Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Obama Backs Bush On Bagram Detainees

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, human rights, law, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on February 21, 2009

Reuters

20080222-bush-obamaWASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration on Friday told a federal judge it would not deviate from the Bush administration’s position that detainees held at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan have no right to sue in U.S. courts.

In one of his first acts in office, President Barack Obama ordered the closure within one year of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, which has been widely criticized by rights groups and foreign governments. About 245 people are currently held at Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon.

However, Obama has not yet decided what to do about the makeshift prison at the U.S. military base in Bagram, where the U.S. government is holding more than 600 prisoners, or whether to continue work on a $60 million prison complex there.

In late January, Obama directed a task force to study the government’s overall detainee policy and report back to him in six months.

But the new administration faced a February 20 deadline to tell U.S. District Court Judge John Bates whether it would “refine” the Bush administration’s position on four men being held at Bagram who have filed suit against their detention.

In a brief filing with the court on Friday, the Justice Department said it would stick to the previous government’s position, which argued the four men — who have been detained at Bagram for over six years — had no right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court.

Barbara Olshansky, lead counsel for three of the four detainees and a visiting professor at Stanford Law School, said she was deeply disappointed that the Obama administration had decided to “adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people’s human rights.”

She said she hoped that the Obama administration was merely signalling it was still working on its position regarding the detainee issue.

The U.S. District Court held a hearing in early January on four separate challenges filed on behalf of four detainees taken to Bagram from outside Afghanistan.

At the hearing, Bush administration lawyers argued that Bagram detainees were different from those held at Guantanamo, and could pose a security threat if released.

After Obama’s executive order indicating changes to the government’s detention policy for Guantanamo, the district court asked the new administration if it wished to change its position on the prisoners at Bagram.

Now that the government has responded, the federal judge is expected to rule in coming weeks on whether his court has jurisdiction to hear the cases.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Todd Eastham)

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AP

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention. The filing shocked human rights attorneys.

“The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we’d hoped,” said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing a detainee at the Bagram Airfield. “We all expected better.”

The Supreme Court last summer gave al-Qaida and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq, courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released.

Three months after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Guantanamo Bay, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington. Court filings alleged that the U.S. military had held them without charges, repeatedly interrogating them without any means to contact an attorney. Their petition was filed by relatives on their behalf since they had no way of getting access to the legal system.

The military has determined that all the detainees at Bagram are “enemy combatants.” The Bush administration said in a response to the petition last year that the enemy combatant status of the Bagram detainees is reviewed every six months, taking into consideration classified intelligence and testimony from those involved in their capture and interrogation.

After Barack Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush’s legal argument. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the filing speaks for itself.

“They’ve now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law,” said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees.

The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a military action. The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

The government also said if the Bagram detainees got access to the courts, it would allow all foreigners captured by the United States in conflicts worldwide to do the same.

It’s not the first time that the Obama administration has used a Bush administration legal argument after promising to review it. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a review of every court case in which the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege, a separate legal tool it used to have lawsuits thrown out rather than reveal secrets.

The same day, however, Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter cited that privilege in asking an appeals court to uphold dismissal of a suit accusing a Boeing Co. subsidiary of illegally helping the CIA fly suspected terrorists to allied foreign nations that tortured them.

Letter said that Obama officials approved his argument.

Death in the USA: The Army’s Fatal Neglect

Posted in Afghanistan by allisonkilkenny on February 20, 2009

Mark Benjamin & Michael de Yoanne, Salon

Check out the entire excellent series “Coming Home” here.

Series Introduction:

On Oc. 30, 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman attempted to kill himself via prescription drug overdose at Fort Carson, Colo. After swallowing the pills, he painted a suicide note on the wall of his barracks that read, "I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED! IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!" (Salon)

On Oc. 30, 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman attempted to kill himself via prescription drug overdose at Fort Carson, Colo. After swallowing the pills, he painted a suicide note on the wall of his barracks that read, "I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED! IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!" (Salon)

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Preventable suicides. Avoidable drug overdoses. Murders that never should have happened. Four years after Salon exposed medical neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that ultimately grew into a national scandal, serious problems with the Army’s healthcare system persist and the situation, at least at some Army posts, continues to deteriorate.

This story is no longer just about lack of medical care. It’s far worse than sighting mold and mouse droppings in the barracks. Late last month the Army released data showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008. Another 15 deaths are still under investigation as potential suicides. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Jan. 29 Pentagon news conference. “We can’t tell you.” On Feb. 5, the Army announced it suspects 24 soldiers killed themselves last month, more than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

But suicide is only one manifestation of the unaddressed madness and despair coming home with U.S. troops. Salon’s close inspection of a rash of murders and suicides involving soldiers at just one base reveals that many of the deaths seem avoidable. Salon put together a sample of 25 suicides, prescription overdoses and murders among soldiers at Colorado’s Fort Carson since 2004. Intensive study of 10 of those cases exposed a pattern of preventable deaths, meaning a suicide or murder might have been avoided if the Army had better handled the predictable, well-known symptoms of a malady rampant among combat veterans: combat-related stress and brain injuries. The results of Salon’s investigation will be published in a weeklong series of articles that begins today with “The Death Dealers Took My Life!”

Salon chose Fort Carson as a laboratory almost by chance. The story started to emerge on its own last summer during reporting at Fort Carson that exposed an alleged friendly fire incident involving soldiers posted there. It was clear during several visits to interview soldiers who’d witnessed the deaths of their colleagues that there was psychological turmoil on the base. Paranoid soldiers were running around with guns. There was prescription and illicit drug abuse, extremely heavy drinking, suicide and murder.

The soldiers seemed to be suffering classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: explosions of anger, suicidal and homicidal ideation, flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia. The Army was responding, for the most part, with disciplinary action rather than treatment, evincing little concern for possible underlying problems. The soldiers self-medicated further. Predictable outcomes followed.

The Army handled the families of the disturbed and neglected soldiers callously. Last November, as detailed today in the first of Salon’s multi-part series on preventable deaths at Fort Carson, officers provided paint for a mother to paint over her son’s suicide note, which he had scrawled on a barracks wall. Two years after his return from Iraq, Army doctors still hadn’t properly diagnosed him with PTSD. Two other troubled soldiers died after the Army handed them a brutally heavy and in one case toxic combination of drugs for their symptoms. In a moving prison interview, another soldier explained to Salon how better treatment might have prevented him, a month after returning from his second tour in Iraq, from being involved in the November 2007 murder of a fellow soldier.

Keep reading…

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Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, CIA, politics, torture, War on Terror by allisonkilkenny on February 18, 2009

Update: Greenwald has written an excellent companion post to this article. Highly recommended.

Charlie Savage, New York Times

Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.

Leon F. Panetta opened a loophole in the Obama administration’s interrogation restrictions while testifying before a Senate panel this month. (Michael Temchine for The New York Times)

Leon F. Panetta opened a loophole in the Obama administration’s interrogation restrictions while testifying before a Senate panel this month. (Michael Temchine for The New York Times)

In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared — prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies.

In an interview, the White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, asserted that the administration was not embracing Mr. Bush’s approach to the world. But Mr. Craig also said President Obama intended to avoid any “shoot from the hip” and “bumper sticker slogans” approaches to deciding what to do with the counterterrorism policies he inherited.

“We are charting a new way forward, taking into account both the security of the American people and the need to obey the rule of law,” Mr. Craig said. “That is a message we would give to the civil liberties people as well as to the Bush people.”

Within days of his inauguration, Mr. Obama thrilled civil liberties groups when he issued executive orders promising less secrecy, restricting C.I.A. interrogators to Army Field Manual techniques, shuttering the agency’s secret prisons, ordering the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, closed within a year and halting military commission trials.

But in more recent weeks, things have become murkier.

During her confirmation hearing last week, Elena Kagan, the nominee for solicitor general, said that someone suspected of helping finance Al Qaeda should be subject to battlefield law — indefinite detention without a trial — even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than in a physical battle zone.

Ms. Kagan’s support for an elastic interpretation of the “battlefield” amplified remarks that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made at his own confirmation hearing. And it dovetailed with a core Bush position. Civil liberties groups argue that people captured away from combat zones should go to prison only after trials.

Moreover, the nominee for C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, opened a loophole in Mr. Obama’s interrogation restrictions. At his hearing, Mr. Panetta said that if the approved techniques were “not sufficient” to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for “additional authority.”

To be sure, Mr. Panetta emphasized that the president could not bypass antitorture statutes, as Bush lawyers claimed. And he said that waterboarding — a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and that the Bush administration said was lawful — is torture.

But Mr. Panetta also said the C.I.A. might continue its “extraordinary rendition” program, under which agents seize terrorism suspects and take them to other countries without extradition proceedings, in a more sweeping form than anticipated.

Before the Bush administration, the program primarily involved taking indicted suspects to their native countries for legal proceedings. While some detainees in the 1990s were allegedly abused after transfer, under Mr. Bush the program expanded and included transfers to third countries — some of which allegedly used torture — for interrogation, not trials.

Mr. Panetta said the agency is likely to continue to transfer detainees to third countries and would rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment — the same safeguard the Bush administration used, and that critics say is ineffective.

Mr. Craig noted that while Mr. Obama decided “not to change the status quo immediately,” he created a task force to study “rendition policy and what makes sense consistent with our obligation to protect the country.”

He urged patience as the administration reviewed the programs it inherited from Mr. Bush. That process began after the election, Mr. Craig said, when military and C.I.A. leaders flew to Chicago for a lengthy briefing of Mr. Obama and his national security advisers. Mr. Obama then sent his advisers to C.I.A. headquarters to “find out the best case for continuing the practices that had been employed during the Bush administration.”

Civil liberties groups praise Mr. Obama’s early executive orders on national security, but say other signs are discouraging.

 

For example, Mr. Obama’s Justice Department last week told an appeals court that the Bush administration was right to invoke “state secrets” to shut down a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees who say a Boeing subsidiary helped fly them to places where they were tortured.

Margaret Satterthwaite, a faculty director at the human rights center at the New York University law school, said, “It was literally just Bush redux — exactly the same legal arguments that we saw the Bush administration present to the court.”

Mr. Craig said Mr. Holder and others reviewed the case and “came to the conclusion that it was justified and necessary for national security” to maintain their predecessor’s stance. Mr. Holder has also begun a review of every open Bush-era case involving state secrets, Mr. Craig said, so people should not read too much into one case.

“Every president in my lifetime has invoked the state-secrets privilege,” Mr. Craig said. “The notion that invoking it in that case somehow means we are signing onto the Bush approach to the world is just an erroneous assumption.”

Still, the decision caught the attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Two days after the appeals court hearing, they filed legislation to bar using the state-secrets doctrine to shut down an entire case — as opposed to withholding particular evidence.

The administration has also put off taking a stand in several cases that present opportunities to embrace or renounce Bush-era policies, including the imprisonment without trial of an “enemy combatant” on domestic soil, Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking legal opinions about interrogation and surveillance, and an executive-privilege dispute over Congressional subpoenas of former White House aides to Mr. Bush over the firing of United States attorneys.

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle.”

The administration’s recent policy moves have attracted praise from outspoken defenders of the Bush administration. Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page argued that “it seems that the Bush administration’s antiterror architecture is gaining new legitimacy” as Mr. Obama’s team embraces aspects of Mr. Bush’s counterterrorism approach.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the sequence of “disappointing” recent events had heightened concerns that Mr. Obama might end up carrying forward “some of the most problematic policies of the Bush presidency.”

Mr. Obama has clashed with civil libertarians before. Last July, he voted to authorize eavesdropping on some phone calls and e-mail messages without a warrant. While the A.C.L.U. says the program is still unconstitutional, the legislation reduced legal concerns about one of the most controversial aspects of Mr. Bush’s antiterror strategy.

“We have been some of the most articulate and vociferous critics of the way the Bush administration handled things,” Mr. Craig said. “There has been a dramatic change of direction.”

(VIDEO) Continuing Bush Policies in Israel and Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, foreign policy, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 26, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

us-israelBy all accounts, the U.S. is suffering extreme economic woes.  We continue to borrow trillions of dollars simply to prevent financial collapse.  Our military resources are spread so thin that the establishment consensus view blames the failure of our seven-year (and counting) occupation of Afghanistan, at least in part, on the lack of necessary resources devoted to that occupation.  And a significant (though not the only) reason why we are unable to extricate ourselves from the endless resource-draining and liberty-degrading involvement in Middle East conflicts is because our one-sided support for Israel ensures that we remain involved and makes ourselves the target of hatred around the world and, especially, in the Muslim world.

Despite all of that, the Bush administration, just days before it left office,entered into yet another new agreement with Israel pursuant to which the U.S. committed to use its resources to prevent guns and other weapons from entering Gaza.  That agreement cites “the steadfast commitment of the United States to Israel’s security” and “and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself,” and vows that the U.S. will “address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.”

Speaking about that new U.S./Israeli agreement on her show late last week, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (in the course of aggressively questioning an absurdly evasive Sen. Claire McCaskill on the wisdom of Obama’s plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan and noting the cadre of Bush defense officials on whom Obama is relying — video below) observed that the Obama administration has enthusiastically expressed its full support for the new Israeli agreement entered into in the last days of Bush’s presidency.  Maddow said (h/t Antiwar.com):

Also, not particularly change-like, then-President Bush made a deal in his final day in office with Israel about the terms of Israel’s relationship with Gaza. I’m sorry – it wasn’t his last day in office. It was within his last few days in office — my mistake.

The U.S. under President Obama is bound by that last-minute agreement between the U.S. and Israel. And a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today says that President Obama supports the agreement fully.

That new agreement has already led the U.S. Navy last week to take risky and potential illegal actions in intercepting Iranian ships that were transporting arms.  As The Jerusalem Post reported:

The interception of an Iranian arms ship by the US Navy in the Red Sea last week likely was conducted as a covert operation and is being played down by the US military due to the lack of a clear legal framework for such operations, an American expert on Iran told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening.

International media reported that an Iranian-owned merchant vessel flying a Cypriot flag was boarded early last week by US Navy personnel who discovered artillery shells on board.

The ship was initially suspected of being en route to delivering its cargo to smugglers in Sinai who would transfer the ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, but the US Navy became uncertain over the identity of the intended recipient since “Hamas is not known to use artillery,” The Associated Press cited a defense official as saying. . . .

Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, said, “It is not surprising that the US Navy is reluctant to acknowledge the operation, which may have been covert,” adding that maritime law posed challenges when it came to intercepting ships that fly the flag of a sovereign country. . . .

For the time being, the interceptions and searches are being carried out on the basis of the memorandum of understanding signed between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on January 16, which is “aimed at halting arms smuggling into Gaza as part of efforts to clinch the cease-fire,” Tanter said.

The article quoted Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, as arguing that the risk of provoking a confrontation with Iran from such interceptions is low — but not non-existent — because “Iran is not looking for an armed confrontation [with the US Navy] at this point.”

And Haaretz reports that preventing Palestinians in Gaza from re-arming itself is now — for some reason — an ongoing military operation of the United States:

A United States naval taskforce has been ordered to hunt down weapons ships sent by Iran to rearm its Islamist ally Hamas in Gaza, The Sunday Times reported.

Quoting U.S. diplomatic sources, the British daily said that Combined Task Force 151, which is countering pirates in the Gulf of Aden, has been instructed to track Iranian arms shipments.

There were several aspects of the Israeli attack on Gaza that made it even more horrifying than the standard atrocities of war:  (1) the civilian population was trapped — imprisoned — in a tiny densely-populated strip and were unable to escape the brutal attacks; and (2) it was a completely one-sided war, because one side (Israel) is armed to teeth with the world’s most sophisticated and deadly weapons, while the other side (the Palestinians) is virtually defenseless, possessing only the most primitive and (against a force like the IDF) impotent weapons.

What possible justification is there for the U.S. (as opposed to Israel) to use its military and the money of its taxpayers to ensure that the Palestinians remain defenseless?  In exactly the way that the U.S. felt free to invade Iraq (with its decayed, sanctions-destroyed “military”) but not North Korea or Iran (with its much more formidable forces), it’s precisely because the conflict is so one-sided that Israel feels no real pressure to cease the activities that, in part, feed this conflict (beginning with still-expanding West Bank settlements and the truly inhumane blockade of Gaza).  

Obviously, where one side has its foot on the throat of the other, the side with the far more dominant position has less incentive to resolve the dispute than the side being choked.  And it’s perfectly natural — not just for Israel but in general — for a party to want to maintain dominance over its adversaries and to want to prevent its enemies from obtaining weapons that can be used against it.  It’s entirely rational for Israel to desire a continuation of that particular state of affairs — i.e., for only Israel, but not the enemies with whom it has intractable territorial and religious conflicts, to have a real military force.

But what does any of that have to do with the U.S. Navy and the American taxpayer?  What possible justification is there for using American resources — the American military — to patrol the Red Sea in order to ensure that Gazans remain defenseless?  That question is particularly pronounced given that the U.S. is already shoveling, and will continue to shovel, billions and billions of dollars to Israel in military and other aid.  Why, on top of all of that, are increasingly scarce American resources, rather than Israeli resources, being used to bar Palestinians from obtaining weapons?   And why — as it is more vital than ever that we extricate ourselves from Middle Eastern conflicts — are we making ourselves still more of a partisan and combatant in this most entrenched and religiously-driven territorial dispute over the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

Israel is hardly the only country which the U.S. expends vast resources — including military resources — to defend and protect, and all of those commitments ought to be seriously re-examined.  But none of those other commitments entail anywhere near the costs — on every level — of our seemingly limitless willingness, eagerness, to involve ourselves so directly and self-destructively in every last conflict that Israel has.  Given what we are constantly being told is the grave economic peril the U.S. faces, shouldn’t we be moving in exactly the opposite direction than the imperial expansion which we continue to pursue?

* * * * *

The day after George H.W. Bush invaded Panama in one of the most absurd (though quite lethal) military operations of the last several decades (“Operation Just Cause”), The New York Times published an article by R.W. Apple on its front page celebrating Bush for having “shown his steel,” proving he was “a man capable of bold action” who “carried a big stick.”  The article proclaimed:

For George Bush, the United States invasion of Panama early this morning constituted a Presidential initiation rite as well as an attempt to achieve specific goals. . . . For better or for worse, most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood to protect or advance what they construe as the national interest. . . . – all of them acted in the belief that the American political culture required them to show the world promptly that they carried big sticks.

With only a week in office, Barack Obama has already fulfilled this Presidential initiation rite, as his body count — of civilians — already easily exceeds the number of days he’s been President.  Last week, two Drone missile attacks struck Pakistani villages, killing numerous civilians (including children) and maybe — though maybe not — a couple of “Al Qaeda operatives.”  And as Obama prepares to escalate the war in Afghanistan, a U.S. attack on Saturday killed 16 Afghan civilians (according to the Afghan government), and it was reported that more than 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the last year alone.  And read this harrowing account of what happened in an Afghan village several weeks ago during a U.S. raid and the effect this is all having on the attitudes of Afghan civilians towards the U.S. occupation (as is typically the case, the U.S. military denies the claims of the villagers). 

Despite all of that, Joe Biden yesterday told us all to expect a rise in casualties.  Questions of justifiability to the side for the moment, there is almost no discussion of what possible good will be achieved by escalating the seven-year war in Afghanistan (though the New York Times did run a thorough story on some of these questions over the weekend).  As part of the above-referenced MSNBC segment, Rachel Maddow highlighted all of the right questions, pointed to a number of vital parallels between our occupation of that country and the Soviet Union’s self-destructive attempt to control it, and tried — with total futility — to induce key Obama ally Sen. Claire McCaskill to address any of these questions in a meaningful way:

WATCH VIDEO HERE
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Counting the Walking Wounded

Posted in Afghanistan by allisonkilkenny on January 26, 2009

Lawrence M. Wein

ptsdkikoshouse350The American troops in Iraq daily face the risk of death or injury — to themselves or their fellow soldiers — by homemade bombs and suicide attackers. So it is not surprising that post-traumatic stress disorder is a common problem among returning soldiers. But how many, exactly, are affected?

This question is key to determining how large an investment the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to make in diagnosing and treating the problem. The United States Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team, which conducted a survey of more than 1,000 soldiers and marines in September 2006, found that 17 percent suffered from P.T.S.D. Similarly, a Rand study put the number at 14 percent.

But these estimates do not take into account the many soldiers who will eventually suffer from P.T.S.D., because there is a lag between the time someone experiences trauma and the time he or she reports symptoms of post-traumatic stress. This can range from days to many years, and it is typically much longer while people are still in the military.

To get a better estimate of the rate of P.T.S.D. among Iraq war veterans, two graduate students, Michael Atkinson and Adam Guetz, and I constructed a mathematical model in which soldiers incur a random amount of stress during each month of deployment (based on monthly American casualty data), develop P.T.S.D. if their cumulative stress exceeds a certain threshold, and also develop symptoms of the disorder after an additional amount of time. We found that about 35 percent of soldiers and marines who deploy to Iraq will ultimately suffer from P.T.S.D. — about 300,000 people, with 20,000 new sufferers for each year the war lasts.

Consider that only 22 percent of recent veterans who may be at risk for P.T.S.D. (based on their answers to screening questions) were referred for a mental health evaluation. Less than 40 percent of service members who get a diagnosis of P.T.S.D. receive mental health services, and only slightly more than half of recent veterans who receive treatment get adequate care. Those who seek follow-up treatment run into delays of up to 90 days, which suggests there is a serious shortage of mental health professionals available to help them.

Proper P.T.S.D. care can lead to complete remission in 30 percent to 50 percent of cases, studies show. Thorough screening of every soldier upon departure from the military, immediately followed by three to six months of treatment for those who need it, would reduce the stigma that is attached to current mental health referrals. The Rand study estimates that treatment would pay for itself within two years, largely by reducing the loss of productivity. This is the least we can do for our veterans.

Lawrence M. Wein is a professor of management science at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The Afghan Quagmire

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on January 6, 2009

Bob Herbert

womanflees_wchildr95capt_1000566086pakistan_afghanistan_attacks_tor109The economy is obviously issue No. 1 as Barack Obama prepares to take over the presidency. He’s charged with no less a task than pulling the country out of a brutal recession. If the worst-case scenarios materialize, his job will be to stave off a depression.

That’s enough to keep any president pretty well occupied. What Mr. Obama doesn’t need, and what the U.S. cannot under any circumstances afford, is any more unnecessary warfare. And yet, while we haven’t even figured out how to extricate ourselves from the disaster in Iraq, Mr. Obama is planning to commit thousands of additional American troops to the war in Afghanistan, which is already more than seven years old and which long ago turned into a quagmire.

Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who is now a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, wrote an important piece for Newsweek warning against the proposed buildup. “Afghanistan will be a sinkhole,” he said, “consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government can afford to waste.”

In an analysis in The Times last month, Michael Gordon noted that “Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.”

The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair. Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.

The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That time has passed.

With no personal military background and a reputation as a liberal, President-elect Obama may feel he has to demonstrate his toughness, and that Afghanistan is the place to do it. What would really show toughness would be an assertion by Mr. Obama as commander in chief that the era of mindless military misadventures is over.

“I hate war,” said Dwight Eisenhower, “as only a soldier who has lived it can, as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

What’s the upside to the U.S., a nation in dire economic distress, of an escalation in Afghanistan? If we send 20,000, or 30,000, or however many thousand more troops in there, what will their mission be?

In his article for Newsweek, Mr. Bacevich said: “The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.

“No country poses a greater potential threat to U.S. national security — today and for the foreseeable future — than Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.”

Our interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from becoming a haven for terrorists bent on attacking us. That does not require the scale of military operations that the incoming administration is contemplating. It does not require a wholesale occupation. It does not require the endless funneling of human treasure and countless billions of taxpayer dollars to the Afghan government at the expense of rebuilding the United States, which is falling apart before our very eyes.

The government we are supporting in Afghanistan is a fetid hothouse of corruption, a government of gangsters and weasels whose customary salute is the upturned palm. Listen to this devastating assessment by Dexter Filkins of The Times:

“Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.”

Think about putting your life on the line for that gang.

If Mr. Obama does send more troops to Afghanistan, he should go on television and tell the American people, in the clearest possible language, what he is trying to achieve. He should spell out the mission’s goals, and lay out an exit strategy.

He will owe that to the public because he will own the conflict at that point. It will be Barack Obama’s war.

Howard Zinn on War and Social Justice

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 4, 2009

Democracy Now

zinn-1Howard Zinn is one of this country’s most celebrated historians. His classic work A People’s History of the United States changed the way we look at history in America. First published a quarter of a century ago, the book has sold over a million copies and is a phenomenon in the world of publishing—selling more copies each successive year. After serving as a bombardier in World War II, Howard Zinn went on to become a lifelong dissident and peace activist. He was active in the civil rights movement and many of the struggles for social justice over the past forty years. He taught at Spelman College, the historically black college for women, and was fired for insubordination for standing up for the students. He was recently invited back to give the commencement address. Howard Zinn has written numerous books and is professor emeritus at Boston University. He recently spoke at Binghamton University a few days after the 2008 presidential election. His speech was called “War and Social Justice.” 

WATCH VIDEO HERE

(more…)

A President Forgotten but Not Gone

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on January 4, 2009

Frank Rich

george-bush-sourWe like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.

The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.

The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.

He tried to spin the ruckus as another victory for his administration’s program of democracy promotion. “That’s what people do in a free society,” he said. He had made the same claim three years ago after the Palestinian elections, championed by his “freedom agenda” (and almost $500 million of American aid), led to a landslide victory for Hamas. “There is something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush observed at the time, as he congratulated Palestinian voters for rejecting “the old guard.”

The ruins of his administration’s top policy priority can be found not only in Gaza but in the new “democratic” Iraq, where the local journalist who tossed the shoes was jailed without formal charges and may have been tortured. Almost simultaneously, opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused him of making politically motivated arrests of rival-party government officials in anticipation of this month’s much-postponed provincial elections.

Condi Rice blamed the press for the image that sullied Bush’s Iraq swan song: “That someone chose to throw a shoe at the president is what gets reported over and over.” We are back where we came in. This was the same line Donald Rumsfeld used to deny the significance of the looting in Baghdad during his famous “Stuff happens!” press conference of April 2003. “Images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over,” he said then, referring to the much-recycled video of a man stealing a vase from the Baghdad museum. “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” he asked, playing for laughs.

The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement — as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.

Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.

To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”

Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”

This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).

If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.

But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.

The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The president who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.

He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked (by Charles Gibson) if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says, “People will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says “it was a repudiation of Republicans.”

“The attacks of September the 11th came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of a Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure,” not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds,” that sped us into Iraq. Did he take too long to change course in Iraq? “What seems like an eternity today,” he says, “may seem like a moment tomorrow.” Try telling that to the families of the thousands killed and maimed during that multiyear “moment” as Bush stubbornly stayed his disastrous course.

The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul,” he told Gibson. And so when he visits military hospitals, “it’s always been a healing experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But, incredibly enough, it’s his own healing he is concerned about, not that of the grievously wounded men and women he sent to war on false pretenses. It’s “the comforter in chief” who “gets comforted,” he explained, by “the character of the American people.” The American people are surely relieved to hear it.

With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. The smugness is reinforced not just by his history as the entitled scion of one of America’s aristocratic dynasties but also by his conviction that his every action is blessed from on high. Asked last month by an interviewer what he has learned from his time in office, he replied: “I’ve learned that God is good. All the time.”

Once again he is shifting the blame. This presidency was not about Him. Bush failed because in the end it was all about him.

Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today. (Thank God.)
The public editor’s column will return next week. (Booooo.)

Did You Know 200,000 Vets Are Sleeping on the Streets?

Posted in Afghanistan, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 3, 2009

New American Media

veteran1SAN FRANCISCO – Roy Lee Brantley shivers in the cold December morning as he waits in line for food outside the Ark of Refuge mission, which sits amid warehouses and artists lofts a stone’s throw from the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco.

Brantley’s beard is long, white and unkempt. The African-American man’s skin wrinkled beyond his 62 years. He lives in squalor in a dingy residential hotel room with the bathroom down the hall. In some ways, his current situation marks an improvement. “I’ve slept in parks,” he says, “and on the sidewalk. Now at least I have a room.”

Like the hundreds of others in line for food, Brantley has worn the military uniform. Most, like Brantley, carry their service IDs and red, white and blue cards from the Department of Veterans Affairs in their wallets or around their necks. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. By the time he left the military five years later, Brantley had attained the rank of sergeant and been decorated for his valor and for the wounds he sustained in combat.

“I risked my life for this democracy and got a Bronze Star,” he says. “I shed blood for this country and got the Purple Heart after a mortar blast sent shrapnel into my face and leg. But when I came back home from Vietnam I was having problems. I tried to hurt my wife because she was Filipino. Every time I looked at her I thought I was in Vietnam again. So we broke up.”

In 1973, Brantley filed a disability claim with the federal government for mental wounds sustained in combat overseas. Over the years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied his claim five separate times. “You go over there and risk your life for America and your mind’s all messed up, America should take care of you, right,” he says, knowing that for him and the other veterans in line for free food that promise has not been kept.

On any given night 200,000 U.S. veterans sleep homeless on the streets of America. One out of every four people — and one out of every three men — sleeping in a car, in front of a shop door, or under a freeway overpass has worn a military uniform. Some like Brantley have been on the streets for years. Others are young and women returning home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly slipping through the cracks.

For each of these homeless veterans, America’s promise to “Support the Troops” ended the moment he or she took off the uniform and tried to make the difficult transition to civilian life. There, they encountered a hostile and cumbersome bureaucracy set up by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a best-case scenario, a wounded veteran must wait six months to hear back from the VA. Those who appeal a denial have to wait an average of four and a half years for their answer. In the six months leading up to March 31st of this year, nearly 1,500 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claims would be approved by the government.

There are patriotic Americans trying to solve this problem. Last month, two veterans’ organizations, Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, filed suit in federal court demanding the government decide disability claims brought by wounded soldiers within three months. Predictably, however, the VA is trying to block the effort. On December 17, their lawyers convinced Reggie Walton, a judge appointed by President Bush, who ruled that imposing a quicker deadline for payment of benefits was a task for Congress and the president-not the courts.

President-elect Barack Obama has the power to end this national disgrace. He has the power to ensure to streamline the VA bureaucracy so it helps rather than fights those who have been wounded in the line of duty. He can ensure that this latest generation of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan does not receive the bum rap the Vietnam generation got. Let 2008 be the last year thousands of homeless veterans stand in line for free food during the holiday season. Let it be the last year hundreds of thousands sleep homeless on the street.

Bribes Corrode Afghans’ Trust in Government

Posted in Afghanistan, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 2, 2009

New York Times

A man pulls a cart loaded with fire wood past a mansion owned by high-ranking government officials in the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul. (Danfung Dennis for The New York Times)

A man pulls a cart loaded with fire wood past a mansion owned by high-ranking government officials in the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul. (Danfung Dennis for The New York Times)

KABUL, Afghanistan — When it comes to governing this violent, fractious land, everything, it seems, has its price.

Want to be a provincial police chief? It will cost you $100,000.

Want to drive a convoy of trucks loaded with fuel across the country? Be prepared to pay $6,000 per truck, so the police will not tip off the Taliban.

Need to settle a lawsuit over the ownership of your house? About $25,000, depending on the judge.

“It is very shameful, but probably I will pay the bribe,” Mohammed Naim, a young English teacher, said as he stood in front of the Secondary Courthouse in Kabul. His brother had been arrested a week before, and the police were demanding $4,000 for his release. “Everything is possible in this country now. Everything.”

Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.

A raft of investigations has concluded that people at the highest levels of the Karzai administration, including President Karzai’s own brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, are cooperating in the country’s opium trade, now the world’s largest. In the streets and government offices, hardly a public transaction seems to unfold here that does not carry with it the requirement of a bribe, a gift, or, in case you are a beggar, “harchee” — whatever you have in your pocket.

The corruption, publicly acknowledged by President Karzai, is contributing to the collapse of public confidence in his government and to the resurgence of the Taliban, whose fighters have moved to the outskirts of Kabul, the capital.

“All the politicians in this country have acquired everything — money, lots of money,” President Karzai said in a speech at a rural development conference here in November. “God knows, it is beyond the limit. The banks of the world are full of the money of our statesmen.”

The decay of the Afghan government presents President-elect Barack Obama with perhaps his most underappreciated challenge as he tries to reverse the course of the war here. Mr. Obama may be required to save the Afghan government not only from the Taliban insurgency — committing thousands of additional American soldiers to do so — but also from itself.

“This government has lost the capacity to govern because a shadow government has taken over,” said Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister. He quit that job in 2004, he said, because the state had been taken over by drug traffickers. “The narco-mafia state is now completely consolidated,” he said.

On the streets here, tales of corruption are as easy to find as kebab stands. Everything seems to be for sale: public offices, access to government services, even a person’s freedom. The examples mentioned above — $25,000 to settle a lawsuit, $6,000 to bribe the police, $100,000 to secure a job as a provincial police chief — were offered by people who experienced them directly or witnessed the transaction.

People pay bribes for large things, and for small things, too: to get electricity for their homes, to get out of jail, even to enter the airport.

Governments in developing countries are often riddled with corruption. But Afghans say the corruption they see now has no precedent, in either its brazenness or in its scale. Transparency International, a German organization that gauges honesty in government, ranked Afghanistan 117 out of 180 countries in 2005. This year, it fell to 176.

“Every man in the government is his own king,” said Abdul Ghafar, a truck driver. Mr. Ghafar said he routinely paid bribes to the police who threatened to hinder his passage through Kabul, sometimes several in a day.

Nowhere is the scent of corruption so strong as in the Kabul neighborhood of Sherpur. Before 2001, it was a vacant patch of hillside that overlooked the stately neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan. Today it is the wealthiest enclave in the country, with gaudy, grandiose mansions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Afghans refer to them as “poppy houses.” Sherpur itself is often jokingly referred to as “Char-pur,” which literally means “City of Loot.”

Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about Sherpur is that many of the homeowners are government officials, whose annual salaries would not otherwise enable them to live here for more than a few days.

 

One of the mansions — three stories, several bedrooms, sweeping balconies — is owned by Abdul Jabbar Sabit, a former attorney general who made a name for himself by declaring a “jihad” against corruption.

After he was fired earlier this year by President Karzai, a video began circulating around town showing Mr. Sabit dancing giddily around a room and slurring his words, apparently drunk. Mr. Sabit now lives in Canada, but his house is available to rent for $5,000 a month.

An even grander mansion — ornate faux Greek columns, a towering fountain — is owned by Kabul’s police chief, Mohammed Ayob Salangi. It can be had for $11,000 a month. Mr. Salangi’s salary is unknown; that of Mr. Karzai, the president, is about $600 a month.

Mr. Ghani, the former finance minister, said the plots of land on which the mansions of Sherpur stand were doled out early in the Karzai administration for prices that were a tiny fraction of what they were worth. (Mr. Ghani said he was offered a plot, too, and refused to accept it.)

“The money for these houses was illegal, I think,” said Mohammed Yosin Usmani, director general of a newly created anticorruption unit.

Often, the corruption here is blatant. On any morning, you can stand on the steps of the Secondary Courthouse in downtown Kabul and listen to the Afghans as they step outside.

One of them was Farooq Farani, who has been coming to the court for seven years, trying to resolve a property dispute. His predicament is a common one here: He fled the country in 1990, as the civil war began, and returned after the fall of the Taliban, only to find a stranger occupying his home.

Yet seven years later, the title to Mr. Farani’s house is still up for grabs. Mr. Farani said he had refused to pay the bribes demanded by the judge in the case, who in turn had refused to settle his case.

“You are approached indirectly, by intermediaries — this is how it works,” said Mr. Farani, who spent his exile in Wiesbaden, Germany. “My house is worth about $50,000, and I’ve been told that I can have the title if I pay $25,000 — half the value of the home.”

Tales like Mr. Farani’s abound here, so much so that it makes one wonder if an honest man can ever make a difference.

Amin Farhang, the minister of commerce, was voted out of Mr. Karzai’s cabinet by Parliament earlier last month for failing to bring down the price of oil in Afghanistan as the price declined in international markets. In a long talk in the sitting room of his home, Mr. Farhang recounted a two-year struggle to fire the man in charge of giving out licenses for new businesses.

The man, Mr. Farhang said, would grant a license only in exchange for a hefty bribe. But Mr. Farhang found that he was unable to fire the man, who, he said, simply bribed other members of the government to reinstate him.

“In a job like this, a man can make 10 or 12 times his salary,” Mr. Farhang said. “People do anything to hang on to them.”

Many Afghans, including Mr. Ghani, the former finance minister, place responsibility for the collapse of the state on Mr. Karzai, who, they say, has failed repeatedly to confront the powerful figures who are behind much of the corruption. In his stint as finance minister, Mr. Ghani said, two moments crystallized his disgust and finally prompted him to quit.

The first, Mr. Ghani said, was his attempt to impose order on Kabul’s chaotic system of private property rights. The Afghan government had accumulated vast amounts of land during the period of Communist rule in the 1970s and 1980s. And since 2001, the government has given much of it away — often, Mr. Ghani said, to shady developers at extremely low prices.

Much of that land has been sold and developed, rendering much of Kabul’s property in the hands of unknown owners. Many of the developers who were given free land, Mr. Ghani said, were also involved in drug trafficking.

When he proposed drawing up a set of regulations to govern private property, Mr. Ghani said, he was told by President Karzai to stop.

“ ‘Just back off,” he told me,’ ” Mr. Ghani said. “He said that politically it wasn’t feasible.”

A similar effort to impose regulations at the Ministry of Aviation, which Mr. Ghani described as rife with corruption, was met with a similar response by President Karzai, he said.

“Morally the question was, am I becoming the fig leaf to legitimate a system that was deeply corrupt? Or was I there to serve the people?” Mr. Ghani said. “I resigned.”

Mr. Ghani, who then became chancellor of Kabul University, is today contemplating a run for the presidency.

Asked about Mr. Ghani’s account on Thursday, Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said he could not immediately comment.

The corruption may be endemic here, but if there is any hope in the future, it would seem to lie in the revulsion of average Afghans like Mr. Farani, who, after seven years, is still refusing to pay.

“I won’t do it,” Mr. Farani said outside the courthouse. “It’s a matter of principle. Never.”

“But,” he said, “I don’t have my house, either, and I don’t know that I ever will.”