The Guardian 13 July, 2005

US: The horror in dawn's early light

Trish O'Kane

This July Fourth, the hood seems a more fitting patriotic symbol than the flag. For we the people, as a nation, have donned one so we do not have to face ourselves or the family members of people like Dilawar.

It was the eve of a Muslim holiday that December. A shy, thin, unschooled 22-year-old, Dilawar was an aspiring taxi driver in the village of Yakubi.

Dilawar's mother wanted the entire family together for the holiday and asked him to pick up three sisters from neighbouring villages. Dilawar needed gas money, so he went to work in a nearby city.

He collected three passengers. On the way home, he passed Camp Salerno, a US base that had been attacked that morning. Afghan militiamen stopped the taxi and turned Dilawar and passengers over to US soldiers as suspects.

The three passengers ended up in Guantánamo, where they spent over a year before they were sent home without charge.

Dilawar was sent to Camp Bagram, another US-Afghan base. He arrived December 5. It was a US camp where torture was routine, according to a nearly 2000-page confidential Army investigation file given to the New York Times by a military official. Dilawar's story and others were published in the New York Times on May 20. Twenty-four hours before Dilawar arrived, another prisoner named Habibullah died after four days of being beaten and kicked. Soldiers told investigators they beat him while he was chained to the ceiling. The autopsy reported bruises on Habibullah's chest, arms and head, and deep contusions on calves, knees and thighs.

In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers described a female interrogator at Bagram stepping on a prisoner's neck and kicking another in the genitals. One Bagram interrogator was nicknamed "the monster," and a group of Bagram soldiers were called "the Testosterone Gang".

Dilawar lasted five days. Interrogators later told Army investigators they believed he was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the base. He was tortured by Americans his own age who said it was "funny" to hear him cry "Allah" when they hit him. One soldier estimated they hit Dilawar in the legs over 100 times in 24 hours. Dilawar died when his heart failed due to "blunt force injuries to the lower extremities".

Military coroners declared both deaths "homicides". One coroner described Dilawar's legs as "pulpified".

On September 16, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said: "We also have to work ‘the dark side', spend time in the shadows. It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal."

Dilawar died in December of 2002. Between 2001, when Cheney made this statement, and 2005, at least 108 prisoners have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan (Associated Press, March 16, 2005.) Just one death occurred at Abu Ghraib.

The full army reports have been published by the Amer­ican Civil Liberties Union at

This is what you will find:

Our flag waving over a sprawling prison network of some 42 camps holding 11,000 prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. The government admits to "detaining" at least 50,000 since US military operations began.

Our soldiers using a dead Iraqi to wave hello on a DVD called "Ramadi Madness", and brutalising Iraqi prisoners. Army documents published in March 2005 described the DVD (see Palm Beach Post website).

Abu Ghraib prisoner Manadel Al-Jamedi, suspended by the wrists, hands cuffed behind his back, in a practice called "Palestinian hanging". Al-Jamedi died in a shower room during a half-hour interrogation by the CIA and Navy Seals (Army account in Associated Press story, Feb. 17, 2005).

An Iraqi father begging for his teenage son's life as US soldiers stage a mock execution (Army documents published April 19, 2005).

Two Iraqi prisoners on a bridge, and three US soldiers behind them, pushing them off. One prisoner could not swim and drowned. His family found his body 12 days later (Army report published July 15, 2004).

Is this what "so proudly we hail, at the twilight's last gleaming"?

Trish O'Kane is a member of the Montgomery Peace Project

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