Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A game of double bluff


The UK and EU are keeping the poorer nations exactly where they want them: beholden to their patrons


Rejoice! The world is saved! The governments of Europe have agreed that by 2015 they will give 0.7% of their national income in foreign aid. Admittedly, that's 35 years after the target date they first set for themselves, and it's still less than they extract from the poor in debt repayments. But hooray anyway. Though he does not become president of the EU until later this year, Tony Blair can take some of the credit, for his insistence that the G8 summit in July makes poverty history. It's inspiring, until you understand the context.

Everyone who has studied global poverty - including European governments - recognises that aid cannot compensate for unfair terms of trade. If they increased their share of world exports by 5%, developing countries would earn an extra $350bn a year, three times more than they will be given in 2015. Any government that wanted to help developing nations would surely make the terms of trade between rich and poor its priority.This, indeed, is what the UK appears to have done. In March it published the most progressive foreign policy document ever to have escaped from Whitehall. A paper by the departments of trade and international development promised that: "We will not force trade liberalisation on developing countries." It recognised that a policy that insists on equal terms for rich and poor is like pitting a bull mastiff against a chihuahua. Unless a country can first build up its industries behind protectionist barriers, it will be destroyed by free trade. Almost every nation that is rich today, including the UK and the US, used this strategy. But the current rules forbid the poor from following them. The EU, the paper insisted, should, while opening its own markets, allow poor nations "20 years or more" to open theirs.

But two weeks ago the Guardian obtained a leaked letter showing that Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, was undermining the UK's new policies. His most senior official complained that the policy document was "a major and unwelcome shift... Mandelson is taking up our concerns and will press for a revised UK line".

We are being asked to believe, in other words, that a man who owes his entire political career to Tony Blair, and who has repaid him with nauseating sycophancy, was conspiring to destroy his cherished policy. It doesn't look likely, and it doesn't take a great imaginative effort to see a double game being played. Before the election, Blair makes one of his tear-jerking appeals for love, compassion and human fellowship, and gets the anti-poverty movement off his back. After the election he discovers, to his inestimable regret, that love, compassion and human fellowship won't after all be possible, as a result of a ruling by the European commission.

This outcome was predicted by the World Development Movement when the remarkable paper was published in March. "Time will tell if the UK ... will put real political capital into this announcement, or if they will hide behind the European commission and claim inability to affect the negotiations." Nostradamus had nothing on these guys.

The idea that Blair had no more intention of introducing fair terms of trade than I have of becoming a Catholic priest gains credence from the UK's support for the bid by Pascal Lamy, Mandelson's predecessor, to become head of the World Trade Organisation - a post he won on Thursday. Making Lamy head of the WTO is as mad as making, say, Paul Wolfowitz... er, satire doesn't really seem to work any more.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Lamy was the man who destroyed the world trade talks in Mexico in September 2003. He tried to force through new rules on investment, competition and procurement, which would have allowed corporations to dictate terms to the poor world's governments. He persisted with this policy even when he had lost the support of European governments, and when it became obvious that his position would force the poorer nations to pull out. For cynics like me, it wasn't hard to see why. For the first time in the WTO's history, the poor nations were making effective use of collective bargaining and demanding major concessions from the rich. By destroying the talks, Lamy prevented a fairer trading regime from being introduced. He left the rich countries free to strike individual treaties with their weaker trading partners. And the UK and the rest of Europe hid behind him.

So the poor world is going to need the extra aid, in 2015 and far beyond. This means that it will remain obedient to the demands of countries with an interest in its continued exploitation. Those demands have done more than anything else to hold it down. As the World Bank's own figures show, across the 20 years (1960-80) before it and the IMF started introducing strict conditions on the countries that accepted their loans, median annual growth in developing countries was 2.5%. In the 18 years after (1980-1998), it was 0.0%.
The British government has made its own contribution to the poor world's misery by tying aid disbursements to the privatisation of essential public services. It has been paying the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing lobby group, up to £9m a year to oversee privatisation programmes in developing countries. Last week Tanzania pulled out of a deal UK government had rigged up for the British company Biwater to privatise water supplies in Dar es Salaam.

Again the government admitted, before the election, that its critics were right. The Department for International Development (DfID) published a long mea culpa in which it promised: "We will not make our aid conditional on specific policy decisions by partner governments, or attempt to impose policy choices on them (including ... privatisation or trade liberalisation)." It looks great, until you read the whole document. On privatisation, DfID admits that there was "concern that in the 1980s and 1990s donors pushed for the introduction of reforms, regardless of whether these were in countries' best interests." The 80s and 90s, eh? What about the privatisation it was demanding in 2004 and early 2005? What about its recent assault on the public services of Tanzania, South Africa, Ghana and the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh? What about the money it is still paying the effing Adam Smith Institute?

DfID goes on to say that it will decide whether to give money to a country by looking "to the IMF to provide an assessment of a country's macroeconomic position". It knows full well that the IMF continues to judge countries by the degree to which they embrace privatisation and liberalisation. Yet again the British government is outsourcing its ethics, using the policy of an international body to make justice history.
While using the right language and flattering their critics, the UK and the EU are keeping the poorer nations where they want them: beholden to their patrons. Suddenly, an increase in aid doesn't look like such good news after all.


With thanks
George Monbiot
www.monbiot.com

Monday, May 30, 2005


Rex Babin, sketching the US goof-ups!
Pic Sam

Spot the common thread

This week two snippets came to light. Both on the same day. The Sunday Times, London carried a report further exposing the chicanery and hypocisy that lies at the heart of the war on terrorism. It has been established now that the Bush administration and the even-fawning Tony Blair used pre-war bombing to provoke Saddam Hussein’s regime into giving them an excuse to go to war. An utterly needless war that resulted in the death of thousands of innocent children and men and women. Shock and awe bombing that led to the destruction of a sovereign nation. A war that went completely haywire. Insurgency that followed soon after American control of Baghdad, has now earned alarmic propositions which is showing absolutely no signs of ending.

In a related development, Tariq Aziz, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, has called for international help to end his "dire situation'' saying that the conditions in which he and other erstwhile Iraqi leaders are being held in a US-run jail near Baghdad are in breach of the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war. Again, human rights violations, levelled against the US are likely to smear its global standing as the beacon of justice and liberty. These reports will also provide ammunition to American critics, who can thumb their noses at the poor report card of US.

Only if the US had any good record.

Excerpts from the British Press:

  • Tariq Aziz's appeal is contained in letters, which a British newspaper on Sunday claimed, Mr. Aziz had written from his prison cell to highlight his plight. The letters, in English and Arabic, were said to be addressed simply to "world opinion'' and appealed for intervention.
    The Observer, which published the letters, said the most recent ones were written last month when he was being questioned by U.S. Senators in connection with the oil-for-food programme scandal. In one letter, Mr. Aziz complained that he was denied any contact with his family and was "totally isolated from the world''.
    "There are 13 other detenus here, but we have no meetings or telephone contacts with our families. I have been accused unjustly, but to date no proper investigation has taken place.
    It is imperative that there is intervention into our dire situation and treatment. It is totally in contradiction to international law, the Geneva Convention and Iraqi law as we know it,'' he wrote.
    In another letter, written in March, Mr. Aziz appealed for "fair treatment, a fair investigation and finally a fair trial'', and said: "Please help us.''

  • US and UK used pre-war bombing to provoke Saddam Hussein’ Sunday Times claims Tony Blair was told war was ‘inevitable’ and ‘intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy’. British and the United States used their bombing attacks on Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion to try and provoke Saddam Hussein’s regime into giving them an excuse to go to war, a report said on Sunday. As early as mid-2002, then-British defence minister Geoff Hoon told a key government meeting that US forces had begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime, the Sunday Times said. The newspaper printed minutes from a gathering of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his war cabinet in July 2002 on the build-up to a possible conflict. According to the minutes, Blair was told that in Washington, war was even then seen as “inevitable” and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.Blair was the United States’s staunchest ally in the later invasion of Iraq, launched in March 2003. The minutes of the 2002 meeting also show British ministers’ efforts to justify full-scale military action. It seemed clear that US President George W Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided,” they said. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD (weapon of mass destruction) capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.”

Sameer Bhat

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why the French said non



French rubbished the referendum, calling for an European constitution, here is a reason why:

- They detest their current government and are reluctant to vote for anything that it proposes

- They are fed up with their entire political class, on both right and left, which they feel is arrogant, self-serving, removed from real life and has refused to listen to their concerns for too long

- They believe the treaty is a blueprint for an ultra-liberal, Anglo-Saxon Europe that will promote unfettered capitalism

- They believe it will degrade French public services and cost French jobs

- They feel that when the president, the government and the mainstream opposition combine to trumpet the merits of something and to implicitly denounce its opponents as half-wits who have understood nothing, it is their moral duty to revolt

- They feel ditto, but even more strongly, when virtually every newspaper, TV and radio commentator more or less explicitly backs the constitution and expresses amazement at the very possibility of a no vote

- They are worried about the expanded (and expanding) union and about its impact on their lives, particularly the arrival in France en masse of the key bogeyman of this debate, the Polish plumber (don't even mention the Turkish taxi-driver)

- They believe the French social model is preferable to any other, is at threat, and is worth defending

- They have finally been asked to give their opinion on a Europe that they feel has been constructed more or less behind their backs, and they're damned well going to give it

- They remember that every time over the past decade that a French politician has had to make a difficult announcement, he has blamed Brussels

- They do not feel that saying no will weaken France's position in Europe, because they think it will trigger a tidal wave of comprehension and support in a great many other countries leading to a "salutary crisis" that will eventually create a better, more social Europe

- They believe the text of the treaty can be renegotiated to take account of France's concerns and objections

- They reject the argument of European institutional chaos, saying the treaty of Nice will continue to apply for as long as necessary until the mess is sorted out

- They feel they are not anti-European, just anti the Europe they perceive as enshrined in this constitution, so voting no is actually a pro-European act

- They recognise that the yes camp ran a rubbish campaign led by a president and a prime minister with zero credibility and a Socialist party that could not make its mind up, and whose sole argument for far too long was to say no to the no

- They realise that from the start, the yes was on the defensive rather than the offensive; it admitted the text was "not perfect" and (on both left and right) was never comfortable handling the fundamental issue (very sensitive in France) of economic liberalism

- They are reacting belatedly to the fact that no French politician has ever dared tell them that France will, in one way or another, have to adapt at some stage to the phenomenon of globalisation, and that it will probably involve some degree of pain

- Their very French instinct (and, up to a point, it's one to be proud of) is: Resist

- They subscribe to the notion that 'le compromis n'est pas français'

- Being French, and not living in a colourless Anglo-Saxon world, they were itching for the mother of all ideological debates, the one that would finally pit the true socialism against wicked liberalism, and the treaty gave them the perfect opportunity because its clauses are open to interpretation (that's the point of them, of course - they are not supposed to be doctrine)

Sameer Bhat

Thursday, May 26, 2005

RIP, Mr Dutt


Dutt saab
1929-2005

"Disease and suffering have no religion and no nationality. My work encompasses mankind." Sunil Dutt

I have not watched all his classics. I never met him. I have no idea about the full extent of his charitable work. Yet, I feel sorry that he is no more. Sunil Dutt's genteel face gave it all away. He was many things in that towering six-plus frame -- a thorough gentleman, an iconic movie star, a great human being and a secularist to the core, up until his sudden end. Frankly, Dutt Saab, as he was affectionately called, was one of those virtuous souls, who you wish never die.

What also stood Sunil Dutt in good stead was his heart-in-his-eyes sensitivity which noted filmmakers like Bimal Roy, B R Chopra and Raj Khosla repeatedly drew upon. Dutt capitalised on his abilty to jump genres and expand on his oeuvre at different stages of his career. His willingness to experiment with cinema led him to star in offbeat films like Padosan and Amrapali, be the villain in Geeta Mera Naam, and bankroll films like Yaadein ,a film starring just one man --- himself, Mujhe Jeene Do -- a reformist saga -- and the stark desert epic Reshma Aur Shera.

Dutt's heroic deed on the set of Mother India changed the course of his life. He saved Nargis from a burning film set and later they got married in what is considered one of the great storybook romances of Bollywood history. After making an indelible mark on the filmdom in Bombay and having etched his name in the golden annals of India cinema, Dutt saab took to activism. The death of his wife, Nargis Dutt in 1981, whom he loved intensely, transformed his life. He fought for the rights of the poor. It was Nargis's wish that cancer research be forwarded in India and to that effect Dutt spearheaded the creation of the Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation.

He became a Member of Parliament and advocated peace. Again he brought a serene dignity to politics, quite unknown of, in recent times. He campaigned for communal harmony, against drug abuse and for better care for cancer and HIV and AIDS patients.

Selfless, tireless and humane, that was Sunil Dutt for those who have know him. For me, he will continue to be among the select few Indians, I admire.

He loved Nargis till lady death kissed him in his sleep. I pray they -- Nargis and Dutt saab -- stroll together, hand in hand, in the gardens of heaven.

Sameer Bhat

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Beauty or Bend!


VS Naipaul can be difficult for any soul. His prose is generally terse and philosophical. His metaphors can leave you gasping. I picked up his A Bend in the River because I wanted to read something disparate after Dan's Da vinci code. The novel is set in Africa and Naipaul penned it in 1979. Thirty pages into BR and I gave up. Not that I won't read it. I might, perhaps later. My guess is that one can't read Naipaul leisurely in cabs and buses.
I love to read that way. In a busy work schedule you have no time otherwise.

Naipaul makes you think hard and deep. In the 30 odd pages of BR, I guess he uses the word Africa and Bush 50 times. Boondocks. I was almost transported to the bushes and deep into Africa when I decided I must come back and keep Naipaul for home. Relaxed and on your bed, with an air-conditioner purring, he can be better understood. A book has to be assimilated and doten on!

Naipaul is a great author. I don't agree with his strong, at times banal political views, but I love his prose.

I cannot reflect and do justice with his works in the grinding heat and grime of New Delhi's Auto's and oven-hot roads. Allan Hollinghurst will do. In fact, The Line of Beauty bagged Man Booker last summer.
I am already fimiliar with Nick.

Allan knows his readers!

Sameer bhat

Monday, May 23, 2005


Mount Rushmore on a beautiful sunny-south Dakota day
Pic Sam

Mount Rushmore!


Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located 23 miles southwest of Rapid City. It's the greatest FREE Attraction in the US! "Until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away." Those are the famous words Sculptor Gutzon Borglum used to describe the length of time his most famous work, Mt. Rushmore, will endure.

The mountain itself was originally named after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York lawyer investigating mining claims in the Black Hills in 1885. Gutzon Borglum chose this mountain due to its height (5700' above sea level), the soft grainy consistency of the granite, and the fact that it catches the sun for the greatest part of the day. The presidents were selected on the basis of what each symbolized. George Washington represents the struggle for independence, Thomas Jefferson the idea of government by the people. Abraham Lincoln for his ideas on equality and the permanent union of the states, and Theodore Roosevelt for the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs.

The carving of Mt. Rushmore actually began on August 10, 1927, and spanned a length of 14 years. Only about six and a half years were spent actually carving the mountain, with the rest of the time being spent on weather delays and Borglum's greatest enemy - the lack of funding. The total cost of the project was $900,000. Work continued on the project until the death of Gutzon Borglum in 1941. No carving has been done on the mountain since that time and none is planned in the future.

The granite faces of four American presidents' is scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall! President Calvin Coolidge believed Mount Rushmore was "decidedly American in its conception, magnitude and meaning. It is altogether worthy of our country," Coolidge proclaimed at the dedication of the project in 1927.

The most spectacular program at Mount Rushmore is the evening lighting ceremony held in the new amphitheater. A must see for any tourist who visits the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
A $56 million redevelopment was completed in 1998 with the addition of a new parking structure, amphitheater, museum/theater complex, Visitor Orientation Center, Presidential Trail, gift shop, bookstore, and dining facilities.

There are few people who are not subdued by the moments as they gaze upon the beauty of Mt. Rushmore. Just as the monument challenged its creator, so should its splendor challenge its viewer.

Sameer Bhat

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Iraq and Vietnam: The similarities

Noam Chomsky

Take the Vietnam war. It began officially in 1962, when Kennedy sent the US air force to attack South Vietnam, initiated programs of chemical warfare to deprive the indigenous resistance and its civilian supporters of ground cover and food, along with programs to drive millions of peasants into what amounted to concentration camps and urban slums, to try to "dry up the sea" in which the resistance "swims," as the US planners put it, in their Maoist framework. By 1967, the leading Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, the expert most respected by the government, warned that “Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity” might face “extinction” as "the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size" -- primarily South Vietnam, always the main target of attack. Even then, protest was mostly directed against bombing of the North, a serious war crime, but nothing like as severe as the US invasion of the South.

Iraq is not Vietnam. It is, however, a criminal war of aggression that has caused enormous destruction and loss of life, and the US government must be impelled to allow Iraqis to emerge from the wreckage in their own way and without interference from Washington. That would be true even if the US had not shared a lot of the responsibility for their fate: from the Reagan-Bush support for Saddam Hussein right through his worst atrocities and long after the war with Iran, to the renewed support for Saddam as he crushed the Shi'ite rebellion that might well have overthrown him in 1991, to the merciless sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated the society, forced the population to rely on the tyrant for survival, and probably kept Iraqis from sending to the same fate as a long list of other monsters much like him that the US had supported, all overthrown from within. The invasion itself was almost a textbook example of the "supreme international crime" of a aggression condemned at Nuremberg, which "contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole," in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal, including the huge death toll, the destruction of Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, and all the other atrocities.

Organizing against the occupation is far easier now than it was at comparable stages of the Vietnam war. The Iraq war was unique in hundreds of years of history of Europe and the US. It is the first act of aggression that elicited enormous mass protest against a war before it was even launched. The spirit of opposition remains alive and widespread, far more so than in the 1960s.

And as then -- or in the earlier civil rights movements, or the later women's, environmental, anti-nuclear, solidarity, global justice movements and others -- small sparks can ignite large-scale commitment that may seem dormant, but is just below the surface. That is how every achievement for justice and peace has been won in the past, and there is no reason to suppose that the future will be any different.

Gleaned from Chomsky's official portal

Fun continues


The Sun today published more revealing photographs of Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody, a day after it ran a front-page picture of the former Iraqi leader naked except for his underwear.

The international Red Cross, which is responsible for monitoring prisoners of war and detainees, said the photographs violated Saddam's right to privacy. The U.S. military condemned the publication and ordered an investigation of how the pictures were leaked to The Sun.

Saturday's pictures included one of Saddam seen through barbed wire wearing a white robe-like garment, and another of Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali," in a bathrobe and holding a towel.

Saddam's chief lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh, said the photos "add to acts that are practiced against the Iraqi people." He said he would sue the newspaper "and everyone who helped in showing these pictures."

The Sun said the photos were provided by a U.S. military official it did not identify who hoped their release would deal a blow to Iraq's insurgency. Managing editor Graham Dudman told The Associated Press that the newspaper paid "a small sum" for the photos. He added that it was more than 500 British pounds, which is about $900.

Does Guantanamo symbolise the US


For Muslims Gun-bay has come to symbolise the US of A

The recent reports of defilement of the Holy Quran by US troops stationed at the infamous Guantanamo bay has hurt Muslim sentiments across the globe. As accounts of American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, including Newsweek magazine's now-retracted article on the desecration of the Koran, ricochet around the world -- instilling ideas about American power and justice -- more distrust of the United States is likely. Even more than the written accounts are the images that flash on television screens throughout the Muslim world: caged men, in orange prison jumpsuits, on their knees. On Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, two satellite networks, images of the prisoners appear in station promos.

For many Muslims, Guantánamo stands as a confirmation of the low regard in which they believe the United States holds them. For many non-Muslims, regardless of their feelings toward the United States, it has emerged as a symbol of American hypocrisy. The cages, the orange suits, the shackles - it's as if they're dealing with something that's like a germ they don't want to touch. That's the nastiness of it.

The Bush administration's response to the Newsweek article - a general condemnation of prison abuses, coupled with an attack on the magazine - apparently did little to allay the concerns of many Muslims. Then on Thursday, May 19, 2005, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report detailing the many complaints from detainees at Guantánamo about desecrations of the Koran between early 2002 and mid-2003.

In India, a secular country by law whose people and government are growing increasingly close to the United States, a cartoon appeared in Midday, an afternoon tabloid, on Friday showing a panic-stricken Uncle Sam flushing copies of Newsweek magazine down a toilet. From Mumbai, India, to Amman, Jordan, to London, Guantánamo is a continuing subject for discussion, from television talk shows to sermons to everyday conversations. In countries like Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan, released detainees often return home and relate their experiences on television news programs. Accusations of egregious abuse sometimes prompt violence, as in last week's demonstrations in Afghanistan.

Guantánamo provides rhetorical fodder for politicians seeking to bring down United States-allied rulers in their own countries, and it offers a ready rallying point against American dominance, even in countries whose own police and military have been known for severe violations of human rights. Even illiterate people pronounce it in a perfect manner, which surprises me a bit, quite frankly but it shows the significance this issue has attained.

In Europe, accusations of abuse at Guantánamo, as much as the war in Iraq, have become a symbol of what many see as America's dangerous drift away from the ideals that made it a moral beacon in the post-World War II era. There is a persistent and uneasy sense that the United States fundamentally changed after September 11, and not for the better.

The simple truth is that America's leaders have constructed at Guantánamo Bay a legal monster, the French daily, Le Monde, recently said. The United States opened the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, on the eastern end of Cuba, two years ago as a detention center for suspected terrorists from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It houses about 680 prisoners, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also some from Britain.

On many Arab streets people already expected the U.S. to deny the incident, because America has very less credibility in the region, so while the initial story will have an impact, the response simply will not. Guantánamo offers disconcerting testimony that for many Muslims, the America they used to admire has sunk to the level of their own repressive governments. Many take the Guantánamo accusations as an evidence of how America and the West makes the war against terrorism synonymous with the war against Islam.

I guess the tenor of the debate is now acquiring 'civilizational' dimensions. Afghans, who have the largest number of citizens held at Guantánamo, with as many as 300 at its height, share the general dislike of the prison, but are generally practical and philosophical about it. They say they are used to people being thrown into prison, being tortured there and even dying. But public anger has grown at the reports of sexual abuse and desecration of the Koran. .

In the latest issue of Newsline, a Karachi-based magazine, featured a story titled, "Back from Camp," which chronicled the story of a former prisoner, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, a poet who pleaded for the Americans to return his writing. "These are issues that sink into people's minds," said Samina Ahmed, the Pakistani representative of the Brussels-based research and advocacy organization, International Crisis Group. "Their religion is being demeaned in the context of the war on terror. That's an issue the U.S. is going to have to address."

In Britain, Guantánamo has entered the political lexicon along with Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad as an emblem of American injustice and abuse. During the London marathon in April this year, David Nicholl, a neurologist, ran the race in an orange jumpsuit to protest the detention of five former British residents at Guantánamo. "We are all against terrorism but we are not obliged to close our eyes to the excesses of our allies," Chris Mullin, a former British Foreign Office minister told Parliament on Wednesday.

I liked this bit from the NY times, my window to the American media: On Friday afternoon in an Islamabad bookshop, Maheen Asif, 33, leafed through a women's magazine, and paused for only a moment when asked for her impression of Guantánamo Bay. "Torture," she said, as her daughters, 8 and 5, scampered through the stalls. "The first word that comes to my mind is 'torture' - a place where Americans lock up and torture Muslims in the name of terrorism."

God bless us all!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Hang thy Heads



A sordid and touching tale of US aggression in Afghanistan, how two innocents were hacked to death by the freedom-loving, dim-witted US interrogators in Baghram, Afghanistan:
Story published as first lead on May 20, 2005 in one of America's best newspapers The NewYork Times.

In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths

By TIM GOLDEN

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.
The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.
Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.

In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.

The Times obtained a copy of the file from a person involved in the investigation who was critical of the methods used at Bagram and the military's response to the deaths.
Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated. And many of the officers and soldiers interviewed in the Dilawar investigation said the large majority of detainees at Bagram were compliant and reasonably well treated.

"What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone's standard for humane treatment," said the Pentagon's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. "We're finding some cases that were not close calls."
Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault.

Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep. Shortly before the two deaths, observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross specifically complained to the military authorities at Bagram about the shackling of prisoners in "fixed positions," documents show.

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.

Last October, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command concluded that there was probable cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses in the Dilawar case ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter. Fifteen of the same soldiers were also cited for probable criminal responsibility in the Habibullah case.

So far, only the seven soldiers have been charged, including four last week. No one has been convicted in either death. Two Army interrogators were also reprimanded, a military spokesman said. Most of those who could still face legal action have denied wrongdoing, either in statements to investigators or in comments to a reporter.

"The whole situation is unfair," Sgt. Selena M. Salcedo, a former Bagram interrogator who was charged with assaulting Mr. Dilawar, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators, said in a telephone interview. "It's all going to come out when everything is said and done."
With most of the legal action pending, the story of abuses at Bagram remains incomplete. But documents and interviews reveal a striking disparity between the findings of Army investigators and what military officials said in the aftermath of the deaths.

Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."

The Interrogators
In the summer of 2002, the military detention center at Bagram, about 40 miles north of Kabul, stood as a hulking reminder of the Americans' improvised hold over Afghanistan.
Built by the Soviets as an aircraft machine shop for the operations base they established after their intervention in the country in 1979, the building had survived the ensuing wars as a battered relic - a long, squat, concrete block with rusted metal sheets where the windows had once been.

Retrofitted with five large wire pens and a half dozen plywood isolation cells, the building became the Bagram Collection Point, a clearinghouse for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The B.C.P., as soldiers called it, typically held between 40 and 80 detainees while they were interrogated and screened for possible shipment to the Pentagon's longer-term detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The new interrogation unit that arrived in July 2002 had been improvised as well. Captain Wood, then a 32-year-old lieutenant, came with 13 soldiers from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C.; six Arabic-speaking reservists were added from the Utah National Guard.

Part of the new group, which was consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, was made up of counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers had ever questioned actual prisoners.

What specialized training the unit received came on the job, in sessions with two interrogators who had worked in the prison for a few months. "There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation" like the one at Bagram, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sgt. Steven W. Loring, later told investigators.

Nor were the rules of engagement very clear. The platoon had the standard interrogations guide, Army Field Manual 34-52, and an order from the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to treat prisoners "humanely," and when possible, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But with President Bush's final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they "could deviate slightly from the rules," said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy.

"There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists," Sergeant Leahy told Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers said, were to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise.

The deviations included the use of "safety positions" or "stress positions" that would make the detainees uncomfortable but not necessarily hurt them - kneeling on the ground, for instance, or sitting in a "chair" position against the wall. The new platoon was also trained in sleep deprivation, which the previous unit had generally limited to 24 hours or less, insisting that the interrogator remain awake with the prisoner to avoid pushing the limits of humane treatment.

But as the 519th interrogators settled into their jobs, they set their own procedures for sleep deprivation. They decided on 32 to 36 hours as the optimal time to keep prisoners awake and eliminated the practice of staying up themselves, one former interrogator, Eric LaHammer, said in an interview.
The interrogators worked from a menu of basic tactics to gain a prisoner's cooperation, from the "friendly" approach, to good cop-bad cop routines, to the threat of long-term imprisonment. But some less-experienced interrogators came to rely on the method known in the military as "Fear Up Harsh," or what one soldier referred to as "the screaming technique."

Sergeant Loring, then 27, tried with limited success to wean those interrogators off that approach, which typically involved yelling and throwing chairs. Mr. Leahy said the sergeant "put the brakes on when certain approaches got out of hand." But he could also be dismissive of tactics he considered too soft, several soldiers told investigators, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. (Efforts to locate Mr. Loring, who has left the military, were unsuccessful.)

"We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren't our friends and could not be trusted," Mr. Leahy said.
Specialist Damien M. Corsetti, a tall, bearded interrogator sometimes called "Monster" -he had the nickname tattooed in Italian across his stomach, other soldiers said - was often chosen to intimidate new detainees. Specialist Corsetti, they said, would glower and yell at the arrivals as they stood chained to an overhead pole or lay face down on the floor of a holding room. (A military police K-9 unit often brought growling dogs to walk among the new prisoners for similar effect, documents show.)

"The other interrogators would use his reputation," said one interrogator, Specialist Eric H. Barclais. "They would tell the detainee, 'If you don't cooperate, we'll have to get Monster, and he won't be as nice.' " Another soldier told investigators that Sergeant Loring lightheartedly referred to Specialist Corsetti, then 23, as "the King of Torture."
A Saudi detainee who was interviewed by Army investigators last June at Guantánamo said Specialist Corsetti had pulled out his penis during an interrogation at Bagram, held it against the prisoner's face and threatened to rape him, excerpts from the man's statement show.

Last fall, the investigators cited probable cause to charge Specialist Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner and indecent acts in the incident; he has not been charged. At Abu Ghraib, he was also one of three members of the 519th who were fined and demoted for forcing an Iraqi woman to strip during questioning, another interrogator said. A spokesman at Fort Bragg said Specialist Corsetti would not comment.
In late August of 2002, the Bagram interrogators were joined by a new military police unit that was assigned to guard the detainees. The soldiers, mostly reservists from the 377th Military Police Company based in Cincinnati and Bloomington, Ind., were similarly unprepared for their mission, members of the unit said.
The company received basic lessons in handling prisoners at Fort Dix, N.J., and some police and corrections officers in its ranks provided further training. That instruction included an overview of "pressure-point control tactics" and notably the "common peroneal strike" - a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg, just above the knee.

The M.P.'s said they were never told that peroneal strikes were not part of Army doctrine. Nor did most of them hear one of the former police officers tell a fellow soldier during the training that he would never use such strikes because they would "tear up" a prisoner's legs.
But once in Afghanistan, members of the 377th found that the usual rules did not seem to apply. The peroneal strike quickly became a basic weapon of the M.P. arsenal. "That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg," former Sgt. Thomas V. Curtis told the investigators.

A few weeks into the company's tour, Specialist Jeremy M. Callaway overheard another guard boasting about having beaten a detainee who had spit on him. Specialist Callaway also told investigators that other soldiers had congratulated the guard "for not taking any" from a detainee.
One captain nicknamed members of the Third Platoon "the Testosterone Gang." Several were devout bodybuilders. Upon arriving in Afghanistan, a group of the soldiers decorated their tent with a Confederate flag, one soldier said.

Some of the same M.P.'s took a particular interest in an emotionally disturbed Afghan detainee who was known to eat his feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. The soldiers kneed the man repeatedly in the legs and, at one point, chained him with his arms straight up in the air, Specialist Callaway told investigators. They also nicknamed him "Timmy," after a disabled child in the animated television series "South Park." One of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character, Specialist Callaway said.

Eventually, the man was sent home.

The Defiant Detainee
The detainee known as Person Under Control No. 412 was a portly, well-groomed Afghan named Habibullah. Some American officials identified him as "Mullah" Habibullah, a brother of a former Taliban commander from the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan.
He stood out from the scraggly guerrillas and villagers whom the Bagram interrogators typically saw. "He had a piercing gaze and was very confident," the provost marshal in charge of the M.P.'s, Maj. Bobby R. Atwell, recalled.

Documents from the investigation suggest that Mr. Habibullah was captured by an Afghan warlord on Nov. 28, 2002, and delivered to Bagram by C.I.A. operatives two days later. His well-being at that point is a matter of dispute. The doctor who examined him on arrival at Bagram reported him in good health. But the intelligence operations chief, Lt. Col. John W. Loffert Jr., later told Army investigators, "He was already in bad condition when he arrived."

What is clear is that Mr. Habibullah was identified at Bagram as an important prisoner and an unusually sharp-tongued and insubordinate one.
One of the 377th's Third Platoon sergeants, Alan J. Driver Jr., told investigators that Mr. Habibullah rose up after a rectal examination and kneed him in the groin. The guard said he grabbed the prisoner by the head and yelled in his face. Mr. Habibullah then "became combative," Sergeant Driver said, and had to be subdued by three guards and led away in an armlock.

He was then confined in one of the 9-foot by 7-foot isolation cells, which the M.P. commander, Capt. Christopher M. Beiring, later described as a standard procedure. "There was a policy that detainees were hooded, shackled and isolated for at least the first 24 hours, sometimes 72 hours of captivity," he told investigators.
While the guards kept some prisoners awake by yelling or poking at them or banging on their cell doors, Mr. Habibullah was shackled by the wrists to the wire ceiling over his cell, soldiers said.
On his second day, Dec. 1, the prisoner was "uncooperative" again, this time with Specialist Willie V. Brand. The guard, who has since been charged with assault and other crimes, told investigators he had delivered three peroneal strikes in response. The next day, Specialist Brand said, he had to knee the prisoner again. Other blows followed.

A lawyer for Specialist Brand, John P. Galligan, said there was no criminal intent by his client to hurt any detainee. "At the time, my client was acting consistently with the standard operating procedure that was in place at the Bagram facility."
The communication between Mr. Habibullah and his jailers appears to have been almost exclusively physical. Despite repeated requests, the M.P.'s were assigned no interpreters of their own. Instead, they borrowed from the interrogators when they could and relied on prisoners who spoke even a little English to translate for them.

When the detainees were beaten or kicked for "noncompliance," one of the interpreters, Ali M. Baryalai said, it was often "because they have no idea what the M.P. is saying."
By the morning of Dec. 2, witnesses told the investigators, Mr. Habibullah was coughing and complaining of chest pains. He limped into the interrogation room in shackles, his right leg stiff and his right foot swollen. The lead interrogator, Sergeant Leahy, let him sit on the floor because he could not bend his knees and sit in a chair.

The interpreter who was on hand, Ebrahim Baerde, said the interrogators had kept their distance that day "because he was spitting up a lot of phlegm."
"They were laughing and making fun of him, saying it was 'gross' or 'nasty,' " Mr. Baerde said.
Though battered, Mr. Habibullah was unbowed.
"Once they asked him if he wanted to spend the rest of his life in handcuffs," Mr. Baerde said. "His response was, 'Yes, don't they look good on me?' "

By Dec. 3, Mr. Habibullah's reputation for defiance seemed to make him an open target. One M.P. said he had given him five peroneal strikes for being "noncompliant and combative." Another gave him three or four more for being "combative and noncompliant." Some guards later asserted that he had been hurt trying to escape.
When Sgt. James P. Boland saw Mr. Habibullah on Dec. 3, he was in one of the isolation cells, tethered to the ceiling by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body was slumped forward, held up by the chains.

Sergeant Boland told the investigators he had entered the cell with two other guards, Specialists Anthony M. Morden and Brian E. Cammack. (All three have been charged with assault and other crimes.) One of them pulled off the prisoner's black hood. His head was slumped to one side, his tongue sticking out. Specialist Cammack said he had put some bread on Mr. Habibullah's tongue. Another soldier put an apple in the prisoner's hand; it fell to the floor.

When Specialist Cammack turned back toward the prisoner, he said in one statement, Mr. Habibullah's spit hit his chest. Later, Specialist Cammack acknowledged, "I'm not sure if he spit at me." But at the time, he exploded, yelling, "Don't ever spit on me again!" and kneeing the prisoner sharply in the thigh, "maybe a couple" of times. Mr. Habibullah's limp body swayed back and forth in the chains.
When Sergeant Boland returned to the cell some 20 minutes later, he said, Mr. Habibullah was not moving and had no pulse. Finally, the prisoner was unchained and laid out on the floor of his cell.
The guard who Specialist Cammack said had counseled him back in New Jersey about the dangers of peroneal strikes found him in the room where Mr. Habibullah lay, his body already cold.
"Specialist Cammack appeared very distraught," Specialist William Bohl told an investigator. The soldier "was running about the room hysterically."

An M.P. was sent to wake one of the medics.
"What are you getting me for?" the medic, Specialist Robert S. Melone, responded, telling him to call an ambulance instead.
When another medic finally arrived, he found Mr. Habibullah on the floor, his arms outstretched, his eyes and mouth open.
"It looked like he had been dead for a while, and it looked like nobody cared," the medic, Staff Sgt. Rodney D. Glass, recalled.

Not all of the guards were indifferent, their statements show. But if Mr. Habibullah's death shocked some of them, it did not lead to major changes in the detention center's operation.
Military police guards were assigned to be present during interrogations to help prevent mistreatment. The provost marshal, Major Atwell, told investigators he had already instructed the commander of the M.P. company, Captain Beiring, to stop chaining prisoners to the ceiling. Others said they never received such an order.

Senior officers later told investigators that they had been unaware of any serious abuses at the B.C.P. But the first sergeant of the 377th, Betty J. Jones, told investigators that the use of standing restraints, sleep deprivation and peroneal strikes was readily apparent.
"Everyone that is anyone went through the facility at one time or another," she said.
Major Atwell said the death "did not cause an enormous amount of concern 'cause it appeared natural."
In fact, Mr. Habibullah's autopsy, completed on Dec. 8, showed bruises or abrasions on his chest, arms and head. There were deep contusions on his calves, knees and thighs. His left calf was marked by what appeared to have been the sole of a boot.

His death was attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which traveled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs.
The Shy Detainee
On Dec. 5, one day after Mr. Habibullah died, Mr. Dilawar arrived at Bagram.
Four days before, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Mr. Dilawar set out from his tiny village of Yakubi in a prized new possession, a used Toyota sedan that his family bought for him a few weeks earlier to drive as a taxi.

Mr. Dilawar was not an adventurous man. He rarely went far from the stone farmhouse he shared with his wife, young daughter and extended family. He never attended school, relatives said, and had only one friend, Bacha Khel, with whom he would sit in the wheat fields surrounding the village and talk.
"He was a shy man, a very simple man," his eldest brother, Shahpoor, said in an interview.
On the day he disappeared, Mr. Dilawar's mother had asked him to gather his three sisters from their nearby villages and bring them home for the holiday. But he needed gas money and decided instead to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, about 45 minutes away, to look for fares.

At a taxi stand there, he found three men headed back toward Yakubi. On the way, they passed a base used by American troops, Camp Salerno, which had been the target of a rocket attack that morning.
Militiamen loyal to the guerrilla commander guarding the base, Jan Baz Khan, stopped the Toyota at a checkpoint. They confiscated a broken walkie-talkie from one of Mr. Dilawar's passengers. In the trunk, they found an electric stabilizer used to regulate current from a generator. (Mr. Dilawar's family said the stabilizer was not theirs; at the time, they said, they had no electricity at all.)
The four men were detained and turned over to American soldiers at the base as suspects in the attack. Mr. Dilawar and his passengers spent their first night there handcuffed to a fence, so they would be unable to sleep. When a doctor examined them the next morning, he said later, he found Mr. Dilawar tired and suffering from headaches but otherwise fine.

Mr. Dilawar's three passengers were eventually flown to Guantánamo and held for more than a year before being sent home without charge. In interviews after their release, the men described their treatment at Bagram as far worse than at Guantánamo. While all of them said they had been beaten, they complained most bitterly of being stripped naked in front of female soldiers for showers and medical examinations, which they said included the first of several painful and humiliating rectal exams.
"They did lots and lots of bad things to me," said Abdur Rahim, a 26-year-old baker from Khost. "I was shouting and crying, and no one was listening. When I was shouting, the soldiers were slamming my head against the desk."

For Mr. Dilawar, his fellow prisoners said, the most difficult thing seemed to be the black cloth hood that was pulled over his head. "He could not breathe," said a man called Parkhudin, who had been one of Mr. Dilawar's passengers.

Mr. Dilawar was a frail man, standing only 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 122 pounds. But at Bagram, he was quickly labeled one of the "noncompliant" ones.
When one of the First Platoon M.P.'s, Specialist Corey E. Jones, was sent to Mr. Dilawar's cell to give him some water, he said the prisoner spit in his face and started kicking him. Specialist Jones responded, he said, with a couple of knee strikes to the leg of the shackled man.

"He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god," Specialist Jones said to investigators. "Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny."
Other Third Platoon M.P.'s later came by the detention center and stopped at the isolation cells to see for themselves, Specialist Jones said.

It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah,' " he said. "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

In a subsequent statement, Specialist Jones was vague about which M.P.'s had delivered the blows. His estimate was never confirmed, but other guards eventually admitted striking Mr. Dilawar repeatedly.
Many M.P.'s would eventually deny that they had any idea of Mr. Dilawar's injuries, explaining that they never saw his legs beneath his jumpsuit. But Specialist Jones recalled that the drawstring pants of Mr. Dilawar's orange prison suit fell down again and again while he was shackled.

"I saw the bruise because his pants kept falling down while he was in standing restraints," the soldier told investigators. "Over a certain time period, I noticed it was the size of a fist."
As Mr. Dilawar grew desperate, he began crying out more loudly to be released. But even the interpreters had trouble understanding his Pashto dialect; the annoyed guards heard only noise.
"He had constantly been screaming, 'Release me; I don't want to be here,' and things like that," said the one linguist who could decipher his distress, Abdul Ahad Wardak.

The Interrogation
On Dec. 8, Mr. Dilawar was taken for his fourth interrogation. It quickly turned hostile.
The 21-year-old lead interrogator, Specialist Glendale C. Walls II, later contended that Mr. Dilawar was evasive. "Some holes came up, and we wanted him to answer us truthfully," he said. The other interrogator, Sergeant Salcedo, complained that the prisoner was smiling, not answering questions, and refusing to stay kneeling on the ground or sitting against the wall.

The interpreter who was present, Ahmad Ahmadzai, recalled the encounter differently to investigators.
The interrogators, Mr. Ahmadzai said, accused Mr. Dilawar of launching the rockets that had hit the American base. He denied that. While kneeling on the ground, he was unable to hold his cuffed hands above his head as instructed, prompting Sergeant Salcedo to slap them back up whenever they began to drop.
"Selena berated him for being weak and questioned him about being a man, which was very insulting because of his heritage," Mr. Ahmadzai said.

When Mr. Dilawar was unable to sit in the chair position against the wall because of his battered legs, the two interrogators grabbed him by the shirt and repeatedly shoved him back against the wall.
"This went on for 10 or 15 minutes," the interpreter said. "He was so tired he couldn't get up."
"They stood him up, and at one point Selena stepped on his bare foot with her boot and grabbed him by his beard and pulled him towards her," he went on. "Once Selena kicked Dilawar in the groin, private areas, with her right foot. She was standing some distance from him, and she stepped back and kicked him.
"About the first 10 minutes, I think, they were actually questioning him, after that it was pushing, shoving, kicking and shouting at him," Mr. Ahmadzai said. "There was no interrogation going on."
The session ended, he said, with Sergeant Salcedo instructing the M.P.'s to keep Mr. Dilawar chained to the ceiling until the next shift came on.

The next morning, Mr. Dilawar began yelling again. At around noon, the M.P.'s called over another of the interpreters, Mr. Baerde, to try to quiet Mr. Dilawar down.
"I told him, 'Look, please, if you want to be able to sit down and be released from shackles, you just need to be quiet for one more hour."

"He told me that if he was in shackles another hour, he would die," Mr. Baerde said.
Half an hour later, Mr. Baerde returned to the cell. Mr. Dilawar's hands hung limply from the cuffs, and his head, covered by the black hood, slumped forward.
"He wanted me to get a doctor, and said that he needed 'a shot,' " Mr. Baerde recalled. "He said that he didn't feel good. He said that his legs were hurting."
Mr. Baerde translated Mr. Dilawar's plea to one of the guards. The soldier took the prisoner's hand and pressed down on his fingernails to check his circulation.

"He's O.K.," Mr. Baerde quoted the M.P. as saying. "He's just trying to get out of his restraints."
By the time Mr. Dilawar was brought in for his final interrogation in the first hours of the next day, Dec. 10, he appeared exhausted and was babbling that his wife had died. He also told the interrogators that he had been beaten by the guards.

"But we didn't pursue that," said Mr. Baryalai, the interpreter.
Specialist Walls was again the lead interrogator. But his more aggressive partner, Specialist Claus, quickly took over, Mr. Baryalai said.
"Josh had a rule that the detainee had to look at him, not me," the interpreter told investigators. "He gave him three chances, and then he grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him towards him, across the table, slamming his chest into the table front."
When Mr. Dilawar was unable to kneel, the interpreter said, the interrogators pulled him to his feet and pushed him against the wall. Told to assume a stress position, the prisoner leaned his head against the wall and began to fall asleep.

"It looked to me like Dilawar was trying to cooperate, but he couldn't physically perform the tasks," Mr. Baryalai said.
Finally, Specialist Walls grabbed the prisoner and "shook him harshly," the interpreter said, telling him that if he failed to cooperate, he would be shipped to a prison in the United States, where he would be "treated like a woman, by the other men" and face the wrath of criminals who "would be very angry with anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks." (Specialist Walls was charged last week with assault, maltreatment and failure to obey a lawful order; Specialist Claus was charged with assault, maltreatment and lying to investigators. Each man declined to comment.)

A third military intelligence specialist who spoke some Pashto, Staff Sgt. W. Christopher Yonushonis, had questioned Mr. Dilawar earlier and had arranged with Specialist Claus to take over when he was done. Instead, the sergeant arrived at the interrogation room to find a large puddle of water on the floor, a wet spot on Mr. Dilawar's shirt and Specialist Claus standing behind the detainee, twisting up the back of the hood that covered the prisoner's head.

"I had the impression that Josh was actually holding the detainee upright by pulling on the hood," he said. "I was furious at this point because I had seen Josh tighten the hood of another detainee the week before. This behavior seemed completely gratuitous and unrelated to intelligence collection."
"What the hell happened with that water?" Sergeant Yonushonis said he had demanded.
"We had to make sure he stayed hydrated," he said Specialist Claus had responded.
The next morning, Sergeant Yonushonis went to the noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Sergeant Loring, to report the incident. Mr. Dilawar, however, was already dead.

The Post-Mortem
The findings of Mr. Dilawar's autopsy were succinct. He had had some coronary artery disease, the medical examiner reported, but what caused his heart to fail was "blunt force injuries to the lower extremities." Similar injuries contributed to Mr. Habibullah's death.
One of the coroners later translated the assessment at a pre-trial hearing for Specialist Brand, saying the tissue in the young man's legs "had basically been pulpified."
"I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus," added Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the coroner, and a major at that time.

After the second death, several of the 519th Battalion's interrogators were temporarily removed from their posts. A medic was assigned to the detention center to work night shifts. On orders from the Bagram intelligence chief, interrogators were prohibited from any physical contact with the detainees. Chaining prisoners to any fixed object was also banned, and the use of stress positions was curtailed.
In February, an American military official disclosed that the Afghan guerrilla commander whose men had arrested Mr. Dilawar and his passengers had himself been detained. The commander, Jan Baz Khan, was suspected of attacking Camp Salerno himself and then turning over innocent "suspects" to the Americans in a ploy to win their trust, the military official said.

The three passengers in Mr. Dilawar's taxi were sent home from Guantánamo in March 2004, 15 months after their capture, with letters saying they posed "no threat" to American forces.
They were later visited by Mr. Dilawar's parents, who begged them to explain what had happened to their son. But the men said they could not bring themselves to recount the details.
"I told them he had a bed," said Mr. Parkhudin. "I said the Americans were very nice because he had a heart problem."

In late August of last year, shortly before the Army completed its inquiry into the deaths, Sergeant Yonushonis, who was stationed in Germany, went at his own initiative to see an agent of the Criminal Investigation Command. Until then, he had never been interviewed.
"I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case," he said. "I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive."
Sergeant Yonushonis described what he had witnessed of the detainee's last interrogation. "I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking," he said.

He also added a detail that had been overlooked in the investigative file. By the time Mr. Dilawar was taken into his final interrogations, he said, "most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent."

The Sun-sational pictures of Saddam
Pic Sam

Saddam-in-Undies

Another set of pictures comes out of Iraq. This time of Iraq's former President Saddam Hussian. Saddam is curently languishing in an American-picketed jail in Baghdad. The pictures show the ex-president in his underwears, in what is already been seen by many as a breach of international conventions on treatment of prisoners-of-war.

Sensational pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underwear were printed last night - reigniting the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. The toppled dictator is seen in his jail cell wearing nothing but white underpants as he folds a pair of trousers. Saddam is being held by U.S. guards and it is believed the photographs, printed in later editions of today's Sun, were taken by American sources.

The newspaper would not say how it came by the pictures or give any details about how they were taken.
But the humiliating image of such a high-profile prisoner is bound to add to the furore of the abuse at Abu Ghraib. Pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners shocked the world and caused immense damage to American standing in the Arab world. Saddam, 67, has been held by U.S. forces at a compound near Baghdad since his capture December 2003 in a tiny 'spiderhole' cellar in north Iraq.

He made his first court appearance last July and his trial on war crimes and genocide charges is one of the first priorities of the fledgling Iraqi government. Typically, he was defiant as ever, branding U.S. president George Bush the 'real criminal' and defended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. He has been allowed visits by lawyers and there was speculation that the leaking of the pictures could have been an attempt by supporters to smear his U.S. captors.

In the pictures Saddam looks well-fed and appears to have put on weight since his capture. The Pentagon was last night investigating what appeared to be a major breach of security over the photographs. Saddam, who is due to go on trial for war crimes this summer, is being held in a heavily-guarded American compound near Baghdad. Under the Geneva Convention and special agreements with the United Nations, the U.S. and its allies are forbidden to release photographs of prisoners of war such as Saddam.

The picture is certain to enrage many in his country and former members of his political party who are now part of the insurgent movement in Iraq. 'If this photograph proves to be genuine, it might result in a new intensive wave of violence,' said a Pentagon source last night. 'Again, presuming it's genuine, its release will be tremendously embarrassing to us. We must find out where this came from.'

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Converts


NY times publised a reader's comment on may 19, 2005 which went on like -- Convert all Muslims and make them Cristians, so that they will learn to live in peace.

Convert them to Christianity and let them eat cake. This might well be a solution. Though I suspect that they, like other Christians, would then start squabbling about minor and irrelevant liturgical and theological differences; then the Shiite-christians would say that God told them THEY owned the oil wells, and the Suni-Christians would say, no they do above the Mosul parallel. Then the Texas-Christians would say, no God gave us all the oil, so it's ours, and the Kansas Christians would then begin talking in tongues, or some other form of ungrammatical English, et al... Being Christian, in other words, has nothing to do with peace. Look at Northern Ireland. Look at the history of Christianity. Whistle "National Brotherhood Week" under the shower...

What makes me giggle a little, of course, is that there is a terrific resemblance between the fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Moslems these days. All this fire and brimstone for the sake of some religious hallucinations, and at the bottom of it are the old motives: power, money, control.

So I propose: instead of converting the Muslims, let them fight it out, for this seems to be the much touted Armageddon that will bring peace to the planet. Those on the sidelines should always support the losing side (that is why America started selling arms to Iran as well as to Iraq in the 80s, so that the two countries could whack each other into oblivion). Once these two prosyletizing, colonial, power-mad groups have exhausted themselves, the world may finally have the peace and quiet to get on with more important pursuits, such as correcting the environmental problems we have, spreading the wealth a little, instituting universal healthcare, etc... Because most people, I suspect, just want to get on with life, raising their families, doing their work, enjoying some good times between the cradle and the grave, even making whooppee without some blue-nose peering into the gardenshed window. And this, throughout the ages, has been impeded by the constant interference of men with axes to grind, men with power-obsessions, men of extreme greed, men filled with hatred for anyone who is serene. They range from the Bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century AD to George W. Bush. And most, the overwhelming majority, mark my words, have been men.

And who suffers? The women and children and men who have better things to do than run around the planet destroying things, raping, pillaging, acting like unbalanced 10-year-olds.
Each time I read about some GI who has been knocked off in Iraq and is praised as a good family man, I wonder, then, what in earth he was doing on such an adventure. That is immorality itself. But I have digressed from the subject.

Sameer

Truth unveiled

The descecration of a copy of Holy Quran at the hands of US troops in Guantanamo bay has led to a bitter debate about a range of issues. About the veracity of such media reports, about the military ethics of the US and above all the lack of transpiracy in the US administration.

I reproduce here excerpts from the Newyork times edit on 18 may 2005.

A Sudden Taste for Openness

Newsweek is under intense criticism for a report it has now retracted about the American prison in Guantánamo Bay. Since we've weathered a journalistic storm or two, we can only say the best approach is transparency as Newsweek fixes whatever is broken, if anything. There is already a debate about journalistic practices, including the use of anonymous sources, and these things are worth discussing - especially at a time of war, national insecurity and extreme government secrecy, a time when aggressive news reporting is critical. But it is offensive to see the Bush administration use this case for political purposes, and ludicrous for spokesmen for this White House and Defense Department to offer pious declarations about accountability, openness and concern for America's image abroad.

It took Newsweek about two weeks to retract its report. It has been a year since the very real problem behind the article - the systematic abuse and deliberate humiliation of mainly Muslim prisoners - came to light through the Abu Ghraib disaster. And the Bush administration has not come close to either openness or accountability. The White House and the Pentagon have refused to begin any serious examination of the policymaking that led to the abuse, humiliation, torture and even killing of prisoners taken during antiterrorist operations and the invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration has stonewalled outside efforts to accomplish that task. No senior officer or civilian official has been held accountable for policies that put every American soldier at greater risk. The men who wrote the memos on legalized torture and evading the Geneva Conventions have been promoted.

If the Pentagon is as enthusiastic about accountability in its own house as its spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, is when it comes to Newsweek, then it should release the Southern Command's report on Guantánamo Bay, on which the magazine report was based. The administration should also release all the other reports on prisoner abuse it has been withholding, including one by the Central Intelligence Agency about its illegal practice of hiding prisoners from the Red Cross. And it should encourage Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to conduct a full investigation of the formation of the policy on prisoners, rather than pressuring him to stop.
NY times edit-page opinion on May 19, 2005: By DAVID BROOKS

Finally, they are strategically ruthless {protestors, protesting desecration of the Holy Qu'ran}. Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker, who has spent years reporting on extremists, says they use manufactured spasms of hatred to desensitize their followers. After followers spend a few years living through rabid riots and vicious sermons, killing an American or a Jew or even a fellow Muslim seems no more consequential than killing a mosquito. That's how suicide bombers are made.
The rioters are the real enemy, not Newsweek and not the American soldiers serving as prison guards.

A cup of tea, MrBrooks?Ahhh! You worked for Newsweek, now things become clearer.
What you criticize about the Moslems, Mr. Brooks, is no different than what happens in thousands of little bethels across the USA, as the fundamentalist start feeling their oats, what with their grand mufti in the White House. So your first task should be cleaning your own house.

Task number two might be to read the news carefully. Moslems demonstrated in Afghanistan. And the military got trigger-happy and fired on them. Well, I assume that soon, when the police first on anti-Bush demonstarators here, you'll say: Oh, they were fired up by that liberal press and it's their own damned fault.
Mr. Brooks: Is being a conservative non-thinker a genetic problem, something that comes from , I don't know, eating too many doughnuts, or sucking too hard on a silver spoon for generations?

Before George W. Bush embarked on this get-rich-quick scheme in Iraq, which like all of his business adventures was a flop, the USA had a fairly good chance to turn much of the Moslem world into an ally. The remaining bunch of fanatics, of which there are groups in ANY culture, we could have dealt with easily. The Koran desecration story or non-story is just one little bit added to a pile of justified complaints on the part of Moslems, and the whole Iraq thing has served mainly to politicize and radicalize many of Moslem faith.
But the conservative mindset is simply too arrogant to be able to grasp why these people don't like us. Well, sir, pride comes before the fall, it's an old saying and it's unfortunately true. Our planet has become too small and too interlinked for jingoism.


To use the bogey of Islamist opposition to justify anything is fast becoming a fad. Isn't it convenient to think that the only reason Afghans are protesting reports of Koran desecration is that they are whipped into a frenzy by Al-Qaeda types who deserve the gallows anyway.

How easy it is to look away from all the mounting evidence of abuse and torture and pretend that Afghans who hoped for a better life after decades of war and are now having their worst fears confirmed - i.e. that the Americans came first to weed out people they didn't like, no matter if it entailed cultural domination, rather than to liberate them - confirmed, might be legitimately upset at reports of religious humiliation in camps where they are detained with no respect for law. Reports of the Koran being put in the toilet have come from British detainees who were released for lack of any evidence against them (BBC reported this in August last year) - far from the Islamist warriors of Al Qaeda.

Perhaps Mr. Brooks would today call Gandhi, who started his mobilization against the British in South Africa after being humiliated because of the colour of his skin on a train, "cynical, delusional and fascistic" and urge us not to "bend over" to show any sensitivity to him. Surely anyone whose opposition is inconvenient is driven by some sort of fundamentalist religious ideology.

Oh, and Newsweek... they are overblown versions of the National Enquirer, with ousy reportinbg, schlocky language, and what's more cheerleading reporting. In other words, rubbish. Insipid stuff.

Sameer Bhat

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Macabre Flush


Protests snowballed in several Muslim countries over a report that US military interrogators in Guantanamo Bay desecrated copies of the Holy Quran, while demands were made that the US must expedite action against the guilty. Newsweek, that reported the matter in its May 9 2005 edition, however came up with a public apology to its readers this week, saying it got some parts of its story wrong, and extending its sympathies to the victims of the resultant violence. The White House said the Newsweek response was insufficient. "It's puzzling. While Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refuse to retract the story", US presidential spokesman Scott Mc Clellan said.

The Americans are no doubt a smart lot. They currently got a Space-vehicle ' Mars Rover Opportunity ' on the surface of another planet -- Mars. They are so good at all things spectacular. United States has a very liberal piece of constitution in place. It is a free land with an excellent criminal justice system. However that is not all. Our nice freedom-loving guys have a little den of their own on the Cuban territory. They commit all the small vices in this small place. No law extends onto this infamous detention centre called Guantanamo bay. After Newsweek, a reputed American magazine carried a small one column news on May 9, 2005, all hell broke loose. The US troops interrogating the Al-Qaeda detainees in the infamous camp, tucked away from media attention, indignantly flushed a copy of the Holy Quran down the toilet apparently to break the prisoners' morale. Another matter, Newsweek got the scoop.

I don't think we can completely blame the Americans for these flukes. As a legal matter, U.S. citizens are free to deface any religious text -- including the Quran -- as an exercise of free speech, just as they are free to burn the American flag or tear up a Bible (government employees can be punished for violating government rules).
The US should be fully aware that beyond its borders, in a globalized world, their alleged actions can have some vary serious repercussions. A strained relationship especially between Islam and the west has a frightening tendency to imbalance the precarious world order.

The Islamic world is seething. The moot point appears simple to me. Any interference with the Islamic faith or desecration of any of its holy texts will be met with instant violence. The western audiences may find it a little disturbing. Why are the Muslims so continuously angry that any insult can set off violence? Do these groups feel so powerless, so callously dominated that they are willing to wage holy war over the alleged actions of a single American interrogator? What about the freedom of expression? These are military tactics, so why don't they just chill. Some might argue that this anger has been spawned by the Bush Administration's overly subdued response to Abu Gharib Prison abuse. But the truth is completely different!

Islam has a history of manifesting a no-nonsense attitude. It takes no shit. Faith is supreme to a majority of Muslims, if not all. Not that they are all saints or perhaps extremists! But while it may be alright for an average American -- or a Cristian -- to turn pages of the Holy Bible after a passionate session of love making, without meaning to disrespect the scripture, no Muslim will ever attempt such a thing. The Islamic faith regards ideas such as God, religion, the Holy Prophet and Quran absolute. These concepts are beyond all things worldly for them. So while the Dan Browns of the globe may write endlessly, trying to portray Jesus as married with mary magdalene and having a bloodline, Islam has no stomach for such fanciful experimentations. This attitude may look alien in the western lands but faces as a stark reality in the entire Muslim world.

Before we question such logic, let me put it very succintly -- a lot of what appears normal to the west is not necessarily the case in the rest of the world, especially the Islamic. For instance, the idea of having children outside the wedlock is prevalent in much of the west including the US. For the US civil society and media such practices are well within the accepted norms of civilization. Infact it is a way of life. But interestingly, Islamic societies loath such culture. For them, these offsprings are illegitimate. Clearly, we have a different paradigm when we look at a different set of countries. The Islamic world expects the US to understand this thin line between what is acceptable to the US as also what is acceptable to the outside world.

No wonder we are witnessing huge protests turning violent from Indonesia to Afghanistan. A post 9/11 world has Muslims feeling increasingly insecure and vulnerable. They expect the US to respect the sentiments of one of the greatest faith's in the world -- and the fastest growing faith in the US. Southern command -- that controls the bay -- is trusted to treat the Muslim detainees in gun-bay in a more human way. Human rights organisations have been crying hoarse that the US must be answerable to international conventions on the treatment of the Gun-bay detainees -- illegal combatants as America calls them. On both accounts, the US is completely widdershins.

The world has been living with contrasts, for aeons. We must let it continue living and growing amidst the confluentse of faiths, ideas and convictions.

Friday, May 13, 2005


The serenity of montreux transfixes you! There is plenty of blue sky, lotsa water, crisp air, lofty mountains, swathes of greens and ofcourse the castle!
Pic Sam

Monday, May 09, 2005


This one moment captures the end of an era and the begining of a new world order.
Pic Sam

The Portugese Connection

PEDRO

Internet is a wonderful, wonderful tool. If I were asked to single out one particular invention in the last 100 years, without battling an eyelid, I will mark, Internet. The world-wide-web is a magical realm that catapults us in a new universe, beyond boundaries, where mountains cease to exist, beyond the cacophony and high seas -- a world that is so vast, so informative, so intimate and so loving.

I met a charming 15-year old kid from Portugal in one of the labyrinthine alleys of internet. I wasn't particularly cruising for a friend or an acquaintance and yet I chanced upon one. A class 9 student, Pedro is so full of life. Something of a wonder-kid. He is actually a geek. He loves to play with Mindstorm and Legos and makes the best robots ever.

Pedro loves reading and has already devoured Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix... as well as other books... and a book about sex that he feels is very interesting (thats what you call a 15 year naughty brat).

Pedro fascinates me. Away from the serious world of business and finance and my hectic work-schedule, he comes as such a relief. He makes you smile with curious innocence. I'll love to meet him someday in Pardilhó, his hometown, tucked away somewhere in the beautiful coastal city of Aveiro. I haven't been to south-western Europe yet but I feel like as I have already trudged the north-Atlantic sea-front. At least I have a little friend, who loves to swim, ride and watch airplanes take off near the wind swept beaches of his lovely country.

Sameer Bhat

From D-day to VE-Day


The 60th annev of VE

The world is partying in Moscow. Major world leaders are tossing mugs of beer to mark the passing of 6 decades of Europe's most devastating war. VE: Victory in Europe. It has been 60 long years since Adolf Hitler's Third Reich was destroyed by the allied forces on this day. May 8, 1945. The Axis -- as the German-Italo-Japs alliance was called, collapsed in those early summer days in Europe. Victory in Europe didn't come easy. More than 50 million people lost their lives, half of them Russians. Nazi's sent about 6 million Jews to gas chambers and fashioned the biggest holocaust in human history. In June of 1944, western allies invaded German-occupied France, sailing from Great Britian to storm onto the windswept Normandy beaches amid the cracle of gunfire, as Ron Regan once famously put it. That was the begining of the end of what appeared to be greatest power of the time. Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement. During Hitler's dictatorship, "Heil Hitler" had become a more than the paganlike chant at rallies and parades, it was infact the common form of address. On May 8, 1945, final capitulation was signed by Germans in Berlin. The soviet flag fluttered atop Hitler's palace. The Red Army hoisted the Flag of the Soviet Union over the ruins of the Reichstag marking the begining of a new era!

A new begining had already dawned!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Da Vinci code

A great book that cuts across the barebones of belief and faith

I just finished reading The Da Vinci code. It is an amazing book and an extremely erudite one too. The book in its pre-prologue page states that “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” And it was one commingle of secrets, codes and intrigue that I came across, as I flipped pages upon pages of this wonderfully-written work. In their quest to unravel the mystery of the keystone -- which has a deep religious significance -- the protagonists race against time and cadasters. I felt like a part of the small team, working my way to find the final magical word, that would unleash the greatest secret in humanity.

To cut a long story short:


While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci…clues visible for all to see…and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter. Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others. The Louvre curator has sacrificed his life to protect the Priory's most sacred trust: the location of a vastly important religious relic, hidden for centuries.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei—a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory's secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.

In an exhilarating blend of relentless adventure, scholarly intrigue, and cutting wit, symbologist Robert Langdon -- first introduced in Dan Brown's bestselling Angels & Demons -- is the most original character to appear in years. The da vinci code heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightening-paced, intelligent thriller…surprising at every twist, absorbing at every turn, and in the end, utterly unpredictable…right up to its astonishing conclusion.

Sameer Bhat

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Vitruvain man



Vitruvain man is a Da vinci gem

The Vitruvian Man is a famous drawing with accompanying notes by Leonardo da Vinci made around the year 1490 in one of his journals... It depicts a naked male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions. The drawing is in pen, ink, and watercolor over metalpoint, and measures 34.3 x 24.5 cm. It is currently part of the collection of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.


According to Leonardo's notes in the accompanying text, which are mirror writing, it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in a treatise by the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote that in the human body:
  • A palm is the width of four fingers
  • a foot is the width of four palms
  • a cubit is the width of six palms
  • a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
  • a pace is four cubits
  • the length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height
  • the distance from the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin is one-eighth of a man's height
  • the distance from the hairline to the top of the breast is one-seventh of a man's height
  • the distance from the top of the head to the nipples is one-fourth of a man's height
  • the maximum width of the shoulders is one-fourth of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is one-fifth of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eight of a man's height
  • the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose is one-third of the length of the face
  • the distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is one-third of the length of the face
  • the length of the ear is one-third of the length of the face

Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius De Architectura 3.1.3 which reads: The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.

The rediscovery of the mathematical proportions of the human body in the 15th century by Leonardo and others is considered one of the great achievements leading to the Italian Renaissance. Note that Leonardo's drawing combines a careful reading of the ancient text, combined with his own observation of actual human bodies. In drawing the circle and square he correctly observes that the square cannot have the same center as the circle, the navel, but is somewhat lower in the anatomy. This adjustment is the innovative part of Leonardo's drawing and what distinguishes it from earlier illustrations.

The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, to the universe as a whole.


It may be noticed by examining the drawing that the combination of arm and leg positions actually creates sixteen different poses. The pose with the arms straight out and the feet together is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed square. On the other hand, the "spread-eagle" pose is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed circle. This illustrates the principle that in the shift between the two poses, the apparent center of the figure seems to move, but in reality, the navel of the figure, which is the true center of gravity, remains motionless.

Sameer