Daily Archives: August 8, 2011

Abu Ghraib torture master freed after doing 6 years in prison

Charles Graner punches a handcuffed prisoner in Abu Ghraib. Source: AP

Australian | Aug 8, 2011

THE convicted ringleader of the US abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq has been released from a US military prison.

Charles Graner, 42, was released yesterday from the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after serving 6 1/2 years of his 10-year sentence. He will be under the supervision of a probation officer until December 25, 2014.

The US army would not release any information about Graner’s whereabouts or his destination after he was released.

Graner was a US army corporal when he and six other members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company were convicted in 2004 of abusing those held in the Iraqi prison.

The strongest evidence was photographs of grinning US soldiers posing beside naked detainees stacked in a pyramid or held on a leash.

The exposure of the pictures damaged US international relations and provoked debate about whether the harsh interrogation techniques approved by the Pentagon amounted to torture.

Graner’s offences included stacking prisoners into a pyramid, knocking one out with a head punch and ordering prisoners to masturbate while soldiers took photographs of them.

He maintained that the actions were all part of a plan directed by US military intelligence to soften up the Iraqi prisoners for interrogation and extract information.

Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar said the easy release of a US soldier who “committed a war crime” would be met with outrage in Iraq. During his deployment in Iraq, Graner fathered a son with former private first class Lynndie England. England was given a three-year sentence for her role in the prisoner abuse.

After his conviction, Graner married another member of his unit, former specialist Megan Ambuhl. She was discharged from the army after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty for failing to prevent or report the maltreatment of the detainees.

Syria unrest: Saudi Arabia calls on ‘killing machine’ to stop

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Damascus for consultations, King Abdullah has said, in a statement calling on Syria’s leaders to “stop the killing machine”.

Telegraph | Aug 8, 2011

By Adrian Blomfield, Middle East Correspondent

More than 250 Syrian tanks and armoured vehicles laid waste to the country’s biggest eastern city, as the regime began a fresh offensive to crush dissent that left scores of people dead and raised fresh fears of civil war.

Impervious to international condemnation, even as the Arab League spoke out for the first time, Mr Assad’s regime widened its Ramadan offensive against the increasingly emboldened protest movement seeking to overthrow him.

Activists said that at least 41 people were killed in Deir al-Zor, Syria’s oil capital, after a vast column of tanks and armoured vehicles advanced on the city from four directions before dawn.

A further 19 people were killed in western Syria after tanks shelled the town of Hula in Homs province, bringing yesterday’s death toll to at least 62.

“Saudi Arabia announces the recall of its ambassador for consultations,” the king said in the statement released in Riyadh in which he urged Syria to “stop the killing machine and the bloodshed… before it is too late.”

“The kingdom does not accept the situation in Syria, because the developments cannot be justified,” the Saudi monarch said urging Damascus to introduce “comprehensive and quick reforms.”

“The future of Syria lies between two options: either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or face being swept into deep chaos, God forbid,” he said.

The US envoy to Damascus, Robert Ford, who returned to Syria on Thursday, also said in a US television interview on Sunday that Washington will “try to ratchet up the pressure” on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The Saudi king’s statement came the day after the Gulf Cooperation Council urged Syria to “end the bloodshed” as the international pressure mounts.

In taking on Deir al-Zor, one of Syria’s most restive cities, Mr Assad is raising the stakes in his battle against the five-month insurrection.

Far more so than in the more cosmopolitan region of the west, Deir al-Zor is populated by armed tribesmen who, in an ironic turn, were provided with weapons by the state to counter the perceived separatist threat posed by Kurds in neighbouring areas.

The inhabitants of the city have already been prepared to use their weapons, fighting back against regime forces last week after five protesters were killed.

Although it was unclear how much resistance Mr Assad’s forces encountered yesterday, the threat of a bloody confrontation that could spiral out of control prompted an unprecedented intervention by the Arab League.

Largely silent until now, the group demanded an immediate end “to acts of violence and campaigns by the security forces against civilians” in Deir al-Zor and in Hama, where more than 100 people were killed last week at the beginning of the Ramadan offensive.

An Arab League appeal for international intervention in Libya laid the ground for Nato’s bombing campaign against Col Muammar Gaddafi, but the movement has been reticent about criticising Mr Assad, a much more important power broker in the region.

Although the Arab League specifically called on the West to stay out of Syria’s domestic affairs, its criticism will increase pressure on Mr Assad, who is likely to have interpreted earlier silence as tacit validation or indifference to his brutal suppression of the uprising.

Turkey, which has invested considerable diplomatic capital in recent years in improving once strained ties with Syria, also stepped up its criticism of Mr Assad, warning that Ankara has “run out patience” with his regime.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, arrives in Damascus to deliver that message on Tuesday. Syrian officials said he would receive a brusque response.

International and regional alarm is growing not just because of fears of a bloodbath in Deir al-Zor, or over the mounting death toll in Syria as a whole, which is believed to stand at more than 2,000 since the protests began in mid-March.

On the fringes of the uprising, which has remained largely peaceful, there is growing evidence of an armed insurgency being waged by disparate groups, some with an Islamist bent.

Opposition activists admitted that one such militia, believed to consist of Syrian fighters who were involved in the insurgency against US forces in Iraq, carried out an ambush on Syrian troops in Hama last week, killing several soldiers.

As the civilian death toll mounts, fears are growing that bereaved and desperate members of the opposition will be drawn to these groups’ violent creed. With anger among the Sunni Arab majority, which dominates the protest movement, growing towards Mr Assad’s privileged Alawite Shia minority, there are also concerns that violence could take on a sectarian hue.

But Mr Assad brushed off international criticism as he vowed to press ahead with his assault on Deir el-Zor.

“To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state, which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians,” he said yesterday.

In Deir el-Zor itself, streets were deserted as the echo of tank shells and automatic gunfire echoed through the city, which had been besieged for nine days before the assault began.

The suburb of al-Jura bore the brunt of the violence, with at least 20 people killed, according to the opposition.

Residents of the city spoke of snipers on the rooftops of hotels and other buildings, picking off any civilians that dared to venture outside.

“I can see several bodies on the road near a roundabout,” one resident said. “But no one dares to go out to bury them because they are afraid they will also get killed.”

In its latest overture to the protesters, the Syrian government yesterday promised to hold “free and transparent” parliamentary elections before the end of the year — an offer that was unlikely to placate the opposition, which says it has lost complete confidence in Mr Assad to implement any meaningful reforms.

London police stood by letting looters run riot for almost 12 hours

Police stand by watching as protesters move close to a burning police car on Saturday night in Tottenham. For many it evoked painful memories not of the Second World War. Photo: DEMOTIX

Britain’s biggest police force is facing criticism after it let looters run riot in north London for almost 12 hours, in some of the worst scenes of street disturbances seen in recent years.

Tottenham riots: police let gangs run riot and loot

Telegraph | Aug 7, 2011

By Martin Beckford, Mark Hughes, Duncan Gardham and Tom Whitehead

The Metropolitan Police said it was focused on containing violent disorder in Tottenham on Saturday night, which left dozens of officers injured and saw squad cars, shops and flats burned to the ground.

But its tactics meant gangs of youths were free to break into stores at nearby Tottenham Hale retail park and in Wood Green, with looters forming an orderly queue in broad daylight to steal from a sports shop.

Riot police did not intervene to stop the looting in some areas until 7.30am the following morning, almost 12 hours after the riots began, and last night there were fresh disturbances in Enfield.

Police defended their actions, saying that their priority was to avoid loss of life in the violent clashes that started after a peaceful gathering outside a police station, held to protest a fatal shooting by Met officers on Thursday.

Metropolitan Police Commander Adrian Hanstock said that police took a decision to devote resources to the scene of the riot rather than the looting.

He said: “What you have to recognise here is that this is opportunistic criminality. These individuals who stole, looted and rampaged through businesses, businesses which are struggling in the current climate, took advantage at a time where police were dealing with some serious incidents that posed a threat to life.

“Of course we are going to focus on fires and people potentially in danger.

“You have got a situation where people have been violent and are setting fire to things. Police officers have to remain in position even after the initial violence dies down.

“It is a very delicate balance. Officers have to consider that by staying here [the riot scene] can I prevent someone being seriously injured or should I intervene when someone is committing a theft that we might be able to investigate afterwards.”

Trouble flared after family and friends of Mark Duggan gathered at the police station on Tottenham High Road at 5pm Saturday afternoon.

The 29 year-old suspected gang member was killed in a taxi on Thursday evening after a surveillance operation.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating amid allegations that officers opened fire first, although it was first claimed that a policeman had been shot and only had his life saved when a bullet hit his radio.

The IPCC was last night forced to deny internet internet rumours that Mr Duggan had been “assassinated” by officers in an execution-style killing where he was shot in the head.

It was widely rumoured that the riots were then triggered by police violence towards a 16 year-old girl at the protest.

Police say there are “conflicting responses” but some of those at the scene claimed the girl threw an object at the line of officers and was knocked down, prompting retaliation from the crowd, and the allegation spread not only on the street but also on the internet as protesters used mobile phones to keep in touch.

By 8.20pm, two police cars had been set alight further up the high street and small numbers of policemen in riot gear were struggling to control groups of youths, faces hidden by hoodies and bandanas, who began targeting nearby properties.

Three hours later a double-decker bus had been torched and homeowners were forced to flee burning homes and small businesses in one of the poorest areas of the capital. Fire crews were unable to reach the blazes because of the threat posed by the crowds.

Brian Coleman, the Leader of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: “It is simply unacceptable that fire crews were threatened when they were trying to help protect local people. This mindless violence against firefighters has to stop.”

One of the biggest shops on the high street, a 1930s building home to several flats as well as a branch of Carpet Right – the chain run by Lord Harris of Peckham, a Conservative donor – was destroyed by flames.

Stuart Radose, who lived above the burned-out carpet shop, said: “It looks like the Blitz, where we were living. You could see things getting worse and worse, and there just didn’t seem to be a police presence at all.”

For many it evoked painful memories not of the Second World War but of the 1985 riots at the nearby Broadwater Farm estate, during which PC Keith Blakelock was murdered.

Speaking from his home near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, his son Mark, a 39-year-old retail director, said: “What has happened in London has brought back memories.

“It is distressing to see the images on television.

“My thoughts are with the families of the police officers who have been injured.”

By midnight fire engines were able to start putting out blazes on the high street while lines of riot officers drafted in from across the capital advanced, with the help of mounted police.

But witnesses said anarchy still reigned down the many side streets in the area, with cameramen and TV crews attacked by the mob.

Youths were seen calling friends on their mobile phones to join in the mayhem, with claims that many of the worst troublemakers were not locals. It was even suggested that the area’s gangs, who do not normally encroach on each other’s territories, put aside their differences for the night.

Some appear to have realised that the police had their hands full in Tottenham, and that there were richer pickings to be had in shopping districts elsewhere.

Less than a mile to the east, looting began at the retail park near Tottenham Hale underground station, not far from where Mr Duggan had been shot dead. Teenagers and adults were reported to have turned up in cars to fill their boots with stolen goods from branches of Currys and Argos, with every single handset taken from a mobile phone shop.

One woman was seen casually inspecting pairs of trainers and police arrested some at the scene as late as 7.30am.

The focus of the looting was at Wood Green about two miles away to the east. Eyewitnesses there around midnight said they saw no police presence, and a passer-by filmed leisurely looting still taking place at about 5.30am – more than nine hours after the original trouble.

Clips taken from a passing car and uploaded to YouTube, the video-sharing website, show young people running out of a branch of H&M with bags of clothes in broad daylight.

Further along Wood Green High Road, a crowd had gathered outside JD Sports and youths appeared to be waiting patiently for their turn to steal trainers, T-shirts and rucksacks.

Other footage showed a youth pushing a shopping trolley laded with stolen goods and others who had apparently filled suitcases.

Branches of T-Mobile, Body Shop, Boots and even Vision Express, the opticians, also had windows broken and stock taken.

When the passer-by who filmed the JD Sports looting returned to the spot, at close to 6am, police vans with blue lights flashing had finally arrived at the scene.

Rochelle Alexander, 34, a TV production manager, said: “They were ransacking H&M, Boots and Vision Express in the Wood Green Shopping Centre.

“Young girls of every ethnicity were turning up. It was like they were shopping at 3am. They were using shopping bags from the shops and just walking out. People were pulling up in cars. The tills were all on the floor and there were no police.

“Around the same time, they started attacking the Tottenham Hale retail park. It was just an excuse.”

Scotland Yard said 26 officers were injured in the riot while 55 people were arrested for offences including violent disorder, burglary and theft. Firefighters attended a total of 49 blazes. An investigation named Operation Withern was opened to find more of the perpetrators.

Smoke was still rising from the charred remains of vehicles and buildings as local politicians and community leaders arrived to survey the scene.

Speaking from behind the crime scene tape, David Lammy, the locally-raised Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “A community that was already hurting has now had the heart ripped out of it.”

But it was not until lunchtime when the first Government figure emerged as Lynne Featherstone, a junior Home Office minister who happens to be the MP for Wood Green, gave a short statement to “utterly condemn” the “attacks on police and property”.

The family of the man whose death led to the original protest said they did not condone the rioting.

His brother, Shaun Hall, said: “Please don’t make this about my brother’s life, he was a good man.”

By the afternoon rumours were rife that further trouble was planned for the evening, and shops closed early in Enfield Town in case it spread there. Reinforcements were brought in from police forces surrounding London to ensure a tougher response.

Mr Duggan’s fiance, Semone Wilson, insisted the trouble was not planned and that the family only wanted to know the circumstances of the shooting. “If we have got answers yesterday when we were asking for them I doubt this would have happened,” she said.

Last night the Independent Police Complaints Commission took the unusual step of announcing details of Mr Duggan’s death in a bid to end to rumours that he was killed in a ‘execution’ style shooting.

A spokesman said: “Speculation that Mark Duggan was ‘assassinated’ in an execution style involving a number of shots to the head are categorically untrue.

“Following the formal identification of the body Mr Duggan’s family know that this is not the case and I would ask anyone reporting this to be aware of its inaccuracy and its inflammatory nature.”

Last night reinforcement officers from other police forces were called in to assist as the Metropolitan Police anticipated further disturbances. Officers from Thames Valley, Essex, City of London, Surrey and Kent were drafted in.

Last night the violence appeared to be spreading to Enfield, further north in London, where breeze blocks were thrown through the window of a police car in Enfield Town and shop windows were smashed.

It comes at a turbulent time for Scotland Yard. The force has faced huge criticism for its handling of the phone hacking scandal.

Two of its most senior officers, including the commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, were forced to resign over the issue meaning the Met is currently searching for a new leader.

There is also an ongoing internal investigation after a handful of police officers were alleged to have received bribes from News of the World journalists for information.

9/11 anniversary visitors to endure airport-style screening and be watched by closed-circuit cameras

The under-construction One World Trade Center stands tall on New York’s Lower Manhattan skyline Photo: REUTERS

New York is beefing up security for the World Trade Center site ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

New York beefs up World Trade Center site security for September 11 10th anniversary

Telegraph | Aug 7, 2011

The lower Manhattan force will eventually rise to 670 – larger than any of the 76 precincts in the five boroughs – and entire police departments in other cities across the country.

The thousands of people expected to visit the Sept. 11 memorial after it opens this fall will endure airport-style screening and be watched by closed-circuit cameras as part of the attack site opens publicly for the first time since 2001.

Securing the World Trade Center site – which also has a skyscraper rising above the skyline – from terror attacks has been one of law enforcement’s most pressing problems long before the al-Qaeda attack that destroyed the towers.

In 1993, Islamic extremists exploded a rented van rigged with fertiliser bomb in a trade centre parking garage, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others. And in 2006, authorities alleged a Lebanese man loyal to Osama bin Laden plotted to flood the site and the rest of lower Manhattan by exploding backpacks in commuter train tunnels under the Hudson River.

While some view the resurrection of the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) property as a triumph of the nation’s resolve, law enforcement believe terrorists see it as another chance to prove their tenacity.

“Without question it is a target, because it has tremendous symbolism,” said James Kallstrom, a former top FBI official who headed the New York City office in the 1990s. “Going back and attacking a landmark that was already attacked once is the ultimate challenge.”

The site isn’t the target of a current known plot, but it “remains squarely in the terrorists’ crosshairs,” says Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Fears of a repeated plot against the site years ago resulted in its signature skyscraper being redesigned.

An original plan putting 1 World Trade Center 25 feet off a state highway near the Hudson River raised concerns by the NYPD that it could be vulnerable to car or truck bombs. A redesign moved it farther off the street and incorporated a windowless 200-foot base.

Developers and law enforcement also have grappled with how to best police the anticipated steady flow of tourists, workers and commerce at the site without turning it into an inhospitable, armed camp.

Kallstrom, while the top counterterrorism adviser to former Gov. Gov. George Pataki in the mid-2000s, was an architect of an ambitious security plan for 1 World Trade Center – scheduled to open in 2013 – the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and other office towers and transit at the site.

The measures – combining architectural innovation, hi-tech gadgetry and good old-fashioned manpower provided by the NYPD, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police and private security firms – will make it “a very, very secure site,” Kallstrom said.

Police plan to use a vehicle security centre to screen tour buses, trucks and cars before they enter the site and park or makes deliveries using an underground roadway. Pedestrian traffic, including visitors to the museum, also will be screened before they can enter the central plaza.

Ticketed visitors to the memorial will be funnelled into a security screening room with airport-style metal detectors and X-ray machines. Employees and frequent visitors will be pre-screened so they can bypass regular checkpoints.

The security plan also calls for 400 closed-circuit surveillance cameras in and around the trade centre site. Live feeds will be monitored around the clock at an NYPD command centre located in a private office building near Wall Street.

A computer system there uses “video analytic” computer software designed to detect potential threats like unattended bags, and retrieve stored images based on descriptions of terror or other criminal suspects.

Final touches are also being put on another ambitious piece of the plan: Screening every car, truck and other vehicle for radioactive materials – evidence of a possible dirty bomb – and other potential threats as they enter lower Manhattan. To achieve that, police are installing cameras, radiation detectors and license-plate readers at the 16 bridges and four tunnels going in and out of Manhattan.

In addition to NY police, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers are also on the site; the agency wouldn’t disclose how many for security reasons.