Thursday, September 19, 2019
By Peter Baker
President Trump said on Wednesday night that “it’s crazy” that the United States spends about $13 million a year for each terrorism suspect held at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and added that he would search for alternatives.
“I know about that,” Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew back to Washington after a three-day campaign trip to New Mexico and California. “I think it’s crazy. It costs a fortune to operate, and I think it’s crazy.”
But he would not say whether he would consider closing the prison at Guantánamo. “We’re looking at a lot of things,” he said without elaborating. Instead, he pointed out that his predecessor tried and failed to shutter the prison. “Look, President Obama said that Guantánamo Bay would be closed, and he never got it done.”
The president’s comments came in reaction to a report in The New York Times tabulating the expense of housing the 40 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo, who include the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. According to the report, the government spent more than $540 million last year to hold the prisoners, including pay for the military guards, the cost of the war court and related construction expenses.
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The cost of $13 million per prisoner almost certainly makes the detention facility at Guantánamo, which was set up by President George W. Bush’s administration in the months after 9/11 and became a public relations liability, the world’s most expensive prison.
By comparison, it cost American taxpayers in 2012 just $78,000 per inmate at the “supermax” federal prison in Colorado, where some of the nation’s most dangerous prisoners are kept and where some officials in the past have suggested transferring the Guantánamo detainees.
Mr. Bush sought to reduce the population before leaving office and released about 540 detainees, mostly transferring them to home countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama vowed during his 2008 presidential campaign to close Guantánamo, and his administration released another 200 through a similar approach.
But Mr. Obama was blocked by Congress from transferring the remaining detainees to any federal prison in the United States amid resistance to the idea of bringing terrorists to American soil. And when Mr. Trump ran for president in 2016, he vowed to keep Guantánamo open and even to send more terrorists there, although none have actually been added to the prison since he took office.
In his comments to reporters on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump focused more on what to do with prisoners captured during the war with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and still held by the United States in the Middle East. The president has demanded that European allies take those prisoners who originally came from their countries. He repeated his threat to release them at the borders of those nations if they do not.
“The big decision we have now is we have thousands of people,” Mr. Trump said. “They came from other countries. We want those countries to take them back. We did them a big favor by stopping them. If they came from France, we want France to take them and to try and do whatever they have to do with them. But that’s a very expensive situation.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the United States would withdraw about $100 million earmarked for an energy infrastructure project in Afghanistan and withhold a further $60 million in planned assistance, blaming corruption and a lack of transparency in the country.
Pompeo said in a statement the United States would complete the infrastructure project, but would do so using an “‘off-budget’ mechanism”, faulting Afghanistan for an “inability to transparently manage U.S. government resources”.
“Due to identified Afghan government corruption and financial mismanagement, the U.S. Government is returning approximately $100 million to the U.S. Treasury that was intended for a large energy infrastructure project,” he added.
The decision comes a day after the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, in a tweet called out the country’s National Procurement Authority (NPA) for not approving the purchase of fuel for thermal electricity. Residents of Kabul have accused the NPA of ignoring people’s need for energy, as large parts of the city have been without power for more than seven hours every day this month.
Electricity outages have also inflicted losses for manufacturing companies and emergency health services.
“Hearing reports the National Procurement Authority won’t authorize fuel purchases for the power plant providing the only electricity in Kabul – even while the U.S. & Resolute Support help Afghan security forces enable repairs to power transmission lines. Could this be true?” Bass said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The power crisis intensified further this week after insurgents attack pylons in northern provinces. About a third of the country has been hit by blackouts.
The way he was criticising the government, especially Prime Minister Imran Khan, the arrest Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) MNA Syed Khursheed Shah was just a matter of time. This is the perception that the method of accountability has developed among people.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Shah in Islamabad in a case regarding assets beyond means. The most pressing charge against him is about an amenity plot in a housing society in Sukkur, which, as per NAB sources, the MNA converted into a residential plot, besides stashing some benami properties in the name of his front men or servants. Had the accountability watchdog been dead sure about of the authenticity of the allegation, it would have instituted a reference against the vocal MNA months ago.
Now,in days to come, we will see if Shah stands trial in Sukkur. No one knows when the ongoing inquiry against him will be converted into an investigation before a reference is filed. Just like other leaders, he will undergo of physical and judicial remand.
Shah is just an addition to the list of opposition leaders facing NAB trials, such as former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Maryam Nawaz, former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, former finance minister Miftah Ismail, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz. Of the long list of NAB suspects, only Shahbaz Sharif has secured bail.
The fate of others seems uncertain too because the trial goes on at a snail’s pace. NAB authorities justify the arrests of suspects to accumulate tangible and intangible evidences against them, and to grill them. At the end of the day, the exercise turns out to be burden on NAB authorities. Several people picked by NAB for interrogation have later secured bail after courts see no meat in evidence in their cases. PPP leaders Sharjeel Memon and Dr Asim Husain, and PTI leaders and former provincial ministers Aleem Khan and Sibtain Khan, stand out as glaring example of NAB’s incompetence.
The arrest of Shah, a sitting MNA, at a time when the house is in session, points to the government’s disregard for the law of the land. The assembly rules state that the speaker’s permission is mandatory to arrest a parliamentarian during a session. The speaker himself has undermined the sanctity of his office by refusing to issue production orders of detained parliamentarians. History is watching the actions of all actors.
Govt of idiots and morons? - School kids in Pakistan are raped, killed. So Imran Khan govt and clerics recommend abayas
Police in Pakistan confirmed this week that three boys – aged eight and nine – who were missing for nearly three months were raped and killed.
Barely hours before CM Mahmood Khan ordered to withdraw the government notification following severe backlash from child rights activists and others on social and mainstream media, education adviser Ziaullah Bangash was defending the orders.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had to clarify that the order was “neither necessary nor was there logic behind it”.
Citizens should be free to decide what they want to wear and young girls should not be shamed into taking responsibility for what perverted men do. Pakistani schoolgirls all across the country have a dress code in place already, a uniform that covers every part of the body. Whether or not they wear an abaya or a hijab is not a decision for the government to make – let alone its excuse of taking the decision to prevent “unethical incidents”.
If the government thought it was addressing the issue of harassment or abuse by asking young girls to cover their bodies “properly”, then what does it suggest the young boys do because they are even more vulnerable? In 2018, Pakistan had a total of 3,832 cases of child abuse – an increase of 11 per cent from the previous year – reported in the country, according to a report by child rights advocacy group, Sahil. Of the total children abused, 2,094 were boys and 1,738 were girls, the report added. Address the real problem
Pakistani society has to first accept and then speak up what many inadvertently end up denying: child abuse is a real problem and it will not go away by making children wear a certain piece of clothing. Instead of taking concrete steps that deal with the larger issue of male perversion, the government turns to measures that only give fodder to the religious Right, which then brushes the uncomfortable truth about child abuse under the carpet.
Take for instance cleric Mufti Taqi Usmani. He first criticised the government’s recall of the abaya order, which he said was “in accordance with the teachings of Holy Quran and worthy of praise”. And then, he asked Imran Khan to intervene since the First Lady wears a ‘naqab’ and the PM himself advocates for the ‘State of Medina’.
It should be clear to anyone that dress is irrelevant. There are women wearing burqa getting harassed, those covering their head with dupattas catcalled, hijab-wearing girls being offered lifts by strangers, or those in chadars being molested in public places. The blame doesn’t rest on women, and until policymakers realise this, there won’t be much progress.
Moreover, by putting the blame on the victims, society stops the child – boy or girl – from coming forward and reporting the incident of sexual abuse. Children need to be given the confidence to talk to a trusted adult, who should be bound to report any sign of actual or potential abuse.
Laws alone not the solution
Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, having signed and ratified it in 1990. So, Pakistan is bound to have tough legislation on these issues. But having laws alone won’t help. They need to be implemented as well. Along with strengthening the implementation of existing laws in the country, the government must also focus on how to prevent these incidents of crime. At the same time, it should ensure child rights activists and experts educate parents, school teachers and members of local communities on how best to address such issues.
When six-year-old Zainab Ansari was raped and killed in Punjab’s Kasur district, it had shaken Pakistani society’s conscience. Or at least that’s what it felt like when the case became a watershed moment in Pakistan’s civilian activism, finding global support, and resulting in the rapist-killer getting hanged. But what did the outrage and justice do for the safety of other children?
Since then, thousands of such cases have been reported, with and without media or civil society registering their outrage. On Wednesday, police in Kasur confirmed that the three boys – aged eight and nine – who were missing for nearly three months were found to have been raped and killed. Their bodies were found Tuesday. The aggrieved families protest, people demand punishment for the culprits – and the cycle continues. Nothing actually gets done that would ensure the safety of children in Pakistan.
One doesn’t expect the UN to deliver justice on the horrifying human rights situation in Kashmir. Still, international opinion matters.
Her face was everywhere — on the news, at police stations and at the airports where the Pakistani government had put her on a list of the nation’s most wanted.
She has been accused of treason, though human rights defenders said that the allegations were bogus and that she was being targeted for highlighting abuses committed by Pakistan’s military. Security services were searching for her in every corner of the country, raiding her friends’ houses and closing in on her family.
But somehow Gulalai Ismail, a 32-year-old Pakistani women’s rights activist on the run, managed to slip through the dragnet last month and escape to America. She is now staying with her sister in Brooklyn and has applied for political asylum in the United States.
She is still worried about her parents back home and the underground network that secretly protected her as she moved from house to house, city to city, through countless police checkpoints, always wearing a veil over her face, her eyes barely visible.
She did not reveal how she got out, except to say, “I didn’t fly out of any airport.”
“I can’t tell you any more,” she said in an interview this week. “My exit story will put many lives at risk.”
Her ordeal sheds light on the state of human rights in Pakistan, a troubled nation with a history of brutal repression. Ms. Ismail has campaigned aggressively for women’s rights, bringing attention to rapes, disappearances and other abuses that she and many others say have been committed by Pakistan’s security forces against their own people.
The military is all-powerful in Pakistan and the country is approaching an inflection point. Pakistani officials do not like talking about Ms. Ismail — none would comment publicly for this article.
Her account of being chased out of the country does not help the government’s efforts to win diplomatic support at a time when the economy is tanking and Pakistan is begging the world to censure India for its recent moves on Kashmir, a disputed territory claimed by both Pakistan and India.It has taken Ms. Ismail some time to feel safe even in New York, she said, but she has begun to meet with prominent human rights defenders and the staffs of congressional leaders. “I will do everything I can to support Gulalai’s asylum request,” said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York. “It is clear that her life would be in danger if she were to return to Pakistan.”
Pakistani security officials said they had suspected for some time that Ms. Ismail had slipped through their fingers.
“Our guys have been after her, by all means, but she is not traceable,” said a Pakistani intelligence agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing intelligence protocols. “She has gone to a place beyond our reach.”
How she did that — whether it was crossing overland into Iran or Afghanistan and then onward to Europe or America, or perhaps getting smuggled out by sea — remains a tantalizing mystery. The Pakistani government had barred her from leaving the country and tried to seal all the exits.
Ever since she was 16, Ms. Ismail has been speaking out about human rights abuses, focusing on the plight of Pakistani women and girls who suffer all kinds of horrors including forced marriages and honor killings.
In January, she aired accusations, on Facebook and Twitter, that government soldiers had raped or sexually abused many Pakistani women. She has also joined protests led by an ethnic Pashtun movement that Pakistan’s military has tried to crush. Pakistani officials have accused Ms. Ismail of sedition, inciting treason and defaming state institutions.
In late May, she became a fugitive.
It started with a phone call from a friend to her house in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, where she lived with her elderly parents.
“It’s all over the media, a raid team is coming, you have to leave — now!” the friend said.
Ms. Ismail scrambled out the door with no spare clothes or even a phone. “They can trace you, even when it’s off,” she said.
Was she scared?
“It was one of those moments you don’t have time to feel,” she said. “You don’t have time to be frightened, you don’t have time to be brave, you just have to act.”
She spent the next three months moving from place to place, across many different Pakistani cities, never using a phone or touching a computer, she said. She turned to a small, trusted group of friends and their contacts, staying indoors, covering her face for the few moments when she did step outside, incredibly careful each time she changed locations.
Pakistan is a heavily watched place. Roadside security checkpoints are everywhere. Ms. Ismail said she crossed hundreds of them. She recalled one incident when she showed up at the house of a friend of her father’s and when the friend answered the door and saw her standing there, he froze.
“He was so scared that he would be arrested for supporting a terrorist and his children would be arrested,” she said.
The next day the friend called a taxi and Ms. Ismail left.
“Hiding is not pleasant,” she said.
She already had a visa to the United States, where she has visited regularly, meeting prominent women including Michelle Obama. After she arrived in New York in August, she immediately holed up in her family’s house in Brooklyn, where two brothers and two sisters live.
Still, she did not want to go outside. She felt depressed and anxious. She said she didn’t feel any huge gush of relief.
She was worried about her parents, who face charges of financing terrorism and remain under heavy surveillance in Islamabad. She was also worried that a Pakistani agent or someone on the government’s side might see her on a New York street and take a picture of her — or worse.
In recent days, she said, she has been feeling much better. She still spends most of her time inside the family home, cooking mutton achaari and other Pakistani dishes.She is waiting on her asylum application. Lawyers said there was little chance that the United States would send her back to Pakistan.“In Gulalai’s case, I understand that she is charged with anti-state activities, which obviously carry a death penalty,” said Masroor Shah, a lawyer in Islamabad who has dealt with many human rights cases. “There is no likelihood based on past policies and local laws that U.S. authorities would even consider an extradition request.”
Ms. Ismail has started a new research and advocacy group, Voices for Peace and Democracy, to protect women in conflict zones. She is also thinking of law school.
But it makes her sad, a constant shadow on her life ahead, that she might never see her parents again — or Pakistan.
“When I left, I knew this was a one-way trip,” she said. “And as I was leaving, I bent down and touched the soil, and told myself, ‘This is where I belong, this is my country.”’