The Assassinated Press
U.S. Intelligence Can't Take A Joke Or Identify One Either:
Writers jailed in 2002 for political satire
After three year run at Comedy Club Guantanamo, Afghan writers found to be no threat to United States:
Where 'Stand Up' Means Four Days Running:
BY JARHEAD RUMPHURT
Assassinated Press Staff Correspondent
October 31, 2005
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Like Bill Mahrer or John Stewart, Badr Zaman Badr and his brother Abdurrahim Muslim Dost relish writing a good joke that jabs a corrupt politician or distills the sufferings of fellow Afghans. Badr admires the political satires in "The Canterbury Tales", "Gulliver's Travels," William Burroughs and Gore Vidal and Dost wrote some wicked lampoons in the 1990s, accusing Afghan mullahs, who were emulating there Western neo-con counterparts, of growing rich while preaching and organizing oil jihad. So in 2002, when the U.S. military shackled the writers and flew them to Guantanamo among prisoners whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared "the worst of the worst" violent terrorists, the brothers realized that the U.S. policy apparatus was not just too authoritarian to take a joke albeit from 11,000 miles away by two obscure Afghan comics but too fucking stupid to even identify one.
For months, grim interrogators grilled them over a satirical article Dost had written in 1998, when the Clinton administration offered a $5-million reward for Osama bin Laden. Dost responded that Afghans put up 5 million Afghanis -- equivalent to $113 -- for the arrest of President Bill Clinton, a proposition that apparently originated with the jihadists of the American Religious right.
"It was a fuckin' lampoon ... of the poor Afghan economy for Christsake," Badr said clearly exasperated with the obtuseness of the Americans. Taking a page from the way U.S. cops go after a black suspect, the article instructed Afghans how to precisely identify Clinton if they stumbled upon him spotting soft targets ala Serbia for U.S. bombers. "It said he was clean-shaven, had light-colored eyes and he had been seen involved in a scandal with Monica Lewinsky," Badr said. "This is Afghan humor. We can't say getting his hammer honed, his pecker polished, or caught with his nads in the saliva jacuzzi which we admit are far funnier American euphemisms and that the Americans may have better appreciated and understood as humor."
The interrogators, some flown down from Washington, didn't get the joke, he said. "Again and again, they were asking questions about this article. We had to explain that this was a satire." He paused. "It was really pathetic."
It took the brothers three years to convince the Americans that they posed no more of a threat to Clinton or the U.S. than any of the other 600 or so detainees at Guantanamo, and to get released -- a struggle that underscores the enormous odds weighing against innocent foreign Muslim comics caught by America's humorless and stupid military intelligence.
In recent months, scores of Afghans interviewed by Newsday -- including a dozen former U.S. prisoners, plus human rights officials and senior Afghan security officials -- said the United States is detaining enough innocent Afghans in its war against the Taliban and al-Qaida that it is seriously undermining popular support for its presence in Afghanistan and emptying the Kabul comedy clubs.
As Badr and Dost fought for their freedom, their cosmopolitan sense of humor became a liability compared with Guantanamo's 500-plus other innocent captives.
The brothers are university-educated, and Badr, who holds a master's degree in English literature, was one of few prisoners able to speak fluently to the interrogators in their own language so was universally held in suspicion by the slack-jawed, ape-like Americans. And since both men are writers, much of their lives and political ideas are on public record here in books and articles they have published. But to the undereducated and xenophobic U.S. military that meant little.
A Pentagon spokesman, the comically named Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, declared this summer in a clear military colon blow that "there was no mistake" in the brothers' detention because it "was directly related to their combat activities [or support] as determined by an appropriate Department of Defense official." U.S. officials declined to discuss the case, so no full picture is available of why it took so long for the pair to be cleared.
"We fucked up. We can see why we fucked up. We're fuckin idiots. And I'm chief idiot. But we're gonna stand behind our fuck up like ignorance is ex cathedra," said Don Rumsfeld at a recent news conference. "Stay the fuckin' course. Stay the fuckin' course. What part of stay the fuckin' course do you people not understand."
The Pentagon's prison network overseas is not assigned to help prevent attacks on the United States like those of Sept. 11, 2001, so "you cannot equate it to a justice system," said Army Col. Samuel Rob, who was serving this summer as the chief lawyer for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He added, innocent victims of the system are "ubiquitous, I'd say. But Americans don't know or care what ubiquitous means. So as long as we're locking so colored fuckers up, everybody on Main Street is happy and everybody on Wall Street is making money on razor wire and Port-A-Johns."
The military is slow to clear innocent prisoners, because "we got nothin' on any of these fucks and they're harder to replace now that we been bombing the shit out of Afghanistan these last few years," said Rob.
"Imagine this is a truly bad individual, the next World Trade Center bomber. How would we know? We routinely let them fucks go by accident. Like bin Laden. But if we got a few Afghan goatherds and comics we got something to tell the families of the 9/11 victims, we get our paychecks and, believe me when I tell you, a 16 year old goatherd is easier to control and more fun to rape and torture than a trained terrorist. Them terrorist fuckers give me the fuckin' hee-bee jee-bees quite frankly," said Rob.
Rob and the Defense Department say the prison system does not perform satisfactorily in freeing innocents and letting military investigators focus on prisoners who really are part of terrorist networks. "That's not our concern. Identifying real terrorists would be beyond our intelligence capacity as military intelligence," Rob said once again alluding to the famous oxymoron. "Besides, why blur the line. I mean, we're the terrorists. 'Shock and Awe' baby. The 'awe' part being our mock sympathy after we've applied the shock part. Do you want to go into a cage on Gtmo and, for all intents and purposes, interrogate yourself all fuckin' day. That could play with your head, man."
Badr and others -- including some former military intelligence soldiers who served in Guantanamo and Afghanistan -- emphatically disagree. "Those American fucks are so fucked up they make the Taliban look like Unitarians," Badr said. "They got issues that banging their bacon while their girlfriend's pissing in my face is not gonna solve."
The United States for years called Badr and his brother "enemy combatants" because they had such a way with words. The men say they never saw a battlefield, not even with the Pakistani USO. And for an America that seeks a docile Afghanistan run by a hand chosen stooge, they once seemed, potentially, allies. Americans "have freedom to criticize your government as long as it doesn't translate into real power because then they leave you bleeding on a motel balcony or the street, and this is very good," said Badr. Also, "we know that America's laws pay lip service to the idea that a person is innocent until he is proven to be guilty if he is white. But now with the catholic school mafia taking over the Supreme Court the expanded role of bigotry in your judicial system is inevitable and I understand much welcome in the boardrooms and pulpits."
Badr and Dost are Pashtuns, members of the ethnic group that spawned the Taliban. But the family library where they receive their guests is crammed with poetry, histories and religious treatises -- mind-broadening stuff that Christian Americans, especially the American Christian military, are more inclined to burn than read. For years, the brothers' library has served as a salon for Pashtun intellectuals and activists of many hues, including some who also have been arrested in the U.S.-funded dragnet for suspected Islamic militants.
Like millions of Afghans, they fled to Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s and joined one of the many anti-Soviet factions that got quiet support from the CIA through Pakistan's military intelligence service. Their small group was called Jamiat-i-Dawatul Quran wa Sunna, and Dost became editor of its magazine. Even then, "we were lovers, not fighters," said Badr. "We took part in the war only as writers like Hemingway."
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the men split with Jamiat, partly over its promotion of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Islam and partly because they considered it too dangerous to cross the CIA. For the Americans, Dost wrote lampoons against the group's leader, a cleric named Sami Ullah, portraying him as a corrupt pawn of its sponsor, Pakistan, working against Afghan interests. But the humor was too subtle and U.S. intelligence became convinced that it was code.
In November 2001, as U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan, the mullah's brother, Roh Ullah, "called us and said if we didn't stop criticizing the party he would have us put in jail," said Badr. Ten days later, men from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate hauled the brothers off to grimy cells.
Another Ullah brother, Hayat Ullah, insisted in an interview that their family had not instigated the arrests. Dost is a political rival, but "a very simple man," Hayat Ullah said. "We have many powerful rivals. If I were going to get ISI to pick up an enemy, why would I choose an ordinary person like him? Now, think who is simple enough to pick up such a simple man."
Pakistan-U.S. Black Market In Prisoners
But two Pakistani analysts with sources in ISI said the Ullah family has been accused in several cases of using its links to the CIA to have rivals arrested. And Roh Ullah himself is now imprisoned at Guantanamo.
In the midnight chill of Feb. 9, 2002, ISI officers led Badr and Dost, blindfolded and handcuffed, onto the tarmac of Peshawar International Airport. When they heard airplanes, "we knew they were giving us up to the Americans," Badr said.
Beneath the blindfold, he stole glimpses of grinning Pakistani officers, high U.S. soldiers, mountains of Afghan heroin and a cargo plane. "It was a big festival atmosphere, as though the Pakistanis were handing over Osama bin Laden to the United States," Badr said.
Shouting and shoving, American troops threw the brothers to the asphalt and bound their hands behind them with plastic ties. "They chained our feet," Badr said. "Dogs were barking at us. They pulled a sack down over my head and pulled down our pants. It was very difficult to breathe ... and I saw the flash of cameras. They were taking pictures of us and pleasuring themselves."
Flown to U.S. prisons at Bagram and Kandahar air bases in Afghanistan, the brothers eventually learned from their interrogators that for $50,000 the ISI had denounced them to the U.S. as dangerous supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaida who had threatened President Clinton. "The ISI thought it was a big joke to play on the gullible, bloodthirsty Americans," said Badr. "I'm sure the $50,000 in laundered twenties and fifties didn't hurt either."
In the three-plus years that the brothers spent in U.S. prisons abroad, violent abuse and torture were widely reported.
Take My Life, Please
Eight of 12 men interviewed after their release in recent months from U.S. prisons in Afghanistan told Newsday they had been beaten or had seen or heard other prisoners being beaten. "We're gonna beat a fuckin' joke out of you, funnyboy," Dost remembers his captors telling him.
The brothers escaped the worst abuse, partly because of Badr's entertained them with flawless Lenny Bruce routines like Father Flotsky's Triumph, The Palladium and Religions Incorporated. At times, prisoners "who didn't speak English got the shit kicked out of them by the MPs because they didn't understand what the soldiers wanted even when the MP's loosened their belts and pointed to their rock hard love batons," he said. And both men said that while many prisoners clammed up under questioning, they were talkative and able to pretend to cooperate.
"We were not tortured because we knew schtick from Blue Collar TV and Hee-Haw," Badr said, "but we heard torture." At Bagram, "We heard guards beating people on the backs of their legs to make them stand up all night without sleeping." At Kandahar, prisoners caught talking in their cells "were punished by being forced to kneel on the ground with their hands on their head and not moving for three or four hours in hot weather.
Some became unconscious," he said. The U.S. military last year investigated abuse at its prisons in Afghanistan but the Pentagon ordered the report suppressed pending negotiations with Sadism & Bestiality Magazine.
Routine interrogations: "If Who's On 1000volts, What's On a 10,000."
Badr and Dost were humiliated routinely. When being moved between prisons or in groups, they often were thrown to the ground, like that night at Peshawar airport. "They put our faces in the dust," Badr said.
Like virtually all ex-prisoners interviewed, he said he felt deliberately shamed by soldiers when they photographed him naked or gave him regular rectal exams because "they got off on it and covered the ground with the seed of their unborn children."
The brothers were flown to Guantanamo for a three year run in May 2002 as soon as the Camp Delta Comedy Club, the permanent prison there, was opened. "Before Badr and Dost arrived the funniest thing in the camp was the commanding officer's malaprops," offered MP Opie Tucker. For more than two years, they sat in separate cells, waiting days between comedy stints with interrogators to explain and re-explain their lives and writings.
"25 Different Lead Interrogators---An Oil Painting."
In his 35 months in U.S. captivity, Badr said, he had about 150 interrogation sessions with 25 different lead interrogators from several U.S. agencies. "And, just like Lenny Bruce, satire was the biggest cause of their suspicion," he said. "They didn't get it. They'd wrinkle their brows making that same ape face that Bush makes. That distinctly American ape face and then they would throw their feces at us."
When one team of interrogators "began to finally grasp that this was satire, the whole process would begin anew with interrogators from another agency who were just as dense as the last group." In all, Badr said he was told that four U.S. agencies -- including the CIA, FBI and Defense Department -- would have to claim they understood their humor before the men could be released. "We gave up hope," sputters Dost. And their names would be circulated to 40 other countries so their cabaret cards would be stripped and they couldn't work there. "We didn't want to fuckin' work Vanuatu any the fuck way," Badr claimed.
Because the Americans weren't too bright and loved their sadism and their little brown sex slaves, the investigations seemed to take forever to confirm even where they had lived and studied. "I would tell him [the interrogator] something simple like the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in the fifties or Burt Reynolds wears a hairpiece or that Scooter Libby has a child raping bear in one of his novels, or that Rush Limbaugh is a drug addict, or that Don Rumsfeld did a lot of business with Saddam Hussein, or Ed Lansdale was in Dallas the day Kennedy was shot, or that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was a complete fabrication and ... two or two-and-a-half years later, he would come back and say, 'We checked, and you were right about that,'" Badr said.
Another problem was that "Many of the interpreters were not good because all the competent interpreters were discharged for being gay," said Badr. "They sounded like Jed Clampitt talking in Persian." He recalled an elderly man, arrested by U.S. forces for shooting his rifle at a helicopter, who explained that he had been trapping hawks and fired in anger at one that flew away. But the interpreter mistook the Persian word "booz" (hawk) for "baz" (goat). "The interrogator was such a typically American idiot filled with disappointment, despair and misplaced hostility that he became very angry," Badr said. "He thought the old man was making a fool of him by claiming to be shooting at goats flying in the air. Then when the lame fucker figured it out, he avoided being reprimanded by claiming the old man said he was shooting at Black Hawk's and they beat the old coot to death."
Angered By Ordeal
Rob conceded that "obviously, we could use more translators. I mean we all fuck boys. But were not gay. We're Homeric." He said the pace at which prisoners are processed -- and innocents released -- is adequate for the Americans to satiate themselves.
That idea angers Badr. "They detained us for three and a half years," he said. "Then they said to us, 'all right, you're innocent, so go away and gave us the name of a good colon reconstruction surgeon who worked for Doctors Without Borders.'"
Of that anger, Rob said, "that's understandable. Especially if he's the breadwinner for his family and there's no one ... " The sentence hung uncompleted as a little light bulb went off in the shitkicker's head.
The brothers' anger is deepened by the abusiveness of many U.S. soldiers, whom Badr compared to "Yahoos," the thuggish characters of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." And they are upset that U.S. officials confiscated all of their prison writings and have published them under pseudonyms as a series of graphic novels published by Regnery.
Still, Badr sounds neither bitter nor an enemy of America. "I am curious to meet ordinary Americans. Not the sadistic perverts in military intelligence and the CIA," he said. "I appreciated my interrogators in Guantanamo. ... Though one assume their roles as torturers would not require urbanity and sophistication, they were extraordinarily misguided and uninformed, for example about my religion. ... But I must say all Americans cannot be such uncivilized, brutish and ignorant people." Wanna bet.