The last two decades of my life have been a nightmare without end

I doubt that President Biden can understand what this torture is like

“One thing that helped with us, that we learned on the spot actually, was exploiting the hell out of the kids,” Gunnery Sgt. Jeff Kurek said. He was speaking to The Spear a podcast run out of the Modern War Institute at West Point about his time deployed in Afghanistan in 2010

“And what I mean by that is, the kids are usually innocent as long as they’re under, you know, say ten years old. And we would take these kids and after about a month or two of going through alleyways — a lot of times alleyways would be boobytrapped or have IEDs, and we’d be like fuck going down that alleyway, right? We would either APOBS it, or divert somewhere else, or blow a hole through somebody’s home,” he said and the part about blowing through somebody’s home is just sort of glossed over as business as usual. That’s not even the bad part here relatively speaking.

“We’d take some candy and care packages, or we’d take a bouncy ball from a care package and we would launch this shit down the alleyway, and if the kids ran after it we knew it was safe, right? And so we’d walk behind the kids, or we’d walk behind an elder. If we launched this bouncy ball down the damn alley and these kids just stayed put, we were like OK screw that alley we’re not going down there.”

“Just wondering” — John Wiseman who brought the episode to my attention on Twitter recently asked — “is using candy and toys to lure children to probe for suspected IEDs a war crime?”

That’s a good question. I would assume so but I would also assume it doesn’t count when it’s us doing it. When we do it it’s heroism.

I tried reading through the Department of Defense’s War Manual to see if it had anything to say about this sort of practice but it was unclear to me. Keep in mind however that I am not particularly smart. Here’s a few perhaps relevant sections: Children Under Fifteen Who Are Orphaned or Separated. The parties to the conflict shall take the necessary measures to ensure that children under fifteen, who are orphaned or are separated from their families as a result of the war, are not left to their own resources, and that their maintenance, the exercise of their religion, and their education are facilitated in all circumstances. The maintenance of the children concerned means their feeding, clothing, and accommodation, care for their health, and, where necessary, medical and hospital treatment. Identification for Children Under Twelve. The parties to the conflict shall endeavor to arrange for all children under twelve to be identified by the wearing of identity discs, or by some other means. The age of twelve was chosen because it was considered that children over twelve are generally capable of stating their own identity.

“Generally capable of stating their own identity.”

4.20.5 Child Soldiers. Certain provisions of treaties and U.S. law seek to restrict the use or recruitment of children in armed conflict. If children are nonetheless employed in armed conflict, they generally are treated on the same basis as adults, although children may be subject to special treatment in detention because of their age. Prohibitions on the use or recruitment of children also apply in non-international armed conflict. U.S. Offense of Recruiting or Using Child Soldiers. U.S. law makes it a crime, under certain circumstances, to recruit, enlist, or conscript a person to serve in an armed force or group, while such person is under 15 years of age. U.S. law also makes it a crime to use a person under 15 years of age to participate actively in hostilities…

I guess the difference here hinges on the definition of participate actively in hostilities.

“The last two decades of my life have been a nightmare without end — and the worst of it is that my family are also trapped inside it,” Ahmed Rabbani a man who has been held in Guantánamo Bay since 2004 wrote in an open letter to Joe Biden recently.

Publishing his appeal was facilitated by the human rights organization Reprieve whose work you should check out. In the letter he asks Biden to fulfill a promise that his predecessor Barack Obama had made to close our monument to inhuman cruelty on day two of his presidency.

When I was kidnapped from Karachi in 2002 and sold to the CIA for a bounty with a false story that I was a terrorist called Hassan Ghul, my wife and I had just had the happy news that she was pregnant. She gave birth to my son Jawad a few months later. I have never been allowed to meet my own child. President Biden is a man who speaks of the importance of family. I wonder if he can imagine what it would be like to have never touched his own son. Mine will soon be 18 years old, and I have not been there to help him or to guide him.  

I have been locked up for his entire childhood, without charges or a trial. In that time, the president has served a full term as a Senator, eight years as vice president of the US, and challenged Donald Trump for the presidency and won, fulfilling his life’s ambition. I doubt I would have done anything like that, but I can’t help but question what I might have done with those years, had they not been stolen.

In the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture it says Rabbani had been tortured for 540 days in a “dark prison” in Afghanistan.

“I can confirm that the torture did take place, although I couldn’t have counted the days myself: the days and nights blended into one while I was hung from a bar in a black pit, in agony as my shoulders dislocated.”

“I doubt that President Biden can understand what this torture is like; to hear a woman screaming in the next room and to be told it is your wife, and that if you do not do as they insist, they will rape her or kill her.”

During that time we actually captured and interrogated and released the man he was suspected of being and yet kept Rabbani imprisoned. Eventually the real Ghul who had provided information about Osama bin Laden went back to Pakistan and I just went to look up what happened to him after that whether or not he was still alive and so on and I read he was was eventually killed in a CIA drone strike. Not sure what else I was suspecting there.

“The stain of torture can be excised from American history,” Rabbani wrote. “Biden and his administration can’t just put their heads in the sand and pretend it did not happen.”

Not sure about that.

“President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted the other day when there was a brief uproar over whether or not the forty detainees still being held in Guantánamo like Rabbani should be vaccinated for the coronavirus. “He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans.”

The Pentagon has since reversed course on the plan after Republicans whined about it.

Please do not watch this clip if you don’t want to become enraged. Actually it’s probably too late for that if you’ve made it to this point in the newsletter.

“For a while we actually wanted to keep them alive because they actually helped us with intelligence whether they knew it or not…” Brian Kilmeade says of the people we’ve been torturing on the island prison.

“But they’ve been out of touch now since 2001, so they don’t really have the contacts. So you wonder why we just don’t kill them. You know, put them on trial. They all should get the death penalty,” he says.

“Yes,” Pete Hegseth says.

“We already know the facts,” Kilmeade goes on. “Most of them have admitted to it. And now they’re belligerent and they’re in our face.”

“Exactly,” Hegseth says. “It makes us look unserious on the global stage. Look at those Americans, twenty years later, they can’t figure it out. There will be no consequences. Lawyer up and you’ll be just fine.”

I don’t know does Rabbani sound “just fine”?

Hegseth in case you’ve forgotten was Trump’s pet media veteran and official war criminal whisperer who had long been lobbying the former president to pardon alleged psychotic murderer Eddie Gallagher and the four Blackwater mercenaries convicted of shooting indiscriminately into a crowd in Baghdad.

Read more in Hell World on Gallagher here:

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was perched in his sniper’s nest in Mosul one day in 2017 when the girl was shot. The highly decorated and respected Navy SEAL commando spotted a group of local kids walking along a riverbank one of which was wearing a flower print hijab which is a detail I can’t get out of my mind and you probably won’t be able to either. I bet it was a pretty hijab before the blood got on it.

His platoon’s mission was to assist Iraqi forces and provide cover with snipers and drones and that sort of thing which seems like kind of a boring mission to be honest not the type of thing you’d get to do much killing on so according to other members of the platoon Gallagher would often instigate unnecessary fights and fire indiscriminately into otherwise quiet neighborhoods and buildings to spice things up. He wanted to get the blood flowing so to speak.

On this particular day he is alleged to have trained his sights on the group of girls and fired at them hitting one of them. As one of his fellow snipers said “he watched through his scope as she dropped, clutching her stomach, and the other girls dragged her away,” according to the New York Times.

…and the Blackwater shooters here.

“I am not just remembering the scene,” Mohammed Kinani tells the camera. “I’m reliving it as if it were happening right now. I will never forget those few minutes.”

The day in question was in 2007 when his nine year old son Ali was killed along with sixteen other Iraqi civilians by Blackwater mercenaries. Twenty or so others were wounded. The mercenaries opened fire on a busy square that day with machine-guns and grenade launchers and a sniper. U.S. investigators who examined the scene the next day called it the “My Lai massacre of Iraq.”

“All I could hear from my car were gunshots and the sound of glass shattering,” Kinani goes on. “And the sound of tires blown out with bullets. I started to scream. ‘They killed my son! They killed my son!’”

“It was like the end of days. With cold blood and stone hearts they continued shooting,” he says.

“God bless the president for having the courage which a lot of other presidents wouldn’t do to pardon those men,” Hegseth said of the ones who killed Kinani’s son.

(You may remember Hegseth from the time he struck a person with a throwing axe accidentally on live TV or the time he told Americans to go out and buy more AR-15s after the New Zealand shooting or the time he said he hadn’t washed his hands in ten years and that germs aren’t real.)

“Many of us were abducted from our homes, in front of our families, and sold for bounties to the US by nations that cared little for the rule of law,” a second recent letter to Biden from a group of former detainees reads. “We were rendered to countries where we were physically and psychologically tortured in addition to suffering racial and religious discrimination in US custody—even before we arrived at Guantánamo.”

Some of us had children who were born in our absence and grew up without fathers. Others experienced the pain of learning that our close relatives died back home waiting in vain for news of our return. Waiting in vain for justice.

Most of the prisoners currently or presently detained at Guantánamo have never been to the United States. This means that our image of your country has been shaped by our experiences at Guantánamo—in other words, we have only been witnesses to its dark side.

I don’t know if that’s just an appeal to Biden’s perception of America there — the “we have only been witness to its dark side” bit — or if they actually believe it but it occurs to me that the exact opposite is true. The America most of us experience isn’t the true representation of who we are it’s the one they’ve experienced.

Considering the violence that has happened at Guantánamo, we are sure that after more than nineteen years, you agree that imprisoning people indefinitely without trial while subjecting them to torture, cruelty and degrading treatment, with no meaningful access to families or proper legal systems, is the height of injustice. That is why imprisonment at Guantánamo must end.

There are only forty prisoners left in Guantánamo. We are told that the cost of each prisoner is $13 million per annum. That means that the United States spends $520 million a year on imprisoning men who will never be charged or convicted in a US court. Aside from the moral, legal, and public relations disaster that is Guantánamo, some of this money could be easily spent on programs to resettle prisoners and help them to rebuild their lives.

Speaking of all of that above if you have never read this old Hell World you should. It’s “one of the good ones.”

Finding it kind of difficult to do my usual transition into other news and do my little shtick here today. I was gonna do a whole thing about unlocking a new achievement in oldness by tearing my pectoral muscle this week and how dumping a foot and a half of snow on my town hasn’t exactly alleviated any of the already compounding isolation and depression of month eleven of Covid but none of that seems particularly urgent to address at the moment.

How about this. I said the other day that the standoff between teacher unions and school boards and the wealthy parents who control them is a complicated issue in that the teachers don't want to die and the school boards and parents don't care if teachers die so they can spend five seconds away from their shitty kids and that might sound a bit extreme but if you need any further evidence of what type of person is actually pushing for the teachers to shut the fuck up and get back in the hole here’s this guy:

Yesterday there was some shitty thing trending on Twitter comparing AOC to Jussie Smollett I guess for “exaggerating” her experience during the Capitol siege and you have to admit that is very funny indeed!

My thoughts the other day on the AOC video were this:

I will continue to be critical of the Democrats who all largely suck — and maintain we 100% do not need more anti-terrorism laws after January 6 — but how was anyone in there hiding especially the most reviled and notable woman in Congress supposed to know she wasn't going to be hurt?

Criticizing AOC from the left is necessary if nothing else because she might be the only one it works on. But that doesn't mean we have to assume the poses and the attitudes of the right to do it.

I don't revere or worship public servants and none of them will save us. AOC and Bernie get a bit more good will from a lot of us I think because they're about as close as it comes to good that we’ve got — grading on a very relative scale — and also because they seem like actual human beings most of the time unlike so many others politicians. Instead of picking apart the occasional show of human emotion from one of our representatives I'm more inclined to ask why so many others — especially on the right but also most Democrats — seem to be devoid of it when it comes to how they think about our lives.

Here’s some news from No Shit Island.

“Tax cuts for the wealthy have long drawn support from conservative lawmakers and economists who argue that such measures will ‘trickle down’ and eventually boost jobs and incomes for everyone else,” CBS News writes. “But a new study from the London School of Economics says 50 years of such tax cuts have only helped one group — the rich.”

The new paper, by David Hope of the London School of Economics and Julian Limberg of King's College London, examines 18 developed countries — from Australia to the United States — over a 50-year period from 1965 to 2015. The study compared countries that passed tax cuts in a specific year, such as the U.S. in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan slashed taxes on the wealthy, with those that didn't, and then examined their economic outcomes.

Per capita gross domestic product and unemployment rates were nearly identical after five years in countries that slashed taxes on the rich and in those that didn't, the study found.

But the analysis discovered one major change: The incomes of the rich grew much faster in countries where tax rates were lowered. Instead of trickling down to the middle class, tax cuts for the rich may not accomplish much more than help the rich keep more of their riches and exacerbate income inequality, the research indicates.


This piece in Slate on waiting tables at a fancy restaurant in D.C. over the years is great especially the anecdote about Stephen Miller stuffing his face with Chinese caviar at lunch. Also it’s somewhat shocking to read that Ted Cruz was actually a relatively gracious guest.

Sen. Ted Cruz, for his part, had been an impeccable regular: gracious wife (poor thing), amenable to Sancerre at any price point, takes literally 15 seconds to order, reliable tipper, doesn’t make you “work for it.” That’s how you knew he wasn’t a real Trumpist, because the Republicans who followed 45 to town were exhausting, impossible, often stingy, and—because the restaurant was never busy enough anymore to soothe the sting of a bad table with a full section—memorable.

The perma-scowling almost-billionaire Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, became a regular despite what always seemed to be a vibe of great displeasure enveloping his presence when I approached his table. He ordered the cheapest wine on the by-the-glass list and didn’t tip more than 14 percent, no matter how often you topped him off without charging. His fellow near-billionaire Gary Cohn, Trump’s first chief economic adviser, was a bigger spender who still couldn’t bring himself to tip more than 18 percent, though it’s possible this was retaliation for my failure to remove every pin bone from his turbot, which was one of the first I’d deboned. (They say the big perk of a blue-collar job is the ability to leave work at the workplace, but here I am years later still wondering why some obnoxious banker stiffed me $15 after I’d meticulously removed at least 96 percent of the bones in his fish.)

Ok that’s all for today. I don’t know what to do. About any of the above or anything else at all.