Films on Afghan war, Guantanamo reviewed

This video from Canada is called GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR Trailer | Festival 2015.

By Joanne Laurier:

8 October 2015

This is the fourth in a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-20). The first part was posted September 26, the second part October 1 and the third part October 3.

The case of Omar Khadr

The “war on terror” is a lying, noxious phrase, endlessly invoked to justify the American ruling elite’s drive for global dominance. This week marks the 14th anniversary of the US military’s invasion of Afghanistan, an exercise in sociocide, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands and the further laying waste of the already impoverished nation.

The tragic encounter of American imperialism with the Afghan people goes back to the late 1970s, when the Carter administration incited and fomented Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden, as part of the strategy of undermining the Soviet Union. The criminality of US policy in Central Asia knows almost no bounds.

Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed’s documentary, Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr, concerns itself with the Canadian-born youth who was captured in Afghanistan by US forces in 2002 during an airstrike and assault that killed all the anti-American insurgents except the grievously wounded, 15-year-old Omar. He was sent to the Bagram Air Base, site of a notorious US prison in Afghanistan, and tortured, before he was transferred to the even more notorious Guantanamo Bay internment camp in Cuba.

Treated like a “terrorist”—for having fought as a soldier against an invading army—by the criminals in the American government and their junior partners in Canada, Omar, in 2005, became the only juvenile to be tried for war crimes.

In 2010, he pleaded not guilty to “murdering” US Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the 2002 firefight. Three months later, he changed his plea, his only means of obtaining release from the Guantanamo hellhole. Over the strenuous objections of the Harper government in Ottawa, Omar was repatriated to Canada in 2012. Since his release in May 2015, Khadr has resided with his lawyer Dennis Edney in Edmonton, Alberta.

As the Shephard-Reed film reveals, Omar Khadr is a remarkable young man, as is his feisty, Scottish-born attorney. Through extensive interviews, Guantanamo’s Child constructs a nightmarish picture of Omar’s ordeal at the hands of the American military.

Although the bright and soft-spoken Omar is forthright in declaring that he was fighting “for a cause: fighting invaders,” the filmmakers are far more defensive about his role. In fact, the initial portions of the documentary tend to take the “war on terror” and the accompanying propaganda campaign at face value, as though “everything changed” as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The implication is that the “Americans” may have overreacted, but they had every right to “defend” themselves.

Any objective examination of the post-9/11 measures by the Bush administration would conclude that the actions corresponded to a long-standing agenda, involving massive US intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia in pursuit of energy supplies and, more generally, American imperialist geopolitical objectives, and that the terrorist attacks merely provided a pretext.

Missing in Guantanamo’s Child is any reference to the history of the region. There is no indication that the bin Laden forces were financed and encouraged by the CIA. It should be noted that Shepard, who wrote a book in 2008 entitled Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, is the national security reporter for the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers.

All in all, it seems fair to argue that documentary reflects the views of that section of the Canadian elite that is not happy with the country’s current relationship with Washington, with what it perceives as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s subservience, and is taking the opportunity to “stick it” to the US over the Khadr case.

In any case, whatever the serious weaknesses of Guantanamo’s Child, the majority of the film is devoted to allowing Omar to speak openly about his past and present condition—unusual in the pro-war media propaganda world. He has an insightful, mature and cautious voice.

Omar Khadr was born in Toronto in 1986, but spent much of his childhood in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The film briefly discusses his family and his early life.

As Guantanamo’s Child reveals, after his 2002 capture, the teenager suffered extensive psychological and physical abuse. In one striking scene, a repentant Damien Corsetti, a former US interrogator at Bagram, who was nicknamed “The Monster” for using techniques such as the “Human Mop” (forcing prisoners to wipe up their urine on the floor with their own bodies), movingly talks about how Omar’s youth and bravery humanized him. This contrasts to the self-justifying remarks made by a former CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) official, who features prominently in the film.

Also interviewed are the well-spoken Moazzam Begg and Ruhal Ahmed, both British citizens who bear witness to the horrors perpetrated in American prisons—Moazzam having been incarcerated with Omar at Bagram and Ruhal with him at Guantanamo. In addition, Omar’s mother and sister make critical, but unsurprisingly disoriented, remarks about the invaders.

The film also shows Omar’s amazing fortitude. Despite his age, and imprisonment for more than a decade, he never cowers before his tormentors and their false accusations. He also defied the incredible odds against being released from Guantanamo.

During the 2002 firefight, the Americans inflicted serious wounds on Omar, including two holes in his chest, that would eventually destroy one eye and greatly impair the other. Were it not for the intrepid efforts of Edney—his lawyer who was initially not allowed access to Omar for four years—he would still be locked away as an “enemy combatant” in the internment camp.

These two remarkable individuals and their bond drive the movie, but as well highlight the documentary’s major internal contradiction: Omar himself is prima facie evidence of the inhuman, illegal nature of the war. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never follow the political logic of the story of their protagonist and the forces who calumniated and tried to destroy him.

Thank You for Bombing

From Austria comes Thank You For Bombing, directed by Barbara Eder (Inside America, 2010), which provides an unflattering portrait of contemporary journalists on assignment in war zones.

The fiction film comprises a triptych of stories related to the war in Afghanistan. The first concerns an Austrian reporter, Ewald (Erwin Steinhauser), forced by his boss to go to Afghanistan. Clearly suffering from a post-traumatic nervous disorder that has rendered him incontinent, Ewald sees a man at the airport who may or may not have been involved in the murder of his cameraman during the war in Bosnia. Neither his unsympathetic editor nor his sympathetic wife are inclined to believe a man plagued by horrible wartime memories.

The next two segments are indictments of the unrelenting careerism and opportunism of war correspondents. In the first, American reporter Lana (Manon Kahle) will stop at nothing to obtain an interview with two US soldiers in Afghanistan who allegedly have burned copies of the Koran. The episode is based on the incident that memorably set off massive protests in 2012. Lana bribes and cajoles anyone and everyone to obtain what will be a major “scoop.”

The two soldiers, more like caged wild animals, are being held in an isolated bunker by the American military. Lana buys her way into their presence. But after the interview, they turn the tables on her. She allows herself to submit to gross humiliations and a near-rape to get the story. Although a revealing sequence, the encounter between Lana and the two offending soldiers takes on a gratuitous character at a certain point. It does, however, depict a demoralized, dehumanized American army.

In the movie’s final chapter, Cal (Raphael von Bargen), once a respected journalist, is tired of waiting for the bombs to begin falling. He even tries to stage young Afghan boys throwing rocks at American soldiers. A heavy drinker, he gets fired. On a drive in the middle of nowhere, a tragic accident takes the life of his driver, which has little impact on the callous reporter.

Eder’s Thank You for Bombing is rightfully contemptuous of the media, but says little or nothing about the war itself. It is critical of ambitious journalists who use and abuse the native population, going so far as to be grateful for the dropping of American bombs that will devastate the country, thus giving them new headlines. Although an angry protest (one assumes against the war), the movie suffers from a lack of serious context.

During the question-and-answer period after the film’s public screening in Toronto, director Eder explained that the work was based on real incidents that she fictionalized to safeguard the identities of the journalists.

‘Afghan hospital bombing was deliberate, not a mistake’

A Doctors Without Borders worker, injured by the Uniited States air force attack on the Kunduz hospital in Afghanistan

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

“Signals for targeted attack on Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz

Today, 20:21

President Obama has apologized to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for the attack on the hospital in Kunduz. Yesterday United States General Campbell already said that the attack was a mistake.

Anonymous sources from around ​​the general reported today to the New York Times that he was also convinced that the Americans did not follow their own guidelines.

Although the Americans have largely withdrawn from Afghanistan, they are still present with combat aircraft and 10,000 troops. Only in three cases the US Americans may carry out air strikes: there must be intervention to eliminate terrorists, or to protect United States troops or to assist the Afghan army and prevent land being lost.

NOS correspondent Arjen van der Horst says that according to General Campbell in the bombing of the MSF clinic not any of these three conditions was met. Van der Horst: “The picture emerges of a bombardment that deliberately targeted this hospital. had There are more and more puzzle pieces confirming this.”

The report that the MSF clinic was under fire for thirty minutes and was the target of several waves of attacks, according to Van der Horst has not been contradicted by the Pentagon. The hospital was also the only building in the area which was hit.

Puzzle pieces

One of the other pieces of the puzzle is the fact that the Americans used the so-called AC-130 aircraft; because of its firepower it is sometimes called a flying tank. Van der Horst: “The plane is flying pretty low, operates always at night and therefore always support is needed on the ground. Units designating a target and that was the case in Kunduz. That information came from the Afghan army. One wonders whether the Americans relied blindly on their coordinates.”

The Afghan government have called the attack justified because the Taliban supposedly used the hospital for warfare. This is strongly denied by MSF, but they do point out that the Afghans actually admit that the hospital was a target. According to Van der Horst, this is further evidence that it was not a mistake, not collateral damage.

As a possible motive for the attack he names the friction that exists between the charity and the Afghan government. MSF is a neutral organization and treats injuries of all warring parties, including Taliban fighters. The Afghan army had a bone to pick with MSF. In June the military had already invaded the hospital to arrest wounded Taliban fighters.

Van der Horst: “Over the past fourteen years, there have often been innocent Afghan casualties, but their voices are rarely heard, and when they are heard, then they are bulldozed by statements from the Pentagon which are adopted uncritically by the US American media. This time the victim is a western organization with eloquent spokespersons, an organization for which also in the USA respect exists. They do get listened to.”

THE international Red Cross joined Doctors Without Borders (MSF) yesterday in calling for an investigation of last week’s US bombing of a hospital in northern Afghanistan: here.

US officials seek to contain fallout from hospital massacre in Afghanistan: here.

Afghan hospital bombed, Doctors Without Borders distrusts Pentagon investigation

This Reuters video says about itself:

MSF says Kunduz hospital bombing could be a ‘war crime

6 October 2015

Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres dismisses claims that an air strike on an Afghan hospital was targeting militant fighters. Rough cut (no reporter narration).

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Suspicious MSF/Doctors Without Borders demands independent investigation about Kunduz

Today, 13:36

MSF demands an independent investigation into the bombing of a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz. The organization has no faith in the investigations which the United States, NATO and Afghanistan have announced.

When the bombardment happened last Saturday, 22 people were killed. US warplanes targeted the clinic. Initially it was said that this occurred at the request of the Afghan government, but now the US has said that the US military itself commanded this. General Campbell has acknowledged that the attack was a mistake.

Special commission

MSF calls the attack a war crime and wants a special committee to do the fact-finding. This committee, the IHFFC, was established in 1991 to investigate serious violations of international law and derives from the Geneva Conventions. Up to now, the committee has never been deployed.

The founding treaty of the committee is signed by 76 countries. The United States and Afghanistan are not amongst them. The committee can only get to work if all parties agree.

See also here.

Doctors Without Borders: we received no advance warning of US airstrike. Such action would be a violation of the US Defense Department’s own manual governing the rules of war, as President Obama calls MSF president to apologize: here.

Pentagon pretexts on Afghan hospital bombing rejected by Doctors Without Borders

This BBC video says about itself:

5 October 2015

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called for an independent investigation of an air strike on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

MSF said it is “disgusted” by Afghan government statements justifying the violence, calling it an “admission of a war crime“.

MSF said the statement implies US and Afghan forces decided to bomb the hospital because of claims Taliban members were inside. Vickie Hawkins, from MSF UK, insisted that there were no members of the Taliban operating from inside the hospital.

From Doctors Without Borders:

MSF Response to Pentagon Claim That Afghan Forces Called For Kunduz Airstrike

October 05, 2015

“Today the US government has admitted that it was their airstrike that hit our hospital in Kunduz and killed 22 patients and MSF staff. Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is the US dropped those bombs. The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

Christopher Stokes, General Director, Médecins Sans Frontières

Doctors Without Borders airstrike: US alters story for fourth time in four days. Commander of war in Afghanistan tells Senate panel that US forces had called in airstrike at Afghan request – ‘an admission of a war crime’ says MSF chief: here.

See also here.

The massacre of 22 people—12 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, along with 10 patients, three of them children—in Saturday’s airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical center in Kunduz, Afghanistan is an appalling war crime: here.

OBAMA CONSIDERING LEAVING TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN “President Obama is seriously weighing a proposal to keep as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016, according to senior U.S. officials, a move that would end his plans to bring U.S. troops home before he leaves office.” [WaPo]

‘NATO Kunduz hospital bombing is a war crime’

This video says about itself:

Kunduz attack may amount to war crime – UN Human Rights chief

4 October 2015

The US military said it launched an attack around the time a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) charity hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz was hit by an airstrike, killing 19 people: staff, patients and children.

“The strike may have led to collateral damage to a nearby medical facility,” according to a statement from US Army Colonel Brian Tribus, Spokesman for US Forces in Afghanistan.

UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein led a chorus of condemnation.

Read more here.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

MSF/Doctors Without Borders speaks of war crime in Kunduz

Today, 10:28

MSF says that the bombing of a hospital in the Afghan city Kunduz is a war crime. “The Afghan government admits they have okayed this premeditatedly,” says Director Arjen Hehenkamp of MSF in the Netherlands. …

Gates closed

“It is totally unacceptable,” said Hehenkamp. “The Afghan government says there was a deliberate and purposeful bombing of a hospital in the middle of the night because there might maybe have been Taliban fighters.”

According to the organization, the gates of the hospital were all closed, so at the time of the attack only staff and patients were there. “We know for sure that it was not used for combat operations. Because of the heavy fighting, our team spent the past week continually at the compound.”

Hehenkamp recognizes that there may have been wounded Taliban fighters in the hospital, but that should be no reason to attack, he stressed. MSF treats all injuries, whether they are of civilians, Taliban fighters or coalition troops. “It is a violation of the law of war, because people can be sued for this. A hospital is sacred, especially in wartime.”

It was not inaccurate, not accidental or collateral damage, it was very purposeful.
Arjen Hehenkamp

According to Dutch Major General (retired) Frank van Kappen it does not matter whether there were combatants or not. “Even then you should not do it. You can not under international law just throw a bomb on a hospital.” …

Hehenkamp says he has heard other stories from his colleagues. “They attacked very specifically a very specific building in that large area several times, the intensive care unit. That was the only building that was hit. It was not inaccurate, not accidental or collateral damage. It was done quite deliberately.”

MSF demands an independent investigation into the incident, in which 22 people were killed, including twelve Doctors Without Borders workers and three children. …

US silent

MSF has already removed its staff from Kunduz. Thus the only hospital in the city is closed. Patients are brought to hospitals in the region. Because there are thirty seriously wounded people, Hehenkamp expects the death toll will continue to rise.

The United States, which was probably

‘Probably’? Does anyone believe seriously the Taliban have warplanes?

involved in the incident, has said nothing about this, says Hehenkamp. “It is incomprehensible that they do not seek contact in an active way after such a big butchery.”

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS LEAVES KUNDUZ AFTER DEADLY BOMBING The loss of medical services after an alleged U.S. airstrike, which killed 22 patients and staff, will be catastrophic for a region already lacking in medical support. And hear what a nurse who survived the bombing Saturday has to say about the tragedy. [NYT]

A protracted series of precisely targeted US airstrikes ripped through a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical center in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least 22 and wounding at least 37. The dead included 10 patients, including three children, and 12 members of the MSF staff: here.

Nato’s bombs fall like confetti, not containing conflict but spreading it, by George Monbiot. Syria, Isis, Iraq … there are no easy solutions. But killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere draws more people into insurgencies: here.

‘Afghan patients burned in their beds in United States air force attack’, nurse tells

This 3 October 2015 video is called Nineteen dead, dozens missing in air strike on Kunduz hospital.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Afghanistan Kunduz hospital air strike: MSF nurse describes ‘patients burning in their beds’

MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs was in the hospital during the series of bombing raids – here’s what he saw

Lajos Zoltan Jecs

Sunday 4 October 2015 13:19 BST

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs was in the charity’s Kunduz trauma hospital when the facility was struck by a series of aerial bombing raids in the early hours of Saturday morning. He describes his experience.

It was absolutely terrifying.

I was sleeping in our safe room in the hospital. At around 2am I was woken up by the sound of a big explosion nearby. At first I didn’t know what was going on. Over the past week we’d heard bombings and explosions before, but always further away. This one was different – close and loud.

At first there was confusion, and dust settling. As we were trying to work out what was happening, there was more bombing.

After 20 or 30 minutes, I heard someone calling my name. It was one of the Emergency Room nurses. He staggered in with massive trauma to his arm. He was covered in blood, with wounds all over his body.

At that point my brain just couldn’t understand what was happening. For a second I was just stood still, shocked.

He was calling for help. In the safe room, we have a limited supply of basic medical essentials, but there was no morphine to stop his pain. We did what we could.

I don’t know exactly how long, but it was maybe half an hour afterwards that they stopped bombing. I went out with the project coordinator to see what had happened.

What we saw was the hospital destroyed, burning. I don’t know what I felt – just shock again.

We went to look for survivors. A few had already made it to one of the safe rooms. One by one, people started appearing, wounded, including some of our colleagues and caretakers of patients.

We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds.

We looked for some staff that were supposed to be in the operating theatre. It was awful. A patient there on the operating table, dead, in the middle of the destruction. We couldn’t find our staff. Thankfully we later found that they had run out from the operating theatre and had found a safe place.

Just nearby, we had a look in the inpatient department. Luckily untouched by the bombing. We quickly checked that everyone was OK. And in a safe bunker next door, also everyone inside was OK.

And then back to the office. Full – patients, wounded, crying out, everywhere.

It was crazy. We had to organise a mass casualty plan in the office, seeing which doctors were alive and available to help. We did an urgent surgery for one of our doctors. Unfortunately he died there on the office table. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough.

The whole situation was very hard. We saw our colleagues dying. Our pharmacist – I was just talking to him last night and planning the stocks, and then he died there in our office.

The first moments were just chaos. Enough staff had survived, so we could help all the wounded with treatable wounds. But there were too many that we couldn’t help. Somehow, everything was very clear. We just treated the people that needed treatment, and didn’t make decisions – how could we make decisions in that sort of fear and chaos?

Some of my colleagues were in too much shock, crying and crying. I tried to encourage some of the staff to help, to give them something to concentrate on, to take their minds off the horror. But some were just too shocked to do anything. Seeing adult men, your friends, crying uncontrollably – that is not easy.

I have been working here since May, and I have seen a lot of heavy medical situations. But it is a totally different story when they are your colleagues, your friends.

These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

The hospital, it has been my workplace and home for several months. Yes, it is just a building. But it is so much more than that. It is healthcare for Kunduz. Now it is gone.

What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable. How can this happen? What is the benefit of this? Destroying a hospital and so many lives, for nothing. I cannot find words for this.”

Afghan conflict: MSF demands Kunduz hospital inquiry: here.

United States deathly attack on Afghan hospital condemned

This video says about itself:

Nineteen people killed after Kunduz hospital allegedly bombed by coalition
3 October 2015

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders says 19 people were killed and dozens more injured or missing when its facility in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was bombed on Saturday by possibly the US-led coalition.

‘Possibly’? Who else could have done it? The Taliban don’t have any warplanes.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Afghanistan air strikes: US faces global condemnation after attack on hospital kills 19 people

The airstrikes continued for more than 30 minutes even though military officials had again been informed of the hospital’s location after staff became aware of the attacks

Serina Sandhu

Saturday 3 October 2015 21:35 BST

The United States is facing international condemnation after its airstrikes devastated a hospital in Afghanistan. The attack, an effort to eject Taliban Islamists from the city of Kunduz, killed at least 19 people at the hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), including 12 staff and three children. It has also emerged that officials in Washington and Kabul had been made aware of the hospital’s location, leading to claims by human rights groups that the strikes could amount to a war crime. A US forces spokesman confirmed the strikes “may have resulted in collateral damage”, although there was no immediate public apology.

More than 100 patients and 80 staff members were at the clinic when it became engulfed in flames in the early hours of 3 October. It was reported that, on top of the fatalities, 40 people were seriously hurt including 19 MSF staff, some of whom were taken to a hospital two hours away in Puli Khumri.

Many people remain unaccounted for and the death toll is expected to rise. The attack was deplored by MSF, which said it had repeatedly told authorities of the hospital’s GPS location.

The airstrikes continued for more than 30 minutes even though military officials in Washington and Nato officials in Kabul had again been informed of the hospital’s location after staff became aware of the attacks.

Colonel Brian Tribus, speaking for the US forces, said: “The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation.” Ash Carter, US Defence Secretary, confirmed the “tragic incident” was being investigated with the Afghan government.

Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan, said in a statement the commander of Nato’s Resolute Support mission had “explained and [apologised] for the attack”. The Kabul mission said it was unaware of the apology.

Meinie Nicolai, MSF’s president, called the attack “abhorrent” and a “grave violation of international humanitarian law”. She said: “We demand total transparency from coalition forces. We cannot accept this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’.” …

Nicholas Haysom, the UN special representative in Afghanistan, said: “Hospitals accommodating patients and medical personnel may never be the object of attack, and international humanitarian law also prohibits the use of medical facilities for military purposes.”

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN human rights chief, said the event needed to be independently investigated and the results publicised, adding that a deliberate airstrike on a hospital could be a war crime. The trauma centre was caring for almost 400 people wounded as a result of the violence that followed the insurgent attacks on 28 September.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan researcher, said: “Amnesty [believes] the deliberate attack of civilian and civilian targets, hospitals and medical facilities … is in violation of international humanitarian law and [a] deliberate attack may amount to war crimes. Attacking medical facilities, and especially a surgical hospital, could have a grave human cost because this hospital was dealing with a countless number of people, especially in the past few days when the war started in Kunduz.”

Ms Mosadiq added: “We are calling on the Afghan government and others to conduct an independent investigation into this incident and to … bring [those] responsible to justice.”

Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Afghanistan, said: “This is an appalling tragedy. Such attacks against health workers and facilities undermine the capacity of humanitarian [organisations] to assist the Afghan people at a time when they most urgently need it.”