The Observer today has a special report into the US's secret global gulag. While it mentions all the obligatory background elements - Guantanamo, the torture plane, Maher Arar, and the outsourcing of torture to compliant despotic regimes like Syria - the focus is somewhere else: Afghanistan, which since the US Supreme Court started enforcing constitutional limits over what went on at Guantanamo, is increasingly acting as a hub for the whole system.
The US has dozens of prisons in Afghanistan, away from the eyes of the international media and human rights organisations (and the US courts). There are US-run detention centres in Gardez, Khost, Asadabad, Jalalabad and Khandahar, as well as 20-odd smaller facilities scattered around the country. Then there's Bagram, which seems to be a central "collection point", where several prisoners have died in US custody in highly suspicious circumstances. Prisoners are transferred between the prisons in armed convoys who shoot at anyone or anything which gets in their way - even the Afghan police:
Inside a frozen courtyard, a former policeman, Said Sardar, 25, was sat beside his crutches. On May 1 2004, he was manning a checkpoint when a car careened through. "Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were western men," he said. "They had prisoners in the car." Sardar fired a warning shot for the car to stop. "The western men returned fire and within minutes two US attack helicopters hovered above us. They fired three rockets at the police station. One screamed past me. I saw its fiery tail and blacked out."
He was taken to Bagram, where US military doctors had to amputate his leg. Afterwards, he said, "an American woman appeared. She said the US was sorry. It was a mistake. The men in the car were Special Forces or CIA on a mission. She gave me $500." Sardar showed us into another room in his compound where a circle of children stared glumly at us; their fathers, all policemen, were killed in the same incident. "Five dead. Four in hospital. To protect covert US prisoner transports," he says. Later, US helicopters were deployed in two similar incidents that left nine dead.
There's more reports there as well: US soldiers shooting a man dead when he objected to them dragging a woman out of their way, and clearing a crowd of children with a grenade. This casual attitude towards he use of force has attracted complaints - not just from Afghanistan's powerless government, but also from CIA staff. Naturally, nothing is being done.
The Observer interviews former prisoners, who described being abused. And they have obtained
prisoner letters, declassified FBI files, legal depositions, witness statements and testimony from US and UK officials, which document the alleged methods deployed in Afghanistan - shackles, hoods, electrocution, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation and starvation - and suggest they are practised across the network.
While I'm sure that our local apologists will once again try to muddy the waters, the above is torture by any reasonable definition. And who is it being applied to? The same sorts of people who are in Guantanamo: people are are usually entirely innocent, or of "negligible" intelligence value, who have been swept up on suspicion or fingered by someone under torture in a desperate attempt to get the pain to stop. The system
owes more to Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees Of Separation - where anyone can be linked to everyone else in the world in as many stages - than to analytical jurisprudence.
How much more of this do we need to see before the truth sinks in? The "war on terror" is out of control. The US is no longer "defending western civilisation" - they stopped doing that the day they started applying electrodes to people's genitals. Neither are they "promoting freedom" - not when they look the other way at Uzbekistan's abuses, and throw in a few of their own for good measure. Instead, they are simply providing a never-ending stream of outrages to drive people into the arms of the terrorists.
Friedrich Nietzsche warned that those who fight monsters may become monsters themselves. Sadly, in the case of the US, this warning seems to have come true.