Widening Cracks in Walls of Secrecy around US Terrorist Detention Centers

In a major policy turnabout, the Bush administration is easing up on some of the jailed ex-Baathists who formed Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. This is in line with a fresh US offensive to tempt influential Sunni Muslim leaders to join the new government.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly, which revealed this policy departure on May 20, reported that this bid was the primary goal of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Baghdad on May 15.
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According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Baghdad, she delivered an offer from Washington to pardon at least 20 jailed Baath leaders and former Iraqi military commanders while hastening Saddam Hussein’s trial.
debkafile reveals that Sunday, May 22, Ghazi Hamud al-Obeidi, former mayor of Kut in southern Iraq, was the first to gain his freedom under this clemency offer. Number 32 on the US card pack of top Saddam officials, al-Obeidi was described as suffering from terminal cancer.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s political sources interpreted the new Bush administration policy as being to pin the evils of the Saddam regime on one man, the ex-dictator in person, while letting off some of his lesser Baathist cronies as underlings forced to obey their boss’s orders. The object of this tactic is to win Sunni Muslim decision-makers round to calling off their insurgency.
Therefore, the leak of intimate photos of an unguarded Saddam Hussein in a top secret US jail facility in Iraq to the British tabloid The Sun may not have been fortuitous.
Their emergence synchronously with a swelling flow of disclosures from US prison installations in Afghanistan and Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay poses some questions.
Some of the leaks may be the work of copycat whistleblowers; others motivated by the lure of cold cash.
debkafile‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources pinpoint the revelations tumbling out of the US prison center near Baghdad where former top Baath regime officials and operatives of al Qaeda and other Islamic terror groups are incarcerated. The photos of Saddam washing his socks or in his underwear – in conditions as humiliating as those of his capture – are believed to date to January-April 2004 when Saddam was in US military custody.
Still more telling than the Saddam photos is the word picture painted in the London weekly, The Observer, by Dr. Rod Barton, an Australian chemical and biological weapons expert who served on the Iraq Survey Group which scoured Iraq fruitlessly for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
Last week, Barton tore the veil off the top-secret prison known as Camp Cropper after it was closed to the world for two years. He reported to the British paper that 100 top ex-regime members are confined to windowless cells two meters square in three long single-storey cell blocks. “The only entry is through bolted steel doors with a metal ventilation flap placed a meter from the ground,” he said. Sometimes the flaps are sealed as punishment. Most of the “high-value” prisoners of Camp Cropper are held in solitary confinement. Once a day they are allowed one hour’s exercise in a small yard enclosed by a high wall. They may not speak to each other. When taken for interrogation, they are clothed in the same orange overalls as the al Qaeda inmates of Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba.
Barton said he believed the prisoners were “softened” up before they arrived in an induction process known as “purgatory.”
This month too, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal, a secret meeting, first of its kind, took place in Bahrain between a group of American lawyers and several Saudis and Gulf nationals whose fathers or sons are held in secret US detention facilities for terrorists. The lawyers did not identify themselves except as human rights activists and promised nothing except that there would be more such encounters. They listened to the families’ complaints and took notes. The venue of the rendezvous suggests careful thought went into the occasion in more than one quarter: Bahrain is site of the US Fifth Fleet command in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia maintains a heavy intelligence presence there.
The secrets of Camp Cropper came to light at the same time as revelations of abuse in other corners of the US-led global war on terror.
Last week, ahead of Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington on Monday, May 23, he New York Times carried a further report of prisoner abuse at a US holding facility in Bagram airport near Kabul. These incidents were dated to 2002. An angry Karzai demanded “American justice” for alleged US troop abuses that caused the deaths of two Afghan detainees: One, a 22-year old taxi driver known as Diwala was said to have been chained to the ceiling by his wrists for four days and beaten, and a second called Habibullah. A military coroner found that both had died from “blunt force trauma.”
The NYT reports seven US troops were detained in the case but none convicted.
As to the sources of these grim exposures, by far the richest are the 17 al Qaeda Internet sites whose virtual pages are devoted to possibly virtual accounts of the ways in which their followers are maltreated at US detention facilities.
debkafile‘s specialist sources on Islamist groups describe how the Internet is used as a postbox for inmates to receive messages from their relatives and supporters.
Each prisoner is awarded his own Web page detailing the full circumstances of his capture, his injuries and their severity, the address of hospital that cared for him and the names of the doctors who treated him. Listed too are his captors, whether Americans, Pakistani, Syrian, Sudanese, Saudi or the Afghan tribes who make a handsome living out of US bounty for the handover of captured al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists. Added to each site are the names of the commanders who nabbed the terrorist, the facility where he was held and the date on which he was turned over to the Americans.
The most striking example of a terrorist awarded his own Web page is the high-value Saudi captive in American hands called Abdullah Metrafi, head of the Wafa (Aid) group, an important al Qaeda recruiting arm. Metrafi was caught by US special forces in 2002 shortly after the Taliban’s fall in Kabul and lifted straight to one of the secret US detention centers. Before that he was reported to be director of operations at al Qaeda’s Abu Khabab camp outside Jalalabad, where three laboratories for the production of banned WMD substances were found. No further information was ever released on those labs.
The al Qaeda Web sites also offer information on the conditions in which the inmates are held at Guantanamo Bay and other secret facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Much of the content of these al Qaeda sites may be fabricated or skewed to serve as a psychological weapon against the US commanders and troops staffing the detention centers. But some of it appears to come from authentic sources, such as British and French inmates released from the center in Cuba, members of Red Cross delegations allowed to pay occasional visits to prisoners, or prison warders and guards with information they are willing to sell for a price.

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