"The US military has likewise been engaging in what any honest observer would call terrorism in Afghanistan all along: night raids on homes in which women and children are gunned down, air assaults and drone attacks on wedding parties and the notorious policy of “double taps,” in which a suspected Taliban leader is hit with an air strike, and then a second missile is fired at those who rush to help the wounded, or at the subsequent funeral. These are the actions of a rogue, terrorist state......"

A Nation Of Cowards Fears Freeing Taliban POWs – OpEd

Back during World War II — a bitterly fought, bloody conflict that lasted seven years (four years for the US) — many German prisoners of war were held in camps in the US. Others held by US forces, French forces and British forces were held in camps in Britain and France. Most were released fairly quickly after the war ended, unless they were suspected of war crimes, in which case they were held for more questioning and investigation. By the end of 1948, virtually all German prisoners captured by the US, British and French had been released and repatriated to Germany. (The fate for German POWs in the Soviet Union was much worse, largely because of German brutality on the Eastern Front during the war there.)
It’s worth recalling this history as we look at the hysteria that is erupting now over the release of five Taliban fighters from long captivity in the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
These men, who are prisoners of war, captured in Afghanistan where they were fighting the US invading army, were released in a prisoner swap that freed Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier captured by the Taliban five years ago when he strayed from his base in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.
To hear the howls from Republicans and even some Democrats like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, you’d think these five prisoners, who have been put under the jurisdiction of officials in Qatar, which promises to hold them in that country and to monitor their activities for a year, pose a mortal threat to the US, and to every American living here.
It’s the same hysteria that has prevented the Obama administration from simply closing down the Guantanamo concentration camp and either freeing or moving its remaining prisoners to federal prisons in the US.
And this hysteria is only going to get worse as the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest military conflict, finally winds down. That’s because as illegal as the detention center at Guantanamo has been from day one, when it was set up under the legal dodge that since it was on leased Cuban soil, it was not a US jurisdiction and thus not subject to US laws concerning the right to a trial, the right of the accused to hear evidence presented against himself, the right not to be tortured, etc., once that war ends there will be absolutely no justification, however baroque, to justify holding Afghan fighters.
The Obama, or some successor administration, will almost certainly continue to try and argue that “Al Qaeda” fighters held at Guantanamo are not POWs, but rather are “terrorists,” and thus can be held indefinitely. They are wrong under international law, and by any honest reading of the US constitution, but they will probably continue, with the blessing of our thoroughly corrupted Supreme Court, to claim that the so-called “War on Terror” gives them the right to hold “terrorists” indefinitely without trial. But that still does not apply to the Taliban, who have not committed acts of terror against the US, but merely have been fighting to defend their own country from the US invader.
Once that Afghan War is over, and the US is gone from the scene, the POWs held from that war must be repatriated.
Most Americans don’t get this. Like the Ukrainian government in Kiev, which calls all pro-Russian separatist fighters in Eastern Ukraine “terrorists,” the US has been calling all those it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan “terrorists,” deliberately conflating alleged Al Qaeda terrorists with the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The US has also conflated the Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners it holds in Guantanamo as all being “terrorists.”
They are not. There is not one instance on record in which an Afghan fighter has engaged in an act of terrorism against a person or even a physical location in the US (although it should also be noted that with the US conducting military attacks in Afghanistan, the Taliban would be within their legal rights under the rules of war to attack targets inside the US.) That has been true all through this interminable war, and was true before the war too.
Certainly Taliban fighters have engaged in actions that the US calls “terrorism” inside Afghanistan, such as bombing street markets and hotels where westerners (often US-hired mercenary forces and support personnel for the US war effort) dwell, but this is a dirty war. The US military has likewise been engaging in what any honest observer would call terrorism in Afghanistan all along: night raids on homes in which women and children are gunned down, air assaults and drone attacks on wedding parties and the notorious policy of “double taps,” in which a suspected Taliban leader is hit with an air strike, and then a second missile is fired at those who rush to help the wounded, or at the subsequent funeral. These are the actions of a rogue, terrorist state.
In any event, it is absurd, and really pathetic, to see Americans and their smarmy elected officials, quailing at and denouncing the freeing of Taliban prisoners, or expressing horror and outrage any suggestion that such prisoners be transferred to US prisons.
If the Allied Forces in World War II could confidently and securely hold thousands of hardened German soldiers as POWs in US camps while the war was on, and could let them go when the war ended, surely this country can survive the repatriation or release of a few dozen remaining suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners from Guantanamo (remember, none of these guys has even been tried!).
If we can’t handle that, we need to change the last line of the national anthem to: “Oh say does that Star-Spangled Banner look nice, o’er the land of the meek, and the home of the mice.”

Dave Lindorff
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com
Prisoner swap: The men released on May 31, 2014 - on the left, US Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and on the right, five Taliban prisoners released from Guantanamo to Qatar.

"John Bellinger, who served as a legal adviser in the Bush administration. On Lawfare, Bellinger wrote, “it is likely that the US would be required, as a matter of international law, to release them shortly after the end of 2014, when US combat operations cease in Afghanistan. "

Missing The Point On Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap And The Release Of Bowe Bergdahl – OpEd


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Saturday, at the White House, President Obama announced that, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held for five years by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, he had released five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.

Although the announcement was initially greeted positively, the president was soon under pressure from critics claiming that the five men were “battle-hardened Taliban commanders,” as the Washington Post put it, whose release posed a threat to America’s national security.

Some of the critical voices also claimed that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter who should have been abandoned, and others chided President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Who are the five men released from Guantánamo?

However, there are problems with all of the criticisms. The claims that the five men were “battle-hardened,” for example, are not accurate. One, Khairullah Khairkhwa, had been the governor of the western province of Herat under the Taliban. In February 2011 President Karzai specifically requested his release, and in March 2011 Hekmat Karzai, the director of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based research and advocacy organization, told Al-Jazeera, “His release will be influential to the peace process,” adding, “Mr. Khairkhwa is well respected amongst the Taliban and was considered a moderate by those who knew him.”

Another of the five, Abdul Haq Wasiq, was described by the US as the Taliban’s deputy chief of intelligence, although his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, stated that his job “consisted of directing investigations involving espionage, bribery, internal affairs, and anti-corruption,” and that he “also worked with local police forces to resolve other criminal issues.”

Another man, Mohammed Nabi Omari, was involved with the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, but seems to have been included in the negotiations not for his general importance to the Taliban, but because he was involved with the pro-Taliban Haqqani Network, the group that had held Bowe Bergdahl.

The two other men, Mullah Norullah Noori and Mullah Mohammed Fazil, are the only two who fit the “battle-hardened” definition. Both had been military commanders in northern Afghanistan, and were allegedly involved in the mass killings of thousands of Shi’ite Muslims (from the Hazara ethnic group) between 1998 and 2001. These are disturbing allegations, of course, but it should be borne in mind that, like most of the senior Taliban figures the US faced after the invasion in October 2001, their energies, however malevolent, had been exclusively focused on their opponents in Afghanistan, and not on the United States.

Misplaced criticism of the prisoner swap

In addition, two other facts have generally been lost in the criticism of President Obama’s actions: firstly, the men were not freed outright in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, but were transferred to Qatar, where the government has provided assurances that they will not be allowed to travel for a year; and secondly, with President Obama planning a major drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan at the end of the year, it is not unsurprising that moves are being made — like the prisoner swap — that may lead to negotiations taking place between the US and the Taliban. It is easy to forget, looking only at the latest storm in the media, but this prisoner swap did not come out of the blue, and has been discussed for the last two years.

In addition, it is also apparent that the drawdown of troops will probably make the ongoing imprisonment of Taliban members untenable, as was explained by John Bellinger, who served as a legal adviser in the Bush administration. On Lawfare, Bellinger wrote, “it is likely that the US would be required, as a matter of international law, to release them shortly after the end of 2014, when US combat operations cease in Afghanistan. The Administration appears to have reached a defensible, hold-your-nose compromise by arranging, in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, for the individuals to be held in Qatar for a year before they return to Afghanistan.”

As for Bowe Bergdahl and the circumstances of his capture, as well as the criticism of the administration’s failure to notify Congress of its plans, both topics were addressed on Sunday by defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who said that the operation to free Bergdahl came after intelligence suggested his “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.”

As Al-Jazeera described it, the decision “was not relayed to Congress because officials believed Bergdahl’s life would be further endangered.” In Hagel’s words, “We couldn’t afford any leaks, for obvious reasons.” He added that President Obama’s decision to order the exchange was made “essentially to save his life,” and also explained that administration officials had concluded that the president “had the authority to order the operation under Article 2 of the Constitution.”

On Tuesday, in Warsaw, during a trip to Poland to discuss Eastern European security, President Obama also spoke about the prisoner swap, its timing and the role of Congress. “We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Bergdahl,” he said. “We saw an opportunity, and we were concerned about Bergdahl’s health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity.” He added that “the process was truncated because we wanted to make sure we would not miss that window.”

What the prisoner swap means for the men still held at Guantánamo

For the men still held at Guantánamo, and particularly for the 78 men (of the remaining 149 prisoners) who have been cleared for release but are still held (75 in January 2010 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and three in recent months by Periodic Review Boards), the release of the five Taliban prisoners will only reinforce the notion that, to get out of Guantánamo, you need to be perceived as something other than insignificant. Since 2007, they have seen men charged in the military commission trial system be convicted, or accept plea deals, and be sent home, while they remain trapped, with no end in sight to their long ordeal. 58 of these 78 men are Yemenis, still held because of US fears about the security situation in their home country.

President Obama needs to find the courage to break this deadlock, as it is profoundly shocking that the US continues to hold — apparently indefinitely — men it said it no longer wanted to hold.

Others, too, have reason to be upset about the release of the Taliban prisoners — men like Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the Syrian who is on a hunger strike and being force-fed despite being cleared for release. He and other cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated would like President Obama to take up the recent offer by President Mujica of Uruguay to offer them new homes, and it is unclear why this has not yet happened. Also in need of serious action on the president’s part is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was first cleared for release under President Bush in 2007.

Right now, however, those who must be feeling a sense of abandonment the most keenly are the Afghans left behind, whose stories I discussed in two articles in 2012, when the prisoner swap was first mooted, “The ‘Taliban Five’ and the Forgotten Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo,” and “US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo.”

Four of these men were cleared for release by the task force in 2010, including two men profiled here at “Close Guantánamo” — Shawali Khan and Abdul Ghani. Eight other Afghans are still held who have not been cleared for release, although some of them are also the victims of exaggeration and misplaced intelligence, like Obaidullah, for example, whose wrongful imprisonment we highlighted in 2012.

I hope that the media and politicians soon move on from their untenable positions regarding the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, and that the plight of the cleared prisoners who are still held will be noticed. I also hope that time is running out for those who believe that Guantánamo is a place where they can hold people forever without due process, and that John Bellinger is correct to point out that, with the drawdown of US troops at the end of the year, it will no longer be acceptable under international law for Taliban prisoners to continue to be held.

Even if arguments can be made for continuing to hold prisoners allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, this, realistically, should mean that the justification for holding almost all the men still held at Guantánamo will evaporate in December.

President Obama may have begun to address this with the prisoner swap. Now he needs to move swiftly to release the 78 cleared prisoners, and to work out how few of the remaining prisoners can legitimately be held when the military excuse for detention comes to an end — and how to tell Congress.

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.


کیا اوباما نے غداری کر دی


یہ کیا ہوگیا صرف ایک فوجی کے بدلے طالبان کے 5 بڑے اہم کمانڈروں کو رہا کر دیا گیا اس پر نہ تو امریکا کے میڈیا نے شور مچایا اور نہ حکومت نے کسی دبائو کا اظہار کیا بلکہ حکومت نے تو کہا کہ امریکی فوجی کی رہائی طالبان سے مفاہمت میں اہم پیش رفت ثابت ہوئی۔ امریکی وزیر دفاع چک ہیگل اچانک بگرام پہنچ گئے اور یہ اعلان کیا کہ 2016 تک صرف ایک ہزار فوجی افغانستان میں موجود رہیں گے۔ دوسری طرف وہائٹ ہائوس میں امریکی فوجی کے اہل خانہ سے ملاقات میں صدر بارک اوباما نے کہا کہ ہم افغان جنگ ختم کرنا اور گوانتانا موبے جیل بند کرنا چاہتے ہیں اس کے لیے پُرعزم ہیں۔ بھلا ہو امریکی فوجی کی رہائی کا اور ان طالبان کا جنہوں نے اسے اغوا کیا کہ اس موقع پر بارک اوباما کو امریکی عزم یاد دلایا۔ ہم نے ابتدائی جملے یوں ہی نہیں کہہ دیے بلکہ پاکستان کا ایک آزاد الیکٹرانک میڈیا کا رویہ یاد آگیا تھا جب پاکستان کے طالبان سے مذاکرات شروع ہوئے اور طالبان کی رہائی کی بات ہوئی تو یہ ٹی وی اینکرز اور اینکرنیاں اور تجزیہ نگار دیوانوں کی طرح منہ سے جھاگ اُڑاتے ہوئے چیخ چیخ کر کسی دیوانگی کا ثبوت دے رہے تھے۔ آپ اپنے ملک کے دشمنوں کو رہا کریں گے۔ ہزاروں فوجیوں کے قاتلوں کو رہا کرنے کی بات کررہے ہیں حالاںکہ بات صرف ان قیدیوں کی رہائی کی ہوئی تھی جو جنگی کارروائیوں میں ملوث نہیں تھے کسی اور حوالے سے کسی شبہہ یا تعاون کے الزام میں پکڑے گئے تھے۔ حکومت اس پر تیار ہورہی تھی لیکن دیوانوں کے شور شرابے میں بات دب گئی۔ اب جو امریکی حکومت نے فیصلہ کیا اور جو ردعمل ظاہر کیا ہے وہ تو ہمارے حکمرانوں‘ سیاست دانوں‘ طاقت کے مرکزوں اور میڈیا سب کے آقا ہیں۔ آقائوں نے تو جنگی کارروائیوں میں ملوث لوگوں کو رہا کردیا۔ اور اس پر یہ نہیں کہا کہ ظلم ہوگیا۔ بلکہ یہ کہا کہ فوجی کی رہائی سے طالبان کے ساتھ مفاہمت میں اہم پیش رفت ہوئی۔ پتا نہیں امریکا میں ایسے اینکر اور اینکرنیاں ملتے ہیں یا نہیں جن کے منہ سے جھاگ نکل رہا ہو اور وہ فوں فوں فاں فاں کر کے بات کرتے ہوں… اگر نہیں ہیں تو امریکا پاکستان سے لے لے۔ لیکن ہم اپنے اینکرز سے پوچھتے ہیں کہ کیا امریکی صدر بارک اوباما کو وطن کی محبت نہیں تھی… کیا انہیں اپنے فوجیوں کے قاتلوں سے محبت ہوگئی تھی یا کمیشن کھا گئے تھے آخر یہ کون سا تضاد ہے کہ آقا جو کام کررہے ہیں ہمارے سیاست دان تجزیہ نگار اور اینکرز یہ نہیں کرتے… کم از کم آقائوں سے سیکھیں۔ پھر اگر کوئی یہ کہہ دے کہ اینکرز (جسے اردو میں لنگر کہا جاتا ہے) کی زنجیر کسی اور کے ہاتھ میں ہے تو غلط تو نہیں ہوگا قومی مفاد جنگ میں ہوتا تو دس 11 سال کی جنگ کے بعد امریکا مزید 11 سال جنگ لڑنے کی بات کرتا۔ ہزاروں فوجی مروا کر افغانستان خالی کرنے کی بات نہ کرتا۔ ہمارے ٹی وی اینکرز اور چینلز نے حکومت طالبان مذاکرات کے دوران آگ لگا کر ان مذاکرات کو سبوتاژ کیا اور اب بیٹھے اس انعام کے مزے لے رہے ہیں جو انہیں ملا ہے۔ داد کی صورت میں یا ڈالر کی… ہمیں نہیں پتا… لیکن رویہ یہی بتاتا رہا ہے کہ زنجیریں کسی اور کے ہاتھ میں ہیں۔ ہم پاکستان کے ان نام نہاد تجزیہ نگاروں سے پوچھتے ہیں کہ وہ اوباما انتظامیہ کے اس اقدام کو کیا کہیں گے جو اس نے ایک فوجی کے بدلے 5 اہم طالبان کو رہا کر کے اٹھایا ہے… کیا یہ تجزیہ نگار اسے غداری سے تعبیر کریں گے یا اسی طرح دیوانوں کی طرح چلائیں گے جب پاکستانی حکومت کے مذاکرات کے وقت چلا رہے تھے۔ ابھی تو سارجنٹ رابرٹ برگڈال رہا ہوا ہے۔ ابھی پتا نہیں کہ اس کے اوپر طالبان کا کتنا اثر ہوا ہے اور آنے والے دنوں میں وہ کیا فیصلے کرے گا۔ لیکن ہم جانتے ہیں کہ طالبان کی قید میں صرف دس دن رہنے پر ایک عورت ایوان ریڈلے کی زندگی بدل گئی تو پھر 5 سال ان لوگوں کے درمیان رہنے پر رابرٹ برگڈال کی زندگی پر اثر کیوں نہیں ہوا ہوگا۔ ایوان ریڈلے اپنے تاثرات بیان کرتے ہوئے ہمیں بتاتی ہیں کہ میرے ذہن میں طالبان کے خلاف جو پروپیگنڈا تھا اس کی وجہ سے مجھے دیر تک یہ سمجھ میں نہیں آیا کہ طالبان کا رویہ اس پروپیگنڈے جسے میں معلومات سمجھتی تھی مختلف کیوں ہے۔ یہ بعد میں اندازہ ہوا کہ وہ ایک عورت کو کس قدر احترام دے رہے تھے۔ اب بڈی رابرٹ برگڈال بھی کسی وقت اپنی 5سالہ قید کے بارے میں بتائے گا تو پتا چلے گا کہ جن لوگوں کے بارے میں وحشی کا پروپیگنڈا کیا گیا تھا وہ کتنے مہذب ہیں۔ لیکن ہمارے میڈیا کو سانپ کیوں سونگھ گیا ہے۔ وہ اب کیوں دیوانوں کی طرح نہیں چیخ رہے کہ طالبان کو رہا کر کے اوباما انتظامیہ نے امریکا سے غداری کی ہے۔




مظفر اعجاز


How the United States is Spreading Mass Incarceration around the World




This article explains how the United States is exporting its model of mass incarceration and social and political control to at least 25 countries.  This “prison imperialism” is rooted in the Program for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System signed in March, 2000 by the US Embassy and Colombia’s Ministry of Justice.  That program coincided with a rapid increase in Colombia’s prison population including a rise in political arrests and the militarization of the prison system. Other aspects of this experience are worsened overcrowding, human rights abuses and unhealthy conditions.  Nevertheless, the US-Colombia collaboration has become the standard for prison imperialism around the world with Colombian training programs forming a major component.  US involvement in international prison systems is carried out by several government agencies including the Bureau of Prisons, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Pentagon, and the US State Department’s Bureaus of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), Democracy, Human Rights and Law Enforcement (DRL) and Consular Affairs, as well as state penal systems. This article provides close-ups of prison imperialism in Colombia, Mexico and Honduras and ends with a discussion of international resistance to the US model by Prisoners of Empire and their allies. The author especially wishes to thank the Colombian human rights group, Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity)for their invaluable help in researching and developing the ideas presented herein, and for their tireless advocacy for Colombia’s political prisoners. This article is a result of an ongoing joint effort between Lazos and the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) in exposing and resisting the Empire of Prisons, and in standing up for its antidote: peace with justice and real, participatory democracy.)

Prison Imperialism: an Overview 

The United States, which leads the world in imprisonment rates, is exporting its model of mass incarceration to developing countries around the world.  This “prison imperialism” is one of the foundational components to the infrastructure of Empire.  Along with the militarization of police forces and borders, mass incarceration enables neoliberal economies to manage by force and intimidation the inevitable consequences of global capitalism:  widespread social disruption and rising political dissent. (Neoliberalism is a system including free trade agreements, austerity programs and other measures that assure profitability is treasured above any other social value, and in the developing countries of the US Empire, it is backed up by the US military and its allies.)

Since 2000, there has been an explosion in US efforts to augment and restructure international penitentiary systems, providing training for prison personnel and/or building new jails in at least 25 different countries. The first of these efforts was the Program for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System, signed by the US Embassy and the Colombian Department of Justice on March 31, 2000.  The program was funded as part of the $9 billion the US has invested since 1999 in Plan Colombia mostly to benefit the military and law enforcement.

By 2002 in Afghanistan, and 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, the US was building and managing prisons as part of the invasion and occupation of those countries.  These programs were connected from the start with the so-called “Global War on Terrorism” as well as the “Drug War”, through which many prison efforts have been funded.  Closely related was the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp in January 2002. Many have heard the horror stories of abuses in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the Bagram military detention camps.  What most are unaware of is that US involvement in foreign jails has become a worldwide affair and is not just associated with direct military occupations.

The Foundation is Laid in Colombia 

Virtually unreported in the US media were the appalling conditions that resulted from the initial US-Colombia collaboration that laid the foundation for future international programs.  Funding began with an initial grant from the US of $4.5 million.  The first prison built was the penitentiary in Valledupar, commonly known as Tramacúa, completed in November, 2000. Conditions at Tramacúa are so bad that prisoners have access to clean water for only an average 10 minutes a day, sanitary facilities rarely work, torture is common, neglect of health care is systemic and UN and Colombian authorities and international observers have on three different occasions documented the presence of fecal matter in prison food.

Alleviation of overcrowding and improvement of prison conditions were cited as reasons for the Colombian restructuring program.  However, the accord itself more explicitly links the project to the War on Drugs.  The document states that, “Within the objective of the program of narcotics control, the project…seeks to consolidate strategies aimed at controlling illicit actions committed from the interior of the prisons by persons that belong to groups on the margin of the law and that are related to the [narcotics] traffic and crimes against humanity.”

The document goes on to declare that, “The financial support of the United States government to the Ministry of Justice and Law – INPEC [Colombian Bureau of Prisons], will be supplied under this Appendix of the Supplement to Plan Colombia and with annual allocations from the Department of State/ Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)….”

The reality is that this program has little to do with narcotrafficking or “crimes against humanity”. This is shown by the double standard applied in Colombian prisons.  Right-wing paramilitaries and narcotrafficking gangs are often one and the same, and paramilitary organizations and the military have been responsible for 70 to 80% of political violence and atrocities during the more than 50 years of the Colombian Civil War. Yet paramilitaries, big narcotraffickers and their associates regularly enjoy privileges and favors far beyond what is available to common prisoners.  Of course, most rarely if ever see the inside of a jail.  Murderers of unionists and human rights defenders enjoy a 98% impunity rate for their crimes and many who are convicted are awarded with house arrest–rarely an option for Colombia’s political prisoners.

A 2008 article by the Colombian weekly La Semana exposed how at the Itaguí maximum security prison, paramilitary prisoners were using cell phones to arrange murders and other violent operations.  In a common area near paramilitary leaders’ cells, security cameras were not functioning, and a search found a pistol, grenade and money hidden inside books.  La Semana questioned prison Director Yolanda Rodriguez about this, to which she responded that whenever she tried to do anything about paramilitary privileges, she found her “hands tied”.  She said that on a daily basis she received communications from high government officials, including the Regional and General Directors of INPEC and the Minister of Justice, ordering rule changes in favor of paramilitary prisoners.

The experience is very different for the general populace and especially for the political prisoners.  Indeed, Colombian prisons have been converted into theaters of war.  While common prisoners already must deal with overcrowding, neglect and abuse, these are multiplied greatly for political prisoners and prisoners of war for whom direct attacks and torture are common occurrences. Prison professionals are being replaced with current and ex-members of the Colombian Armed Forces, including several instances of School of the Americas graduates put in charge of penitentiaries.

Part of the legacy of US involvement has been the formation of GRI (Immediate Reaction Groups) and CORES (Operative Commandos with Special Reference to Security) in the prisons.  These SWAT-style special operations units have on multiple occasions launched assaults on political prisoners and prisoners of war, especially those participating in hunger strikes and other forms of nonviolent protest. Raquel Mogollón visited Tramacúa prison representing the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) shortly after an attack by the GRI and CORES against striking prisoners in June, 2011.  Many of the inmates had suspended themselves in protest from makeshift hammocks and harnesses attached to railings up to 5 floors high. In an AfGJ article about Mogollon’s visit, she reports that:

“’The GRI took these little nasty mats they had, about two inches thick, and put them on the floors. When they would start to cut down prisoners from their harnesses and hammocks, they would hope they hit the mats. Some did, some didn’t. One prisoner after another reported they counted as many as 50 to 60 times that projectiles were fired.

Prisoner Wilson Rodriguez said that he had been thrown from the fourth floor. He was one of five prisoners carried unconscious from the prison and hospitalized. He was later locked away and given access to water only five minutes each day. Osvaldo Guzman Toro, had fallen three floors. Rodriguez added, “They put out these little mattresses, pretending to use them for safety, but some of the people were being cut down from the fifth floor.”’

Mogollón described the GRI, the guards who undertook the attacks, saying that they ‘…look like SWAT teams, with shields, helmets and all. Several of the prisoners said they pleaded with the GRI not to attack, saying that the GRI shouldn’t be there, that the strike was peaceful. But the GRI responded that they were following orders, that they couldn’t back down. Specifically, the inmates said the GRI told them that they had been “ordered by the Minister and the General….”

Mogollón reported that, ‘At least three inmates told me that guards stripped them naked and shot tear gas cans at their genitals. They said that during the attacks the guards were using “pimienta, pata y palos”, or, “peppers, kicks and batons”. Prisoners reported that some of the canisters they were shooting were the size of their forearms–about a foot long.’”

What have been the general results of the US-Colombia prison improvement program?  With regards to overcrowding, the problem has not been alleviated but has gotten worse.  According to the Office of the People’s Defender, the rate of overcrowding is 58%, the worst rate ever reported and some jails are overcrowded by as much as 400%.  In 1998, two years before the program began, the Colombian prison population, according to INPEC figures, was 51,633.   By 2007, the population had risen to 63,603.  By December 2013, the number of prisoners had reached 120,032.

Torture has become widespread.  INPEC’s office for internal disciplinary control documented 79 cases of physical or verbal abuse against prisoners during the first six months of 2008.  These included beatings, broken bones, denial of medical care, death threats, sexual harassment and hog-tying prisoners with both hands and feet handcuffed.  In a 2008 survey of 230 prisoners, 54% of respondents answered they had been tortured in jail—46% did not answer the question at all, possibly for fear of reprisals.  Psychological torture was reported by 86% of those who did answer, including isolation, threats to relatives and simulated executions.

Another feature of the Colombian model has been massive relocation of prisoners far from family and friends.  For poor families, these transfers make it virtually impossible to maintain contact with loved ones.  When family members are able to visit, they are frequently subjected to humiliating treatment and sudden policy changes that often result in denial of the visitor’s entry into penal institutions.

The rate of increase of political prisoners has gone up considerably as well.  In a meeting with Colombia’s  MOVICE (the Movement of Victims of State Crimes)  in 2009, the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) was told that between 1992 and 2002, there were some 2,000 provably arbitrary political arrests later thrown out of courts. Between 2002 and 2006, there were 8,000 such arrests.  Detainees were usually charged with “rebellion” based on falsified evidence and the testimony of paid informers. Charges were usually dropped after “suspects” had served an average two to three years in jail.  Thousands of prisoners of conscience and those jailed as a result of frame-ups for nonviolent political activities do not have their cases dismissed  and are condemned to spend long years in prison.  Prisoners of war, who make up a minority of the political prisoners, are treated the worst of all.  The social and political context to their imprisonment has been largely unrecognized or denied, although the current peace process will likely address their situation as part of the negotiations, provided it is not derailed by Colombia’s extreme right wing.

Exact statistics are not currently available regarding rates of political arrests today.  However, based on the experience of the AfGJ and what we are hearing from our partners and contacts in Colombia, all indications are that the rate has not diminished but risen, especially since the installation of the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March) popular movement for a just peace.  Marcha Patriótica leaders and members have been specifically targeted for repression.  The state is especiallytargeting leaders of farmers strikes and union officers for arrest.


Colombia has provided the pattern for US involvement in international prison systems, including the institutionalization of abuses that are now being exported globally.  Especially, the Colombian model has been applied to Mexico and Central America where the US (and Colombia) have been involved in prison programs since 2009.  Once again, these have been funded and overseen as part of the Drug War via the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).  Of great concern has been the support the US has given to Honduras following the 2009 coup.  Since that time, reports of human rights abuses have skyrocketed.  In 2012, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield visited Central American countries offering funds from a $200 million package earmarked to fight drug trafficking by reinforcing police departments, borders, courts and prisons.

In his March, 2012 visit to Honduras, Brownfield designated an additional $1.75 million for Honduras to spend on prison, police and border and port security.  In his announcement, Brownfield heaped praise on the Honduran coup government and Armed Forces.  A State Department spokesman said of the visit that “”By partnering with Honduran law enforcement agencies, the United States aims to boost anti-drug trafficking efforts, promote citizen safety, and help young people find alternatives to joining gangs.”  By May, 2012 the US government had authorized another $50 million for security aid to Honduras.

The 2014 Human Rights Watch report on Honduras, maintains,

“Honduras suffers from rampant crime and impunity for human rights abuses. The murder rate, which has risen consistently over the last decade, was the highest in the world in 2013. Perpetrators of killings and other violent crimes are rarely brought to justice. The institutions responsible for providing public security continue to prove largely ineffective and remain marred by corruption and abuse, while efforts to reform them have made little progress.

Journalists, peasant activists, and LGBTI individuals are particularly vulnerable to attacks, yet the government routinely fails to prosecute those responsible and provide protection for those at risk….

Impunity for serious police abuses is a chronic problem. Police killed 149 civilians from January 2011 to November 2012, including 18 individuals under age 19, according to a report by Honduras’s National Autonomous University. Then-Commissioner of the Preventive Police Alex Villanueva affirmed the report’s findings and said there were likely many more killings by police that were never reported….”

Specifically in regards to prisons, a February 13, 2014 report by Marcos Rodriguez of the HRN radio network informs us that,

“The investigations of HRN reveal that overcrowding in the country’s jails has soared by 300%….Presently apprehensions by the police increased 35% according to official statistics….It is calculated that by the end of 2014, the penitentiary population in Honduras could exceed 19,000 inmates….In these instances the 24 jails of the country are occupied by almost 13,000 inmates, however the system only has capacity for 8,500 prisoners, signifying a [rate of] overcrowding of approximately 49%.”


In Mexico, the US is funding the construction of up to 16 new federal prisons and is advising an overall prison “reform” based on the US and Colombian models.  The Federal Center for Social Readaptation (CEFERESO) #11 in Hermosillo, Sonora is the first Mexican prison built with private investment and will be managed by a for-profit company for the next 20 years.  True to form, the opening of Ceferso #11 was occasioned with the massive transfer of 1,849 prisoners from all over Mexico.  Five months after the transfer, prisoners were still being denied access to family and legal defense teams. 

Mexico’s National Commission for  Human Rights (CNDH) visited CEFERESO #11 in October, 2013 a year after its installation to investigate conditions in Mexico’s for-profit prison and reported that  the institution had “…even graver deficiencies than those found in other jails of the Republic of Mexico without private capital.”  The abuses noted by the CNDH included arbitrary and sudden transfers, being held for long periods incommunicado, being kept in cells for excessively long periods, no classification system for prisoners, insufficient food, poor quality of health services, lack of sports, recreation and cultural activities, lack of work and job training, and insufficient personnel.  In only 4 months, the CNDH received 47 complaints regarding sudden transfers to CEFERSO #11 without warning or notice either to families or legal reps.

And while exact figures are not readily available, reports from a number of sectors in Mexico indicate a significant increase in politically motivated arrests since US involvement, including notable political detentions of labor and indigenous leaders.

Once more, the Drug War is the main reason cited for US involvement in the Mexican prison system.  But in a country that has been itself described as a “Narco-state” with a 98% impunity rate for violent crime, one must question the veracity of this justification just as we must in Colombia, Honduras and elsewhere.  According to a report by the Universal Periodic Review (EPU by its Spanish initials) of the United Nations Human Rights Council in coalition with three Mexican human rights organizations, 60% of those incarcerated in Mexico are there for minor crimes and only 12% for grave crimes such as murder, rape and violent robbery.  Again, we must state the obvious:  US funded and restructured prisons are about social and political control, not about drug trafficking. Federal prison construction in Mexico is the southern twin to immigrant detention centers on the US side of the border.  Privately run immigrant detention centers make profits off of the misery of those uprooted by the neoliberal policies imposed by the US government and the US and Mexican oligarchy, and off of the displacement of rural communities, the vacuum of which has been filled by the proliferation of extremely violent narco-gangs.

Colombia as Partner in Prison Imperialism 

In Mexico, Central America and elsewhere, the US has drafted Colombia as a major partner in prison imperialism.  Both in collaboration with the US and independently, Colombia operates its own international training programs.  Between 2009 and 2013, Colombia had given training to 21,949 international students, including military, police, court and prison officials. Half of those trained are from Mexico.  Honduras, Guatemala and Panama are the other leading recipients of this training.

An earlier April 14, 2012 US Department of State Fact Sheet on the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI) reported that Colombia had trained over 11,000 police officers in 20 Latin American and African countries, as well as in Afghanistan.  It reported that “Colombia has trained more than 6,000 Mexican federal and state law enforcement personnel, over 500 prospectors and judicial personnel and 24 helicopter pilots.  Prison guards and officials are included among the “law enforcement personnel”.

General John Kelly who oversees the US Southern Command, told aHouse hearing on April 29, 2014 that

“The beauty of having a Colombia – they’re such good partners, particularly in the military realm, they’re such good partners with us. When we ask them to go somewhere else and train the Mexicans, the Hondurans, the Guatemalans, the Panamanians, they will do it almost without asking. And they’ll do it on their own. They’re so appreciative of what we did for them. And what we did for them was, really, to encourage them for 20 years and they’ve done such a magnificent job.

But that’s why it’s important for them to go, because I’m–at least on the military side–restricted from working with some of these countries because of limitations that are, that are really based on past sins. And I’ll let it go at that.”

Prison Imperialism Around the World 

According to a Report on International Prison Conditions released by the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Law Enforcement (DRL), the US has been involved in prison programs in at least 25 countries since 2000.  State Department agencies participating in international prison programs besides the DRL include the Bureaus of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and Consular Affairs.   The report also refers to participation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Bureau of Prisons and state prison systems.

In 2003, the INL along with the Department of Justice and International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) led efforts by the US government to reestablish Iraq’s national security system. The INL is now funding 23 programs overseas in partnership with federal and state agencies.    The report also tells us that “In South Sudan, for example, INL has obligated $6.5 million since 2010 in support of the country’s first prison training center for corrections officers, the Lologo training academy.” Similarly, since 2010, the DRL has spent $5 million in programs around the globe, including in Iraq, Morocco and South Korea.

What this document downplays is perhaps more telling than anything.  In the whole report, Colombia only bears the following mention:  “In Haiti, Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala, USAID Missions have worked to address prison overcrowding through the reform of penal codes and by improving processes such as alternative dispute resolution to reduce the amount of time individuals spend in pre-trial detention.” An appendix states that “…prison and detention facility conditions in the following 25 countries whose governments receive United States assistance raise serious human rights or humanitarian concerns….” Nowhere on that list is Colombia.

Likewise, the report downplays the role of the US Bureau of Prisons, letting us know that “The Federal Bureau of Prisons…has also provided prison reform assistance to 17 countries.  This assistance is primarily comprised of visits by foreign delegations to BOP institutions and briefings by BOP staff on issues ranging from inmate and staff management to prisoners’ rights and correctional services.” What they don’t let us hear is anything about the major construction projects carried out with BOP supervision in Colombia and Mexico, nor the extent of BOP advice, direction and accreditation in restructuring those countries’ prison systems.

Also unmentioned are US military detention centers.  It is with military oversight that the transitions of these centers to civilian institutions is undertaken.  We have already seen the example of the INL and other agencies that in the midst of the invasion and occupation of Iraq were tasked with setting up a new prison system.  US prison imperialism is one of many threads that weave together the US government’s civilian and military branches.

In Conclusion – and in Resistance

For us in the United States it is important that we remember that US international prison programs are reflections and extensions of our own internal situation.  The US has the highest overall rate of incarceration in the world.  This rate has almost quadrupled since 1980 despite falling crime rates.  In 1980 the rate was 221 per 100,000 US residents. Today the rate is 716 prisoners per 100,000.  The number of US federal prisoners has risen by 790% since 1980. Thus we can see that this expansion overseas parallels what is happening at home. To further put this matter in perspective, the US has 700,000 more prisoners than China, even though China has four times our population.

The US prison system has over 80,000 persons in solitary confinement.  In 2012 the Justice Department estimated that that year alone there had been 216,000 victims of prison rape. We have more political prisoners than many know of or care to admit, and our basic rights to protest and dissent are being undermined and even criminalized on an almost daily basis.  Overcrowding, denial of health services, physical abuse and torture, lack of safety, lack of job training and rehabilitation services, forced relocation far from home communities and family and denial of access to visitors and legal counsel for long periods of time are all features of prison imperialism that are rooted in the policies and practices of the US penal system.  It almost goes without saying that the beginning of resistance to prison imperialism must therefore begin at home.

But it must not stop there.  We must link our struggles with international struggles.  We have seen how the experiment  that began in 2000 in Colombia has spread to Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Honduras, South Sudan and across the planet.  By looking specifically at the examples of Colombia, Mexico and Honduras, we start to see the kinds of results and concerns we must look for as we examine prison imperialism in other countries.

The US government is clearly spreading an Empire of Prisons around the world.  And just as clearly, around the world Prisoners of Empire are resisting abuses. On July 25, 2013, the AfGJ reported on a prison hunger strike in Colombia that, without planning, was happening at the same time similar hunger strikes were happening in California and elsewhere, noting that,

“Prisoners in the Doña Juana Penitentiary in Colombia are halfway through the third week of a hunger strike to demand better conditions. Located in La Dorada, Caldas, the prison is one of the jails built with US funding and advice as part of the ‘New Penitentiary Culture‘. Typical of such prisons are overcrowding, lack of medical treatment, a concentration of political prisoners, and beatings and other forms of torture by prison guards…It is no coincidence that prisoners at Doña Juana and prisoners in the California prison system began hunger strikes on the same day. Strikes are or have been also underway in Guantanamo and Afghanistan. From California to Colombia, all are protesting US ‘Prison Imperialism‘ that jails the population at high rates and uses inhumane practices such as solitary confinement, torture and denial of services to dehumanize the incarcerated.”

Shortly after the above statement was released, AfGJ also learned of hunger strikes happening in immigration detention centers in Arizona.