guantánamo, of whom fewer than 40 have been earmarked for trial in either criminal courts or military commissions.

Before the military commissions were suspended by Obama, only a handful of cases were ever fully processed under them. Most of them involved guilty pleas, such as that of the Australian David Hicks who was returned to Australia after his conviction. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver, was convicted by military tribunal in 2008 and was returned later that year to Yemen to serve the remainder of his five-and-a-half-year sentence.

BBC: How Five Afghan’s helped save the nation’s artifacts from Taliban Destruction


A miraculous tale of human ingenuity and bravery lies behind an exhibition of treasures from Afghanistan that opens at the British Museum this week. In 17 years of war after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal, and five years of Taliban rule, most of the Afghan national museum’s riches were looted and some were deliberately destroyed.

But the most valuable items survived, in a vault deep beneath the presidential palace, thanks to five men – among them museum director Omar Khan Massoudi. “He kept his nerve during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan and displayed enormous courage in not submitting to their demands and threats to reveal its location,” says British Afghan expert and member of parliament Rory Stewart. “It was an act of extraordinary courage and he performed an amazing service to his country.”

Five keys

 Large parts of the Kabul museum were left in ruins. The Kabul national museum is located a few kilometres south of the capital, in an area that repeatedly changed hands as mujahideen militias vied for influence in the early 1990s. Each time it was taken, the museum was looted again. Of the estimated 100,000 object on display in 1979, some 70% had gone by the mid-1990s.

A rocket destroyed a 4th Century wall painting in 1993. Priceless goods, some looted to order, changed hands on the international art market. Others were buried in rubble or burned as firewood. But the legendary Bactrian gold – which experts feared had been stolen and melted down – had in fact been packed up, along with a number of key objects from the collection, and moved to a Central Bank vault in the Presidential Palace in 1989.

Mr Massoudi was one of five men who had keys to the vault. All five keys were needed to open it – and each of the men risked their lives not to hand them over to the militants. The holders of the keys kept their locations secret – if a key holder died, it was agreed, the key would be passed on to the keeper’s eldest child.  In that way, the priceless artefacts were preserved. “Mr Massoudi and his staff are undoubtedly unsung heroes,” says exhibition project curator Constance Wyndham. “Without his initiative its highly unlikely this fantastic collection would be around today.”

Threats

 The Taliban destroyed many of the museum’s pre-Islamic works. Ms Wyndham says the Soviet-backed President Mohammad Najibullah, whose government fell in 1992, also played a role, though it remains unclear precisely how closely he was involved. “All that we do know is that the decision was made by a committee and President Najibullah ordered the objects to be moved to the presidential palace,” she said.

After the ingenuity of the rescue came the bravery that was required to keep the hoard safe.  Mr Massoudi and his staff have in the intervening years remained modest – and somewhat reticent – about their achievement. But his comments in the museum’s guidebook give some idea of the hazards of keeping the treasure safe from “terror, violence, civil war and the Taliban”.

Despite being subjected to various threats by the Taliban – often at gunpoint – those who knew of the secret location gave nothing away. It was not until 2003 that the store of 22,000 gold and glass objects were revealed. “Today with the grace of Allah Almighty, we have succeeded in seeing the central treasure of Afghanistan,” President Hamid Karzai declared. “Fortunately, it is in place.”

In a BBC report from the time, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani paid tribute to Central Bank staff who, he said, were “beaten almost senseless” but refused the Taliban access to the vault.

The Taliban’s disdain for pre-Islamic art became clear for all to see with the destruction of the giant Buddhist statutes at Bamiyan in 2001. They ruled, the same year, that all pre-Islamic art in the country must be destroyed and set up a special group to carry out task. Mr Massoudi estimates that they destroyed about 2,500 works of art. “These barbaric acts, which filled the heart of every decent Afghan with anger, represented an irreplaceable loss,” Mr Massoudi writes in the exhibition guidebook.

“Terrible damage was caused at every archaeological site in the country. Neither oncoming generations of Afghans nor human history will forget this era of tyranny and destruction.” Since 2004, when an inventory was completed, the treasures have been on tour around the world, drawing crowds in Canada, the United States, France, Germany and now Britain. It’s a story which exhibition organisers say is the triumph of culture and beauty over vandalism and bigotry.