A shocking story of citizen detectives, a videotaped murder, animal torture and one very disturbed celebrity wannabe
Inside the Kafkaesque World of the US’s ‘Little Guantanamos’
We sat together on her couch, her small, eight-year-old hands clutching a photo of her father, Yassin Aref. “My daddy only held me twice before I was five,” Dilnia told me. For the first five years of her life, she only knew him as the man on the other side of a plexiglass window in a communication management unit in an Indiana federal penitentiary.
Prisoners describe the communication management units, or CMUs, as “Little Guantánamos.” In 2006, the Bureau of Prisons created two of these units to isolate and segregate specific prisoners, the majority of them convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The bureau secretly opened these units without informing the public and without allowing anyone an opportunity to comment on their creation, as required by law. By September 2009, about 70 percent of the CMU prisoners were Muslim, more than 1,000 to 1,200 percent more than the federal prison average of Muslim inmates.
In the CMUs, prisoners are subject to much stricter rules than in general population. They are limited to two 15-minute telephone calls per week, both scheduled and monitored. Visits are rarely permitted, and when family members are allowed to visit, they are banned from physical contact, limited to phone conversations between a plexiglass window. This differs from the general population, where prisoners can spend time with their visitors in the same room. To further the isolation, some of the CMU prisoners are held in solitary confinement, with only one hour out of their cells each day.
I Accidentally Got a Scammer Tortured by Police in Tanzania
It was when they manhandled him onto the table, tethered him to a water pipe coming out of the ceiling, and pulled his pants down to his ankles that I experienced a change of heart. For weeks I’d been consumed with hatred for the man on that table. But it’s funny how your perspective changes when someone is about to be tortured, especially when you’re the one that put him there.
It had begun, like many tales of misadventure, in that most anarchic staging post for travel: the Tanzanian bus station. Ever been to one? This is how it goes: The long-distance buses tend to leave at dusk or before; schedules are mind-bogglingly irregular; a tourist tax on the price of a ticket is all but inevitable. Like transport hubs the world over, they’re a magnet for the wretched, the transient, and the dispossessed. And you endure it all for the privilege of cramming yourself into a bus driven by some prepubescent boy-racer in a country with a traffic-accident rate six times worse than that of the UK.
Abolish Prison! The US Incarceration System Is Broken and Needs to Be Replaced
Prisons are terrible, torturous places where people—who are usually poor and disproportionately of color—are subjected daily to crimes more horrific than the ones that probably sent them there. The vast majority of individuals behind bars are there for nonviolent drug and property offenses. Now, which is worse, do you think: Stealing a late-90s Honda or putting someone in a cage for years where we know they will be physically and emotionally abused? We ask whether criminals can be reformed, when we think of them as people at all, but maybe we should stop to consider whether the idea of prisons and jails can be rehabilitated in the wake of all the injustice they have wrought.
Perhaps the evils of incarceration outweigh the good. Maybe the goal shouldn’t be reform, as welcome as that may be, but something more radical: release.
The Chicago Man Accusing Police of Raping Him with a Gun
Angel Perez’s story about how he was treated at the hands of Chicago police officers sounds like a horror story from the days when crooked cop Jon Burge tortured the city’s citizens with impunity. But the incidents in question happened just 15 months ago—and, Angel claims, the officers who abused him are still out there.
In October 2012, the 32-year-old aspiring documentary film producer says, he was beaten and sodomized with a gun by Chicago police officers until he agreed to be a drug informant. His story received some media attention when a Courthouse News write-up appeared last year after Angel filed a federal lawsuit against his abusers, but VICE is the first outlet he’s spoken to publicly about the incident.
“I can’t have this happen to someone else if I can stop it,” Angel told me, opening up about his experience against the advice of his lawyers, who’d prefer him to only do his talking in court. He has a decent chance of procuring a settlement, but told me, “Money is not justice… I want these guys to be off the job, charged for what they did, and given jail time.”
Self-Help Advice from a Defense Contractor
Dr. Phillip Jack London is the author of Character, the Ultimate Success Factor, a new self-help book that offers the guidance you need to become a better human being. In addition to pushing his fellow man to be a better person, Phillip is also the executive chairman of CACI International, a defense and surveillance-contracting firm that was implicated in the 2003 abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the formerly US-run prison in Iraq.
When the US District Court stated in July that the abuses committed by the contractors at Abu Ghraib were beyond its jurisdiction, CACI counter-sued the torture victims to recoup its court costs, eventually winning $14,000. Talk about character…
Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed six amicus briefings, including one from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, asking the court to reinstate the case. Meanwhile, in September, 56 detainees brought another lawsuit against CACI to the Eastern District Federal Court accusing its employees, among other dastardly things, of forcing one detainee to watch while her mother was tortured and to observe the sexual assault of a male inmate. Another detainee said his tongue was cut with pliers and a string was knotted tightly around his genitals.
Earlier this month, I talked over the phone with the inspirational author about his chipper new book, which he feels will show the world, “how a good character, a good reputation can permit you to achieve your dreams.” Then I grilled him on his role in atrocious war crimes.
VICE: Tell us about your new book?
Dr. Phillip Jack London: It’s a philosophical perspective on how to comport yourself, how to get on with life, and how to achieve your ambitions. It’s about how to create and live a life that you’ll be pleased with and at the end of the day you’ll be proud of what you’ve accomplished. One of the main takeaways of this book is that the individual owns his character and his lifestyle.
In addition to being a self-help author, you’re also the executive chairman of a little, nefarious thing called CACI International. How’d you land that gig? What was the trajectory?
I have a military background. I was a graduate of the Naval Academy. My family has a long history of patriotic service to our country.
How did I come to the position of being the chief executive and the executive chairman and so on of CACI International? I built it. It wasn’t something that was hanging around and I came in and became the CEO. I joined the company 43 years ago. I was 35. The company had less than a million dollars in sales. There were only a handfull of people. Then I worked, and was very successful. I have devoted myself to this field, to this industry.
How Jihadists Are Blackmailing, Torturing, and Killing Gay Syrians
Even between the plush sofas and mood lighting of one of Beirut’s hippest bars, Ram shook with fear as he relived his ordeal. He turned his large green eyes from me to the translator and then back to me again, speaking in a low voice, even though we were the only people in the room.
"I think I was targeted for two reasons: because I’m a Druze, and because I’m gay," he said. "They told us, ‘You are all perverts, and we are going to kill you to save the world.’"
Ram’s nightmare, which unfolded on a hot summer’s afternoon in Damascus, forced the then 19-year-old to flee his home for Beirut, with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Even in Damascus, the stronghold of Assad’s regime—where the elite still dance and drink cocktails in exclusive nightclubs—society has broken down into a chaotic quagmire where criminal gangs operate with impunity and radical Islamist groups are strengthening their stranglehold.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before Ram was picked out as a target. He is a Druze—a member of the small religious group that makes up just three percent of the Syrian population—and comes from a wealthy family well known for supporting Assad’s regime. From the beginning of the revolution he had known that these things could put him at risk. But his homosexuality was always a secret between him and his gay friends; he never thought that it could finally force him to flee.
"I got a phone call from my friend," he recalled. "He asked me to come over to his house because he’d lost all his money and he needed my help. I could never refuse him anything, so I went there straight away."
But Ram had walked into a trap.
The World’s Most Depressing Museum Is in Iraq, of Course
"They used the wood so that nobody could hear the screams," explained Bawer, a smartly dressed Iraqi Kurd. He stood over a desk that once belonged to Ali Hassan Al Majid—Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man, better known as Chemical Ali—and ran his hand over the room’s wood-panelled walls.
On the other side of the room, a plaster mannequin hung on a hook from the ceiling, its hands bound behind its back and electrodes running from its head to a metal box on the desk. “And here,” Bawer said, as he walked towards the model, pointing directly at its groin, “is where they would attach the weights, usually 20 to 30 kilograms [about 45 to 65 pounds]. Sometimes more.”
Most cities have monuments to the past, so it seems appropriate, given the bloody history of Iraqi Kurdistan, that Sulaymaniyah’s main tourist attraction is a torture museum. Tucked away in a now relatively quiet and leafy suburb, Amna Suraka is the former headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency, and a building known to all Iraqi Kurds. Until the armed Kurdish fighters (known as the Peshmerga) liberated it in the early 1990s, the prison held students, dissidents, and Kurdish nationalists, as well as anyone else who happened to attract the attention of Baathist authorities in northern Iraq.
Omar Khadr: War Criminal, Child Soldier… or Neither?
Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.
If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantánamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.
Omar’s case is complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing certainly died from a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever threw one. And while Omar confessed to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture—and given his option to either insist upon his innocence and stay in Gitmo or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, the context of his confession was problematic at best.
The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that that Omar’s right were violated, but left the remedy up to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who of course declined to provide any solution.
Harper himself has been making strong statements about the trial in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings—he’s said that “It is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts.”
Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, argued that he should be transferred to a provincial prisonfrom a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.
Heather Marsh, a journalist who has followed Omar’s case closely, was in court on Monday and wrote about it for us.
The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing. Photo by the author
The court was filled with what seemed to be Omar’s supporters. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high schooler who said she was done with classes for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze together, 120 people were in the courtroom and a live feed was set up for those who had to watch from the overflow room.
Hearing from Three Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Who’ve Been on Hunger Strike for 100 Days
On the 7th of February, 2013, there was a dispute inside Guantanamo Bay over prison guards searching Qur’ans. For the following two days, inmates ate the remainder of the food they had—including stuff that was reportedly two years out of date—and, once finished with all of their decomposing rations, embarked on a hunger strike. Yesterday was the 100th day of the inmates’ protest against their treatment and, out of the 166 still being held at Guantanmo, 102 are on hunger strike, with 30 being force fed.
Authorities at the prison camp have revised their guidelines to allow them to shackle hunger-strikers to a chair, before fitting them with masks and inserting tubes through their noses and into their stomachs to force feed them for up to two hours at a time. Despite these efforts, some prisoners claim to weigh as little as 85lbs.
Several attempts have been made to punish or dissuade inmates against their starvation efforts.According to Shaker Aamer (the last British resident being held in Guantanamo) prison wardens have begun inflicting sleep deprivation on inmates, as well as adopting a new practice where, instead of shackling their hands and legs and pushing them along from behind, they’re now clipping cloth dog leashes to inmates’ waists and dragging them around like animals.
Aamer is one of 86 inmates who have been cleared for release but are still being held inside the facility. Something that, according to Clive Stafford Smith—a lawyer representing inmates at the prison—is completely irrational. “Any prison, even in the most despotic dictatorship, should not have 86 of 166 [52 percent] prisoners cleared for release,” he told me, before adding, “Obama hasn’t shown the political will to do the right thing.”
Stafford Smith provided me with testimonies from three Guantanamo hunger-strikers in order to gain a little more insight into the Cuban detention camp that President Obama promised to close within a year back in 2009.