Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

Get my RSS |

Inside Af-Pak's Black Sites

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 1:00 PM PST

Anand Gopal, a war correspondent in Afghanistan for the Wall Street Journal and formerly the Christian Science Monitor, has a superb, year-long investigation out today on the US' raids, "black site" detention cetners, and "Black Jail" at the Bagram air base in eastern Afghanistan. The story, co-published by TomDispatch.com and The Nation magazine, is the first of its kind to report on the shadowy counterterror and torture methods used by the US in Afghanistan, a war led in large part by a general, Stanley McChrystal, who made a name for himself leading these same kinds of under-the-radar missions. For his report, supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Gopal interviewed dozens of Afghans, some of whom had either been kidnapped and tortured themselves (and lived to tell about it) or who knew people who'd been disappeared or killed during this night-time raids.

As Gopal points out, these kinds of missions undermine the US' entire presence in Afghanistan:

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan's rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

In addition, he reports on the presence of a "Black Jail" at Bagram air base and nine official holding jails in Afghanistan, known as Field Detention Sites, usually comprised of a few cells walled off with plywood and used for interrogation purposes. Gopal's story retells the experiences of individual Afghans who were detained and tortured by US forces:

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, U.S. forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field Detention Site at a nearby U.S. base.  “They interrogated me the whole night,” he recalls, “but I had nothing to tell them.” Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom U.S. forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. “They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed.”  They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. “Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me.” he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

The piece is absolutely worth reading in full. It sheds light on the secrecy surrounding these detention centers, the torture taking place in this facilities, and the fear among Afghans of being the next person swept up in a violent night-time raid—all crucial elements of the US war in Afghanistan that haven't been reported anywhere else yet without which our understanding of the Af-Pak war is incomplete.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Taliban Trust Fund

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 11:59 AM PST

At a major conference in London today, Afghan president Hamid Karzai rolled out his much anticipated Taliban "reintegration" or buyout plan, an initiative for which Afghanistan's allies have pledged $500 million to pay mid- or lower level fighters to stop fighting and reintegrate into Afghan society. The money could include resettling former Taliban fighters and landing them jobs, but excludes fighters with ties to al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks for inclusion in what's being called the "Taliban trust fund." And in discussing the future of the Af-Pak war, Karzai also reaffirmed that his country would need international help maintaining security in Afghanistan for anywhere from 10 to 15 more years; the training of Afghan's own forces, he added, will require another five to 10 years.

For one, the Taliban trust fund idea, backed by US envoy Richard Holbrooke, will strike even casual observers of American war as little more than a repackaging of the Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq. Indeed, Karzai's announcement comes a few months after the Los Angeles Times reported that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal personally dragged out of retirement the key architect behind the Iraqi program, which paid Sunni Muslims to leave the insurgency and even defend against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. Never mind the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan are wildly different countries, from their populations and political structures to the food they eat and their geographies. Sure, you could argue that the Sunni Awakening, although mired with fraud and graft, resulted in modest amounts of success, but to apply the same lessons from Iraq to Afghanistan, as the Taliban trust fund idea seems to do, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. (Plus, as Aram Roston's recent investigation in The Nation showed, so much US funding is already finding its way into Taliban hands that spending another $500 million will only amplify that epic fraud.)

Indeed, the $500 million Taliban buyout plan reminds me a lot of historian Andrew Bacevich's recent critique of Obama's Af-Pak policy—namely, that it altogether lacks any kind of imagination or rethinking of the task at hand; that US foreign policy all-too-frequently recycles the same officials toting the same tired ideas, i.e., the surge in Iraq and then in Afghanistan, and now the Awakening in Iraq and the Taliban trust fund. Obama's national security brain trust, Bacevich adriotly argued, is "unable to conceive of a basis for national security policy that does not involve the increased commitment of American military resources."

Which certainly dovetails with Karzai's belief that foreign forces will be needed in Afghanistan for another 10 to 15 years. With each day, the president's 2011 deadline for beginning withdrawal from Afghanistan resembles nothing more than smoke and mirrors; in reality, the US will be in Afghanistan training the Air Force or funding contractors or flying our drones for decades to come. In this context, Karzai's 15-year estimate looks rather modest, and today's conference in London is further confirmation (if you needed any) that the long haul of the Af-Pak war is just beginning.

Frank: Wall St. Crackdown Could Arrive Within Months

| Wed Jan. 27, 2010 11:24 AM PST

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chair of the influential House financial services committee, says Obama's lastest regulatory crackdown on Wall Street could make it into law in as soon as few months. Frank, who said the president's flurry of recent financial reforms surprised him, told the Financial Times in Davos, Switzerland, that the administration's new proposals could very well be included in an existing financial services bill already in the works within his committee. (To watch the full interview with FT's Gillian Tett and Frank, click here.)

More from the FT story:

This essentially gives a new systemic regulator the discretionary power to clamp down on banks' proprietary businesses or force banks to shrink in size—if necessary. Until recently, this aspect of the bill had not garnered much attention, since there has been a wider controversy about the future identity of a systemic regulator.

However, Mr Frank argued that Volcker's plan could be incorporated within this enhanced definition of a supervisory authority—and said he was sure that a bill would be in place well before the mid-term elections in November, if not signed off by Chris Dodd, his counterpart in the Senate, within weeks. "I think Chris will get a bill out in March."

Overall Mr Frank said the drive to de-risk banks was to be applauded. "I wish banks had fewer ways to make money than deposits," he said. He also expressed confidence that the US reforms could form part of a wider regulatory blueprint that would be incorporated elsewhere, including in Europe—dismissing scepticism that Mr Obama's initiative had upset a measured, internationally co-ordinated response to the future regulation of the world's banks.

Cut Weapons, Not Education

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 11:35 AM PST

A pillar of Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday, we're learning, will be a three-year spending freeze in domestic areas like education, transportation, housing, national parks, and farm subsidies, among others. Reeling from Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown's victory last week and a growing disenchantment with his ambitious domestic agenda (health care, climate change, financial reform), Obama's move is no doubt intended to show he's tough on the deficit, and to allay fears among fellow Democrats staring down a potentially bleak November election season. Its political utility aside, the spending freeze, as it stands now, is a wrongheaded, ill-fated move—not only because it targets areas where more funding is needed, but it exempts the most pork-riddled, wasteful area of them all: defense spending.

Even Pelosi Wavers on Health Care

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 11:40 AM PST

The fate of health-care legislation looks more ominous by the day. Today, House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters there aren't enough votes in the House to even pass the weaker Senate version, let alone a House-Senate compromise on health care. She also said there's no timeline in mind for getting a bill of some kind passed, an indication that the health-care-induced logjam is far from over. This could reflect the lingering doubt stemming from the Massachusetts special election, but either way it doesn't bode well. TPM reports:

"I don't see the votes for it at this time," Pelosi said. "The members have been very clear in our caucus about the fact that they didn't like it before it had the Nebraska provision and some of the other provisions that are unpalatable to them."

"In every meeting that we have had, there would be nothing to give me any thought that that bill could pass right now the way that it is," she said. "There isn't a market right now for proceeding with the full bill unless some big changes are made."

While she didn't say the option was dead -- "Everything is on the table," she said -- she outlined two very different options for passing a bill.

"There's a recognition that there's a foundation in that bill that's important. So one way or another those areas of agreement that we have will have to be advanced, whether it's by passing the Senate bill with any changes that can be made, or just taking [pieces of it]," Pelosi said.

"We have to get a bill passed -- we know that. That's a predicate that we all subscribe to."

Mon Jan. 13, 2014 10:19 AM PST
Mon Dec. 16, 2013 7:47 AM PST
Fri Oct. 18, 2013 9:12 AM PDT