Afghan US puppets jail journalist for women’s rights reporting

From the (conservative) Sunday Telegraph in Australia (owned by arch warmonger Rupert Murdoch):

I was jailed for helping Afghan women


* December 20, 2009 12:00AM

AUSTRALIAN documentary-maker Rob Punton went to Afghanistan to shoot a film about life in a war zone, but wound up in a Kabul jail for 37 nights, accused of rape and spying.

Punton had hoped to detail the real story of the war by filming Taliban warlords, private security firms, the military and the drugs trade.

Instead, he witnessed inhumane conditions, torture, and had his life threatened inside the squalid prison.

On August 22, 12 members of Afghanistan‘s CID police stormed a suburban house with guns drawn, arresting Punton and three women.

“I can honestly say I thought I was going to die when the police stormed the house. There was a huge explosion, and initially I thought it was a bomb,” Punton said. “At first, I thought they were screaming ‘Taliban!’, so I ran to get my bulletproof vest.

“Then I recognised they were plain-clothes officers from the Afghan CID – the local version of the CIA.

“An army officer came in pointing an AK-47 at me, and I thought that was it: I was going to be put to death.”In jail, Punton survived on one cup of rice a day and shed 17kg.

Accused of rape, having a relationship with a Muslim woman and spying, he was eventually released without charge after paying CID police $40,000. After Punton’s release, the Australian Embassy helped hide him under an assumed name before he flew out of Afghanistan to Dubai, then back to Australia in October.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware of the case and our consular officials in Kabul provided the detained Australian man with consular assistance,” a spokeswoman said.

Until his release, Punton’s parents had left a non-government organisation official in Afghanistan in charge of release negotiations in agreement with Australian consular officials.

Punton became an extortion target when he decided to tell the story of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

To do so, he hired Azedeh Naem as his camera operator and interpreter.

She was arrested, along with her mother and sister as a result. The three women are now in hiding and are seeking asylum in Australia.

Afghan Children Are Neglected Casualties Of War: here.

Afghan Killing Bares a Karzai Family Feud: here.

Karzai under fire for crony cabinet: here.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai announced his second-term cabinet last Saturday, retaining roughly half of his incumbent ministers, including US favorites, while appointing figures tied to Afghan warlords: here.

Two-thirds of Afghan war veterans are suffering from hearing damage: here.

Britain: Military families and former soldiers will travel from across the country on Monday to demand that Gordon Brown brings the troops home from Afghanistan: here.

Ex-US diplomat predicts Afghan troop surge failure: here.

12 thoughts on “Afghan US puppets jail journalist for women’s rights reporting

  1. USA: Female veterans may have much higher rates of divorce, greater risk for homelessness and are more likely to be a single parent, but are the least likely to receive acceptance and recognition for their service than their male counterparts, The Associated Press reported Dec. 14. Also, when female vets seek help at VA medical centers, they are screening positive at a higher rate for military sexual trauma, which indicates that they’ve experienced sexual harassment, assault or rape, The Associated Press reported.


  2. ANALYSIS – Karzai’s new cabinet too big for graft reform

    Sun Dec 20, 2009 12:24pm IST

    By Golnar Motevalli

    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s proposed new cabinet accommodates the West’s demands for honest technocrats who can tackle corruption, but analysts say its bloated size will hamper efforts to combat graft.

    The list of new ministers Karzai wants in his government, which was a month in the making, was announced to parliament on Saturday. Most of the top ministers who are seen as technocrats and liked by the West will keep their jobs.

    Washington and its allies see the cabinet choices as a vital test of Karzai’s commitment to clamping down on corruption after he was re-elected in an Aug. 20 voted marred by widespread fraud.

    With an additional 30,000 U.S. troops and thousands more from NATO on their way to Afghanistan at a time when record numbers are being killed fighting the Taliban insurgency, Washington and its allies are under pressure to show Karzai is a worthy partner.

    The United Nations has said the cabinet choices were a positive step and Canada, with 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, was the first Western country to say it was “pleased” with the list.

    But the addition of an extra ministry to Karzai’s cabinet, bringing the total to 25, has not pleased others who say its size will not help the fight against the endemic graft which so angers Western nations who pump in billions of dollars of aid.

    Afghan lawmakers had already complained they had not been consulted about the extra office. Some diplomats see the increase as a sign Karzai is creating unnecessary jobs for people who supported him in the disputed August poll.

    “The president has a lot of favours that need to be paid back and that will have a lot of implications on the size and effectiveness of the new cabinet,” said one Western diplomat in Kabul, who declined to be named.

    “The international community needs to see a streamlined cabinet that will react appropriately to the challenges. The more cumbersome the cabinet, the more cumbersome that anti-corruption effort becomes,” the diplomat said.


    Karzai’s allies have in the past discussed putting a handful of ministers, such as Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, in charge of clusters of ministries as a way to improve oversight.

    But increasing the cabinet’s size means more ministers will be competing for Karzai’s attention and for funding, encouraging rivalry between portfolios rather than political unity.

    “When you have more ministries, it’s very difficult for President Karzai to manage them … there will be confrontation between ministers because they will all fight for resources,” said Kabul-based political analyst Haroun Mir.

    While the West may be relatively satisfied with the cabinet choices, many Afghans were disappointed to see the same faces emerge again. For them it just means more of the same hardships.

    “The internationals will be relatively satisfied because the (ministers) they can work with have been kept,” said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

    “I think for Afghans it shows that nothing has been added to the mix or there’s very little that signals change,” she said.

    Violence is at its worst level since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, with record numbers of Afghan civilians killed this year as well as foreign troops.

    The expansion of foreign and Afghan forces is likely to lead to even more civilian deaths as the fight against the Taliban-led insurgency intensifies.

    Many Afghans feel not enough progress has been made in improving their security and standard of living in the eight years Karzai has been president and wanted to see new blood in key portfolios.

    “We don’t have new faces in the new cabinet. The old ones will not do anything. In the past eight years, they haven’t served the country,” said Kabul resident Najmuddin Khan.

    (Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Paul Tait)


  3. Last updated December 20, 2009 10:17 a.m. PT

    Despite aid, hunger still stalks Afghan children


    In this Nov. 24,2009 photo, a severely malnourished baby named Nureema waits for treatment in her aunt Rabia’s arms, in a feeding center run by the U.N. World Food Program in Aqcha, Afghanistan. Despite the billions spent in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban, the country is still comparable to the worst humanitarian crisis zones in Africa. Afghanistan has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate and the second-highest child mortality rate and hunger is a major reason why, the United Nations says. (AP Photo/Alfred de Montesquiou)

    AQCHA, Afghanistan — While international forces in Afghanistan battle militants hiding in the mountains, aid agencies are fighting an even more elusive enemy: malnutrition.

    The World Food Program and UNICEF have launched a project to feed thousands of mothers and children – some too weak to cry. Aid workers hope a high-protein diet distributed through a network of village clinics can help them through the winter.

    Despite the billions spent in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban, the country is still comparable to the worst humanitarian crisis zones in Africa. Afghanistan has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate and the second-highest child mortality rate – and hunger is a major reason why, the United Nations says. This year, centers across the country will feed 100,000 children and 35,000 pregnant or breast-feeding women.

    Dozens of mothers, many clad in full burqa body veils, crouched in the clinic in Aqcha waiting for rations. The room was eerily silent except for gusts of wind that howled through the open door. Dozens of toddlers in their arms didn’t make a sound.

    “Most of the children are too tired and hungry, they don’t have the energy to cry,” said Dr. Nasrullah Sulfane, who oversees the program here.

    The mothers received their weekly ration: 25 grams (0.88 ounces) of cooking oil with 215 grams (7.58 ounces) of corn and soya flour per child. The food doesn’t cover all the children’s needs, but it aims to provide the extra calories needed to avert the worst consequences of hunger.

    The program was launched in August amid widespread security concerns because Afghanistan’s insurgents have increasingly tended to target aid workers. There also were worries that conservative villagers would not let their women go to the feeding centers, where they might encounter foreigners regularly. That didn’t happen in Aqcha, a remote town lost on the barren steppes of northern Afghanistan.

    “So far, attendance is a real success,” Sulfane said. “I think all the families understand the benefits of free food.”

    Before receiving their rations, mothers balanced their toddlers on a scale used to identify children in deteriorating condition.

    Two-year-old Sharafuddin weighed in at 9.5 kilograms (20.94 pounds).That’s extremely light for a 2-year-old boy, but the aid workers were thrilled – a month before, he had weighed just 8 kilograms (17.64 pounds).

    “We’re very happy for him. He’s just graduated to ‘moderately malnourished,'” said Nih Mohammed, the records manager who handed out the rations.

    Fed with “Plumpy Nut,” a special fat-rich paste made from peanut butter, Sharafuddin had gained enough weight to go home to his family, a high priority because most parents can’t afford to remain at a clinic, away from their fields and their other children.

    “I’m happy that he’s better, but he’s still going to be hungry,” said the boy’s mother, Fatima, who like many Afghans goes by one name.

    Her five other children were skinny too, she said, though Sharafuddin was in the worst condition. He was born during Afghanistan’s 2007 drought when the family had little food and Fatima didn’t have breast milk.

    “He’s been very ill three or four times, and he often has diarrhea,” said Fatima, whose husband is a farm hand in a village about a one-hour walk from the clinic. “All my children and all the other children in the village would need rations too.”

    Because there isn’t enough food for everybody, the $1-million-per month handout to feeding centers focuses on new mothers and children under five, when hunger causes the most damage.

    The last government survey, conducted in 2004, shows that 48 percent of Afghan children are malnourished and another 5 percent acutely malnourished.

    “Since then, there are some areas where it has gotten worse,” said Anna-Leena Rasanen, the WFP’s nutrition program officer for Afghanistan. In certain zones, child malnutrition now hovers above the U.N.’s emergency level of 15 percent, she said.

    Indicators tracked by U.N. and Afghan government agencies paint an alarming picture of chronic hunger: 70 percent of children lack iodine, which can cause mental disabilities. A lack of vitamins and proper nutrients means much of the population has poor eyesight. Stunted growth is widespread. A quarter of Afghan children die before the age of five and nearly 2 percent of women die while giving birth.

    The WFP will spend US$319 million in Afghanistan this year, its second-largest humanitarian budget worldwide after Sudan. Aid includes handing out daily lunches to 1.4 million students as an incentive for parents to send their children, especially girls, to class.

    The Aqcha feeding center is the only one in a district of about 100,000 people. Dr. Sayed Ahmad Shah said three children died of hunger-related disease last year in the district, but none so far this year.

    “The whole purpose of handing out food is that we’re now avoiding acute emergency cases,” he said, touring the crowded clinic to reach a ward for the worst of the malnourished children.

    “Look, the room is empty. There are no cases,” Ahmad Shah said, pushing open the door to the room, packed instead with pregnant women about to give birth.

    They had taken over the ward because their wasn’t enough space for them elsewhere.

    “Well,” said Ahmad Shah, who hastily closed the door after hearing surprised cries. “What I meant is that it’s now empty of sad cases.”


  4. Afghans wary of new regime

    KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec 21, 2009 (UPI via COMTEX) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have opted for continuity over speedy reforms to pick his Cabinet but that wouldn’t guarantee domestic support, critics say.

    Under tough demands from Western supporters to crack down on government corruption and bring in qualified and skilled people, Karzai Saturday presented to parliament his Cabinet nominees, who if approved, would serve him in his second term.

    Speaking to reporters Sunday, Karzai said among his nominees, about 50 percent are new faces and he and his new Cabinet would be “accountable for corruption.”

    However, Afghans didn’t seem impressed.

    “Every one of these ministers will leave the country if things get worse. Even now most of their family members are abroad,” Mohammed Mehdi Saie, a businessman, told the Financial Times. “They have filled up their pockets, their children’s pockets and their grandchildren’s pockets.”

    The report said President Barack Obama’s administration would be relying on some key ministers who have been retained for the success of the U.S. Afghan strategy, which includes sending 30,000 additional troops. The ministers include the current ministers of defense, interior, finance and agriculture.

    But for Afghans, who face growing Taliban violence amid government graft and cronyism, the new setup would only mean more of the same, the report said.

    “Afghans don’t have any faith in these ministers,” Mohammad Quraish, a civil servant, said.

    The New York Times reported some of those in the new Cabinet are viewed as incompetent or were accused of involvement in the fraud-tainted August presidential election.

    U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, speaking to The New York Times, was cautiously optimistic, saying, “This is a government we can work with.”


  5. Interview: Afghanistan’s hidden costs may dwarf government estimates
    WASHINGTON, Dec 21, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) —

    by Matthew Rusling

    The war in Afghanistan could cost up to three times the amount estimated by the Obama administration, according to Linda Bilmes, who co-authored a book on the Iraq conflict with Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

    U.S. President Barack Obama has outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan — deploying 30,000 additional troops in a bid to hand over security to Afghan forces and begin to exit by July 2011.


  6. We’re not bullies, US diplomat says

    Austria: US ambassador William Eacho has rejected concerns that Washington is employing bully-boy tactics to press its allies to plough more troops into Afghanistan.

    His denial came after Austrian Defence Minister Norbert Darabos told the Der Standard newspaper that the ambassador “should accept that Austria is a sovereign state that will not give in to this pressure.”

    But Mr Eacho responded that it was an ambassador’s duty to defend the interests of his or her country and denied that the US had exerted “improper” pressure on Vienna.


  7. Second soldier dies after friendly fire incident

    heraldscotland staff

    Published on 22 Dec 2009

    Another British soldier has been killed in a second possible friendly fire incident in Afghanistan this week, the Ministry of Defence said today.

    The serviceman, from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died today from wounds sustained in a firefight near Sangin in Helmand Province yesterday evening.

    This followed the death of Lance Corporal Michael David Pritchard, 22, of the 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, in a separate incident in Sangin on Sunday.

    Both deaths may have resulted from friendly fire and they are under investigation by the Royal Military Police, the MoD said.

    The soldiers’ families have been informed.

    Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, paid tribute to the latest member of UK forces to die in Afghanistan.

    He said: “It is with deep sadness I must inform you that a British soldier from 3rd Battalion The Rifles passed away early this afternoon as a result of wounds sustained during a fire-fight last night near Sangin, Helmand Province.

    “His courage and his sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

    The MoD said it would not release any more information until the conclusion of inquests into the shootings.

    The British death toll since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 now stands at 242, including 105 deaths this year.

    Tributes were also paid to L/Cpl Pritchard, who was born in Maidstone, Kent, and lived in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

    His family said in a statement: “With great sadness we say goodbye to our beloved son, a lover of life who has lived life to the full and has brought great joy to all those who are lucky enough to know him.

    “A light that shines brightly, our precious son, brother, grandson, boyfriend and special friend to all, we are very proud of you in all that you have done and achieved and you will always be in our hearts now and ever more.

    “God bless our darling boy, from all of your family and friends.”

    L/Cpl Pritchard joined the Royal Military Police in 2007 and had been in Afghanistan since October.

    Lieutenant Colonel Debbie Poneskis, commanding officer, 4th Regiment, Royal Military Police, described him as a “cheeky chappy”.

    She said: “Lance Corporal Pritchard had only been in the Royal Military Police since July 2007 but he very quickly made a huge impact on all of us.

    “It is tragic that we have been robbed of such a promising junior non-commissioned officer and one who was everything you would want in a military policeman.

    “He was a professional and robust soldier and one who was both physically and morally courageous.

    “He was absolutely committed to providing policing advice where it mattered most, alongside his infantry colleagues on patrol and as part of the team.

    “A cheeky chap, whose laughter was infectious and whose sincerity and generous spirit touched the lives of many, Lance Corporal Pritchard made us smile every day and we will miss him very much.

    “He was never afraid to speak his mind, even if that sometimes got him into trouble, but he was one of those soldiers you could never really be cross with for long; he had the broadest smile and the most wonderful personality.”

    Major Phil Hacker, officer commanding 160 Provost Company, said: “Lance Corporal Pritchard was a gregarious, outgoing and hardworking soldier.

    “His enthusiasm was matched only by his superb sense of humour. He truly was one of the central characters of the company.

    “Utterly professional and wholly dependable, this much-loved soldier will be missed by us all.”

    Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth added: “I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard.

    “His colleagues describe him as a professional and courageous soldier with a superb sense of humour that made him popular with all in his regiment.

    “He was hard-working and dependable and was showing great promise as a junior non-commissioned officer.

    “The loss of Lance Corporal Pritchard is keenly felt by his loved ones and those who worked with him and I extend my condolences to his family, comrades and friends.”


  8. Charlie Wilson pessimistic about future of Afghanistan


    Friday, Dec. 18, 2009

    Before it was Barack Obama’s war, before it was George W. Bush’s war, Afghanistan was Charlie Wilson’s war.

    And now, Wilson doesn’t see much good happening in Afghanistan, even with 30,000 more U.S. troops.

    “This is really a tough one for me because I’m trying not to run my mouth too much, which is an unusual situation for me,” the former East Texas congressman — immortalized in a book and a movie about his exploits that helped the Afghans drive out the Soviet Union — told me from his Lufkin home.

    Wilson’s assessment is not positive.

    “Generally, I’m a pretty optimistic person, and I’m not very optimistic about this,” he said. “I feel like I would not be surprised if in two years we’ve taken a lot of casualties and spent a lot of money and don’t have much to show for it.”

    Afghanistan, Wilson reminds us, is known as “the graveyard of empires” for its track record of defending against outside forces. Nevertheless, he believes the U.S. had to do what it did post-9/11.

    “You can’t let somebody come and just blow up a couple of massive skyscrapers in New York and not do anything about it. So at the time I felt there was a great danger in what we were doing, but I didn’t see any choice,” he said.

    Two weeks after 9/11, Wilson, then a Washington lobbyist for Pakistan and other interests, told me about watching from his high-rise Arlington, Va., apartment as the Pentagon burned on 9/11.

    “I feel guilty about it. I really do,” he said then, remorseful that he didn’t do more for Afghanistan after the Soviets were routed.

    “The part that I’ll take to my grave with guilt is that \u2026 I didn’t stay the course and stay there and push and drive the other members of Congress nuts pushing for a mini-Marshall Plan,” he said back then. “And I let myself be frustrated and discouraged by the fact that (the Afghan) leadership was so fragmented that we were unable to do the things we needed to do, like clear the mines, like furnish them millions of tons of fertilizer to be able to replant the crops.”

    Now, Wilson recalls he had harbored hope that the U.S. attack on Afghanistan would lead to a “gradual birth of a fledgling democracy.”

    “It damned sure hasn’t led there. It’s led to an unsatisfactory mixture. I’m trying to think of a way to phrase this. You just don’t see any significant and hopeful evidence of a serious movement toward a democratic, less corrupt society,” he said.

    Wilson fears Americans have unrealistic expectations about what Afghanistan can be.

    “As far as I know, and I think I’ve read as much as there is to read about it, there has never been, and I use the word never — n-e-v-e-r — never been a strong central government in Afghanistan. It’s valley to valley. And most of the different political viewpoints are based on some sort of religious parameters,” Wilson said.

    Are more troops the answer?

    “You just don’t know. From a political standpoint, it probably wasn’t a mistake. But most other ways it probably was,” he said.

    Is there a good chance of no return on the investment of more troops and treasure?

    “That’s right,” Wilson said.

    “If I were writing this, I would look back and look at Vietnam a little bit,” he said. “I just don’t see anything that’s really encouraging. And I don’t see anything that leads any way other than failure, although I very much hope that’s not true.”

    Wilson knows the big difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan. We could and did walk away from Vietnam. Afghanistan could follow us home.

    And Wilson notes another potentially horrific difference when and if we walk away with anything short of the victory he sees as improbable. It involves U.S. sympathizers left behind.

    “It will be a lot worse (than in Vietnam). The torture and maiming and the separation of people from their limbs and all that sort of thing will be a lot worse because the Taliban is just awful,” he said.

    At age 76 and two years removed from a heart transplant, Wilson’s public schedule is down to about nothing. Travel wears him out, and he’s stopped making speeches about Afghanistan “because I’m just so torn and don’t have any answers and see things kind of tough.”

    “But you always have to hope that the secretary of defense and the national security advisers know something that we don’t know,” he said. “I kind of doubt that they do.”


  9. Military trial of Canadian soldier in killing of Afghan insurgent begins in January

    Canwest News Service Published: Monday, December 21, 2009

    It’s alleged Capt. Semrau fired two shots into a “severely wounded” unarmed Taliban insurgent on Oct. 19, 2008, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. David Gonczol/Ottawa Citizen

    OTTAWA — The trial of a Canadian soldier accused in the shooting death of a wounded insurgent in Afghanistan last year will begin in January.

    Court martial proceedings against Capt. Robert Semrau will begin on Jan. 25, 2010 in Gatineau, Que., according to a news release Monday from the Department of National Defence.

    Capt. Semrau faces charges of second-degree murder, attempt to commit murder, behaving in a disgraceful manner, and negligently performing a military duty.

    It’s alleged Capt. Semrau fired two shots into a “severely wounded” unarmed Taliban insurgent on Oct. 19, 2008, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

    Court heard Capt. Semrau was commanding an operational mentor and liaison team with Afghan soldiers on a 26-kilometre sweep when they were ambushed.

    After U.S. Apache attack helicopters were called in and the assault was defeated, Afghan soldiers found a dead Taliban fighter beside another who was severely wounded.

    Capt. Semrau is serving with the 3rd Battalion at CFB Petawawa, according to the Canadian Forces. His court martial trial will be heard by military judge Col. Mario Dutil and a panel of five military members.


  10. 23.12.2009 10:34

    NATO troops wound two civilians in Afghanistan

    Troops with NATO-led International Security Assistance force (ISAF) shot and injured two civilians in Afghanistan’s western Herat province on Tuesday, Xinhua reported.

    Both victims were taken to the Herat hospital for treatment, with one of them receiving five bullets while the other two, said surgeon Barakatullah Mohammadi.

    Maryam, mother of the brothers, blamed the international troops for the atrocity. ” Foreign soldiers shot and wounded my sons,” she told Xinhua by telephone.


  11. Pingback: Afghan war crimes cover-up | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  12. Pingback: British government plan to jail journalists and whistleblowers | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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