The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Vice-A Tortured Review

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Barcelona- I’m certainly no film critic, but I came away from the star studded Vice starring Welsh-born Christian Bale as Wyoming’s Richard ‘Dick’ Bruce Cheney, ruthless veteran Republican operator and titan of industry with several thoughts. Firstly as someone who lived through many of the events depicted in the latter portion of the film (9/11, the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, etc), I know first-hand what the results of neoconservative (a no-longer-in-fashion term never employed in Vice for obvious reasons) policy were at home-collecting date on citizenry-and abroad-bombing and killing-and therefore felt compelled to see the film as it opened in wide release a month or so ago.

A Neoconservative World Order

Vice elevates Cheney from a little understood yet enormously powerful bureaucrat to show him for the shadow master writer-director Adam McKay conceives him to be. It also portrays–without naming them as such–the alumni of the somewhat ominously named Project for a New American Century (then referred to be insiders and critics alike as PNAC for short) that sought to establish a democratic government, ostensibly one friendly or at least not hostile to Israel, in Iraq through large-scale militarised violence. How transparently dubious to things titled “Iraqi Liberation Act” and the ” Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” sound? These themes were spoofed in the 2005 film Syriana with its “Committee for the Liberation of Iran” that played upon many of the geopolitical fears prevalent at the time.

The world Dick Cheney left behind. View from the top of the Baghdad telecom tower with a view of a massive unfinished mosque. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

The film made me a bit sentimental for that period of what seemed like comparatively binary politics on the world stage as compared to the ongoing chaos we see today where it isn’t quite clear who is in charge of global affairs. This was an awful, momentous period in world order and breaches to the U.S. Constitution-the bedrock of rule-of-law in the United States–but as an observer of events at home and abroad, one could at least feel they had a firm grasp of who the players were and what their dogmatic aims were meant to achieve, whether perceived as beneficent or nefarious depending on one’s perspective. Today, citing the presence of American Special Operators in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (formerly known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria) as an example, no one seems to know what the hell is going on. When principal players like James Mattis and Brett McGurk resign overnight, the era portrayed in Vice seems relatively quiescent in terms of state stability in Washington. Not to make light of it, for the former begat the latter to be sure, but the present is certainly exponentially more embarrassing if not outright dangerous.

Degrees of Separation

What really got me personally was that there was a John “torture memo” Yoo character-I suppose coincidentally played by actor Paul Yoo of no apparent relation. Yoo, a upwardly mobile South Korean immigrant, helped to legally articulate one of the darkest periods in the known conduct of state actors in the American federal system in recent memory. When I was in Thailand last year fruitlessly looking for the still secret locale of Detention Site Green, the site where ‘waterboarding’ was first thought to have occurred as an American torture method after 9/11 in the context of the Terror Wars. As in Vice where global warming became “climate change,” torture would be rebranded as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Years ago I was friends with someone who’s sister was married to Yoo. I was quite curious at the time what it was like to have a legal architect of the 9/12 world for an in-law. We didn’t delve terribly far into this awkward topic. By this point, Yoo was comfortably ensconced in northern California teaching law at UC Berkeley-a fact I found a bit confounding being that he seemed to be as antithetical to that particular campus or town’s ascribed ethos. At the time, said friend didn’t profess much of an opinion of Yoo other than he was polite at family gatherings. I wanted to know more being a few degrees of separation from such a controversial–to put it kindly–figure put pried not much further. Months before the film’s theatrical release, I remembered that vague connection when traipsing around Thailand to no avail.

The Rise of Al-Zarqawi

Interestingly what I didn’t not expect from McKay’s epic was how central the name Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (né Ahmed Fadhil al-Khalayleh) would be to the plot line. Al-Zarqawi was oft described is an unsophisticated Jordanian street operator from the working class northern city of az-Zarqa who was radicalised in prison by the infamous salafi preacher Abu Muhammad al-Maqidisi there and went on to bounce around the miniverse that was global salafi-jihad at the time. Where I disagree with the film’s narrative is that it, perhaps for the sake of brevity, describes Zarqawi as the founder of “ISIS.” Firstly, I can’t stand the term ISIS because it simply is not factually correct in terms of Arabic to English transliteration. ISIL is far more correct despite there being no agreed upon standardised translation.  Secondly, even if it were correct, the group no longer calls itself ISIL It has been just “IS” for years now. Adherents even shorten that to just ad-Dawla, meaning “the State” which implies omnipotence and universality in their violently myopic thought-world.

Thirdly, Zarqawi died in a strike in June 2006 some seven years before ISIS/ISIL was declared. Zarqawi founded Jamaat al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad (Group for Monotheism and Holy War roughly). The Islamic State of Iraq–the organisation that would later become ISIS/ISIL/IS was formed several months after Zarqawi’s assassination by constituents of the Mujihideen Shura Council who sought to cohere a dominant salafi war-fighting group in the cacophonous theatre that was the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq at the time. Perhaps I’m being a bit too technical but I bristled at that line in the otherwise quite enjoyable film.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 6th, 2019 at 5:31 am

Posted in 9/11,Iraq,Thailand

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The Mystery of Detention Site Green

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Was the CIA’s torture prison in Thailand circa 2002 located here in Chiang Mai? ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Chiang Mai- Arriving in Thailand after a couple of months working in Iraq and Syria, I had what might seem like a fairly simple idea: to precisely locate the site of the 2002 CIA ‘black site’ where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. Here in Thailand was where so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” first began as the terror wars got underway.

The exact geolocation of the black site, once referred to as “Cat’s Eye” but later formally called “Detention Site Green” is still a matter of debate some 16 years on. The sites, often termed a ‘secret CIA prisons’ were colour coded once the system had been well established for forcibly migrating, interrogating and torturing HVDs (High Value Detainees). The heavily redacted report titled Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Techniques was released in in April 2014 with a declassified version published the US Senate that December.

This dated Thai mystery has reemerged with the nomination of agency deputy director Gina Haspel as CIA director. Haspel’s controversial nomination hearing is slated for 9 May. I thought it would be an opportune time to find the one-time torture site but such is far easier imagined than actually done. The Thai government, ruled as a military junta since 2014 and led by former army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha , still essentially denies the black site’s existence here in practical terms.

The location has been commonly thought to be in the northern province of Udon Thani at a Vietnam War-era Voice of America relay station in Ban Dung district southeast of the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The then governor of Udon Thani as well as the Prime Minister’s office strenuously denied the VoA station doubling as a prison as a baseless rumour back in November 2005.

An outline of Ban Dung district in Udon Thani province where a 2005 report alleged Detention Site Green was located. This has never been corroborated.

Detention Site Green was also once rumoured to be at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. This version of the location hasn’t been as common in speculation as of late but a recent inconclusive report by the Los Angeles Times still mentions it as a possible locale.

The commercial area of Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. The Los Angeles Times speculates Cat’s Eye may have been in a part of the facility used by the Royal Thai Air Force. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Adding to the conjecture, in 2016, The New York Times published a global black site map indicating the 2002 prison was located in the northern metropolis of Chiang Mai. But the article provided no supporting information regarding a possible Chiang Mai locale. In fact the place name Thailand is only mentioned in passing in said piece while Chiang Mai is not mentioned at all beyond the infographic illustrating the article.

A New York Times black site map published in October 2016 indicates the prison was in or near the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai but did not explain where this assertion originated from.

So where was Cat’s Eye/Detention Site Green? Was it in Chiang Mai as the NYT map asserts but does not explain? Was it in Udon Thani province as many originally suspected. A December 2014 report by the Bangkok Post that came in the wake of declassified Senate report alludes to it being in Udon Thani province but in a different locale at the Ramasun military camp rather than the old VoA rumour. Junta leader General Prayut adamantly denied the findings implicating Thailand in the 2014 report stating Thai authorities has no specific information on what their American allies were doing with terror suspects on Thai soil.

A 2014 Washington Post report states that The New York Times received a leak of the location of Detention Site Green but suppressed the information although the article by Greg Miller and Adam Goldman does not articulate why. Did the CIA via Bush White House convince then  NYT executive editor Bill Keller or Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to refrain from publishing the site’s location based on a lesser of evils concept regarding national security interests conflated with patriotism owing the the post 9/11 environment? Did the map the NYT published in 2016 specifically listing “Chiang Mai” hark back to that suppressed leak either inadvertently or surreptitiously? Did the NYT being the recipient of a leak lead to the end of Cat’s Eye and its coordinates forever vanishing into history?

Screenshot of a 2014 WaPo report mentioning the NYT has information on Detention Site Green.

This week the Los Angeles Times piece on Detention Site Green mentions a leak but doesn’t specify the outlet as WaPo did in 2014 above.

In contrast to the WaPo article from 2014, the LAT’s piece from 2018 does not mention NYT by name, but simply “U.S. media” by which I presume they mean the NYT unless there were other outlets that WaPo failed to mention in the citation above.

This forgotten yet incredibly significant locale in the context of the terror wars seems to have been buried in history. Those who know won’t or can’t talk and Thailand is not a politically transparent society under military rule after years of corrupt prime ministerships and protests in Bangkok. Here in the land of smiles was once the CIA’s first black site, a veritable laboratory for torture that would be used in other such dark venues in the early years of the terror wars. The use of torture greatly harmed America’s image abroad and I’m not simply referring to the European left.The known use of torture techniques here in Thailand and onto Afghanistan, Poland and elsewhere was detrimental to American foreign policy objectives in places far more sensitive where allies were needed to build sturdy partnerships.

Waterboarding undermined and betrayed American values at their core no matter who the suspects were. Men were snatched in Pakistan and other places and detained–and many still are detained–without due process of law, a fundamental American value. In the minds of captured suspects and their remaining fellow travelers still at large, this confirmed for them that the great power across the Atlantic was no better than Iraqi or Syrian Ba’athist mukhabarat, the Shah’s feared SAVAK or Communist Afghanistan’s ruthless KHAD  in is callous disregard for fundamental human rights.

Although Zubaydah’s interrogations in Thailand had supposedly ended by the time Haspel arrived here, she did oversee a couple of waterboardings of Saudi detainee Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri who Washington considers to be the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 sailors in Yemen’s Aden harbour in October 2000. In 2005 according the Associated Press, Haspel then facilitated the destruction of 92 videotapes that documented what occurred at Detention Site Green on her watch and that of her predecessor.

Yet we still have no reliable information on where this took place which is relevant to the historical record of the terror wars the world has been enduring for close to 17 years. Well, according to WaPo the NYT does…

A Decade of War and Peace

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Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

Between Guantánamo and Hellfire

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The campus of the Endolite prosthetic clinic in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia photographed on August 28, 2010. According to p.158 of the 9/11 Commission Report, Walid bin Attash ("Khallad")-who appeared with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the Guantánamo tribunal on May 5, 2012-traveled to Malaysia to obtain a replacement prosthesis here. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have the lead story in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about the hearing of KSM and Khallad at Guantánamo on Saturday, the killing of Fahd-al Quso in southern Yemen (or South Yemen if you prefer) by a drone strike on Sunday, and the apparent leak on Monday of the disruption of a suicide bomb plot believed to have the hand of AQAP’s Ibrahim al-Asiri. A very interesting succession of events to say the very least. The article contains some of my on-the-ground research on the background of the USS Cole attack and how that plan intersected with the 9/11 ‘planes operation.’ 

Written by derekhenryflood

May 9th, 2012 at 9:08 am

The Lost World

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Ao Nang- Did an elephant trek here today. Went for a ride atop the local megafauna Elephas maximus. These beasts of burden now take tourists around instead of logging. The other day one of their cousins, a 22 year old female up north in Lampang Province stepped on a land mine along the Burmese border and it gave me a little perspective on these gals down south who don’t have it so bad I rationalized.

Drinky, drinky. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

And we're off! Follow your nose. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Eyeing up the farang in her midst. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Don't bother me, I'm eating. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Our guide takes a well deserved smoke break with a coconut leaf cigarette. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

My beast of burden works up an appetite and wrestles palm fronds. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

End game. Time to wallow in their mud. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Reporting for duty! She is already gearing up for the next group of tourists.©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

August 12th, 2010 at 5:47 am

Terrorism in Thailand-New Article

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Ao Nang- I have a new article in this week’s edition of Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor about the recent, somewhat mysterious grenade explosions following a recent by-election for a parliamentary seat in Bangkok. The drama in BKK isn’t quite keeping all the tourists away from The Land of Smiles, just a lot out of the capital. Click on the blurb to read on.

Written by derekhenryflood

August 6th, 2010 at 6:21 am

Tropic Thunder

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Ao Nang beach before. Happy days are here again. ©2010 DHF

After. It's go time! ©2010 DHF

Ao Nang- I had planned to head out to the island Ko Phi Phi Don today when a nearly 6ft tall Nordic girl interrupted my conversation with the woman about to vend me a ferry ticket yesterday warning of particularly rough seas from a monsoon bank that would make landfall sometime today. I was doubtful of the severity of her warning until the whipping reality came to fruition exactly as she’d said. Unusually for the past week, it was all blue skies when I woke up today and I was psyched to continue work on my nascent tan, a tan which has been dormant since my last recent summer of glory, 2005. From blue to black, the Euro sun worshippers packed up and scurried off and I was the last man off the beach. I actually like being on the beach when it rains. OK it wasn’t exactly the Saigon embassy evacuation in ’75 but still…

My flight from Ao Nang beach wasn't quite this dramatic but I'm nonetheless proud to say I was the last man off the beach.

Dude looks like a ladyboy

Thailand has some funny contrasts that are probably healthier than a lot of other countries in terms of societal harmony. I rocked up to a street curry stall after buying my ferry ticket to Phi Phi and it was run by a Malay gal in hijab with a ladyboy waiter/waitress and they made a mean team. Not really knowing what it was I ordered the “Indian” curry thinking it might be milder than the ubër hot Thai curries I’ve been sweating out the past few weeks. Wrong. The Indian curry was not some south asian dish whatsoever, but apparently the hottest of all the curries sold there. Needless to say the hijabi girl and ladyboy were having a few laughs at my expense as I broke into a full sweat with Scandanavian tourists looking at me as if a sidewalk spectacle. I had to sprint to the store for a large, cold Chang® immediately afterwards.

Written by derekhenryflood

August 3rd, 2010 at 6:55 am

Cast Away…

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Nights lazing away at the Grand Inn. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Nights lazing away at the Grand Inn. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Ao Nang- My time here in Krabi Province has been closer to Cast Away than The Beach, two movies that hit theaters a decade ago about being stranded on beaches. Rather than a sultry latin Virginie Ledoyen (né Fernandez) sauntering out of the tide with a boss techno track blasting,

Not quite

it’s closer to Wilson the Volleyball. I’ve found some coconuts on the beach that I have befriended that act as a combination bowling/basket/football to play with in the surf. They also act as floatation devices when I get lazy. I’m here at the quietest time of year and was told by a Dutch bar owner who’s establishment I’ve been frequenting in the evenings that in the winter (aka high season), direct charter flights from the Nordic countries to Krabi (ie bypassing BKK) arrive here and this place becomes mobbed with Swedish and Finnish families pushing strollers and Kroner and Euros and prices skyrocket. Now it’s a bit lonely here which suits me just fine for the time being.

More like it

It’s hard to say whether the best part of being here is the food or the foot reflexology I’m undergoing. Either way it’s going to be tough to leave to Malaysia when the moment comes (when my 30 days are up on my tourist stamp). Ao Nang is being very lightly hit by the monsoon which I find refreshing. That same monsoon that has apparently killed hundreds (up to 800 at present) in flooding in the decidedly non-party zone of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province. Here all it does is keep the tourists out of the bay and leaves me to swim by myself amongst the anchored long tail boats in the quiet of dusk and read a book on NATO geopolitics on a virtually deserted beach.

Written by derekhenryflood

July 31st, 2010 at 8:20 am