New Bergdahl letter outlines torture

Washington (CNN)House Speaker John Boehner said Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is “innocent until proven guilty” after the U.S. military charged him with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, but emphasized in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Dana Bash that he was more concerned about the circumstances of his release.

Bergdahl’s attorney also released a statement on Wednesday, outlining his defense of the soldier and containing a two-page letter from Bergdahl describing the torture he endured, which included months spent chained to a bed and further years spent chained on all fours or locked in a cage.

“Well, like any American, you’re innocent until proven guilty. And these charges are coming. There will be a trial,” he told Bash in an interview taped Wednesday to air Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Boehner said the “more troubling part of this” is the fact that the U.S. government traded five Taliban fighters for Bergdahl’s release, and that recent reports indicate one has returned to the battlefield. He expressed concerns about other detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which President Barack Obama is working to close, “ending up back on the battlefield and threatening Americans here and abroad.”

Obama “violated the law” in failing to alert Congress before the prisoner swap occurred, Boehner added.

“And I still believe that’s the more troubling part of this,” he said. “We’ve made clear in the past that we won’t negotiate with terrorists, and but yet here we did.”

Military officials announced Wednesday afternoon they would charge Bergdahl with one count each of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan before being captured and held captive for five years. For that, he faces charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in a military prison, and he could also have to forfeit pay and be stripped of his rank, Army Col. Daniel King said as he announced the charges.

Bergdahl faces a military procedure similar to a grand jury that will whether charges are appropriate, King said. Then, he could face court martial proceedings.

The decision comes nearly a year after Bergdahl returned to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange and since the Army began a formal investigation into his disappearance from his unit in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009.

The Army concluded its investigation into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture in December. Until now, it has been in the hands of Gen. Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, who made the decision to charge Bergdahl. Several U.S. military officials CNN has spoken with suggested privately that the process took longer than expected.

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, officials said Milley only had a few choices. Though the sense had been that Bergdahl must be held accountable for his actions, there had been little appetite for a lengthy term in military confinement given the five years Bergdahl was held by the Taliban.

Shortly after the charges were announced, Bergdahl’s attorneys released a lengthy statement that includes a letter sent to Milley earlier this month outlining their defense of the soldier.

“In light of the nearly five years of harsh captivity Sgt. Bergdahl endured, the purpose of his leaving his unit, and his behavior while a prisoner, it would be unduly harsh to impose on him the lifetime stigma of a court-martial conviction or an other than honorable discharge and to deny him veterans benefits,” attorney Eugene R. Fidell writes in the letter.

The statement includes a two-page accounting from Bergdahl of his time in captivity, in which he recounts months spent chained to a bed, then further years spent chained on all fours or locked in a cage.

Bergdahl said for years his body and health declined due to malnourishment, and sores on his wrists and ankles from the shackles grew infected.

“My body started a steady decline in constant internal sickness that would last through the final year,” he said.

Bergdahl was frequently beaten, at times with copper wire or a thick rubber hose, and forced to watch Taliban videos, he said. He had no concept of time, and was repeatedly told he would be killed and would never again see his family.

“I was kept in constant isolation during the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door I was held behind,” he wrote.

Bergdahl tried a dozen times to escape, he wrote.

Now 28, Bergdahl was taken by the Haqqani terrorist network. But the circumstances of Bergdahl’s departure from his base and how willingly he left have not been clear.

King said he couldn’t offer those details on Wednesday, and that they’re being treated as evidence for the upcoming proceedings against Bergdahl.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Arizona, called the charges an “important step” on Wednesday.

“This is an important step in the military justice process towards determining the accountability of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” he said in a statement. “I am confident that the Department of the Army will continue to ensure this process is conducted with the utmost integrity under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, meanwhile, lambasted the “unevenness” of Obama’s swap of five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl.

“I wouldn’t have done this trade for a Medal of Honor winner,” he told CNN. “No military member should expect their country to turn over five Taliban commanders to get their release. Nobody should expect that. It’s not the nature of his service that drives my thinking it’s just the illogical nature of the swap.”

Some members of Bergdahl’s platoon have criticized him, labeling Bergdahl a deserter.

“I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on,” former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009, told CNN last year. “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”

Bergdahl was freed in May when President Barack Obama agreed to swap five Taliban prisoners who had been detained in Guantanamo Bay to secure Bergdahl’s freedom, sending those detainees to Qatar.

Obama announced Bergdahl’s release to fanfare in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by the Army sergeant’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl. His hometown of Hailey, Idaho, had planned a parade to celebrate Bergdahl’s homecoming but later canceled that celebration amid security concerns stemming from the unanswered questions surrounding his disappearance and the resulting controversy over his release.

After returning to the United States, Bergdahl had been on active duty at an administrative job at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. There, the Army assigned Bergdahl a “sponsor” to help him adjust to life in his new post. Upon returning, Bergdahl refused to meet with his parents — and months later, Army officials had said he was communicating with them but still had not met them face to face.

The five figures the United States exchanged to secure Bergdahl’s release were Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari. They were mostly mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban regime and had been detained early in the war in Afghanistan because of their positions within the Taliban, not because of ties to al Qaeda.

The detainee swap for Bergdahl has become increasingly controversial in recent weeks after a report published by the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said one of the 17 intelligence agencies operating under its umbrella had judged that a prisoner released in the exchange had since contacted the Taliban.

Afghan women use graffiti as a medium as a voice

An Afghan woman’s tryst with graffiti to bring in positive changes in her country…

Inspiration can manifest itself in any form. Sometimes, it might seem too bizarre to relate to whereas at other times it might appear to be quite discernible that people would be just falling in love with it altogether. The other important aspect of this is that it’s not time-bound at all. One can say that it’s always a spontaneous reaction inside a human brain which is considered very opportune.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in war-torn places of the world where people struggling do have the guts to let their lives be an example of some great achievements. They want to make sure that deep beneath the constant shelling and bombing there is at least an element of eternal peace and harmony which can create a harmonious environment. One such volatile region is Afghanistan, still mired into sectarian violence and bedlam but at the same time trying hard to pick up the pieces after what has been a devastating experience almost on all fronts. More often than not, it’s mostly women who dream of getting rid of the inhumanely beleaguered past to start a new life.

Leading the motivating crusade to change the status of the country through her art works is Shamsia Hassani, 24. She teaches sculpture at Kabul University as an associate professor and she loves her profession a lot. Besides, she also heads a modern-day art group ROSDH as its founding member. In the entire country, she is the only female graffiti artist supported by a male graffiti artist Qasem Foushanji who too works on issues that people have to grapple with on a daily basis. He is also one of the members of her association ROSDH. “We are the two trying to shine light on the state of affairs our country is ducked in, “said she.

The capital which used to be a prime target of numerous bomb attacks and assassinations has now emerged as the popular hotspot for showcasing one’s artistic acumen like hers. Amidst the ruins of Kabul’s cultural heritage, she has displayed her own specialty in graffiti by drawing a spray-art work of a female hiding her face behind a sky-blue veil. Likewise, all other spray-paintings of women have been done to convey different messages to society which is still embroiled into mischief of the past. “The images reflect the impenetrable dimensions of women’s survival in Afghanistan. They are anguished about their way of life as it stands. I planned all this secretly at the destroyed Russian Culture Center here in Kabul because it was a safe place to do so, “said she. 

Making sure that its message is decoded well by people while they see it, she has buffed it up with a beautiful verse. “If a river lies in a dried state, it could get filled with water any time but once the creatures living inside it are dead because of this, they can never come back ever again” is her translated version of the poem already embedded into cavernous holes which were created inside the walls due to heavy shelling.  In reply to this anguish bursting through her illuminating face, she said, “The moment I realized what it was about, I could only think of it reflecting the lows and highs of Afghans. More importantly, those who lost their lives can no longer be with us”.  

So what led her to tap into this medium to demonstrate the aspect of ‘Yes, we can’ against the odds? Was it her fondness for graffiti because of its direct connection to people’s consciousness? Her interest in graffiti arose thanks to an artist from Britain named Chu who had visited the country way back in 2010 for the purpose of rendering the know-how of street art to the budding artists here. And that’s how she became a pupil of his training and got a chance to know about this people’s friendly medium at first-hand. Initially, she used to sketch her works and paint them in oil which she still does as part of her teaching at Kabul University.

Since her training session with Chu in the field of graffiti, she had become a well-versed at this in every way, letting the sore feelings or emotions flow on the surface. “It’s easy to persuade a big crowd to come peer at your graffiti-the street magic of art which an exhibition cannot do. Therefore, I prefer to use spray cans and stencils than otherwise to glorify my work as more society-centered in the context of its larger aims.


“Art like this is more accessible to people from all walks of life including those who aren’t well-read in society. More or less, each Afghan will be aware of what art is if graffiti is ubiquitously splashed on the walls and fences.” Every second is important for her and she finishes her graffiti accordingly. “Usually I am very fast when it comes to doing graffiti because I may not be so lucky next time to find some other opportunity to continue my work. Therefore, the value of time in my case is quite significant, “said she.

With a sad note, the excitement just gets overshadowed by the conservative elements that are still rampant across the country and barging with their dictatorial agendas which try to suppress the voice of women. “There is always the possibility of women being harangued unnecessarily in our intolerant society, making it difficult for them to step outside their homes, “said she.


When one’s determination is too strong to evaporate, there is no chance that obstacles will stand in the way to create unnecessary incongruity. “What one could refer to as unusable stuff could also be utilized if one’s frame of mind is in a positive tenor. I am displaying my works in buildings which have been left bare open as a result of infighting going on but they seem to be a perfect corner where people could relate to what they are going through, “said Shamsia.

As prejudices of all sorts continue against women, she favors virtual graffiti which gives her a lot of scope to send the clear message without being bogged down by hateful comments from men in the street. This is what she does. She captures the shots of places liked by her and then tries to work upon them using latest tools like Photoshop where she makes the entire thing digitally attractive. Sometimes, she publishes an image of the street on which to insert graffiti dimensions with the help of a paintbrush. When she is done with all this, she puts the painted images in a scanner to get their print outs looking quite authentic. But they are not. Every now and then, after printing the pictures she does graffiti with brush, oil and acrylic color on the picture walls. What else could she do in such fragile circumstances?

Whatever graffiti works she has been able to do so far, most of them have shown women wearing burqas. Nonetheless, she has given a modern touch to them by bringing in new contemporary silhouettes with sexy hips and shoulders. In some of her works, there are fishes mired in an immovable state inside their soggy territory.

“The truth is that sometimes politicking is not the right way to resolve matters relating to people’s interests. Rather, they could be addressed amicably by different means which teaches no divide at all. And the prowess of art is a genuine method to bringing an end to conflicts, “said she.

Her family’s roots are etched in Kandahar (Taliban’s safe haven) where she comes from. Strangely, her birth took place in Iran. Her parents had fled to this country as a result of continuing violence where they lived like refugees.

“I chose art just as everybody did during my childhood. The road wasn’t that easy. A lot of them simply gave in and went to do something else. Though there were no art teachers to guide me, I was determined to go on and spruce up my knowledge about art as a whole.”

While living in Iran there was another hurdle waiting to striker her. As she got promoted into ninth grade (the appropriate time for learning art lessons in the country), her face became pale after hearing that such lessons were forbidden for Afghans, forcing her to opt for accountancy.

However, Shamsia and her parents decided to come back to their own native land. Soon afterwards, she enrolled at the University art department in Kabul to make up for what she had missed. Though there were conventional barriers here and there, she kept her spirits high and moved on with doing research on contemporary art. Since she is a professor at the University, she wishes to launch a graffiti course in her bid to make as many Afghans familiar with art as possible. “I have inkling that my city can be a backyard of stirring graffiti adorning every wall if this course comes into being, “said she.

That’s why graffiti is the most sought-after phenomenon among youths fighting for their rights worldwide. And certainly Shamsia Hassani is no exception but someone to be really admired for her forward-looking essence in a region where nothing is predictable.

By Nagmani

International Correspondent/ Writer, IJRNews

Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Musery

Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Musery

Posted: 10/11/11 10:20 AM ET

The renowned military strategist, Maj. Gen. J.F.C Fuller, defined war’s true objective as achieving desired political results, not killing enemies.

Operation Enduring Freedom — the dreadfully misnamed ten-year US occupation of Afghanistan — has turned into Operation Enduring Misery.

After ten years of military and civil operations costing at least $450 billion, over 1,600 dead and 15,000 seriously wounded soldiers, the US has achieved none of its strategic or political goals.

In fact, the misadventure in Afghanistan is looking increasingly like a lost war, a prospect that is causing the deepest alarm among the politicians and generals who have championed this remote war.

At a time when 44 million Americans subsist on government food stamps and lack the kind of medical care common to other developed nations, each US soldier in Afghanistan costs $1 million per annum. CIA employs 80,000 mercenaries there, cost unknown. The Pentagon spends a staggering $20.2 billion annually air conditioning troop quarters in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The most damning assessment comes from the US-installed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai: America’s war has been “ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties.”

Washington’s imperial goal was a favorable political settlement that would engineer a pacified Afghan state run by a regime totally responsive to US political, economic and strategic interests; a native sepoy army led by American officers in the manner of the British Indian Raj; and US bases that threaten Iran, watch China, and dominate the energy-rich Caspian Basin.

All the claims made about fighting “terrorism and al-Qaida,” liberating Afghan women and bringing democracy are pro-war window dressing. CIA chief Leon Panetta admitted there were maybe no more than 25-50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. Why are there 150,000 US and NATO troops there supposedly chasing al-Qaida?

In fact, as this writer saw himself in the early 1990’s, there were never more than a small number of al-Qaida militants in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Their primary mission was fighting the Afghan Communists and overthrowing the post-Soviet Communist regimes of Central Asia.

Washington’s real objective in South Asia was clearly defined in 2007 by US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher: to “stabilize Afghanistan so it can become a conduit and hub between South and Central Asia — so energy can flow south.”

The Turkmenistan-Afghan-Pakistan TAPI gas pipeline that the US has sought since 1998 is finally nearing completion. But whether it can operate in the face of sabotage remains to be seen. CIA is reportedly creating an 8,000-man mercenary force to protect the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Washington has been unable to create a stable government in Kabul. The primary reason: ethnic politics. Over half the population is Pashtun (or Pathan), from whose ranks come Taliban. Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities fiercely oppose the Pashtun. All three collaborated with the Soviet occupation from 1979-1989; today they collaborate with the US and NATO occupation.

Most of the Afghan army and police, on which the US spends $6 billion annually, are Tajiks and Uzbek, many members of the old Afghan Communist Party. To Pashtun, they are bitter enemies. In Afghanistan, the US has built its political house on ethnic quicksand.

Worse, US-run Afghanistan now produces 93% of the world’s most dangerous narcotic, heroin. Under Taliban, drug production virtually ended, according to the UN. Today, the Afghan drug business is booming. The US tries to blame Taliban but the real culprits are high government officials in Kabul and US-backed non-Pashtun warlords.

A senior UN drug official recently asserted that Afghan heroin killed 10,000 people in NATO countries last year. And this does not include Russia, a primary destination for Afghan heroin.

So the United States is now the proud owner of the world’s leading narco-state and deeply involved with the Afghan Tajik drug mafia. No one in Washington wants to talk about this shameful misalliance.

The US is bleeding billions in Afghanistan. Forty-four cents of every dollar spent by Washington is borrowed from China and Japan. While the US has wasted $1.283 trillion on the so-called “war on terror,” China has been busy buying up resources and making new friends and markets. The ghost of Osama bin Laden must be smiling.

The US can’t afford this endless war against the fierce Pashtun people, renowned for making Afghanistan “the Graveyard of Empires.” But the imperial establishment in Washington wants to hold on to strategic Afghanistan, particularly the ex-Soviet air bases at Bagram, Kandahar and Shindand. The US is building its biggest embassy in the world in Kabul, an $800 million fortress with 1,000 personnel, protected by a small army of mercenary gunmen. So much for withdrawal plans. Another such monster embassy, or “Crusader castle,” as bin Laden called it, is a building in Islamabad.

The stumbling, confused US war in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than the two world wars. The former US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, just said Washington’s view of that nation is “frighteningly simplistic.” That’s an understatement.

Facing the possibility of stalemate or even defeat in Afghanistan, Washington is trying to push India deeper into the conflict. This desperate ploy, and nurturing ethnic conflict, will ensure another decade of misery for Afghanistan and more dangerous instability for the entire region.

Washington would do well to recall the sage words of founding father, Ben Franklin: “there is no such thing as a bad peace, or a good war.”

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011