Sunday, April 29, 2007

April 30 2007

There was a lot of noise in the hallway when I woke up yesterday at 12:30 AM or 0030 for those of you into military time. Some of our Afghan National Army brethren had run over a land mine on the way out to a check point and they were bringing in the casualty. Unfortunately two of the three soldiers died immediately. The third was brought in suffering from shock, burns and lacerations. We were unable to get a helicopter to come and land for various reasons. The excuse given the next day to the medical personnel in Herat was that the helicopters needed maintenance. The initial reason given over the radio was that because there were no US, Spanish or Italian injured the Spanish weren't going to launch the medevac. These are not interpretations on my part, these are the things that we were told. The fact is that no medevac was launched, and we ended up putting our soldier into an ambulance and hot footing him to Herat. When I say our soldier I mean that exactly that way. When you serve with a group of soldiers, American, Afghan or Romanian, those people have ownership of you, and you have ownership of them. It isn't a codified political thing; it is a group dynamic thing. It is embarrassing when the coalition member responsible for medical transport responds according to the nationality of the person injured. There is no way to legally express the frustration we feel as a part of this unit, knowing that if it were me or one of our US soldiers the bird would have flown immediately, but for our coalition Afghan soldiers it is not justifiable in Madrid. Yes the authorization has to happen in Madrid for Afghan nationals, be they soldiers or not.

Most events that I have read about in the news in our area, and there have been a few in the last couple of days have reported the event okay. There are varying degrees of truth in the circumstances, often depending upon the origination of the article. Tehran, Iran reports a battle with 50 Taliban, referencing a battle that I know had less than half that number. American press thankfully doesn't give any numbers in that instance.

This is a Support and Stability Operation. Support consists of building infrastructure, improving school systems, building wells and bridges, providing materials and labor to improve or build mosques, building roads, improving roads and water networks. This can only happen when the fighting has dropped to a low infrequent and insignificant level. For the last several weeks the focus in this operation in this area has shifted from Support, to Stability. Stability is creating an atmosphere conducive to Support. Stability includes all military operations you might normally think of to achieve a cease fire of sorts. Stability operations can be kinetic operations. We glorify kinetic operations, "Saving Private Ryan", "We Were Soldier's and Young" and "Platoon" are just a couple of examples, and we glorify them with reason. Those people did what needed to be done at the time, and many died in the doing. What is not glorious, but is equally important to sustaining peace is the Support operations that alleviate the needs for future conflict, and save lives of future soldiers by eliminating or reducing the conflict down to something that our politicians can handle with our resorting to using force.

Finally I want to pay my respect to the recent departed, both American and Afghan who died in service to their country.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spring In Shindand

Just a quick note, you ought to check out It is written by a talented Sergeant who has worked with me for the last 5 months. He is probably a better writer than I am; I enjoy reading what he writes.

I really miss spring in Oregon, but I will be home in time to catch all of summer, so I won’t whine too much. Spring in Shindand has arrived; I returned to Shindand from Herat a couple of days ago. I am sure glad to be back. Thousands of Grasshoppers have hatched this year and the Interpreters say they have never seen this many. Doesn’t seem like enough to have swarms of biblical proportions, but more than I have ever seen, it makes me wish I had a fly rod and a stream to fish with them. They lasted for a couple of days, then the ants began carrying them away, and they were replaced by butterflies, also in the hundreds, The grass is green where I am at, wheat fields are growing, trees and grapes are pushing out their leaves, the doves have returned in force and can be heard until midmorning and again in the evening. It is truly the most pleasant place I have seen in Afghanistan, although I am sure there are others that are as nice also.

SGT White, who writes, pointed out that we all seem to do these, now that I am leaving posts, and I guess that is natural. Here is a brief thought from me on that, and I don’t believe this will be my last post, but I will try and keep the sappy reflections to a minimum.

I am glad that I came on this deployment. Leaving your family for 15 months is quite a price to pay, but I have volunteered for every step of what got me to this point, from enlisting, to ROTC, and back into the National Guard, I have to say I have always know this was possible, and I of course asked for what I got.

The people of Afghanistan have benefited greatly from our presence here. That is what leaders of villages, soldiers, and interpreters tell me. Of course folks who do not agree may not ever talk with me. Even taking the fighting into account these last 5 years have been peaceful for the bulk of Afghans. The children entering elementary school now, both boys and girls have not seen a battle in their lifetime. Their parents are able to concentrate on building a better life for their kids and grandkids. I am proud to serve beside such good people.

America can not in good consciousness leave Afghanistan to its own devices for many years to come. The time will need to be measured in decades, not in years. That is not a bad thing, South Korea has had a similar situation for over 50 years, and South Korea is among the dominant nations in its area. If we do leave Afghanistan, trouble will come again to this country, from Pakistan, Iran, and people without a country who are opportunistic.

I believe that with peace secured in Afghanistan, prosperity will increase, education will increase, and in this time of greater international commerce, Afghanistan will find a niche that allows it to be successful, and it won’t be opium.

Of course that does mean that either the US will station a division over here, as they have in South Korea, Germany, Japan, Italy, Bosnia, and the Sinai, or they will continue to have National Guard and Reserve units together with Active units rotate through. That is part of the price we need to bear. There will be ongoing debates as to how to skin that cat.

No cats were skinned in the publishing of this post. All cat skinning alluded to is fictional.

Good day…..

Edward McNeilly

I would be remiss in not including this. Uncle Ed sent probably 10 to 15 boxes of school supplies and kids toys, he liked to send matchbox cars, on the principle that everyone likes them. He was right; I had soldiers asking me for cars for their kids as well. We lost Ed McNeilly this month. He was my Uncle and has 11 brothers and sisters, a daughter innumerable nieces and nephews, and of course the following generation from them. He was an admirable man. I believe he was generous to those in need, and he was able to disagree with people with out either abdicating his position or attacking the other party in a personal way. I did not know him well, ours is a very spread out family. I spent some time with my Father and Ed visiting Marie in Idaho the summer prior to deploying in the summer of 2005. Through Uncle Ed, I met Merri, who shares our last name, she lives on the East Coast, he lived in California, I live in Oregon, and while haven’t met her in person, I am sure glad that he co opted her into our part of the family as well. Probably the best thing that I can say about my Uncle Ed is that he did good things well, and he lived the way he wanted to. I hope that I do as well. I know we all will miss him.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Observations from a public phone room

Many of the people I am temporarily sharing this post with have been away from home for quite a while now. We have all types here, Navy, Air force, Army, Army National Guard, Reserves, Inactive Ready Reserve Call ups, men and women. Our ages go from about 20 to 60, and of course our relationships are in various stages of life as well.

Because our phone room and computer room are co located, and because people can use their laptops for communication via Voice Over Internet Protocol, VOIP we are treated/subjected to other peoples conversations when attempting to either talk to our family or when emailing. It is very voyeuristic at times, in an auditory way. On the one hand it is nice to hear when two people are obviously in love, and just exchanging greetings and catching up on the day or week. On the other hand, it is very uncomfortable to hear what sounds like the middle of the beginning of the end. "Do what you want" "You need to do what makes you happy" "I wish I could make it better for you, but it is the way it is" all have invaded my ears in the last couple of weeks. As an observation, the tone of calls seems to have shifted from passing time, to either very eager to get home, or going home anticipating conflict. In any case, I am sure we would all appreciate an ability to deal with our life with a little bit more privacy, but like showers and bathrooms in the same buildings as our beds, that just isn't likely to happen here for a while.

Farah hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit the other day, I believe I will find Shindand breaking 100 when I get there, and home is a rousing 57 degrees today.

Monday, April 16, 2007


My sister has a word of the year, or she used to. I keep thinking that Focus is the word to use...

I have a bit of time on my hands this week, and my curiosity keeps getting the better of me. I have things to do when I get home. I have to reestablish a relationship with my family. I have to do that in light of the fact that I may redeploy, or not, depending on what I find out upon my return.

There is a time when you can affect change, based upon information. Sometimes it is either not possible to get the information when you want it, or people aren't able to or willing to make your needs a priority. Generally when this happens if it isn't life or death it is called whining.

I have had some discussions with mostly senior NCO's and some Mid rank Officers, and the problem is that we have what we have. Any discussion about what we have, vice what we need rapidly turns off the audience. So my question is should you talk about needs or thoughts that are not exactly with in the decided solution? Is dissension really whining, or is it actually valuable information provided to the chain of command.

We are taught to do the best with what we have and not complain. Stoic. Great. I am stoic. Back to focus.

Things that need focus when I return. Family, Career both Military and Civilian, Future Options/Operations.

I also need to buy new boots and shoelaces. But that will be for my article on diffusion

All my best


Thoughts and observations from Herat

I have a couple of thoughts and observations from the vantage point of our Forward Operating Base in Herat.

In addition, I would like to direct your attention to an editorial by Mike Francis in this weekends addition of the Oregonian, I think he quite accurately describes the issues.

In my travels here lately in the main base area of Herat Province I have had occasion to visit the FSB run by ISAF, that is the Forward Support Base run by the International Security Assistance Force. It is a very nicely appointed compound that is protected from attack in the way that most of our bases are protected. On it the Spanish, Italian, and Slovakian troops conduct their business. They are in the process of paving the main street which has the Spanish PX (Post Exchange) where they sell various sundry items. They have a barber collocated with a masseuse, an Internet cafe, a short order cafeteria where you may buy coffee drinks, or short order items, and sit in a large open air conditioned area and relax a bit and discuss things with people while you are not either in a work area, a personal area, or in transition between the two. In short it allows a person to relax somewhat.

The Italian PX is about two hundred meters away in a different area of the base, and it sells a different group of sundries with some overlap. Of course, it doesn't matter what nationality you are, you may buy from either location. They even sell to Americans. "GASP".

My dealings with the Italians and the Spanish on or around the base in the Herat province have been examples of hospitality that is exemplary. They are courteous, and friendly. Truly I would actually enjoy and prefer being located on the same base with them, for the cultural exchange. We have both Italians and Spanish at the American Base in Herat as well, but as there is not a logical gathering point for people to cross paths when not engaged in business, other than the gym, I don't see much of them on our post.

After seeing the extent of the support for the Spanish and the Italians, I am left wondering why the American Army has not seen fit to support its soldiers in a similar fashion. I know that these same amenities exist in Kabul, and in Kandahar. Kandahar may be better appointed then Kabul. Bagram is certainly well appointed also.

I believe earlier in my writings here I expressed dissatisfaction with ISAF strategies, or perhaps I remarked that they are very different that US strategies. That is still true. However, think that perhaps ISAF strategies have a place here. It is not a requirement to have a direct fire victory over every person who opposes the government of Afghanistan, it is simply enough to create enough peace to allow the roots of democracy (Afghan style) to take hold and flourish. I am sure that as long as the world community does not give up on Afghanistan, then Afghanistan will continue to grow in both peace and prosperity, which will allow stability to be a sure thing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shindand, Herat, Shindand

I have been to the major western cities in Afghanistan, and so far the largest, is the freindliest. I am not sure why, but Herat seems to be a very friendly city. It is also very livable, with electricity and plumbing the norm rather than the exception, and that may have something to do with it.

We reenlisted a soldier today with the blue mosque as a backdrop. It is in a walled park, that has grass and trees, and fountains. The fountains are not working now, but it is a pleasant setting.

Farah down south is a good place to avoid dilly dallying around, most people are friendly, but some would like nothing more than a clear shot at soldiers.

Shindand is not friendly, but the people in Shindand are also not decided. Mostly they are annoyed by the intrusion in their lives, and those that do mean harm will attempt to hurt us with roadside bombs, not direct fire weapons.

In Herat, I felt pretty safe, as safe as I have felt this year around here anyway. School kids smile and want to talk with us in Herat, boys and to a lesser degree girls as well. That really rarely happens elsewhere.

Today we received word that the group I was pulled to start in Herat is now defunct, and we are all moving to different locations, some back to our original startpoint, some to other adventures.

I read in the news today that our unit is already slated for a deployment in 2009. I don't know how that will affect me for a number of reasons. I guess we will see.

I will quit for now, and add pictures as I am able.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Quick Short and Sweet

Well, we are getting down to it in terms of time. I tell the really short timers here that I will be happy to see them leave as that means I am next in the bucket.

We are moving along here, trying to get the equipment we need up to par in order to do the mission we have been given. It isn't particularly exciting, but it is particularly necessary.

I work with another great group of guys, most of us are in our 30's and 40's and we have a mixture of active duty, and national guard folks, which is a pretty good mix actually. The other day we did some familiarization firing with the AK 47, and the RPK, which is a longer rifle but fires the same round. In addition we worked with the pistols that the ANP has been issued. Under the heading that any day firing guns is a good day, (as long as your not being shot at...) We had a great day.

The weather here is heating up during the peak, but still is very livable during the bulk of the day. It feels a lot like southern california, and looks very similar to the deserts down there.

It is greener now than it ever has been since I have been here, which is also a nice thing for an Oregon guy to see.

I will stop with that, I hope you are all well.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Todays thoughts

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. I have been here in Herat for about 4 or 5 days now. It is truly a different world here then where I came from.

Irony, I finally received a box mailed on 19 October 2006. This was the day I started to make an official complaint about said box, and it of course arrived today, strange.

In the scope of things, right now things are pretty mundane here. I have nothing to brag about or complain about.

Take some time and hug someone today.

Friday, April 06, 2007

New Temporary Home

Well, the powers that be have decided that I should help stand up a new team. As a result I have moved to Herat, where there are more people, more rocks, less trees, no grass.

My compadres in Shindand will still carry on, and if you would like to continue to send humanitarian assistance to them you can send it in care of Douglas Barrett one of my replacements. He will gladly distribute them. School has just started again and the sounds of the kids in the play ground is a welcome change from the otherwise relatively sterile environment.

The good news about this move is that while I leave a great group of guys, I join another group of great guys, some of whom are from my state. That is nice, it adds a little spice to the last bit of time that we will be here.

I hope to have more things to write about as time goes on here, because I do like to share what is going on, the parts that I can anyway.

If you know Uncle Ed, please say a prayer for the return of his health.

All my best.


Monday, April 02, 2007

More on Reasonable

This is reprinted and while long, is worth the read.

The Conscience of the Colonel
Lt. Col. Stuart Couch volunteered to prosecute
terrorists. Then he decided one had been tortured
March 31, 2007; Page A1
When the Pentagon needed someone to prosecute a Guantanamo Bay prisoner linked to 9/11, it turned to Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch. A Marine Corps pilot and veteran prosecutor, Col. Couch brought a personal connection to the job: His old Marine buddy, Michael "Rocks" Horrocks, was co-pilot on United 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The prisoner in question, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had already been suspected of terrorist activity. After the attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower. To Col. Couch, Mr. Slahi seemed a likely candidate for the death penalty.
"Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands," Col. Couch says.
But, nine months later, in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career, Col. Couch refused to proceed with the Slahi prosecution. The reason: He concluded that Mr. Slahi's incriminating statements -- the core of the government's case -- had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.
The Slahi case marks a rare instance of a military prosecutor refusing to bring charges because he thought evidence was tainted by torture. For Col. Couch, it also represented a wrenching personal challenge. Laid out starkly before him was a collision between the government's objectives and his moral compass.
These kinds of concerns will likely become more prevalent as other high-level al Qaeda detainees come before military commissions set up by the Bush administration. Guantanamo prosecutors estimate that at least 90% of cases depend on statements taken from prisoners, making the credibility of such evidence critical to any convictions. In Mr. Slahi's case, Col. Couch would uncover evidence the prisoner had been beaten and exposed to psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi attracted the attention of U.S. intelligence as early as 1998, years before he would be suspected of indirectly helping to round up future hijackers for the 9/11 attacks. Read more1.


Read a transcript2 of Mr. Slahi's hearing before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
* * *
Read the unclassified summary3 of the spring 2005 Schmidt-Furlow report presenting the results of a Pentagon investigation into detainee abuse at Guantanamo. The section detailing Mr. Slahi's treatment is headed "second special interrogation plan," on page 21.
* * *
Read a transcript4 of Mr. Slahi's Administrative Review Board hearing at Guantanamo Bay in December 2005.
* * *
See the Defense Meritorious Service Medal5 and citation awarded to Col. Couch by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in September 2006.
* * *
Read a letter6 Mr. Slahi sent to his attorneys, Nancy Hollander and Sylvia Royce, from Guantanamo Bay on Nov. 9, 2006.
Raised in Asheboro, N.C., Col. Couch, now 41 years old, was an Eagle Scout, a graduate of Duke and commander of his Naval ROTC battalion. An Anglican, Col. Couch says he counts among his heroes two men known for making a public commitment to their faith: C.S. Lewis, the academic and book author, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis in 1945.
In 1987, Col. Couch joined the Marines to be a pilot before an assignment on the squadron's legal desk inspired him to enroll in law school. After graduating from Campbell University, Buies Creek, N.C., he was assigned to the team prosecuting a flight crew for a 1998 incident in Aviano, Italy, where a Marine Prowler clipped a ski gondola cable, killing 20. He still keeps in touch with relatives of the accident's victims.
Col. Couch left active duty but found private practice boring. After 9/11, he asked to return to the military. When President Bush issued his Nov. 13, 2001 order creating the first iteration of military commissions, he volunteered.
"I did that to get a crack at the guys who attacked the United States," he says. "I wanted to do what I could do with the skill set that I had."
Col. Couch began his assignment at the Office of Military Commissions in August 2003. Soon after arriving at the commissions' offices in Crystal City, Arlington, Va., he was handed files on several Guantanamo prisoners. The Slahi file stood out as the one directly connected to 9/11.
Mr. Slahi, now 37, is the eighth of 12 children born to a Mauritanian camel herder, according to his lawyers. He studied electrical engineering in Germany and later ran an Internet cafe. Before 9/11, U.S. authorities tried unsuccessfully to link him to the so-called Millennium Plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport. Mauritanian authorities picked him up after Sept. 11, and shipped him to Jordan, according to testimony he gave to a Guantanamo detention board.
The U.S. got a break one year later, when Ramzi Binalshibh, a top al Qaeda operative, was captured in Pakistan. He told the CIA that in 1999, Mr. Slahi sent him and three future 9/11 hijackers -- Mohammed Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi -- from Germany to Pakistan, and then to al Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. There, according to the 9/11 Commission, Mr. bin Laden assigned them to the 9/11 operation.
But beyond Mr. Binalshibh's uncorroborated statements, Col. Couch had little additional evidence.
In Crystal City, morale was sinking. Several junior officers complained that, in its rush to win convictions, the office was proceeding with shaky cases, overlooking allegations of abuse and failing to protect exculpatory evidence. Allegations of torture at places such as Abu Ghraib had not yet surfaced, but some officers were starting to express their unease in private. A handful of prosecutors would later quit rather than take part in trials they considered rigged.
Subsequent internal reviews found no criminal wrongdoing, but prompted a shake-up in which the then-chief military commissions prosecutor was ousted.
Col. Couch had his own misgivings. On his first visit to Guantanamo in October 2003, he recalls preparing to watch an interrogation of a detainee when he was distracted by heavy-metal music. Accompanied by an escort, he saw a prisoner shackled to a cell floor, rocking back and forth, mumbling as strobe lights flashed. Two men in civilian dress shut the cell door and told Col. Couch to move along.
"Did you see that?" he asked his escort. The escort replied: "Yeah, it's approved," Col. Couch says. The treatment resembled the abuse he had been trained to resist if captured; he never expected Americans would be the ones employing it.
The incident "started keeping me up at night," he says. "I couldn't stop thinking about it."
Col. Couch contacted a senior Marine lawyer who had been an informal mentor. The officer said: "I know there's a lot of stuff going on, and that's why we need people like yourself in this situation," Col. Couch recalls. "You're shirking your responsibility if you've got issues and you're not willing to do something about it."
"He was looking for a sanity check, asking: 'Am I crazy or does this smell bad to you?' " the Marine lawyer, now a retired brigadier general recalls. "My response was, 'yeah, this is a problem and you need to work this problem.' "
Col Couch's wife, Kim, a nurse, says her husband began to rue each coming week. "I called it the Sunday Night Blues," she says. "It got worse and worse."
Under the Pentagon structure, Col. Couch had no direct contact with his potential defendants, but received instead summaries of their statements. In late 2003, Mr. Slahi suddenly started corroborating the Binalshibh allegations.
"After a while, I just couldn't keep up with him because things were coming out every day," Col. Couch says. "He was giving like a "Who's Who" of al Qaeda in Germany and all of Europe."
The sanitized reports reaching Col. Couch made no mention of what spurred this cooperation. Intelligence agencies refused to share all the information they had on the prisoner.
A colleague let on that Mr. Slahi had begun the "varsity program" -- an informal name for the Special Interrogation Plan authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the most recalcitrant Guantanamo prisoners.
Col. Couch says he and his case investigator, an agent detailed from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, began an "under the table" effort to find out what made Mr. Slahi break. Col. Couch says he was suspicious about the sudden change, and felt he needed to know all the circumstances before bringing the case to trial.
"It was like Hansel and Gretel, following bread crumbs," Col. Couch says. The agent spoke to intelligence officers and others with more direct knowledge, pursued documents with details of the interrogations, and passed his findings on to the prosecutor.
What emerged, Col. Couch believed, was torture.
Initially, Mr. Slahi said he was pleased to be taken to Guantanamo. "I thought, this is America, not Jordan, and they are not going to beat you," he told his detention hearing. But after Mr. Binalshibh named him as a top al Qaeda member, "my life...changed dramatically," Mr. Slahi said.
The account of Mr. Slahi's treatment has been pieced together from interviews with government officials, official reports and testimony, as well as Mr. Slahi's attorneys and Col. Couch. Col. Couch wouldn't discuss classified information, including aspects of the Slahi interrogation involving the CIA.
Initially, Mr. Slahi denied having al Qaeda connections, frustrating his interrogators. On May 22, 2003, a Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogator said, "this was our last session; he told me that I was not going to enjoy the time to come."
In the following weeks, Mr. Slahi said, he was placed in isolation, subjected to extreme temperatures, beaten and sexually humiliated. The detention-board transcript states that at this point, "the recording equipment began to malfunction." It summarizes Mr. Slahi's missing testimony as discussing "how he was tortured while here at GTMO by several individuals."
Mr. Slahi was put under more intense interrogation. On July 17, 2003, a masked interrogator told Mr. Slahi he had dreamed of watching detainees dig a grave, according to a 2005 Pentagon report into detainee abuse at Guantanamo, headed by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt and Army Brig. Gen. John Furlow. (Gen. Furlow later testified that Mr. Slahi was "the highest value detainee" at Guantanamo, "the key orchestrator of the al Qaeda cell in Europe.")
The interrogator said he saw "a plain, pine casket with [Mr. Slahi's] identification number painted in orange lowered into the ground." Three days later, the interrogator told Mr. Slahi "that his family was 'incarcerated,'" the report said.
On Aug. 2, an interrogation chief visited the prisoner posing as a White House representative named "Navy Capt. Collins," the report said. He gave the prisoner a forged memorandum indicating that Mr. Slahi's mother was being shipped to Guantanamo, and that officials had concerns about her safety as the only woman amid hundreds of male prisoners, according a person familiar with the matter.
"Capt. Collins" told Mr. Slahi "that if he wanted to help his family he should tell them everything they wanted to know," the report continued.
The same day, an interrogator made a "death threat" to Mr. Slahi, Gen. Schmidt said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to records cited by the report, the interrogator advised Mr. Slahi "to use his imagination to think of the worst possible scenario he could end up in."
In his detention-board testimony, Mr. Slahi provided further details, as did other people familiar with the matter. Two men took a shackled, blindfolded Mr. Slahi to a boat for a journey into the waters of Guantanamo Bay. The hour-long trip apparently led Mr. Slahi to think he was to be killed and, in fear, he urinated in his pants.
After making land, "two Arab guys" took him away, beat him and turned him over to a "doctor who was not a regular doctor [but] part of the team," Mr. Slahi said. The doctor "was cursing me and telling me very bad things. He gave me a lot of medication to make me sleep," Mr. Slahi said. After two or three weeks, Mr. Slahi said, he broke, "because they said to me, either I am going to talk or they will continue to do this."
On Sept. 8, 2003, according to the Pentagon report, Mr. Slahi asked to see "Capt. Collins." Mr. Slahi corroborated the account of Mr. Binalshibh and provided an extensive list of other al Qaeda names.
In later testimony to the Army Inspector General, Gen. Schmidt said he concluded that the interrogation chief "was a rogue guy," a "zealot" who "essentially was having a ball." A Pentagon spokesman says the interrogation chief, who invoked his right against self-incrimination and didn't testify, was not court-martialed. The spokesman declines to say what discipline he received.
Military and law-enforcement officials started warning the Bush administration in 2002 that its unorthodox interrogation practices, which the president has called "tough" and "necessary," were hurting the ability of prosecutors to bring cases to court. Officials expect the concern to arise in particular with 14 "high-value" al Qaeda suspects transferred to Guantanamo in September after years of secret CIA interrogation. They include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who claimed responsibility for planning 9/11. Some detainees, including Mr. Mohammed, have alleged they were tortured. Pentagon reviews documented cruel and degrading treatment, while declining to classify such abuse as torture.
"There's a serious question of whether they will ever be able to legitimately prosecute those individuals," if necessary evidence was produced through torture, says retired Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, who served as the Army's top uniformed lawyer, the judge advocate general, from 2001 to 2005.
Gen. Romig, recently appointed dean at Washburn University law school, Topeka, Kan., says within the government "there was a view that we have got to get intelligence out of these guys, and we don't care we if we prosecute them or not."
The military commissions trying the cases of foreign terrorists don't hew to the rules that govern civilian courts or courts-martial. The 2006 Military Commissions Act permits use of evidence obtained before Dec. 30, 2005, through "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods, although it bars any obtained by torture.
Top U.S. government officials won't specify which practices cross the line beyond stating that prisoners should be treated "humanely." Such ambiguity has forced decision-making down the chain of command. Even Guantanamo's chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Moe Davis, says he's still not sure how the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment applies to military commissions.
A report into abuses at Guantanamo concluded that the "threats" made to Mr. Slahi "do not rise to the level of torture as defined under U.S. law" but did violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs the conduct of the armed forces. The Pentagon won't say how the report reached that conclusion.
By May 2004, Col. Couch had most of the picture relating to Mr. Slahi's treatment, and faced a painful dilemma: Could he seek a conviction based on statements he thought were taken through torture, as permitted by President Bush's November 2001 military commission order citing a "state of emergency?" Or was he nonetheless bound by the Torture Convention, which bars using statements taken "as a result of evidence in any proceedings."
The convention says "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" can be cited to justify torture, which it defines broadly. The 1994 federal statute implementing the treaty contains additional definitions, including the "threat of imminent death" or "severe physical pain or suffering," as well as the actual or threatened use of "mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality."
Col. Couch was uneasy over interfering with plans to try Mr. Slahi, given the detainee's history. He turned to others with his dilemma, including Marine lawyers he knew and his wife's two brothers -- one a Protestant theologian, the other a retired Marine infantry officer. Because of the classified nature of the information, Col. Couch didn't give them specifics about the case, and spoke only in generalities. Their advice conflicted.
"He wanted to be a good solider and yet on the other hand felt his duty to his God to be the greatest duty that he had," recalls Bill Wilder, director of educational ministries at the Center for Christian Study, Charlottesville, Va. "He said more than once to me that human beings are created in the image of God and as a result we owe them a certain amount of dignity."
Mr. Wilder says he agreed with Col. Couch's concerns. "Stuart, you need to pray about this," Mr. Wilder says he advised.
Briant Wilder, the other brother and a former Marine lieutenant, urged Col. Couch to instead consider the context of the war on terrorism, where obtaining intelligence could be crucial to protecting innocent lives.
"I have to also say that I don't agree with everybody's definition of torture," Mr. Wilder says. "If some of the things that people say are torture were torture, then I was tortured at Officer Candidate School at Quantico. And so was he."
In May 2004, attending a baptism at Virginia's Falls Church, Col. Couch joined the congregation in reciting the liturgy. The reading concluded, as is typical, with the priest asking if congregants will "respect the dignity of every human being."
"When I heard that, I knew I gotta get off the fence," Col. Couch says. "Here was somebody I felt was connected to 9/11, but in our zeal to get information, we had compromised our ability to prosecute him." He says, in retrospect, the tipping point came with the forged letter about Mr. Slahi's mother. "For me, that was just, enough is enough. I had seen enough, I had heard enough, I had read enough. I said: 'That's it.' "
In May 2004, at a meeting with the then-chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bob Swann, Col. Couch dropped his bombshell. He told Col. Swann that in addition to legal reasons, he was "morally opposed" to the interrogation techniques "and for that reason alone refused to participate in [the Slahi] prosecution in any manner."
Col. Swann was indignant, Col. Couch says, replying: "What makes you think you're so much better than the rest of us around here?"
Col. Couch says he slammed his hand on Col. Swann's desk and replied: "That's not the issue at all, that's not the point!"
An impassioned debate followed, the prosecutor recalls. Col. Swann said the Torture Convention didn't apply to military commissions. Col. Couch asked his superior to cite legal precedent that would allow the president to disregard a treaty. The meeting ended when Col. Swann asked the prosecutor to turn over the Slahi files so the case could be reassigned, Col. Couch recalls.
Through a spokesman, Col. Swann declined to comment for this article. Col. Swann retired from the Army in 2005. He continues, as a civilian employee, to serve as deputy chief prosecutor, playing a major role in commission operations.
Other trial prosecutors in the office say they respected Col. Couch's decision. "I thought his conduct was perfectly appropriate and I agreed with his approach," says retired Navy Cmdr. Scott Lang, now a state prosecutor in Virginia.
A week later, Col. Couch put his position in writing and asked that his concerns be raised with the Pentagon's general counsel, William J. Haynes II. The legal adviser to the military commissions office, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, says: "Mr. Haynes was not informed of the issues raised by Lt. Col. Couch nor did he expect to be told about all internal operations within the Office of Military Commissions."
Gen. Hemingway says Col. Swann "was aware the interrogation techniques used were under investigation at the time Lt. Col. Couch expressed misgivings about the information he had received. Col. Swann removed Lt. Col. Couch from the case to assuage his concerns."
In a written statement, the Defense Department says it "cannot comment on Mohamedou Ould Slahi because he is under investigation. It would be inappropriate for us to discuss ongoing cases that are pending prosecution."
In March 2005, Col. Couch considered quitting, frustrated by how the office was run. Lt. Col. Daniel Daugherty, one of Col. Couch's best friends, urged him in an email to reconsider. "Personally I would rather be fired than quit," Col. Daugherty wrote. "Being fired for your ethics is (in my view) better than walking away."
With the Slahi prosecution on ice, Col. Couch continued work on other cases -- including another "varsity program" prisoner, Mohammmed al-Qahtani, who, according to army report overseen by Gens. Schmidt and Furlow, had been made to wear women's underwear, leashed, forced to perform dog tricks and berated as a homosexual. Col. Couch refused to use statements obtained during these interrogations. But he determined the prosecution could continue based on a separate source of evidence compiled by the FBI before Mr. Qahtani's Guantanamo interrogation.
He was also one of the prosecutors who worked on the case of Salim Hamdan, Mr. bin Laden's former driver. Mr. Hamdan's case would eventually go to the Supreme Court, which used the case to strike down the administration's first attempt to create a military commissions system.
Col. Davis, the Guantanamo chief prosecutor, says Mr. Slahi remains among the 75 or so prisoners potentially eligible for trial. He says no one is assigned to the case and that it's unclear when Mr. Slahi will be charged, due to Col. Couch's concerns and a staff shortage.
Today, Mr. Slahi is detained in private quarters at Guantanamo Bay, with a television, a computer and a tomato patch to tend, according to people familiar with the matter. "Since 2004, I really have no complaints," Mr. Slahi told a military detention board.
He has asked to be resettled in the U.S., an option Pentagon officials have not ruled out. Col. Davis declines to comment on plea negotiations. A lawyer representing Mr. Slahi, Nancy Hollander, says that if charged with a crime, Mr. Slahi would plead not guilty.
In a September 2006 letter to his attorneys, Mr. Slahi joked about their request that he detail his discussions with interrogators.
"Are you out of your mind! How can I render uninterrupted interrogation that has been lasting the last 7 years. That's like asking Charlie Sheen how many women he dated," Mr. Slahi writes. He divided his time into pre- and post-torture eras. In the latter, he wrote, "I yessed every accusation my interrogators made."
Col. Couch had been assigned to the prosecutor's office for a three year stint. When it came to an end, Col. Couch decided not to renew his assignment. He says there was no attempt to remove him from office.
After he left, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld awarded Col. Couch the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his work on Guantanamo prosecutions as is typical when officers move on to new assignments. The citation describes him as "steady in faith, possessed by moral courage and relentless in the pursuit of excellence."
In August 2006, he took on a new assignment as a judge on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.
Col. Couch says he's still frustrated that the actions of the U.S. government helped ruin the case against Mr. Slahi. "I'm hoping there's some non-tainted evidence out there that can put the guy in the hole," he says.
Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj.com7

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reasonable, the sequel

I knew when I wrote yesterday that someone would of course point out the flaw in what I was saying. I knew it was flawed when I wrote it, so, in the interest of fairness; here is an account of why the system is important as well. Please see the Link to the Conscience of the Colonel.

This article was brought to my attention by Mike Francis a writer for the Oregonian, a person who while I have not met him, has helped me with this process by occasionally providing me some feedback which has encouraged me some, and of course by highlighting what happens to Oregonians in the service of our nation.

Having read the article, I am impressed by Col Couch’s actions, also by his reservations. I honestly don’t know the answers here. I believe that nations do unspeakable things to individuals in extreme circumstances. While it isn't popular, I even believe that at times it is justified. That said, I don't think that a person who has been removed from the conflict, who poses no imminent danger either to those around him, or anyone else for that matter should be tortured in order to extricate confessions. The amount of time that a captured terrorist’s information is valid is fleeting at best. Information gained 2 years after a person has been taken from his homeland is suspect, and in fact yesterdays news.

People who engage in terrorism against nations attempt to play both sides of the fence. They are in a war for freedom when talking to their constituents. They are innocent civilians in unfortunate circumstances when captured. They are in fact prisoners of war with no nation to speak for them. They should not be released unless their danger to society is removed. How that is done is beyond me, how it is to be judged is also beyond me. Torture is bad; putting them on ice however, seems like the best of a group of poor options.

The fortunate thing about this is that people who are far smarter and more familiar with this problem have to deal with it daily. I hope that they make good decisions.