"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006


"Lays out a plan to create tribunals that could impose a penalty of life imprisonment or death based on evidence never disclosed to the accused."

White House Digs Heels in over Terror War Captives

Forced by the US Supreme Court to reconsider its plans for "trying" some captives held at Guantánamo Bay, the Bush administration will turned to the Senate Armed Services Committee today with its first attempt to push a tribunal system through Congress.

In a 32-page draft bill marked "For Discussion Purposes Only," the White House challenges the high court’s recent ruling that struck down the administration’s military tribunals. The document also lays out a plan to create tribunals that could impose a penalty of life imprisonment or death based on evidence never disclosed to the accused.

On June 29, the Supreme Court sent the administration a stern rebuke when it ruled the president does not have sole authority to determine how suspected terrorists are tried. The court’s 5–3 decision declared, in essence, that the Bush administration had overreached and must either use time-honored court-martial rules or seek congressional approval of a tribunal system.

The draft bill indicates that the administration is choosing the latter approach. Administration officials declined to comment about the draft to The NewStandard,

The military commissions set up to try Guantánamo detainees were originally adopted by presidential order on November 13, 2001. To date, not a single full trial has taken place, partially because of a court challenge brought by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the first Guantánamo detainee who was scheduled to be tried before a military tribunal. Hamdan’s challenge led to the Supreme Court ruling against the tribunals.

Part of the Supreme Court’s objection to the military tribunals as designed by the Bush administration involved the systematic withholding of evidence from the defendant. In the court’s dominant opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that any confrontation "rights" could be eviscerated under the tribunal system at the direction of a single individual.

The Bush administration’s draft proposal for a new, congressionally approved tribunal system would give the Secretary of Defense the power to decide which evidence the defense could have access to.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Neal Katyal, co-counsel for Hamdan, argued that the right of the accused to confront evidence against him is indisputably one of "the most fundamental protections afforded not just by the Manual for Courts-Martial but also by the Uniform Code of Military Justice itself."

The administration’s draft bill rejects established court-martial proceedings on a number of other grounds, including the requirement for speedy trials. Speedy trials are impractical, the bill states, "due to the exigencies of wartime" and the inability of armed forces to gather evidence on the battlefield.

The administration proposes that second-hand testimony about a defendant’s statements be admissible.

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, Hamdan’s Navy-assigned co-counsel, called the administration’s strategy to modify the Uniform Military Code of Military Justice, a "bumper sticker slogan." In an interview with The NewStandard, he explained that courts martial were designed knowing that military people can’t "police the battlefield" the way they might a stateside crime scene.

"Ironically, that doesn’t seem to have held up any prosecutions at Haditha or any of the other prosecutions in Iraq," Swift said, referring to the site of a massacre for which US Marines stand accused of killing 23 Iraqi civilians. "If you believe that… then we need to take away all those rights from the Marines and the Army people as well, because [the military] won’t be able to prosecute [those cases]."

Another controversial element of the White House’s proposed legislation is the issue of using hearsay as evidence. The administration proposes that second-hand testimony about a defendant’s statements be admissible at the discretion of the military lawyer presiding over the commission.

"Hearsay statements from… fellow terrorists are often the only evidence available in this conflict," the legislation states, "given that terrorists rarely fight and declare their intention openly but instead pursue terrorist objectives in secret conspiracies, the objectives of which can often be discerned only or primarily through hearsay statements from collaborators."

But Swift argues hearsay rules exist to protect peoples’ fundamental right to confront the witnesses against them and establish whether the information was obtained under coercion.

Mocking the administration’s rationale, Swift questions the relevance of hearsay information. "I guess I could write on napkins that you’re guilty of war crimes and throw them out onto a battlefield and the administration would say that’s good enough. For a court to find beyond a reasonable doubt, they can’t be relying on rumor and innuendo which is what hearsay is designed to protect against."

Swift says the administration’s draft bill is an attempt to dress up and repackage its original plans. "It’s really not listening to [the Supreme Court ruling] and is very shortsighted. It’s not going to get us where we want to go."

by Martha Baskin
Aug. 2


Huge Numbers Of Children Are Being Killed

'You go a bit crazy when you see little body after little body coming up out of the ground'

Huge numbers of children are being killed, injured or displaced in south Lebanon. Why are so many suffering in this conflict?

Three days ago, next to the gutted and destroyed house in Qana, seven bodies lay covered with bedsheets, a blanket and a prayer mat. One small arm stretched out from under the sheets; thin, the arm of a little girl, a piece of cloth like a bracelet wrapped around the wrist. As bodies were loaded on the stretcher, I saw another dead girl; she was dressed in a black shirt with a coloured scarf wrapped loosely around her head. Her face was swollen.

In some ways I was relieved. The rumour we had heard in the hotel in Tyre was that at least 40 people, half of them children, had been in the house in Qana when it was bombed by Israeli planes, and here I was an hour later, with Red Cross workers and others running up and down, and all I could see was the bodies of two girls and five adults.

It's weird, the things that make you feel better in the south of Lebanon, but seven dead instead of 40 gave me a sense of relief.

But even as I stood there registering that emotion, hellish scenes were unfolding. Four medics carried a little boy by on an orange stretcher: he was perhaps 12 years old, dressed in black shorts and a white T-shirt with a coloured motorcycle on it. His arms were stretched behind his head, but apart from the bruises on his face and the swollen lips, he looked OK. For half a second I told myself, as I tell myself every time I see death, that he was just sleeping, and that he would be fine. But he was dead.

Then came two more boys in the arms of the rescuers. One of them, the younger, around eight years old, had his arms close to his chest, his nose and mouth covered with blood. The elder, around 10, had dirt and debris in his mouth. Their slight bodies were put on a blanket, the head of the younger boy left resting on the shoulder of the elder, then four men carried the blanket off, stopping twice to rest as they took them away. The bodies of the boys were piled with other corpses in the back of an ambulance.

Two more small dead boys followed them. The medics were running out of stretchers, so they piled the corpses of the boys on one orange stretcher. One of the kids was slightly chubby; he was wearing a red T-shirt and shorts. His head rested on the lap of the younger, who was about six years old; both had the same exploding lips, covered with blood and dirt. It was obvious to everyone that these boys were not sleeping.

Then another child was pulled from under the rubble, and another followed, and then another. You go a little crazy when you see little body after little body coming up out of the ground. I looked around me and all I could see in the house was the detritus of their short lives - big plastic bags filled with clothes, milk cans, plastic toys and a baby carriage.

By three in the afternoon, when the corpse of a one-year-old boy was pulled from the rubble, he looked more like a mud statue than a child. The medics held him high above their heads, clear of the rubble. The faces of the rescue workers said everything that needed to be said.

What is obvious to everyone covering this conflict is that children are bearing the brunt of it. The few official figures collated so far seem to support this. Unicef says that 37 of the 60 dead in Qana on Sunday were children, and everywhere you go, it seems that it is the children who are being killed, injured and displaced. Yesterday the Lebanese government said that of the 828 of its civilians killed in the conflict so far, around 35% have been children - that's around 290. Unicef also estimates that about a third of the dead have been children, although it bases that figure on the fact that an estimated 30% of Lebanon's population are children, rather than any actual count of the dead. There are no official figures yet for the number of wounded children, but they will certainly exceed the number killed; as for those displaced, Unicef says that 45% of the estimated 900,000 Lebanese to have fled their homes are children.

Aid agencies believe that the reason children are suffering so much in this conflict is because of the big families that are traditional in south Lebanon. "You are not talking about nuclear families, you are talking about families huddling together with four, five or six children. Inevitably, a high percentage of children are killed," says Anis Salem, a Unicef spokesman. "We estimate that before Qana, 30% of the deaths were children, but it is a very fluid situation and that figure can quickly become redundant."

It is not just a matter of many children huddled together, of course: with numbers come all sorts of problems. If an air raid is coming, and you are running, how many children can you pick up and carry with you? How many do you have to leave behind?

Children often suffer most in wars like this - wars in which civilians suffer heavy casualties. They are weaker, they may be too small to run or walk, they may suffer more on long journeys by foot. And as Amelia Bookstein, head of humanitarian policy at Save the Children, points out: "Children who are wounded, separated from their families, or traumatised, may be too frightened or unable to flee their homes."

There are the official statistics, and then there are the children, who seem to be everywhere in the heart of this conflict, all with their own, painful, awful stories. A week ago I met Abbas Sha'ito, a chubby 12-year-old boy in a bright orange T-shirt who was sitting on the side of a road south of Tyre, blood covering his face, his T-shirt torn by the bomb that had hit the minivan he had been in. He and 17 others had been inside; his mother, brother and aunt were all injured, moaning and in agony a few feet away. Inside the minivan remained the headless corpse of his uncle, and the bodies of his grandmother and another man who had been fleeing with them.

Abbas was weeping, and had an arm round his mother, who seemed to be fading fast: she was injured in the chest and head, and one of her arms was almost severed at the bicep. "Don't leave me, mother," the boy wept. "Don't go, don't go."

It was clear that his mother believed herself to be close to death. "Take care of your brothers and sisters," she said to Abbas.

"Don't leave me," Abbas kept saying.

"My purse is under me. There is money, take care of it," his mother said; as she did, her head began drooping, and Abbas screamed, and a medic rushed in: "Don't cry, don't cry, she will be OK. Just keep talking to her," the medic said.

As it is, Abbas's mother is still alive, although still in intensive care, but Abbas was not to know this then. He buried his face in his hands and wept, while his brother Ali stood nearby, one hand bandaged and his eyes on the horizon.

Last Wednesday, in a hospital in Tyre, I met Samah Shihab, a seven-year-old girl with beautiful long eyelashes from the hamlet of Mlooka near Tyre. She was in the yard of her house with her two brothers, aged four and nine, and her 14-year-old sister, when a shell fell. "I was playing with my sister and brothers when the rocket came," said Samah. "They started screaming and crying. There was pressure in my ears and my hands and legs were all in blood. I was scared. My brother was screaming and I was scared." According to her doctors, Samah, who was badly burned and needs skin grafts on her legs, is unlikely to walk again.

On Monday I met Ali (he didn't give me a second name), who is nine and had been hiding in the basement of his house, along with his aunts, his grandmother and an uncle with learning difficulties, for 20 days in the village of Bint Jbeil. While the family hid below, war raged above: the village has suffered the heaviest shelling of anywhere in the south of Lebanon, as well as intense street battles between Israeli soldiers and Hizbullah fighters. When Ali emerged from the basement on Monday, during a brief halt to the aerial bombardment, he was visibly frightened and shocked, and seemed unable to recognise his surroundings.

As he made his first steps on the big chunks of rubble and concrete strewn everywhere, clutching a bottle of water in one arm and a blue bag in the other, he began shaking and crying. His grandfather, who was leading him through the rubble, collapsed in the shade of a doorway, and Ali and other family members continued their walk to the Red Cross vehicles - parked a kilometre away, at the edge of the village, beyond the edge of the vast and almost impassable rubble field - without him. I walked with them.

As we walked, jumping from one boulder to the other, Ali said: "My father and mother went with my other brothers and sisters to another town. They said they will come and get me when the bombs stop."

In the scorching sunshine above, Israeli jets were flying, their sound mixed with that of the drones. Suddenly a thud came from the hills and Ali froze. "They are going to bomb again!" He started to cry. "Why are the Israelis hitting us? Do they hate us? My cousin Mahmoud called me on the phone and he told me that the nuclear bombs are really big. Are they as big as these rockets?" It's hard to convey quite how shocked, perhaps quite literally shell-shocked - this little boy was. He was almost delusional.

We reached the town square. There was a large, deep crater on one side of it, and a half-destroyed petrol station on the other. Burnt-out cars lay flipped over on to their sides. A few hundred metres later we had to stop for a rest. Ali opened his blue bag and got out a small green bottle of mineral water. It had only a few centimetres left, but he sipped some and passed it to me. I was about to throw the bottle away when he said, "No, no, this is my charm - it's green, the colour of Imam Hussein." (Imam Hussein was the grandson of the prophet Muhammad; he is central to the Shia faith, and a great symbol of martyrdom.)

A few hundred metres further on we reached the Red Cross ambulances. Ali squeezed in with his aunts and other women and children; they were to be taken to the displacement centres in Sidon and Beirut. Ali, it turned out, was fortunate. As I left town, I saw, all along the road, children and their families who had been forced to walk to safety. One father was pushing a wheelbarrow with four young children inside.

In another hospital in Tyre, which has seen 120 injured and 35 dead so far, I meet the young son of the head of the hospital. Muhammad Najem, 11, spends his days inside where it's safe, because a week ago a car was hit by a missile on the road directly outside the hospital. Muhammad draws on a computer: his latest drawing is of Hizbullah fighter. Next to the fighter is a star of David stabbed with a dagger - blood drips down into a vat full of blood marked "Hell".

His elder brother Ali Najem, a fourth-year medical student in his 20s, is rueful. "The Israelis are planting very bad hatred in the children against Israel," he says. Ali has spent the past three weeks documenting the stories of the children who have passed injured or with their injured families through his father's hospital. He particularly remembers one boy, aged about seven, who was caught in a convoy that was hit in the first days of the bombing. This boy described to him, quite calmly, "as if it were a cartoon", how a baby from the car in front of them was ejected out of the window when the vehicle was hit. The boy's father had been killed at the scene.

Ali also talks about the impact on women delivering babies in the midst of conflict. In the first week of the war one of them named her new son Intisar, which means victory. In the past week, two new names have been given to newborns at this hospital: "Wahid, which means 'the lonely', and Dayaa, which means 'the lost'." The woman who gave birth to Dayaa did so alone, having been separated from her husband somewhere in the Bekaa Valley. Ali says that she became disturbed, and called out to her husband: "If you don't come and take me out of this place, I will put myself under these bombs and kill myself and the baby." For newborns, as well as for the older children, the scars of this war are going to take a long time to fade.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports
Wednesday August 2, 2006
The Guardian