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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
After alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces in July 2007 (see July 2007), he is soon transferred to a secret CIA prison. He is held in the CIA’s secret prison system until March 14, 2008, when he is transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. (Meyer and Williams 3/15/2008) It is not known when he is captured or handed to the CIA exactly, but a newspaper report on August 2, 2007, indicates he is already in US custody. (Asian News International 8/2/2007)
Secret CIA Prison System Still Operational - It is also not known where he is held exactly. In September 2006, President Bush announced that the CIA’s secret prisons had been emptied, at least temporarily, and the remaining prisoners had been transferred to Guantanamo (see September 6, 2006 and September 2-3, 2006). Since then, there has only been one instance of anyone held in secret CIA custody, and that was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, held by the CIA from autumn 2006 until April 2007 (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Rahim’s custody indicates that the CIA prison system is still being used, although Rahim may be the only prisoner held in it at this time. (Meyer and Williams 3/15/2008)
Is Rahim Interrogated Using Legally Questionable Methods? - In August and November 2007, an unnamed prisoner in a secret CIA prison is forced to stay awake for up to six days straight. This is almost certainly Rahim. The US State Department considers this treatment torture when other countries do it (see August and November 2007).
An unnamed prisoner held in the CIA’s secret prison system is kept awake for up to six days straight. According to documents made public in 2009, in August 2007, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) gives CIA interrogators permission to keep an unnamed prisoner awake for five days straight. The prisoner is kept awake by being forced to stand with his arms chained above the level of his heart. He is forced to wear diapers, so he can stay continuously chained without bathroom breaks. Then in November 2007, interrogators ask for and receive permission to keep a prisoner awake for another day. A prisoner is kept awake for six days straight.
Is It Torture? - According to the Associated Press: “Sleep deprivation beyond 48 hours is known to produce hallucinations. It can reduce resistance to pain, and it makes people suggestible. The State Department regularly lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture in its annual report on human rights abuses. Recent reports have noted Iran, Syria, and Indonesia as engaging in the practice.” The US-based Center for Victims of Torture considers 96 hours (four days) of sleep deprivation to be torture. One director of the organization says: “It’s a primary method that is used around the world because it is effective in breaking people. It is effective because it induces severe harm. It causes people to feel absolutely crazy.”
Who Is Interrogated? - The name of the prisoner is blacked out in documents. However, the Associated Press suggests that the most likely candidate by far is alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani. Rahim was arrested not long before, in July 2007 (see July 2007), and he is the only known prisoner in the CIA’s secret prison system at this time (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008). Furthermore, the US government will later declare him a “high value” detainee, most likely because he is said to have been in contact with Osama bin Laden as a translator and facilitator in recent years (see March 14, 2008).
Guidelines Exceeded? - At the time of the prisoner’s sleep deprivation, the Bush administration is reducing its use of severe interrogation techniques. Sleep deprivation is still allowed, but six days without any sleep exceeds existing guidelines. Amrit Singh, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, says these incidents are “particularly disturbing” because they occur “even after the Supreme Court held that these prisoners were entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions and after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act to specifically prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” When the Obama administration takes power in early 2009, it will issue new rules that state all prisoners must be allowed to sleep at least four hours during every 24-hour period. (Hess and Barrett 8/27/2009)
President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. (US Senate 8/5/2007; Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007) It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. (Risen 8/6/2007) Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” (Keefe 8/6/2007) The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. (Associated Press 8/5/2007; Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007)
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. (White House 8/6/2006)
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” (Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007)
On August 30, 2007, Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mahsud surround a convoy of more than 270 soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. The militants are vastly outnumbered, but get the soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. In the following days, dozens more soldiers surrender or even desert to Mahsud. This is a humiliating debacle for the Pakistani army and a reflection of low morale. The Washington Post comments: “The troops’ surrender has called into question the army’s commitment to fighting an unpopular war that requires Pakistanis to kill their countrymen. It has also exposed the army to ridicule.” (Witte 10/3/2007) Mahsud demands the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan, the tribal region where Mahsud is the de facto ruler. After weeks of slow negotiations, he orders the beheading of three of his hostages. On November 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declares a state of emergency throughout Pakistan (see November 3-December 15, 2007). Musharraf claims that his emergency powers will give him a stronger hand to fight militants like Mahsud, but the next day he releases 28 jailed militants in return for the release of the nearly 300 soldiers still held. Eight of the released militants are would-be suicide bombers. For instance, one of them had just been sentenced to 24 years in prison after being caught carrying two suicide belts. The incident propels Mahsud into becoming the figurehead of Pakistan’s militant movement, and from this time on many violent incidents are blamed on him, although his forces are probably not linked to them all. Mahsud had strong ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He fought with the Taliban in the 1990s and helped al-Qaeda leaders escape the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. (Witte 10/3/2007; Rashid 2008, pp. 385-388; Yousafzai and Moreau 1/7/2008)
A secret US government document from this month called the “Joint Task Force Guantanamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants” calls the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, a terrorist organization. The ISI is listed with al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah as threats. The document is meant for interrogators at the Guantanamo prison who are trying to determine which detainees to release. It suggests that any link to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist activity, and evidence the detainee poses a future threat. The US has never officially declared the ISI a terrorist group, suggesting its public posture differs from its private one for political reasons. After this and other Guantanamo documents are leaked to The Guardian in 2011, The Guardian will report: “The revelation that the ISI is considered as much of a threat as al-Qaeda and the Taliban will cause fury in Pakistan. It will further damage the already poor relationship between US intelligence services and their Pakistani counterparts, supposedly key allies in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants in south Asia.” The newspaper will further note that although the document is from 2007, it is unlikely the ISI’s status at Guantanamo has changed by 2011. Other Guantanamo documents leaked to The Guardian describe instances where the ISI helped US efforts, but also instances where the ISI was seen helping Islamist militants. (Burke 4/25/2011)
The Washington Post reports, “Today, al-Qaeda operates much the way it did before 2001. The network is governed by a shura, or leadership council, that meets regularly and reports to bin Laden, who continues to approve some major decisions, according to a senior US intelligence official. About 200 people belong to the core group and many receive regular salaries, another senior US intelligence official said.” This second official adds, “They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organization and not just as a loose bunch of guys.” Most of this core group is believed to be in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border. (Whitlock 9/9/2007) It has been estimated that there were roughly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives around 9/11, but only a core of about 200 had pledged loyalty to bin Laden (see Just Before September 11, 2001).
The Washington Post reports, “Pakistan’s government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.” Since the government’s raid on the Red Mosque in July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007), militants have gone all out in trying to overthrow the government, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been consumed by a struggle to stay in power (see October 6, 2007 and November 3-December 15, 2007) and has done little in return to fight them. Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, a top security official in the tribal regions until he retirement in 2005, says: “The federal government is busy with its problem of legitimacy. Getting Musharraf elected for another five years—that is keeping everything on hold.” Militants not only control much of the country’s mountainous tribal regions, but they are increasingly moving down the hills to threaten larger towns and cities. A Western military official based in Pakistan says the militants have “had a chance to regroup and reorganize. They’re well equipped. They’re clearly getting training from somewhere. And they’re using more and more advanced tactics.” But this official says that Pakistan’s military are “not trained for a counterinsurgency. It’s not their number one priority. It’s not even their number two priority.” This person adds, “The sad thing about it is that a lot of these militants are better off than the Frontier Corps,” referring to the Pakistani paramilitary force guarding the tribal region. The militants “have rockets. They have advanced weapons. And the Frontier Corps has sandals and a bolt-action rifle.” The Post notes that although the US has given about $10 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, “the aid does not seem to have won the United States many friends here. Nor has it successfully prepared the Pakistani army to battle insurgents.” (Witte 10/3/2007)
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. (CNN 10/19/2007)
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. (Gall and Masood 10/20/2007)
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. (Loudon 10/20/2007) The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. (CNN 10/20/2007)
A federal appeals court hears the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was the victor in a recent court decision that ruled he could no longer be held in military detention with no access to the US court system (see June 11, 2007). Al-Marri’s lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, asks the Fourth US Court of Appeals to uphold the recent verdict, which was rendered by a three-judge panel from the same court. Now the entire court is reconsidering the case at the government’s request. Hafetz says the court must uphold the decision. “To rule otherwise is to sanction a power the president has never had and was never meant to have.”
Authorization for the Use of Military Force - Judge Paul Neimeyer, a George H. W. Bush appointee, challenges Hafetz’s assertion that al-Marri cannot be held in military custody because he was not captured on a battlefield; to make such a claim would mean “25 or 30 terrorists could sneak into the US” and the military could not stop them. Justice Department lawyer Gregory Garre makes the same argument that the appeals court panel rejected—that Congress gave the president the authority to seize and detain anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda, regardless of where they were captured, when it passed its Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001). Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, appointed to the bench by former president Ronald Reagan, says that Congress could appeal or revise the AUMF whenever it likes. (O'Dell 10/31/2007) Wilkinson acknowledges that many have concerns that the AUMF “may have authorized some sweeping detention problem… [, b]ut people are not being swept off the streets of Omaha.” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz interjects, “No, it was Peoria.”
Question of Constitutionality - Wilkinson wonders why the “carefully targeted response by the government” has created “all this hoopla?” Comparing the detention of al-Marri and another enemy combatants, Jose Padilla, to the round-ups of German-Americans during World War I and of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Wilkinson asks if “we’ve lost our sense of perspective.” Judge Roger Gregory says: “The calculus for determining constitutionality is not whether we have a good king or a bad king. It’s not whether he stays his hand in generosity.” Motz and Gregory were the majority judges in the June decision. When Garre argues that al-Marri had ample opportunity to challenge his detention, and “squandered” those opportunities, Judge William Traxler asks, “How does a person who’s held incommunicado challenge” his detention? (Elkins 11/1/2007)
The FBI warns that al-Qaeda operatives are planning several holiday attacks on US shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago over the holiday period. (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) In an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities, the FBI says that the attacks have been planned for two years with the goal of disrupting the US economy. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 11/7/2007 ) The FBI received the information in late September and declassified it for the intelligence information reports. These reports routinely contain raw, unvetted or uncorroborated chatter about possible threats. It is estimated that the FBI released 8,000 such reports over the last year. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security Department have released about 200 threat bulletins possible plot trends that are based on actual events worldwide. (Watkins 11/8/2007) Questions are immediately raised about the alert. (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) As with previous threats, some in the media question the timing and necessity of such a warning. The FBI anticipates this and clarifies its intentions in releasing the memo. The report states that “this information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.” (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) Other intelligence officers raise the possibility that it could be “disinformation.” It is believed that the source only has “indirect access” to al-Qaeda. It is common for jihadist web sites and chat rooms to have comments discussing attacks on “soft targets,” such as shopping malls. Special Agent Richard Kolko says “out of abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities - even when the value of the information is unknown… Al-Qaeda messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the US or its interests; however, there is no information to state this is a credible threat. As always, we remind people to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities.” A Homeland Security official says “we have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack.” (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urges residents to go about their daily routines, but says that they should be “mindful of anything out of the ordinary.” (Watkins 11/8/2007)
A federal appellate court bars an Islamic charity accused of assisting terrorists from using a US government document to prove that it had been illegally spied upon (see February 28, 2006). The charity, the now-defunct Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see Late May, 2004), has been accused by the government and the UN Security Council of being affiliated with al-Qaeda; the charity’s officials deny the charges. In its finding, the three-judge panel rules in favor of the government’s argument that protecting “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) is of overriding importance in the case. Other courts have ruled that the Bush administration can refuse to disclose information if “there is a reasonable danger” it would affect national security. Al Haramain’s lawyers argued that the document is necessary to prove that it was illegally monitored. According to the ruling, the judges accept “the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena.”
Reaction Divided - Opinion is divided on the ruling. Constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University says the court’s deference to the “executive branch in situations like this [is] very troubling.” Another constitutional law professor, Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, says “the opinion is consistent with” an earlier ruling that struck down a challenge to the government’s surveillance program filed by the American Civil Liberties Union; Kmiec says the rulings indicate that “federal courts recognize that the essential aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program both remain secret and are important to preserve as such.”
Mixed Results - The appellate court does not give the government everything it asked for. It rejects the Justice Department’s argument that “the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret.” That finding may prove important in the other surveillance cases where the government is arguing that even to consider legal challenges to warrantless wiretapping endangers national security. The appeals court sends the case back to a lower court to consider whether or not the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires approval by a special court for domestic surveillance, preempts the state secrets privilege. The court also severs the Al Haramain case from other, similar lawsuits challenging the government’s secret surveillance program. (Weinstein 11/17/2007)
The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
“Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. (White House 11/26/2007)
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio message aimed at European listeners. (Sedarat 11/29/2007) As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm, gave advance notice of the tape’s release on the Internet. (Associated Press 11/26/2007) The voice on the tape urges Europeans to end troop commitments to Afghanistan, as American power is on the wane, “With the grace of God… the American tide is receding and they would eventually return to their home across the Atlantic… It is in your interest to force the hand of your politicians [away from] the White House.” The man also says that the Taliban had no knowledge of 9/11: “I am the one responsible… The Afghan people and government knew nothing whatsoever about these events.” In saying this, he claims that the US-led invasion of Afghanistan was wrong. Bin Laden names Nicolas Sazkozy and Gordon Brown as leaders of France and Britain, indicating that the tape was made at some time after June 2007. (Sedarat 11/29/2007)
In late 2007, top Bush administration officials draft a secret plan making it easier for US special forces to conduct missions to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan’s mountainous tribal region. A highly classified Defense Department order outlines the plan, which is designed to eliminate the sharp policy disagreements and turf battles that have bogged down US policy regarding al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan. But in late June 2008, the New York Times will report that “more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was ‘mounting frustration’ in the Pentagon at the continued delay.” (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
The trial of the “Miami Seven” results in a deadlocked federal jury after nine days of deliberations, with one man, Lyglenson Lemorin, acquitted and a mistrial declared for the other six. The men each faced four terrorism-related conspiracy charges that carry a combined maximum of 70 years in prison. The charges relate to an alleged terrorist cell formed by the men, who hoped to forge an alliance with al-Qaeda to carry out bombings against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI’s Miami office and other federal buildings (see June 23, 2006). The group operated out of a warehouse in the Liberty City section of Miami. (Anderson 12/13/2007) The arrests of the men in 2006 were heralded as a major victory for the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warned that, if “left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.” The alleged plot was used as an example of the government’s post-9/11 improvements to counter-terrorism methods. The men were members of the Moorish Science Temple, a sect that blends Islam, Christianity and Judaism and does not recognize the legitimacy of the US government. The majority of the evidence in the case came from an FBI Middle Eastern informant, Elie Assad, posing as an al-Qaeda operative named “Brother Mohammad.” He had worked for the FBI for years before he approached Narseal Batiste, the alleged ringleader. Among the evidence he obtained was a recording from March 16, 2006 in which the men vowed to act as “Islamic soldiers” for al-Qaeda. Other evidence included a further 12,000 recorded conversations, including one in which Batiste spoke of waging a “ground war.” The prosecution also presented surveillance photos some defendants took of federal buildings in Miami, wish lists of weapons, and a request for $50,000 made to the informant. Batiste claimed during the trial that he was conning the informant, just as the informant was conning him. He says he was desperate for money to aid his failing construction business, so he went along with the informant in hopes of tricking him into giving him $50,000. (Ripley 12/13/2007) The mistrial and acquittal is considered a major loss for the government and its strategy of pre-emptive prosecution of suspected terrorists. The jury of six men and six women twice sent notes to the presiding judge indicating they could not reach verdicts but were told to keep trying. The mistrial came after their third vote. (Anderson 12/13/2007) The jury foreman, Jeffrey Agron, says, “It was a very difficult case with a lot of evidence… people see evidence in different ways. There were different takes that people had.” A large part of the defense was based on the extensive FBI involvement in the plot: the warehouse was paid for by the FBI and the defendants moved their operations there at the suggestion of the FBI informant. The vows to al-Qaeda were instigated by the informant, who even suggested the bombing of the Miami FBI office. Defense attorney Albert Levin says, “The case was written, produced and directed by the FBI.” Attorney Joshua Dratel, who has defended several suspects in terrorism cases, says: “[A]re we interested in finding terrorists or creating them? Even in cases where people are found guilty, I’m not sure that [this strategy] is necessarily finding people who are a genuine danger. What it’s really doing is finding people who—with enough inducement and encouragement—may do something. But whether they would ever do anything on their own, we’ll never know.” A new trial is scheduled for next year. (Ripley 12/13/2007)
Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf mysteriously escapes from a prison in Pakistan. Authorities will say he escapes after freeing himself from handcuffs while being transported from one prison to another. The two policemen escorting him allowed him to stop and pray at a mosque. According to The Guardian, “The officers claimed that when Rauf walked into the mosque they waited outside in their car, never considering for a moment that he could simply walk out of the back door.” Furthermore, they do not report the escape for several hours. The two policemen on the duty are arrested, but it is unclear what happens to them. The Pakistani government will say they must have been bribed to allow Rauf to escape.
Linked to Pakistani Militant Group - Rauf, a dual Pakistani and British citizen, was implicated as a leader of a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain using liquid explosives (see August 10, 2006). He was arrested in Pakistan. His wife is closely related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant group that has a history of links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Was He Allowed to Escape to Avoid Extradition? - Rauf’s lawyer will claim that it is not a case of simple bribery. “You could call it a ‘mysterious disappearance’ if you like, but not an escape,” he will say. “The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not.” In December 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped, but he remained in Pakistani custody on charges of carrying explosives and forged identity papers (see December 13, 2006). In November 2007, those charges were dropped and a judge ordered his immediate release. But less than an hour later, the Pakistani government announced that he would be extradited to Britain to be charged in the airplane plot, and he would remain in custody until that happened. His escape took place as he was getting close to being extradited. People at the mosque where he is supposed to have escaped will say that they never saw him or any policemen on this day, and the police never came looking for him later. (Cobain 1/28/2008) In November 2008, it will be reported that Rauf was killed in a US drone strike, but his family will insist he remains alive (see November 22, 2008).
In mid-December 2007, 40 militant commanders in Pakistan’s tribal region and the North-West Frontier Province hold a secret meeting and unify their forces. They create a new umbrella organization called Tehrik-i-Taliban, meaning Movement of the Taliban. They are also known as the Pakistani Taliban. They appoint Baitullah Mahsud, head of militant forces in South Waziristan, as their overall leader. Mahsud became a key figure after his forces successfully kidnapped almost 300 Pakistani soldiers and then traded them for about 30 imprisoned militants (see August 30-November 4, 2007). Other key leaders attending the meeting are: Maulana Fazlullah, militant leader in the Swat Valley, Faqir Mohammed, leader in the tribal region of Bajour, and Sadiq Noor, leader in North Waziristan. Together, these commanders at the meeting are estimated to lead about forty thousand armed followers. The leaders are closely tied to the Taliban, as the name of the new organization indicates, and many are also linked to al-Qaeda. Mahsud in particular is believed to be in regular contact with al-Qaeda leaders, and looking to them for strategic direction. (Rashid 2008, pp. 386)
Al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab asks for questions from “individuals, agencies, and all media” to be put to al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The request is issued in the form of an advertisement posted on militant websites used by As-Sahab. The questions are to be submitted in writing by sending them to the Internet forums where As-Sahab traditionally posts its messages, no later than January 16, 2008. The forums should then forward the questions “with no changes or substitutions, no matter whether they agree or disagree [with the question].” According to the Associated Press (AP), this is the first such offer by al-Qaeda’s main leadership since 9/11, although an arm of the organization in Saudi Arabia did something similar a few years ago. AP calls al-Qaeda “increasingly media-savvy,” and reports the request as “a new twist in al-Qaeda’s campaign to reach a broader audience.” (Associated Press 12/20/2007) Al-Zawahiri will answer the questions in two installments in April (see April 2, 2008 and April 17, 2008).
IntelCenter, a US-based organization that conducts research into terrorism, finds that al-Qaeda has released more than 90 videos in 2007. This is more than al-Qaeda released in the previous three years put together. The videos were released through the organization’s media arm, As-Sahab. Al-Qaeda’s most prominent spokesman is its second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has issued at least 16 messages this year (see January 5, 2007, January 23, 2007, and July 11, 2007), whereas al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is only credited with issuing five (see September 7, 2007, September 11, 2007, September 20, 2007, October 22, 2007, and November 29, 2007). The Associated Press will comment: “The videos have grown more sophisticated in targeting their international audience. Videos are always subtitled in English, and messages this year from bin Laden and al-Zawahiri focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan have been dubbed in the local languages, Urdu and Pashtu. Videos and audiotapes have also had a faster turnaround, referring sometimes to events that occurred only days earlier. The al-Qaeda leaders’ messages are often interwoven with footage of past attacks, militants training, and TV news clips of world events and leaders including President Bush—evidence that their producers have easy access to media.” (Associated Press 12/20/2007)
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell says that the 9/11 hijackers could not be monitored in the US because they did not commit any crimes. He says in a speech: “[I]f Mohamed Atta had been in Pakistan and we were tracking him, some way to track him—he went to Turkey, went to Europe, got over to Canada, we’d track him as foreign intelligence target, and he crosses into the United States, he’s now a US person; he gets all of the rights and privileges that you get. He’s invisible to your intelligence community. As long as he doesn’t break the law, law enforcement can’t conduct surveillance because they don’t have a probable cause. Al-Qaeda recognized that and that is why 9/11 happened in my view.” (McConnell 1/17/2008 ) The 9/11 hijackers committed various offenses for which they could have been arrested in the US, such as lying on visa application forms (see August 29, 2001), overstaying their visas (see January 18, 2001, May 20, 2001 and January 10, 2001), driving without a license (note: a warrant for Mohamed Atta’s arrest was even issued in the summer of 2001—see June 4, 2001), and having a known role in blowing up the USS Cole, thereby murdering 17 US servicemen (see Around October 12, 2000). The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was also specifically designed so that the FBI and other agencies could monitor agents of foreign powers in the US even if they did not commit a crime (see 1978).
A group of suspected suicide bombers are arrested in Barcelona, Spain. Twelve are Pakistani and two are Indian, and all of them had trained at militant camps in Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where al-Qaeda has a safe haven. One of the suspected suicide bombers is actually an informant for French intelligence, known by the name Asim (see Late January 2008). Having just arrived in Barcelona from the safe haven several days before, Asim mistakenly believes that an attack is imminent. But in the rush to quickly arrest the suspects, at least six of them get away, with one supposedly taking most of the explosives with him. Spain’s leading counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon says, “In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe. Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here.” Asim claims the suspects were going to start with an attack in Barcelona, which was going to be followed by demands from al-Qaeda through Baitullah Mahsud, a militant leader in Waziristan. If their demands were not met, they would stage more attacks in Spain and then in other European countries. US officials say they monitored phone calls to Pakistan by some of the suspects. Some suspects were already under surveillance by Spanish intelligence. (Sciolino, Burnett, and Schmitt 2/10/2008)
Jose Padilla (see May 14, 2007), convicted in August 2007 of conspiring to assist terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, is sentenced for his crimes. Padilla was not charged with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” as Bush administration officials have long alleged (see June 10, 2002). He is sentenced to over 17 years in prison, but is not sentenced to life in prison, as Judge Marcia Cooke could have given him. Cooke gives Padilla some credit for his detention in a US naval brig, and agrees that he was subjected to what she calls “harsh conditions” and “extreme environmental stresses” while there. “I do find that the conditions were so harsh for Mr. Padilla… they warrant consideration in the sentencing in this case,” she rules. Padilla does not get credit for time served. Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), are also convicted; Hassoun receives over 15 years in prison and Jayyousi is sentenced to over 12 years. Cooke says that the prosecution failed to prove that either defendant was responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped, or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere,” she rules. The reactions from the defendants’ lawyers and family members are mixed. “I feel good about everything. This is amazing,” says Padilla’s mother, Estela Lebron. Hassoun’s lawyer, Jeanne Baker, calls the verdict “a defeat for the government.” And Jayyousi’s lawyer, William Swor, says: “The government has not made America any safer. It has just made America less free.” (Associated Press 1/22/2008) Padilla will serve his prison sentence at a so-called “supermax” prison facility in Colorado. Domestic terrorists such as Terry Nichols, convicted of conspiring to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994), “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996), and al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005) are also held at this facility. (Lewandowski 4/19/2008)
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” (Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” (Froomkin 1/23/2008)
Reporter Amy Goodman interviews Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the co-author of a study that documents 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top advisers in the two years before the Iraq invasion (see January 23, 2008). Lewis says that, after the raft of government reports that admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no links to al-Qaeda, he and his fellow researchers became interested in who stated those falsehoods, how they did so, and how often: “In other words, how did we get from this not being true to it being a war and what happened there?” Goodman asks if “what [the administration officials] knew behind the scenes and what they were saying publicly” is so different, then “aren’t you talking about lies?” Lewis is more diplomatic, replying that Bush and his seven officials chose “certain information over other information.” What interested him and his fellow researchers was “the process inside the White House… how this campaign was orchestrated.” The White House has apparently destroyed much of the documentary and electronic trail surrounding the run-up to war, he notes, and Congress has not held any hearings on the decision to invade Iraq. Perhaps, Lewis says, this analysis will be the beginning of a better understanding of that process and even the precursor to a real investigation. Lewis says that without interviewing the people involved, he must hesitate to call the 935 statements outright lies. Reporter Bob Drogin, author of the book Curveball that examines one of the linchpin sets of falsehoods that drove the US into war, says he is not sure what to think about the discussion over whether or not the 935 falsehoods are actually lies. “I mean, it’s sort of like asking, to me, whether they, you know, forgot to put their turn signal on before they drove off a bridge. I mean, they took us into the midst of a—you know, a terrible, a horrific, tragic war, and they did it on the basis of ponied-up false intelligence. And sort of where they pushed the evidence here or there is sort of—to me, is sort of secondary. The fact is, they got it absolutely wrong on every single quarter.” (Goodman 1/24/2008)
On January 16, 2007, a young man known as Asim arrives in Barcelona. He had recently been living in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan as an informant for French intelligence. He comes to Barcelona to inform on a group of Pakistanis living in that town who spent time in Pakistani training camps and allegedly are planning a series of suicide attacks in Spain and possibly other European countries. He is posing as one of the suicide bombers. Fearing that an attack is imminent, Spanish authorities arrest most of the suspects three days later (see January 19, 2008). But the Spanish decide that they don’t have enough physical evidence to successfully prosecute the arrested suspects, and they turn Asim into a protected witness for the prosecution. The New York Times will comment, “the case has caused diplomatic friction among investigators. Spain’s handling of the French informant has enraged officials at France’s intelligence agencies and eroded trust between the countries, French and other European officials said. The informant’s value as a source was destroyed when he was made a prosecution witness and the contents of his statements were leaked to the news media.” Asim’s case contradicts the commonly held notion that intelligence agencies have been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda’s central command (see March 20, 2008). But many questions remain. It is unclear when he first penetrated Waziristan as an informant, how much time he spent there, and how high level his al-Qaeda contacts there were. (Sciolino, Burnett, and Schmitt 2/10/2008)
A militant in a video message released this month has an interesting background. The message supports Shabab, one of two radical Islamic groups fighting for power in war-torn Somalia. According to a US intelligence source, the militant in the video, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, is an ex-US soldier who fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. No US soldiers officially fought in the Bosnia war, but about a dozen Muslim ex-US Special Forces soldiers fought in Bosnia and trained al-Qaeda and other mujaheddin forces there around 1993 (see December 1992-June 1993). At the time, the US military and Saudi government apparently had an interest in sending Muslim ex-Special Forces there (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992). Mansoor is said to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda’s East Africa leadership, and is a lead trainer for Somali insurgent forces. Although he only appears on video wearing a face mask, it is clear that he is Caucasian. (Gartenstein-Ross 2/28/2008)
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. (Gorman 2/6/2008) Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” (Davies 2/11/2008) Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) (Savage 2/11/2008) But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” (Davies 2/11/2008)
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. (Gumbel 2/12/2008) The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” (National Public Radio 2/15/2008) Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” (Fox News 2/17/2008)
Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University, and lawyer George Brent Mickum write of their plans to meet with Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as part of his legal defense team. The lawyers write: “Zubaydah’s world became freezing rooms alternating with sweltering cells. Screaming noise replaced by endless silence. Blinding light followed by dark, underground chambers. Hours confined in contorted positions. And, as we recently learned, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. We do not know what remains of his mind, and we will probably never know what he experienced.” What exactly the CIA did to Zubaida may never be determined, as the agency destroyed the videotapes of his interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Zubaida’s subsequent confessions to FBI agents are essentially meaningless, the lawyers assert, because his will and mind were already irrevocably broken by the time of the FBI interviews. The lawyers hope to piece together what Zubaida knew and what was done to him, although they are not confident they will be given the documentation necessary to find out what they want to know. They fear that, if they are not able to learn the truth of Zubaida’s participation with al-Qaeda and the interrogation methods he was subjected to, then in his and others’ cases, the truth will be “only what the administration reports it to be. We hope it has not come to that.” (Margulies and Mickum 2/23/2008)
The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. (Schmidt 2/27/2008) In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and officially declared a “high value” prisoner. Rahim was captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces in July 2007 (see July 2007) and then was held in a secret CIA prison until his transfer to Guantanamo (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008).
Why Is Rahim Considered Important? - Rahim is just the 16th person the US government has declared a “high value” prisoner. Fourteen prisoners were given that label when they were transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo in September 2006 (see September 6, 2006 and September 2-3, 2006). The 15th was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who was held by the CIA in autumn 2006 and sent to Guantanamo in April 2007 (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). (Meyer and Williams 3/15/2008) Although there had been reports in Pakistan about Rahim shortly after his arrest, virtually nothing was known about him until his transfer to Guantanamo. (Asian News International 8/2/2007) He may have experienced extreme sleep deprivation during CIA interrogations (see August and November 2007).
Hayden's Memo - There still are no published photographs of him. At the same time Rahim is sent to Guantanamo, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a memo to CIA employees explaining Rahim’s alleged importance. Hayden calls Rahim a “tough, seasoned jihadist” with “high-level contacts,” and claims his arrest “was a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other anti-coalition militants.” According to Hayden, Rahim sought chemicals for an attack on US forces in Afghanistan and tried to recruit people who had access to US military facilities there. He helped prepare Tora Bora as a hideout in 2001, and then helped al-Qaeda operatives flee the area when US forces overran it in late 2001. But perhaps most importantly, Rahim had become one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators and translators in the years prior to Rahim’s arrest. (Meyer and Williams 3/15/2008; Mazzetti 3/15/2008)
The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. (Whitlock 3/20/2008) Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio message urging Muslims to join the insurgency in Iraq, as this is the “nearest jihad battlefield to support our people in Palestine.” The message comes one day after the previous communication thought to be from bin Laden (see March 19, 2008) and just over five years after the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). According to the person thought to be bin Laden, “Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron,” and Arab leaders were complicit in Israeli attacks on Gaza. “The people of the blessed land should sense the great favour God has bestowed upon them and do what they should do to support their mujahideen brothers in Iraq,” the speaker says. “It is a great opportunity and a major duty for my brothers the Palestinian emigrants [in Arab countries], between whom and jihad on the plains of Jerusalem a barrier has been built.” (BBC 3/20/2008)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape calling for attacks on Israeli and Western targets to avenge recent Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. The tape is released by posting to the Internet and produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab. “O Muslims. Today is your day. Hit the interest of the Jews and the Americans and all those who participated in the aggression against Muslims,” says al-Zawahiri. “Monitor the targets, collect the money, prepare the hardware, plan accurately, and then attack.” Al-Zawahiri adds, “No one can say today that we should fight the Jews in Palestine only,” and calls for Muslims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against Israel. Demonstrations only serve to let off steam, he says, so Palestinians should focus on armed struggle. “Let them know that they would bleed for every dollar they spend on killing Muslims,” he says. “They cannot… insult our prophet and support Israel, and expect to live in peace in their countries.” Al-Zawahiri also accuses Arab leaders of colluding with the US and Israel in blockading Palestinians in Gaza. “The satanic alliance shows us its ugliness and how low it is, an alliance of the crusaders and the Jews and with them [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, and [Saudi Arabia’s ruling] Saud family, and the son of al-Hussein [Jordan’s King Abdullah].” (Reuters 3/24/2008)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. (John C. Yoo 3/14/2003 ; United Press International 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008) According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). (American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008) The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” (Cornell University Law School 8/19/2007) Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” (American Civil Liberties Union 4/2/2008)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a 90-minute audiotape with the first part of responses to questions solicited from the public and journalists (see December 19, 2007). In the replies, he rejects criticism of attacks by al-Qaeda’s followers that have killed thousands of people, maintaining al-Qaeda does not kill innocent people. “We haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else,” says al-Zawahiri. “If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.” (Associated Press 4/2/2008) The second part of the responses will be issued later in the month (see April 17, 2008).
Columnist and veteran news commentator Ruth Conniff writes in the Progressive that she is disturbed both by the news that senior Bush officials signed off on the use of specific torture methods against al-Qaeda suspects in US custody (see April 2002 and After), and by the fact that the mainstream media, with notable exceptions, has virtually ignored the story. Between this story and the follow-up that President Bush himself knew of the discussions and approvals (see April 11, 2008), Conniff asks: “Why is this not bigger news? Remember when the nation was brought to a virtual standstill over Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern? We now have confirmation that the president of the United States gave the OK for his national security team to violate international law and plot the sordid details of torture. The Democrats in Congress should be raising the roof.” (Conniff 4/14/2008)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a second set of responses to questions solicited by al-Qaeda in December 2007 (see December 19, 2007 and April 2, 2008). (al-Zawahiri 4/17/2008 ; Associated Press 4/22/2008; Keath 4/23/2008) The response comes in a two-hour audio recording posted to an Islamic website and accompanied by the logo of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm. Al-Zawahiri’s comments include:
The theory that Israel carried out the September 11 attacks is false and was started by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, through the Al-Manar television station. “The purpose of this lie is clear—[to suggest] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no [one] else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it,” he says. “Iran’s aim here is also clear—to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.” In recent audio recordings, al-Zawahiri has accused Iran of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The insurgent umbrella group Islamic Nation of Iraq led by al-Qaeda is “the primary force opposing the crusaders and challenging Iranian ambitions” in Iraq.
In response to a question about whether al-Qaeda plans to attack Western countries involved in Iraq, he replies: “My answer is: Yes! We think that any country that has joined aggression on Muslims must be deterred.”
This includes Japan, which pulled its non-combat troops out of Iraq in 2006, because “Japan provided help under the banner of the crusader coalition… therefore it participated in the crusader campaign against the lands of Islam.”
Global warming reflects “how criminal, brutal, and greedy the Western crusader world is, with America at the top.” However, global warming will “make the world more sympathetic to and understanding of the Muslims’ jihad against the aggressor America.”
There are no women in al-Qaeda, although “the women of the mujaheddin are playing a heroic role in taking care of their houses and sons.”
The Taliban have taken over 95 percent of Afghanistan and are sweeping Pakistan as well. “The crusaders and their agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan are starting to fall,” al-Zawahiri adds.
It is against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country because in doing so they would “have permanent stay there under the laws of the infidels.” (Associated Press 4/22/2008; Keath 4/23/2008)
Al-Zawahiri also singles out some countries for threats, such as Denmark, saying: “Denmark has done her utmost to demonstrate her hostility towards the Muslims by repeatedly dishonoring our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation. I admonish and incite every Muslim who is able to do so to cause damage to Denmark in order to show your support for our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, and to defend his esteemed honor.” (al-Zawahiri 4/17/2008 ) Al-Qaeda will attack the Danish embassy in Pakistan six weeks later. (Jyllands-Posten 6/2/2008)
President Bush says that the election of a Democrat in 2008 might lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “I wonder if you—various people and various candidates talk about pulling out next year. If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario?” Bush replies, “Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.” After making this statement, Bush repeats several statements that he has been making for years: Iraq “just happens to be” part of the global war on terror, Iraq “is the place where al-Qaeda and other extremists have made their stand,” and terrorists “can’t stand to live in a free society, that’s why they try to fight free societies.” (Allen 5/13/2008) MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann calls Bush’s claim “ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou and… bone-headedly wrong,” and says, “Terrorism inside Iraq is your creation, Mr. Bush.” (Olbermann 5/14/2008)
A new audio message is released by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden. In the message, which lasts about nine minutes and is posted to a website commonly used by al-Qaeda, the speaker calls on Muslims to continue the fight to liberate Palestinian land. The speaker pledges to continue fighting the Israelis and not give up “a single inch of Palestine,” adding that the Palestinian cause is the most important factor driving al-Qaeda’s war with the West. The tape’s release comes around the time of Israel’s 60th anniversary, when US President Bush is in Israel to attend the anniversary celebrations (BBC 5/16/2008)
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio tape calling on Muslim fighters to help end the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In the tape, released by posting on the Internet, the speaker says it is the duty of every Muslim to fight the “oppressive closure.” The tape is released two days after the previous one (see May 16, 2008), on the day US President Bush ends a visit to the Middle East. (Sky News 5/18/2008)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape criticizing his native Egypt for not opening up its border to Palestinians. The 11-minute tape is released by posting to the Internet to mark the 41st anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. “The brother from Gaza is refused entry [by Egypt], while an Israeli tourist is allowed to enter without a visa,” says al-Zawahiri, calling for an end to Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. He also terms Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his troops “criminal traitors” for perpetuating the siege of Gaza. “Salvation of the Muslim nation is through the march of its sons on the path of jihad,” he adds. (Al Jazeera 5/5/2008)
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. (Hess 6/5/2008) The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. (Rushing 6/5/2008)
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” (Cruz 6/6/2008)
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
“Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
“Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
“Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. (Senate Intelligence Committee 6/5/2008 ; Hess 6/5/2008; Cruz 6/6/2008) Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” (Walls 6/5/2008)
David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. (Milbank 6/27/2008) He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” (Barnes 6/27/2008)
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
Conyers: “Do you support it?”
Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. (Milbank 6/27/2008) (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) (Barnes 6/27/2008) Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” (Khanna 6/26/2008; Milbank 6/27/2008)
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” (Milbank 6/27/2008) Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” (Human Rights First 6/26/2008; Kuttruff 6/27/2008)
The New York Times publishes a long front-page analysis of the policy disputes and mistakes that have bogged down US efforts to combat al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The article reveals that the US effort has often been “undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the CIA, including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas.… [B]y most accounts, the administration failed to develop a comprehensive plan to address the militant problem there, and never resolved the disagreements between warring agencies that undermined efforts to fashion any coherent strategy.” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state for President Bush’s first term and the administration’s point person for Pakistan, says, “We’re just kind of drifting.” Pakistan’s policy as led by President Pervez Musharraf has also been adrift and/or ineffective: “Western military officials say Mr. Musharraf was instead often distracted by his own political problems, and effectively allowed militants to regroup by brokering peace agreements with them.” The Times concludes, “Just as it had on the day before 9/11, al-Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States.” The camps are smaller than the ones used prior to 9/11, but one retired CIA officer estimates that as many as 2,000 militants train in them at any given time, up from several hundred in 2005. “Leading terrorism experts have warned that it is only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack planned in the mountains of Pakistan is carried out on American soil.” (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
A suicide bomber named Ahmed al-Mashjari crashes a van full of explosives into a government security headquarters in the eastern province of Hadramaut in Yemen. Four are killed, including a Yemeni soldier. The al-Qaeda affiliate Soldiers of Yemen Brigades takes credit for the bombing, calling al-Mashjari a “heroic martyr.” The Yemeni government is said to have a tacit agreement whereby al-Qaeda operatives are left alone and in return they do not attack targets within Yemen. But Nadia al-Sakkaf, editor of the Yemen Times, says: “There was a deal [with the jihadis] but it’s not working any more. Now there are just fanatics who want to be hired by al-Qaeda, people who have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and have no skills, who are not integrated into society and have no education. They are brainwashed. Jihad is all they know.” (Yemen News Agency 7/27/2008; Black 7/30/2008)
A US drone strike kills al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri). He is one of six people killed in the strike on a compound in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Mursi, an Egyptian, was considered a poisons and explosives expert, and was accused of training the suicide bombers in the 2000 USS Cole bombing. He also is believed to have run the Darunta training camp in eastern Afghanistan until it was abandoned during the US invasion in late 2001. The US had put a $5 million bounty on him. A statement by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid posted on the Internet about a week later will confirm his death. (Johnson 8/3/2008)
Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. (Lamb 8/3/2008)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape about Pakistan on which he speaks English. This is the first recording he has released in English, a language al-Zawahiri says he chose because he wants to speak directly to the Pakistani people, but cannot speak Urdu, the predominant language there. The message, produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab, is aired by the ARY One World news network, but is apparently not made available anywhere else on the Internet. On the tape, al-Zawahiri lists a series of grievances he has against the Pakistani government and US involvement there, as well as relating his own personal experiences living in Pakistan. (Schecter 8/10/2008)
The US dramatically increases the number of CIA drone attacks on Islamist militant targets in Pakistan, and no longer relies on permission from the Pakistani government before striking. Bush administration officials had been increasingly concerned about al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Pakistan’s tribal region. A 2006 peace deal between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government gave al-Qaeda and other militant groups a chance to recover from earlier pressures (see September 5, 2006). However, the Bush administration had close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who did not want more aggressive US action. But Musharraf resigns on August 18, 2008 (see August 18, 2008), and within days, President Bush signs a secret new policy.
More Drone Strikes - From August 31, 2008, until late March 2009, the CIA carries out at least 38 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. By contrast there were only 10 known drone strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. There were three strikes in 2006, seven strikes in 2007, and 36 in 2008 (all but seven of those took place after Musharraf resigned in August). Drone capabilities and intelligence collection has improved, but the change mainly has to do with politics. A former CIA official who oversaw Predator drone operations in Pakistan will later say: “We had the data all along. Finally we took off the gloves.”
Permission No Longer Needed - Additionally, the US no longer requires the Pakistani government’s permission before ordering a drone strike. US officials had suspected that many of their targets were tipped off by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Now this is no longer a concern. Getting permission from Pakistan could take a day or more. Sometimes this caused the CIA to lose track of its target (see for instance 2006). (Miller 3/22/2009)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video accusing Iran of collaborating with the United States. Excerpts of the video are played on the Qatar-based pan-Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera, but apparently not posted to the websites usually used for disseminating such videos. Al-Zawahiri says Tehran is “cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,” and denounces the Iranians for recognizing the two governments. “Not even one Shiite authority—whether in Iraq or elsewhere—has issued a fatwa [religious edict] obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he adds. The video also features clips of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. (Los Angeles Times 9/9/2008)
Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that Walid Shoebat, who claims to be a reformed terrorist and is now a favorite guest of right-wing radio hosts, tells host G. Gordon Liddy that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is “definitely a Muslim,” a patent falsehood that has been repeatedly debunked (see January 22-24, 2008). Shoebat also repeats another widely debunked falsehood, that terrorist groups such as Hamas have proclaimed their support for Obama. Shoebat briefly discusses Obama’s supposed “indoctrination” in Indonesian “madrassas” (as a child, Obama was educated in an Indonesian Catholic school for a brief period), then says: “No one is called Hussein unless he is Muslim. So it is very clear that Barack Hussein Obama is definitely a Muslim.” Anyone who leaves the Muslim faith is to be killed, Shoebat claims, so Obama is by definition a Muslim by dint of still being alive. Shoebat also says: “from al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas, every single Muslim terrorist organization supports Barack Hussein Obama. So why would Americans want to have a president that is connected to Islam and that is proud to be Muslim?” (Media Matters 9/11/2008)
Al-Qaeda releases a martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi. In the ten-minute video, in Arabic with English subtitles, Alghamdi says, “There are many proofs which clarify and encourage martyrdom operations. They are one of the ways of massacring the enemies of Allah, so you must carry them out.” The video was most likely recorded in Afghanistan in March 2001, at the same time most of the other hijackers recorded martyr videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)). This is the seventh one released. (Hughes 9/22/2008) Alghamdi’s speech is part of a 90-minute video featuring speeches by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and others. Al-Qaeda promised through the Internet to release the video in time for the 9/11 anniversary, as it did with other 9/11 hijacker videos each year, but the video appears one week late. Some counterterrorism experts say the delay could be a sign that al-Qaeda’s propaganda efforts are faltering. (Associated Press 9/19/2008; Sun-Herald (Sydney) 9/21/2008) Al-Qaeda will not release any hijacker videos in 2009 or 2010.
A CIA drone kills al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. The drone strike hits the village of Taparghai, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The CIA claims that Habib, an Egyptian, is the group’s fourth-ranking leader. Four people are said to be killed. It is said Habib became al-Qaeda’s chief of operations for the tribal region after Abu Ubaida al-Masri died from hepatitis around January 2008. (Shah 10/17/2008; Shahzad 10/29/2008) Little had been previously reported on Habib. But in early 2007, a New York Times article listed him as one of a handful of important new al-Qaeda leaders, and the FBI called him “one of the five or six most capable, most experienced terrorists in the world.” (McNamara 3/15/2007; Mazzetti 4/2/2007) A drone strike failed to kill Habib in 2006 (see 2006).
Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. (Glaberson 11/20/2008; McCarthy 11/20/2008) The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. (Cameron-Moore 12/7/2008; Hindu 12/9/2008)
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). (Cameron-Moore 12/7/2008) Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. (Rondeaux 12/9/2008) The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. (Cameron-Moore 12/7/2008) The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” (Karl 12/15/2008; Karl 12/15/2008) In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).
A CIA drone strike kills two al-Qaeda leaders, Usama al-Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Al-Kini, a Kenyan also known as Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam, is said to be al-Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan since 2007. Swedan, also a Kenyan, is al-Kini’s long-time deputy. Both men are said to be linked to a recent series of suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a September 16 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 53 people. Both are said to have had central roles in planning the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The FBI had a $5 million bounty for their capture. An anonymous US counterterrorism official says that al-Kini is one of the top 10 highest ranking terrorists the CIA ever killed or captured. The drone strike is said to have hit a building being used for explosives training near the town of Karikot in South Waziristan. (Warrick 1/9/2009)
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio recording calling for violent jihad over a recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. In an audio tape, entitled “A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression against Gaza” and posted on Islamist websites, the speaker questions America’s stomach for the fight with radical Islam. “God has bestowed us with the patience to continue the path of jihad for another seven years, and seven and seven years,” the speaker says. “The question is, can America continue its war with us for several more decades to come? Reports and evidence would suggest otherwise.” The speaker also condemns Arab governments for preventing their people from acting to “liberate Palestine,” and adds: “Our brothers in Palestine, you have suffered a lot… the Muslims sympathise with you in what they see and hear. We, the mujahidin, sympathise with you also.… We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom.” The London Times comments, “The al-Qaeda leader has placed growing emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years (see May 16, 2008 and May 18, 2008) and today’s audio tape was accompanied by a still of bin Laden and a picture of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine.” (Naughton 1/14/2009)
The US Treasury Department freezes the assets of four alleged al-Qaeda operatives. The men are:
Saad bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, who has just escaped from house arrest in Iran (see (Between December 2008 and January 2009)). The US seems to think he is linked to terrorist activities, although his family denies it;
Mustafa Hamid, who the Treasury says is a key intermediary between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government;
Muhammad Raba al-Sayid al-Bahtiyti, an Egyptian thought to be a trusted aide to al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
Ali Saleh Husain, a logistics operative for al-Qaeda.
In addition to freezing their assets, the Treasury Department prohibits Americans from having financial transactions with the men. (Gorman 1/16/2009)
The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. (Associated Press 1/23/2009)
A former Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently resurfaces as a deputy leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, prompting concerns that closing the detention facility might lead to the release of potentially dangerous terrorists. Said Ali al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and given over to Saudi custody, where he went through what the New York Times calls a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists.” He is suspected of helping carry out a bombing attack near the American Embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Al-Qaeda in Yemen identifies its new deputy leader as “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri”; “Abu Sayyaf” is a commonly used nom de guerre used by jihadists to conceal their real identities. Almost half of the 245 remaining detainees in Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals like al-Shihri; the US is helping Yemen implement a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi program. The Saudis claim that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism. The Pentagon claims that dozens of released Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” but has provided no documentation of the claim, and many critics disbelieve it (see January 13-14, 2009). Yemeni journalist Abdulela Shaya and terrorism analyst Gregory Johnson both say that the Guantanamo detainee and the Yemeni al-Qaeda deputy are the same person. (Worth 1/22/2009)
A CIA-controlled Predator drone assassinates four Arabs in Pakistan. New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer will later comment that the men are “all likely affiliated with al-Qaeda.” (Mayer 10/26/2009)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” (Harris, Allen, and Vanderhei 2/4/2009) Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 2006).
More than 30 people are killed in a CIA drone attack in Pakistan. According to reporter Jane Mayer, 25 of them are “apparently members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, though none [are] identified as major leaders.” (Mayer 10/26/2009)
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” (Time 2/27/2009; Howard 2/27/2009)
Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, publishes an article entitled “Osama bin Elvis” in the American Spectator arguing that Osama bin Laden is dead. “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama bin Laden,” writes Codevilla. He cites as evidence apparent differences in the facial features of people said to be bin Laden in video messages, problems with voice analysis—an independent Swiss facility found a recording the US attributed to bin Laden was not actually by him (see November 29, 2002), clear changes in bin Laden’s rhetoric after 9/11, problems with the “confession” video (see Mid-November 2001), and numerous reports of his death. According to Codevilla, if bin Laden’s death were popularly acknowledged, it would have serious policy ramificiations for the US. (Codevilla 3/2009)
American Delta Force commandos in Afghanistan reportedly net a “high ranking al-Qaeda official” in a secret raid that leaves five people dead, upsetting German military officials and intelligence sources who later tell Der Spiegel magazine that the US forces are actually used by a drug clan to execute an underworld rival. The secret raid, which the Germans describe as “unilateral,” takes place in Kunduz province where German forces are assisting with security and reconstruction. According to the Der Spiegel report, the operation commences when a US liaison officer asks a German reconstruction team to guard the Kunduz airport without informing the Germans of the impending operation. A Hercules transport aircraft then lands at the airfield together with a fleet of combat and transport helicopters, which then take off for the nearby town of Imam Sahib. There, the American commandos reportedly storm a guesthouse owned by the local mayor, killing his driver, cook, bodyguard, and two of his guests. According to the US military, one of those captured is the target of the operation, a “high-ranking” member of al-Qaeda, but Der Spiegel reports that the tip-off to the person’s location comes from a source in a rival drug clan close to a member of the Afghan government reputed to be deeply involved in the drug trade. High-ranking German commanders in Afghanistan are later understood to have alerted Der Spiegel to the mission and intelligence sources explain how the Americans are “set up.” There will be no immediate comment from the American military regarding the allegations. (Der Spiegel (Hamburg) 3/30/2009; Hall 3/30/2009)
The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” (Finn and Warrick 3/29/2009)
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” (Blitzer 3/30/2009; Black 3/31/2009)
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. (Linzer 4/16/2009) Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Guantanamo detainee Rafiq al-Hami claims to have been tortured at several CIA-operated “black sites,” or secret prisons, months before Justice Department memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002) authorized the torture of prisoners in US custody. Al-Hami’s lawyers file the lawsuit in a US District Court in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s impossible to claim that people who perpetrated torture relied on memos that didn’t exist,” says al-Hami’s lawyer Josh Denbeaux. “Rafiq was tortured before the memos authorizing torture were written.” Denbeaux and his father, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, are lawyers for the plaintiff. Al-Hami, a Tunisian, says he was arrested in Iran in November 2001 and taken to Afghanistan. From there, he was transported to three CIA “black sites” where “his presence and his existence were unknown to everyone except his United States detainers,” and his name was not included on any publicly available list of detainees. The suit alleges, “He was told that no one knew where he was; that he would be secretly detained for 20 years, perhaps until his death, and no one would ever know.” This would make al-Hami a so-called “ghost detainee.” He says he was tortured beginning in December 2001. At various times, he says, he was stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in “stress positions,” beaten with rifle butts, kicked, tormented with bright lights and music played at excruciating volumes, and exposed to extremes of temperature. Al-Hami also alleges that interrogators sprayed pepper spray on his hemorrhoids, causing intense pain. Al-Hami says the torture continued after he was transferred to Guantanamo in January 2003. He says he has no ties to any terrorist group, and was arrested by an Iranian seeking a bounty payment. The suit says that after intensive torture sessions, al-Hami “confessed” to training at an al-Qaeda camp for 10 days. Al-Hami’s lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages and names as defendants former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Navy Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, the former commander of the detention center at Guantanamo, and approximately 20 others. Josh Denbeaux says the allegations in the lawsuit were pieced together from al-Hami’s recollections, declassified documents, and information from human rights organizations. (Porter 4/23/2009; Ryan 4/23/2009) Civil rights activist Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, will write, “It’s likely that all of al-Hami’s claims are true.” Worthington will note that the arrangement between the Iranian and US governments for al-Hami’s transfer remains unexplained. In his book, Worthington will spell the name of the detainee as “Alhami,” noting that the Defense Department spells the name “al-Hami” in its documents. (Worthington 4/27/2009)
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” (Linkins 4/22/2009; MSNBC 4/22/2009)
Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute (Gorelick 1/28/2009) , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” (Frick 4/30/2009) In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” (Duss 4/30/2009)
An attack by CIA drones in Pakistan kills between six and ten people. One of those who dies is believed to be an al-Qaeda leader. (Mayer 10/26/2009)
ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” (Ross, Cole, and Rhee 4/30/2009; Raw Story 5/1/2009)
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari held without charge for seven years by the Bush administration on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003), pleads guilty to one felony count of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Al-Marri was released from the Naval Brig in Charleston on order of the Obama administration’s Justice Department and charged with multiple counts of supporting terrorism (see February 27, 2009). He faces up to 15 years in prison. Until accepting the plea, al-Marri has always denied any connection with al-Qaeda or with Islamist terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder says of the al-Marri plea: “Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face. But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.” Lawrence Lustberg, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says his client agreed to the plea bargain “because he wanted to go home,” and because of fears that a jury trial might end up with al-Marri serving 30 years and not a maximum of 15. (Holder rejected earlier plea deals, insisting that al-Marri serve at least 15 years in prison.) Court papers show that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda agent, with close ties to alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Al-Marri admitted to attending al-Qaeda training camps between 1998 and 2001, and to coming to the US at Mohammed’s direction (see September 10, 2001). The plan was for al-Marri to stay in contact with Mohammed using code names—al-Marri was “Abdo” and Mohammed was “Muk,” apparently short for his nickname “Mukhtar” (see August 28, 2001)—and a Hotmail email account. Documents confirming this were found at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. Al-Marri’s attempts to contact both Mohammed and al-Qaeda financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi after the 9/11 attacks were unsuccessful. Al-Marri also conducted research on the effects of cyanide gas, and on potential targets for terrorist attacks, including waterways, dams, and tunnels. Al-Marri’s plea agreement says that he will be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is completed, or perhaps sooner. The judge in the case, Michael Mihm, has not yet ruled whether al-Marri will be given credit for the seven years he served in the Charleston brig. (Gerstein 4/30/2009; Schwartz 4/30/2009; Holder 4/30/2009)
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape about a visit by President Obama to Egypt, where Obama is to make an important speech to the Muslim world. The tape is around 12 minutes long and is entitled “Egypt’s Slayers and the Agents of America Welcome Obama.” Al-Zawahiri says that Obama’s message to the Muslim world has already been delivered, “when he visited the Wailing Wall, with the Jewish skullcap on his head… when he performed the Jewish prayers despite claiming that he is Christian.” He adds that Obama approves the “Zionist aggression on Gaza,” sending more troops to Afghanistan, continuing to bomb tribal areas of Pakistan, and leading a “brutal campaign” against Muslims in northwest Pakistan, as well as using secret prisons and breaching the Geneva conventions regarding terror detainees. “Obama’s bloodied messages have reached and are still reaching Muslims, and they shall not be masked by the PR campaigns, the theatrical visits, and the courteous words,” says al-Zawahiri. “As for his choice of Turkey and Egypt to be the places from which to address the Muslim world as he claims, well, this choice holds another indication that simply says that the kind of Muslims the crusader Americans would be pleased with are those who abandon Islam and embrace secularism, those who acknowledge Israel, conclude security agreements with it, and take part in its military drills.” Al-Zawahiri also criticizes the current Egyptian regime, accusing it of tightening the blockade on Palestinians in Gaza, and alleging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is grooming his elder son, Jamal, to succeed him as president, “in order to maintain the corruption and the reliance on America, the crusaders, and the Jews.” He adds that only the corrupt “butchers and tyrants” of Egypt would welcome Obama there, not honest Egyptians. “The honorable people of Egypt despise Obama and consider him an international criminal, and an arriviste politician who serves the Zionist cause in order to get promoted to the highest levels of government.” (CBS News 6/2/2009)
In an audio message broadcast on the Qatar-based TV channel Al Jazeera, a man thought to be Osama bin Laden accuses US President Obama of fueling hatred of America in Pakistan, and blames US pressure for a crackdown by authorities on militants in northwest Pakistan. According to the speaker, Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in antagonizing Muslims. “Obama and his administration have planted seeds for hatred and revenge against America,” he says. “Let the American people prepare to continue to reap what has been planted by the heads of the White House in the coming years and decades.” The tape is released as Obama arrives in bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia for a brief visit at the start of a Middle East tour in which he will deliver a key speech in Cairo, Egypt. The White House responds that bin Laden wants to divert attention away from that speech. (BBC 6/3/2009)
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik says in an interview that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders are not in Pakistan, so US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region are futile. Malik says: “If Osama was in Pakistan we would know, with all the thousands of troops we have sent into the tribal areas in recent months.… If he and all these four or five top people were in our area they would have been caught, the way we are searching.… According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.” He adds that US drone strikes are hitting mid-level militants at best, and are “counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government. We try to win people’s hearts, then one drone attack drives them away.” (Lamb 7/12/2009) Malik’s statement about bin Laden not being in Pakistan is not consistent with the facts (see January 2005, Late 2005-Early 2006, August 2007, September 2008, and May 2, 2011).
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a second English-language video (see August 10, 2008). The video lasts just under nine minutes, is released by posting at jihadi websites, and is entitled “My Muslim Brothers and Sisters in Pakistan.” In the video, al-Zawahiri urges Pakistanis to support insurgents in their battle against the US-led “crusade,” which he says threatens the country’s existence and could lead to its break-up. “The American crusader manipulation of Pakistan’s destiny has reached such an extent that it now poses a grave danger to Pakistan’s future and very existence,” says al-Zawahiri. “It is evident that Pakistan is deeply involved in a fierce internal struggle between two forces”—one representing “Islamic values” and the other being the US-led “crusade” to neutralize fighters threatening Western interests. “[If] we stand by passively without offering due support to the mujahedeen, we shall not only contribute to the destruction of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we shall also deserve the painful punishment of Almighty Allah,” he adds. (Nation 7/15/2009)
Two luxury hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia, are hit by suicide bombers within five minutes of each other. Seven people are killed, plus the two bombers, and fifty people are injured. At least four of the dead are Westerners. The Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels are the targets. The Marriott was bombed in 2003 as well (see August 5, 2003). Nobody takes credit, but the al-Qaeda linked group Jemaah Islamiyah is immediately blamed. Experts also blame militant Noordin Mohammed Top, saying that the bombs used are exactly the same to the ones Top used in previous bombings. (Moestafa and Djanuarto 7/19/2009) Top actually created a Jemaah Islamiyah splinter group in 2005 called Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad. These are the first significant bombings in Indonesia since 2005 (see October 1, 2005).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney releases a statement that asserts the just-released CIA inspector general’s report (see August 24, 2009) proves that torture, which he refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” works, and follows up with an attack on the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the nation. Cheney writes: “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al-Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel (see First Half of August 2009), and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House (see August 24, 2009), serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.” (Hayes 8/24/2009; Ackerman 8/24/2009) Cheney’s statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from the Republican National Committee (see August 24, 2009).
Disputing Cheney's Assessment - A Democratic official disputes the assertions, saying that the report provides no basis to conclude that torture was effective in eliciting actionable intelligence, and cites caveats in the body of the report. (Allen 8/25/2009) And the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009)
'Silly Semantic Game' - Reporter and columnist Spencer Ackerman notes that the memos seem to suggest that the most useful intelligence came from traditional intelligence techniques. He writes, “Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t.” Human rights organizations take a similar line. Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights says the documents “don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact.” Tom Parker of Amnesty International notes that the memos “are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.” (Ackerman 8/24/2009; Roth 8/25/2009) Reporter Zachary Roth calls Cheney’s claim a “silly semantic game.” While it is true that the US gained actionable intelligence from detainees who were tortured, Roth observes, “it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim—that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.” (Roth 8/25/2009)
The CIA, apparently in response to the Justice Department’s release of a 2004 CIA report that documents numerous instances of torture and abuse of detainees in US custody (see August 24, 2009), releases two previously classified agency reports from 2004 and 2005 that purport to prove that the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program provided information necessary for stopping terrorist attacks. One report calls the program “a crucial pillar of US counterterrorism efforts,” and describes how interrogations helped unravel a network headed by an Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali (see August 12, 2003). The other report details information elicited from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, saying it “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on al-Qaeda’s plots.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009) The two memos state that some detainees, particularly Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, provided useful information during debriefing sessions. One memo, titled “Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War against Al-Qa’ida,” says that intelligence gathered from multiple detainees, combined with other information, led to the capture of several key al-Qaeda operatives, and aided in the capture of Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29 - Mid-May, 2003), who “was captured on the verge of mounting attacks against the US consulate in Karachi, Westerners at the Karachi Airport, and Western housing areas” in Pakistan. Another report says that Mohammed “has provided information on al-Qaeda strategic doctrine, probable targets, the impact of striking each target set, and likely methods of attacks inside the United States.” They do not, however, say that Mohammed or other detainees provided useful information as a direct result of being tortured. (Ackerman 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; Roth 8/25/2009)
Cheney Claims Memos Prove Efficacy of Torture - The memos have been touted by former Vice President Dick Cheney as proving the efficacy of “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—in gaining actionable intelligence from detainees. Cheney has repeatedly asked for the memos to be declassified so as to prove his contention. In the wake of the memos’ release, Cheney claims that the memos do indeed prove that torture worked. “The documents released Monday,” Cheney says in a statement, “clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda” (see August 24, 2009). (Hayes 8/24/2009) However, the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009)
CIA Director: Memos 'Old News' - CIA Director Leon Panetta sends a message to agency employees concerning the release of the two memos, calling their contents “in many ways an old story,” and says that “the challenge is not the battles of yesterday, but those of today and tomorrow. My emphasis on the future comes with a clear recognition that our agency takes seriously proper accountability for the past.… As the intelligence service of a democracy, that’s an important part of who we are.” (Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009)
A US drone strike kills Tahir Yuldashev, the top leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. The strike apparently hits the town of Kanigoram, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Yuldashev may initially survive the strike but slowly dies of his injuries afterwards. Pakistani officials confirm his death several weeks later. The IMU confirms his death nearly a year later, and names his successor, Usmon Odil. (Yusufzai 9/30/2009; BBC 10/9/2009; Daily Times (Lahore) 8/19/2010) In the late 1990s, most IMU operatives fled Uzbekistan when the government cracked down on the group. Under Yuldashev’s leadership, they resettled in Afghanistan and developed close ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yuldashev appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late July 2001). After the US conquest of Afghanistan in late 2001, Yuldashev and most of the IMU appear to have resettled in Pakistan’s tribal region, and they became a powerful force there. For instance, a Pakistani army offensive in 2004 targeted Yuldashev (see March 18- April 24, 2004). (BBC 10/2/2009; BBC 10/9/2009)
An audio message purportedly from Osama bin Laden is released on an Islamist website. The message is called “A Statement to the American People,” is about 10 minutes long, and is accompanied by a still image of bin Laden, but no video. A voice on the tape tells President Obama that he is “powerless” to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The time has come for you to liberate yourselves from fear and the ideological terrorism of neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby,” the voice tells Americans. “The reason for our dispute with you is your support for your ally Israel, occupying our land in Palestine.” The speaker adds: “If you stop the war, then fine. Otherwise we will have no choice but to continue our war of attrition on every front. […] If you choose safety and stopping wars, as opinion polls show you do, then we are ready to respond to this.” In addition, the speaker accuses the new US president of failing to fundamentally change foreign policy because of his decision to retain key figures from the previous administration, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “If you think about your situation well, you will know that the White House is occupied by pressure groups,” the man says. (BBC 9/14/2009)
Noordin Mohammed Top, the most wanted Islamist militant left in Indonesia, is killed in a shootout with police in Surakarta on the island of Java, Indonesia. Top was an expert bomb maker and planner, and was wanted for a role in a series of bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002), a 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta (see August 5, 2003), a 2004 Australian embassy bombing (see September 9, 2004), a 2005 Bali bombing (see October 1, 2005), and two Jakarta hotel bombings in 2009 (see July 17, 2009). He first was a leader of the al-Qaeda linked and Southeast Asia-based militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. But in 2005, he former a splinter group Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad, whose name in English means “Al-Qaeda Jihad Organization for the Malay Archipelago,” after some other Jemaah Islamiah leaders drifted away from a policy of violent attacks. Counterterrorism expert Sidney Jones says, “There isn’t another radical leader in Indonesia who has given that same [pro-Osama bin Laden] message so consistently.” She calls his death “a huge blow for the extremist organizations in Indonesia and the region.” (Reuters 9/17/2009)
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” (Barnes 9/22/2009)
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio tape demanding that European nations withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. The four-minute tape, made by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab and entitled “A message to the people of Europe,” is released on the Internet with a background picture of bin Laden, and with German and English subtitles. “We are not demanding anything unjust. It is just for you to end injustice and withdraw your soldiers [from Afghanistan],” says the speaker on the tape. “One of the greatest injustices is to kill people unjustly, and this is exactly what your governments and soldiers are committing under the cover of the NATO alliance in Afghanistan.” The speaker also attacks Europe’s alliance with the US, as “an intelligent person does not waste his children and wealth for the sake of a gang in Washington,” and says, “It is shameful to be part of an alliance whose leader does not care about spilling the blood of human beings by bombing villages intentionally.” One possible reason for the German subtitles is that Germany, which has 4,200 troops in Afghanistan, is soon to hold elections. (Sedarat 9/25/2009)
US and Pakistani analysts and officials say that a series of deadly coordinated attacks this week on army and police installations in Pakistan demonstrate the increasing sophistication of a “syndicate” of militant groups who employ commando tactics and display inside knowledge of Pakistani security structures. Attacks this week on Pakistan’s army headquarters in Rawalpindi, two attacks at a police station in Kohat, and attacks at a federal investigations building and two police training centers—one of them a respected school for elite forces—in Lahore demonstrate the expanded range and effectiveness of a militant network thought to comprise Tehrik-i-Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi working together in Pakistan, possibly with al-Qaeda. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik is quoted by the New York Times as saying that a syndicate of militant groups wants to ensure Pakistan becomes a failed state. “The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Muhammad, al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are operating jointly in Pakistan,” Malik tells journalists. (Perlez 10/15/2009) Mehdi Hassan, the dean of the School of Media and Communications at Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University, says in a telephone interview that the commando attacks are “part of a well-planned psychological war campaign” and have helped create “a national atmosphere of crisis” in Pakistan. (Qayum and Rupert 10/16/2009) Last month, US military officials said the Taliban in Afghanistan were increasingly improving their capabilities and demonstrating tactics typical of specially trained elite forces (see September 2, 2009).
Pakistani soldiers conducting a security sweep of Taliban strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal region find a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell. Bahaji was believed to be close to Mohamed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers in the cell. The passport is found in a mud compound in Sherawangi village, in South Waziristan, which is said to be a local Taliban command and control base. Other documents are found showing the presence of some other militants from European countries in the area. It is unclear if Bahaji was in the village, or if just his passport was. The passport is shown to journalists on October 29, 2009, and its discovery is widely reported. Bahaji is a German citizen, and his German passport was issued on August 3, 2001. Stamps show that he obtained a Pakistani tourist visa one day later, and arrived in Pakistan on September 4, 2001. Bahaji went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan shortly thereafter (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), and investigators believe he has generally remained in Afghanistan or Pakistan ever since. He was last heard of in 2007, when he called his mother in Germany (see 2007). (Walsh, Burke, and Tremlett 10/29/2009; Hussain 10/30/2009)
Political Implications of Passport Find - The Guardian comments that if authentic, the passport provides “stark proof of what Western allies have insisted upon for years, but which Pakistani officials have only recently accepted - that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.” The passport also is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are working together. (Walsh, Burke, and Tremlett 10/29/2009)
Bahaji Officially Wanted by Spain and Germany but Not US - Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). According to CNN, “A US counterterrorism official said only that Bahaji is a senior propagandist for al-Qaeda who had ties to some of the September 11 hijackers and is very much of interest to the United States.” However, the US has never put a bounty on Bahaji, or even put him on their most wanted lists. (CNN 10/30/2009)
Timing of Passport Discovery Seems Suspicious, Authenticity Is Uncertain - The BBC comments, “The appearance of the passport raises a lot of questions - not least is it genuine? For now that is unclear.” The BBC also notes that the discovery of the passport comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly criticized Pakistan’s failure to find al-Qaeda figures hiding in the tribal region. (BBC 10/31/2009) Clinton said, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” (Walsh, Burke, and Tremlett 10/29/2009) One British analyst questions the “convenient” timing of the discovery after Clinton’s comments, and says the passport would need to be closely examined to make sure it is authentic. (BBC 10/31/2009)
On a visit to London, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani says he thinks Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. The statement is made against a background of Western demands that Afghanistan and Pakistan take more action against militants, including stepping up their efforts to find bin Laden, to accompany the surge in Western troops to Afghanistan. “I doubt the information which you are giving is correct because I don’t think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan,” says Gillani in response to a question. The New York Times observes, “The Pakistani leader did not indicate where Mr. bin Laden might be if he is not in Pakistan.” (Burns and Cowell 12/3/2009) The next day, the BBC will run an article brokered by a Pakistani intelligence service in which a detainee claims he recently received information bin Laden was in Afghanistan (see Before December 4, 2009). Gillani’s statement is not accurate (see May 2, 2011).
A detainee claims that he received information concerning the location of Osama bin Laden in January or February. The detainee says he met bin Laden several times before 9/11, and, according to Pakistani security officials, has close ties with Pakistan and Afghan Taliban leaders.
Detainee's Story - Earlier in the year, the detainee met a trusted contact who said he had seen bin Laden in the eastern Afghani town of Ghazni 15 to 20 days earlier. “He [the contact] said he had come from meeting Sheikh Osama, and he could arrange for me to meet him,” says the detainee. “He helps al-Qaeda people coming from other countries to get to the sheikh, so he can advise them on whatever they are planning for Europe or other places. The sheikh doesn’t stay in any one place. That guy came from Ghazni, so I think that’s where the sheikh was.” The detainee is interviewed twice by the BBC in the presence of Pakistani officials, although Western interrogators are not allowed to talk to him. He is not named publicly for legal reasons, and says he declined the invitation to travel to meet bin Laden because he was afraid of compromising bin Laden’s security, if he was captured by the police or the army, stating, “If I had met him, the first question they would have asked would be where have you met him, and I would have had more problems and it would have created problems for them [al-Qaeda].” The BBC will point out that the detainee’s claims cannot be verified.
Comment by Counterterrorism Expert - However, US counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, says the detainee’s story is “a very important lead, that ought to be tracked down,” adding, “The entire Western intelligence community, CIA, and MI6, have been looking for [bin Laden] for the last seven years, and haven’t come upon a source of information like this.”
Bin Laden 'Fresh' - The detainee also claims that bin Laden is well, active, and even training instructors. “What my associate told me was that he is fresh, and doing well,” he says. “The information I have is that he provides training to special people. There are training centres in homes, and all the teachers are first trained by the Sheikh. Then they go and teach the classes.”
Militants Allegedly Avoiding Pakistan - The detainee also says militants are avoiding Pakistani territory because of the risk of US drone attacks. “Pakistan at this time is not convenient for us to stay in because a lot of our senior people are being martyred in drone attacks,” he says.
Skepticism - The BBC will point out that “his account suits Pakistan, which maintains that bin Laden is not on its soil (see December 3, 2009), though Britain and the US think otherwise.” It adds, “The detainee’s account raises a lot of questions—among them, what were his motives for talking.” (Guerin 12/4/2009)
A CIA officer who hunted Osama bin Laden after 9/11 says that the al-Qaeda leader must be dead, according to former CIA officer and journalist Robert Baer. The officer adds, “No wonder there’s no intelligence on him.” When Baer asks him about the numerous audio and videotapes that appear to have been released by bin Laden over the past few years, the officer says they easily could have been digitally mastered from old recordings. However, he admits that the CIA has no evidence bin Laden died and his comments are only based on a hunch. Baer will say this theory is not popular in Washington because “it veers off into the realm of conspiracies,” and people are scared that “the moment they air their view, bin Laden will reappear.” Nevertheless, according to Baer: “[I]t’s a real possibility that bin Laden was killed at Tora Bora in late 2001 and is now buried under tons of rock, never to be found. Or that he died of ill health in the intervening years.” (Baer 12/8/2009) Baer will later be proven incorrect (see May 2, 2011).
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. (Sabbagh-Gargourin 1/6/2010; Smith, Warrick, and Nakashima 1/10/2010)
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. (Smith, Warrick, and Nakashima 1/10/2010; Skalka 1/2011)
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. (Warrick 6/8/2010)
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. (Smith, Warrick, and Nakashima 1/10/2010; Skalka 1/2011)
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. (Schifrin 1/7/2010; Farrell 1/9/2010) A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).
Dulmatin, one of the most wanted Islamist militants in Indonesia, is killed by police in Jakarta, Indonesia. He was considered one of the leaders of the 2002 Bali bombings, and other bombings in Southeast Asia. In 2005, the US put out a $10 million bounty on him (see October 6, 2005 and After). An explosives expert, he was a long-time leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda linked militant group. In recent months, he had tried to set up a new militant camp in the Indonesian province of Aceh. But police arrested most of the participants and then traced Dulmatin to Jakarta, where he is killed in an Internet cafe. (Barrowclough 3/9/2010)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accuses the Pakistani government of knowing where Osama bin Laden and other top militant leaders are hiding. She says, “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more co-operation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” A Pakistani government spokesperson dismisses Clinton’s claim. (Crilly 5/11/2010) In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” (MSNBC 6/1/2010)
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