Lauren Booth Reports from Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal
Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal Day 1
When authority entrusted to further truth and justice betrays that trust, two options remain: one is to throw up your hands in despair and resignation; the other is to reclaim that power and to hold authority accountable.
This is the statement of intent from the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War on the first day of its proceedings against former US President George Bush and 11 members of his regime. Over the next five days, the Tribunal will hear from victims of US torture in both Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
On ‘trial’ in their absence are former U.S. President George W. Bush and his associates. Namely Richard (Dick) Cheney, former U.S. Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld, former Defence Secretary, Alberto Gonzales, then Counsel to President Bush, David Addington, then General Counsel to the Vice-President, William Haynes II, then General Counsel to Secretary of Defense, Jay Bybee, then Assistant Attorney General, and John Choon Yoo, former Deputy Assistant Attorney-General. The charge reads as follows:
The Accused persons had committed the Crime of Torture and War Crimes, in that: The Accused persons had wilfully participated in the formulation of executive orders and directives to exclude the applicability of all international conventions and laws, namely the Convention against Torture 1984, Geneva Convention III 1949, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter in relation to the war launched by the U.S. and others in Afghanistan (in 2001) and in Iraq (in March 2003); Additionally, and/or on the basis and in furtherance thereof, the Accused persons authorised, or connived in, the commission of acts of torture and cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment against victims in violation of international law, treaties and conventions including the Convention against Torture 1984 and the Geneva Conventions, including Geneva Convention III 1949.
The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC) is following the due process of the law in bringing these charges against the accused. In 2009, the Commission, having received complaints from torture victims from Guantanamo and Iraq and having conducted a painstaking and an in-depth investigation for close to two years. Thus, two charges on war crimes were drawn and filed against the both the Bush and the Blair regimes.
This War Crimes Tribunal heard the first charge in November 2011 against the two main accused; former U.S. President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Anthony L. Blair. After a 4-day trial Anthony L. Blair was found guilty of Crimes Against Peace. Both former heads of state were found to have violated the United Nations Charter and international law when they planned, prepared and invaded the sovereign state Iraq on 19 March 2003 using false and misleading ‘intelligence’ as justification for the ensuing, long term, massacre.
An avalanche of information, emerging after the launch of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, are providing evidence of the ways in which almost every facet of international law is being disregarded with impunity. Including the way in which the wars were launched and conducted of the wars – and the politically endorsed torture of civilians. The perpetrators of such barbarism are not being made to account for their acts. Indeed there is no legally constituted forum to address the grievances of the world community offended by these crimes against humanity.
The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal is constituted of eminent persons with legal qualifications. Please visit the website of the Tribunal for more details.
The judges of the Tribunal, headed by retired Malaysian Federal Court judge Tan Sri Dato Lamin bin Haji Mohd Yunus, details of the judges panel can be found at the Tribunals website.
In the event the tribunal convicts any of the accused, the only sanction is that the name of the guilty person will be entered in the Commission’s Register of War Criminals and publicised worldwide. However it is worth noting that since the tribunal found Blair guilty last year, Bush junior has cancelled several international trips for fear of legal reprisals and attempts to take such cases further.
The tribunal is a tribunal of conscience and a peoples’ initiative.
What follows is my partial transcription of the proceedings plus some conversations and personal observations. It is longer than pieces you usually read perhaps. It is much longer thank is usual for a news website. But the 1.4 million dead and tortured in Iraq deserve our attention. Soundbites and summaries no longer cut it. Read what you can, digest what you can cope with. Above all share these proceedings with your university or journalistic contacts and all those of conscience. Do what you like. But please don’t stay silent or turn away from your brothers and sister in humanity under such abject suffering. Those who demand justice and freedom from the aggressor of our age; The United States of America and Israel.
Yours in peace and in prayer to the One God of us all.
DAY ONE OF THE PROCEEDINGS
I take coffee with three Iraqui university students. They want to know why Palestine ‘whose dead number in the thousands’ is the cause of such global outrage as opposed to Iraq ‘where millions are dead and millions displaced.’ Their genocide is being ignored there is no doubt. The man with the beard shakes with emotion, as he talks of the murder of thousands of scholars nationwide in Iraq. The other tells me that children for decades have struggled to even have pencils in schools because of the blockade and the subsequent occupation.
The Tribunal’s first witness is Abbas Abid. The defence council seeks permission for the witness to appear covered in court and for his image not appear. We are told this is because he fears the risk of further reprisals and danger back in Iraq. He appears with a Palestinian kaffiyeh wrapped about his face revealing only his eyes.
Witness is 48 year old man, married from Fallujah with five children born before his arrest. He was head of science and engineering in Iraq at the time.
First detained August 28 2005. He was removed violently from his house and after transferred to nearby base where he was detained for four weeks in the then secret prison known as, Jadrya bunker or shelter.
In Baghdad there were five shelters against nuclear attack. One of these were changed into a secret prison named above. The Iraqui National Guard and US troops launched a raid on his uncle’s home with 4 American Humvees and 12 trucks of Iraqi soldiers. More than 15 Iraqi soldiers stormed the house in a ‘terrifying manner’. Smashing down doors and using sound bombs. They would scream and terrorise those inside the home ie his brothers family. His nephews came to his families home crying for help. His brother was absent at the time so he was called to help them. He said he was ready to answer any questions and was entirely co operative. They said ‘why so many Holy books – there are too many holy books!’ I told them – everyone in the family has their own Quran. The soldiers examined some articles from the internet on the situation in Iraq. He was told to follow them for questioning. He was taken to Al Munhtanna Brigade Headquarters for questioning. They beat him up demanding to know the names of ‘terrorists’ in his neighbourhood.
‘They even electrocuted me’ he says. He was cuffed with hands behind him. A cord with a positive and negative charge attached to his hands and then attached to a power supply.
He stands up to show us his hands behind him.
The wire cable had current in it immediately and he felt the shocks straight away. The place he was in was’ new’ and not a’ professional place for torturing’ so they had amateur tools which they used at this time.
What was the effect of the electrocution he is asked?
I would turn into a dancer” he says to nervous laughter around the court. “You cannot react and your senses stop and you just shake, dancing’.
This was done more than three times and he was then threatened with being shot. The US soldiers, would use an AK47 and re load it with his eyes covered, then shoot near his ears saying the next shot would be to his head if he didn’t co-operate. He knew it was an AK47 as it is a popular gun in Iraq.
He saw Americans in uniform. The eye cover had a small space at the bottom and he could tell from the lower attire of the US military uniform. Plus their voices and accents were American. After the torture was finished he would see the soldiers involved were indeed American.
They tortured some of his cousins to get testimony against him. With 7 detainees he was moved to Al Jadrya- he was again tortured using a wide range of methods
- Electric shocks to his body especially the penis
- Hitting with tools, pipes
- Forced to drink water mixed with diaretics then having his penis tied to prevent urination
- Hung to wall with weights hanging from his penis
- Threatens of sexual assault and abuse to sexual organs.
- Shooting live rounds around his body
During the investigation period he was not given food and only drink with diaretics as above.
They pulled out his finger nails – the audience gasps using pliers – more gasps.
He was hung with his hands behind his back until his shoulders dislocated. Detainees were forced to have sex with each other. Solid objects were forced into the rectum of detainees. Forced standing for hours.
He was beaten on every part of his body – his genitals were assaulted. Detainees were used as ‘ash trays’ by the torturers.
In a room 6×6 he was with thirty detainees for three days. This room was a temporary room after torture, where detainees were brought in unconscious. Piles of bodies would lay there. He was wake from time to time and would then faint again.
A bag was put over his head for two months and only removed when food was given. Some detainees would have a bag on their head for more than five months. All the time in the prison detainees had bags on their heads from the minute they arrived to the moment they left.
The room he was kept in was so overcrowded no one could sleep lying down and all had injuries. Everyone had to urinate in plastic bottles by the door. Visits to the toilet were permitted only once every four days. This was timed at one minute per person. At all other times we had to discharge our waste into plastic bags by the door. These would be trodden on or tip over and spill waste all over the floor. The bags were only emptied every four days.
No medical care was available at all and men died from their injuries. He lists the names of almost a dozen men who died from their injuries in the 8 weeks he was there.
Water was withheld. A litre per detainee every three days was the ration. Sometimes thirst would become so bad that detainees would drink from the urine bottles. He confirms that US troops not only knew about the torture facilities but that they visited them all the time.
On release he was charged ten thousand USD by the authorities. He was released with 3 other detainees. On release two cars followed him – one a BMW with darkened windows. He evaded them. He later found out that the other two released at the same time were killed and their families forced to pay huge amounts of money in order to reclaim the bodies.
He stayed just one hour in his house with his family before moving to another house and then leaving his country. He is now back in Fallujah.
He says ‘my suffering was a test from Allah which I endured with patience. I am now unable to have children. I have nightmares all the time…Terrible dreams of someone coming to catch me, torture me or hurt my family. My family have similar nightmares of soldiers coming to torture me’.
When he married he wished to have 15 children. And according to plan he and his wife would conceive every two years until the time he was detained. He was happy to be released and he was overwhelmed by the joy of his loved ones but, the worst thing, that happened- the thing that took all his joy since, is the fact he left his wife pregnant at the time of his capture. But as a result of the trauma of this capture – she miscarried twins. After going back to his life he realised his dream of a large family was shattered. He cannot have further children due to his injuries. He is giving this testimony to the world that those who act cruelly must be brought to justice.
The court defence lawyer examines Abid Abbas, who was born in Abu Ghraib district. He says that as the man has five children he is fortunate. Intimating that his long standing damage from his torture has not such serious effects. “Each man has his own dreams” replies Abid to accepting laughter around the court.
He is asked are you from Sunni or Shia?
You see this question regarding being a Muslim Sunni or Shia only started to be asked here and in other parts of the world after the war.’
A judge makes a call of order asking for the ‘point’ to be reached. Clearly defining the parameters of the court as different from those of the US soldiers and their agenda.
The defence lawyer for Bush and his cohorts questions the ages of Mr Abbas children, how much they actually saw, how he spoke to the soldiers. He is asked many times –
‘Were you scared, you were scared weren’t you? You were scared for your brother’s children.’
‘No’ replies Abbas ‘not scared’,
When asked if he lost his position in Saddam’s government he says
Is that relevant to the case?
He is asked then how he supported the large family during the occupation as a man who had lost his position.
‘As a Muslim I believe that my wealth is managed by Allah and I still had a job until the detention in 2005’.
He is pushed on the question of whether the Saddam government had torturers and prisons.
‘Is this a trial of the previous government?’
The prosecution attorney Francis Boyle intervenes. Calling for questions of the ‘victim’s credibility to be dismissed and avoided’ as well as questions about the Saddam government which is not on trial in this court or this case.
The Bush defence asks if the witness had owned a gun and how he recognised the AK47 sound as mentioned. Witness clarifies that serving in the army was compulsory for at least two years.
‘Its very easy to differentiate between the Iraqi army and US forces by their uniforms, accents, voices and language.’
The defence looks very weak. Interestingly all the mechanics of its questioning have been played out in the mainstream press many times. They can be read in papers from the Telegraph to Ynetnews in Israel and Fox in the US. The tired strategies of the oppressive regimes; first attempt to destroy the credibility of those with a message, a truth, you do not wish to hear or see shared. If that fails. compare the crime committed by yourself (your ally/paymaster) to alleged crimes of the regime the victim lived under – or if not relevant then to any other oppressive regime, not your own.
Finally try to make the victim into the aggressor via his views or his knowledge. Thus;
1. Were you angry with the occupation
2. Did you own a gun or serve in the military?
3. Do you hold a grudge against the US?
Overall the Bush/Cheney defence team are doing a good job at being as obnoxious and intellectually limited as a US team – if that team were lead by Fox newsreaders rather than attorneys…
Did the Americans intervene at any time to stop the torture on you?
No. On the contrary in the first three weeks they would collaborate with the guards and beat him up.
Testimony from Mozzam Begg. Former Guantanamo Bay detainee, director of human rights organisation Cage Prisoner. British citizen of 41 years old.
Moazzam Begg wants to put on record his torture in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
In 2001 he went to build a school for girls in Afghanistan. When the region became dangerous due to the American invasion, he was evacuated, with his family, to Islamabad, Pakistan. On 31 January 2002, he was arrested in this house in Islamabad. He was questioned about his presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was held for three weeks then handed over to the Americans. The minute he was handed over he was shackled and thrown to the ground. He was reverse shackled and carried into a plane. Punched and kicked throughout. A knife was put to his throat. Photos were taken of him in his hood.
On arrival he was punched and kicked. Cold steel ripped off his clothes. Photos were taken of him without clothes. Dogs were brought in and he was racially and religiously mocked and abused.
He was flown to Kadahar in Afghanistan where he asked when was the last time he saw Mullah Omar or Osama Bin Laden. He was taken to a tent. On the way to interrogations barking dogs were brought to ‘bark in my face.’
Once I was asked to write my entire life story and then the entire thing was torn up.
He was moved to Bagram. No one held there was allowed to walk, talk or move.
He used to see the taxi driver ‘Dilawar’ from his cell. The man was shackled to the sides of his cell. He saw him slumped at one time and instead of the soldiers administering medical aid they came in and kicked and punched him. He later found out that the man had died. The award winning documentary ‘Taxi to the dark side’ focuses on this murder of an Afghani civilian detainee held by the US troops.
Moazzem was threatened with being sent to Egypt on several occasions. In Egypt he learnt later a man was waterboarded who then gave testimony that he worked with Saddam Hussein – Ibn Sheikh Halibi. And more testimony about WMD’s. This testimony was then used to make the case for war by Colin Powell and others.
An American soldier who told him he could be sent to Egypt or ‘Syria’. This says Begg proves ‘an intelligence link between the US and Syrian leaderships.’
Did British intelligence play a part?
Yes – an immense role. I was intensely interrogated for a month in solitary confinement by the CIA, FBI, US military intelligence and also by British intelligence. For the first time the British police are examining the British government for complicity in torture…enquiries have been ordered by the British PM into cases of torture.
During his incarceration Moazzem Begg wrote letters via the Red Cross to his wife and never got replies. At one point photos were brought in of his wife and children. A woman was heard screaming terribly nearby and profanities were being yelled at her. He believed his wife was being tortured as a result of this. It was a ruse.
Conditions in Bagram
No tea no fruits no fresh food. Each cell was communal with ten prisoners with a bucket for a toilet. The stench was disgusting. Showers were communal and humiliating. Women prisoners were present during the showers and ‘trophy’ photos were taken. He was shackled in ‘3 piece shackles’ connecting arms and legs to neck and waist
Ear muffs over his ears and goggles on his eyes which were so tight as to be agony. He begged for a sedative and was given one. He arrived in Guantanamo Bay groggy as a result.
He spent 20 months in Guantanamo Bay. He was designated a ‘high risk detainee’. A document; a confession was produced for him to sign. Moazzem Begg was warned that failure to sign could lead to execution. Or he would spend decades in in Gitmo. He was in a state of constant anxiety. He continues; ‘The female psychiatrist ( I was sent to) told me a way to commit suicide using my trousers’. Drugs were given to aid sleep after which her would suffer hallucinations.
I never knew what my crime was to this day. The absence of due process became worse than the actual detention’.
I never imagined the United States to be a country that would behave in this manner’.
When he heard US accents after being held by the Pakistanis at first he felt relief – ‘at last the good guys are here. That quickly changed.’
His testimony continues.
Nine people have died in Guantanamo.
Children are in Gauntanamo who have grown into adults there.
The US, Bush and his cohorts have not accepted responsibility for anything…it was said of us we were the ‘worst of the worst’ if so then why have some 600 of us been released?
There is no rule of law in the US. We still carry the stigma of being a Guantanamo Bay inmates to this day…until someone is charged and prosecuted for this it is very hard to remove this from over our heads.
The court is told that ‘Guantanamo is the tip of the iceberg. You go through secret prisons that makes Guantanamo look relatively tame’.
Under examination Mozzem Begg describes having some conversations and relationships with US soldiers at Gitmo..
Would he visit the US now?
He was invited recently. He was asked to visit the family of a 14 year old boy who is now 24 and remains in Gitmo. When the boy arrived at Gitmo he had a bullet wound. When Moazzem Begg arrived in Canada to meet the boys family, he was taken off the plane by police for being a ‘former Guantanamo Bay inmate.’
The defence asks – are you a member of Al Quaeda?
Moazzem answers he has never been a member nor never will be and that the fact the British government has made an out of court settlement with him should be enough proof of this.
What of the school that Moazzem had gone to Afghanistan to help build?
It was ‘also hit by a cruise missile - it was lucky no child was killed.’.
Defence asks about Moazzam’s book stall in the UK in the years before his detention. Was it a religious book stall?
In 2001 there was a raid on this shop and items were taken away under the uk terrorism act. The items were returned. He believes this was the process that was begun by Uk intelliegence and allowed us to keep him imprisoned.
I have never been to America but America has been to me…I have never hurt an American but America has hurt me.’
He didn’t meet his son until he was three years old. There are says MB ‘ways of asking, processes’ what you can’t or shouldn’t’ do is take them to a place where the law doesn’t apply like GBay. Even iguanas are protected on the base but no one in orange jumpsuits has any rights there.
He is asked if he was raped in Guantanamo Bay.
Uncomfortably MB says ‘things were placed where they shouldn’t be.’
Asked if the thought the conditions had ‘improved over time. Moazzem Begg quotes Malcom X;
‘You don’t take a knife and put it in a man’s back nine inches deep – withdraw it two inches and say things are better.’
The US propaganda – outlined so well in James Yee’s book – that ‘some prisoners put on weight’ in Gitmo was brought up. As was the laughable sop that religious freedoms were respected. In Gitmo Begg did not know when Ramadan was, when Eid was, when the prayer times were at first.
Books and TV?
‘No TV there were some books usually English classics – Charles Dickens.’
Under examination, Moazzem Begg admits to reading Harry Potter in Guantanamo Bay – which? – the first five. To laughter and with a slight smile, he says;
‘These are some of the worst admissions I have had to make’.
‘Am I angry? If anyone wasn’t angry there would be something wrong with them’.
Recently he met with part of the Task force for detainee rights. He used his time to talk to them. He has invited Americans who served at Gitmo to his home.
‘These Americans some of whom kept me from my children are now in my home playing with them. My thoughts are that I am ready to forgive any American who asks for forgiveness. I am not at liberty to forgive for anyone else who is still suffering at their hands’.
He is asked if he can ‘understand’ the thought process that could have brought someone to close an eye to torture. The fear?
‘I have met many people I would consider torturers in my life. One was called the King of Torture and the Monster. He was responsible for the interrogation of many prisoners. One of whom (prisoners) said he (the torturer) tried to rape him’.
In Abu Ghraib he was present at abuse of females.
‘ In 2008 or 7 I received a call from my lawyers on whether I would be a character witness to him in the case regarding female prisoners’.
Begg said that Damien Corsetti, the US soldier called the Monster, said to him
“please forgive me -what I had become in Guantanamo Bay was as a result of the propaganda I had been fed by my country and my leaders.”
Corsetti realised what he had done and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns as a result.