This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=al-qaeda&startpos=600
a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
Al-Qaeda forces have been driven out of Afghanistan but regroup in the tribal border region of Pakistan called South Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). However, the Pakistani government is strict about preventing US forces from crossing the border in pursuit of bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda figures. According to author James Risen, “Green Berets who served in southeastern Afghanistan say that there have been a series of tense confrontations—and even firefights—between American and Pakistani forces along the border. Both sides have largely covered up the incidents.” (Risen 2006, pp. 181) There is no sign later of a significant change in policy, although minor skirmishes persist. For part of 2002 and into 2003, some US special forces are allowed into the region, but only by traveling with the Pakistani army, and this arrangement does not last for long (see 2002-Early 2003).
In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. (Katz 2003, pp. 180) Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. (Katz 2003, pp. 186-187) ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. (Ross and Scott 12/23/2004) Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. (Katz 2003, pp. 187) Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. (Anderson 9/15/2005) Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).
As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” (Branigan 3/13/2004; Rose 5/16/2004)
Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. (Pincus and Priest 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 6/5/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 336; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 242) Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 4-5) According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” (McGovern 7/23/2003) In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 211; Unger 2007, pp. 262-263) Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. (Borger 7/17/2003)
The US wants al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul arrested, but the Pakistani government will not do so, apparently because he is part of a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Details and timing are vague, but US intelligence becomes increasingly interested in Ghul. He is believed to be part of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s secret network of moneymen and couriers. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, the CIA has been pressing the Pakistani government to arrest Ghul “for years.” After 9/11, Ghul hides in Lahore, Pakistan, in safe houses run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). This group helps many al-Qaeda operatives escape Afghanistan and hide in Pakistan after 9/11, and it even helps Zubaida escape and hide (see Late 2001-Early 2002). However, the ISI refuses to arrest Ghul. The Associated Press will report that “former CIA officers who targeted Ghul said he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group, which had the backing of the ISI.” Eventually, the CIA learns that Ghul plans to meet with al-Qaeda operatives fighting against US forces in Iraq. Ghul is captured in Iraq on January 23, 2004 (see January 23, 2004). However, the Pakistani government is said to be furious that Ghul has been captured, and the US is pressed to return him. The US transfers him to a secret CIA prison instead. (Associated Press 6/15/2011)
The Boston Globe reports that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have had ties with an obscure Pakistani group called Al-Fuqra. Reid apparently visited the Lahore, Pakistan, home of Ali Gilani, the leader of Al-Fuqra. (Stockman 1/6/2002) Reporter Daniel Pearl reads the article and decides to investigate. (Anson 8/2002) Pearl believes he is on his way to interview Gilani when he is kidnapped. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 3/3/2002) A 1995 State Department report said Al-Fuqra’s main goal is “purifying Islam through violence.” (Anson 8/2002) Intelligence experts now say Al-Fuqra is a splinter group of Jaish-e-Mohammed, with ties to al-Qaeda. (Sale 1/29/2002) Al-Fuqra claims close ties with the Muslims of the Americas, a US tax-exempt group claiming about 3,000 members living in rural compounds in 19 states, the Caribbean, and Europe. Members of Al-Fuqra are suspected of at least 13 fire bombings and 17 murders, as well as theft and credit-card fraud. Gilani, who had links to people involved in the 1993 WTC bombing, fled the US after the bombing. He admitted he works with the ISI, and now lives freely in Pakistan. (Stockman 1/6/2002; News (Islamabad) 2/15/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 3/3/2002; Anson 8/2002) Saeed Sheikh “has long had close contacts” with the group, and praises Gilani for his “unexplained services to Pakistan and Islam.” (News (Islamabad) 2/18/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 3/3/2002)
Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). (Reuters 1/8/2002)
John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” (Lewis 5/21/2004)
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” (Mother Jones 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice 6/9/2002 ; Isikoff 5/21/2004; Lewis 5/21/2004)
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” (Savage 2007, pp. 146) The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” (Isikoff 5/21/2004) Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” (Savage 2007, pp. 181)
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” (Mother Jones 1/9/2002)
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. (Isikoff 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).
After three months, none of the allegations that the US made against the six men arrested in Bosnia in October 2001 (see January 18, 2002) have been proven, and the Supreme Court of the Muslim-Croat Federation orders their release. The US refused to provide evidence in court that the men were tied to al-Qaeda, as alleged. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) says that four of the six men cannot be expelled from the country until it has ruled on their appeal against the retraction of their citizenship. A hearing is scheduled for February 11. (Kroeger 1/22/2002; CNN 1/18/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004) At least some of the six figures do seem to have ties to al-Qaeda. For instance, Saber Lahmar was convicted in Bosnia of attempting to blow up the US embassy there in 1997 (see 1996 and After). But the evidence against them is based on communications intercepts, and the US is unwilling to release any details about that information. The hearing never takes place, because the US takes custody of the men as they are released and renditions them to the Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf says that he thinks Osama bin Laden is most likely dead because he has been unable to get treatment for his kidney disease. “I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a… kidney patient,” says Musharraf in an interview with CNN. According to Musharraf, Pakistan knows bin Laden took two dialysis machines into Afghanistan, and, “One was specifically for his own personal use.” Musharraf adds: “I don’t know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now. And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak.… I would give the first priority that he is dead and the second priority that he is alive somewhere in Afghanistan.” However, some US officials are skeptical of this. One senior Bush administration official says Musharraf reached a “reasonable conclusion,” but warns it is only a guess. “We don’t have remains or evidence of his death. So it is a decent and reasonable conclusion—a good guess but it is a guess,” says the official. He adds that US intelligence indicates bin Laden needs dialysis every three days and, “it is fairly obvious that that could be an issue when you are running from place to place, and facing the idea of needing to generate electricity in a mountain hideout.” However, another US official contradicts the reports of bin Laden’s health problems, saying there is “no evidence” the suspected terrorist mastermind has ever suffered kidney failure or required kidney dialysis. The official calls such suggestions a “recurrent rumor.” (CNN 1/18/2002)
Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. (Golden 10/24/2004)
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).
Wall Street Journal report Daniel Pearl is kidnapped while investigating the ISI’s connection to Islamic militant groups. (O'Carroll 1/25/2002; BBC 7/5/2002) Saeed Sheikh is later convicted as the mastermind of the kidnap, and though it appears he lured Pearl into being kidnapped beginning January 11, the actual kidnapping is perpetrated by others who remain at large. (Anson 8/2002; Levine 1/23/2003) The Guardian later suggests that Pearl must have been under ISI surveillance at the time of his kidnapping. “Any western journalist visiting Pakistan is routinely watched and followed. The notion that Daniel Pearl, setting up contacts with extremist groups, was not being carefully monitored by the Secret Services is unbelievable—and nobody in Pakistan believes it.” (Ali 4/5/2002) Both al-Qaeda and the ISI appear to be behind the kidnapping. The overall mastermind behind the kidnapping seems to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, also mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. (McGirk 1/26/2003; Ressa 1/30/2003)
Ramzi bin al-Shibh attempts to obtain a false passport, but fails to do so as he cannot afford one and a group controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi refuses to pay for him. Bin al-Shibh, already known as a key 9/11 plotter at this time, presumably desires the passport so he can make a trip outside Pakistan, where he will be interviewed in April (see April, June, or August 2002). He tries to obtain it from the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, which is associated with al-Zarqawi. In a conversation monitored by the police, Ansar operatives discuss using money from fake ID operations to pay for bin al-Shibh, but decide not to do so as, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zarqawi… had allocated all the available profits to pay for passports for his own fighters,” and bin al-Shibh “isn’t part of the al Tawhid [another group associated with Ansar and al-Zarqawi] structure, and has no position in the hierarchy.” (Simpson, Crawford, and Johnson 4/14/2004)
Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” (Golden 10/24/2004; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. (Alberto R. Gonzales 1/25/2002 ; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales completes a draft memorandum to the president advising him not to reconsider his decision (see January 18-25, 2002) declaring Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status as Colin Powell has apparently recommended. (US Department of Justice 1/25/2004 ; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) The memo recommends that President Bush accept a recent Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo saying that the president has the authority to set aside the Geneva Conventions as the basis of his policy (see January 9, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 146)
Geneva No Longer Applies, Says Gonzales - Gonzales writes to Bush that Powell “has asked that you conclude that GPW [Third Geneva Convention] does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I understand, however, that he would agree that al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters could be determined not to be prisoners of war (POWs) but only on a case-by-case basis following individual hearings before a military board.” Powell believes that US troops will be put at risk if the US renounces the Geneva Conventions in relation to the Taliban. Rumsfeld and his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, allegedly agree with Powell’s argument. (Golden 10/24/2004) But Gonzales says that he agrees with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which has determined that the president had the authority to make this declaration on the premise that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war].” Gonzales thus states, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) Gonzales also says that by declaring the war in Afghanistan exempt from the Geneva Conventions, the president would “[s]ubstantially [reduce] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act [of 1996]” (see August 21, 1996). The president and other officials in the administration would then be protected from any future “prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges.” (Lewis 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
Memo Actually Written by Cheney's Lawyer - Though the memo is released under Gonzales’s signature, many inside the White House do not believe the memo was written by him; it has an unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that does not go with Gonzales’s usual style. A White House lawyer with direct knowledge of the memo later says it was written by Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington. Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, who signed it as “my judgment” and sent it to Bush. Addington’s memo quotes Bush’s own words: “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Powell 'Hits the Roof' over Memo - When Powell reads the memo (see January 26, 2002), he reportedly “hit[s] the roof” and immediately arranges for a meeting with the president (see January 25, 2002). (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
The Defense Intelligence Agency issues a four-page Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM No. 044-02) stating that it is probable that prisoner Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi intentionally misled debriefers when he claimed Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda in working with illicit weapons. During interviews with al-Libi, the DIA noted the Libyan al-Qaeda operative could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used, or where the alleged training took place. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the report says. “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” The DIA report is presumably circulated widely within the government, and is available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and other agencies.
No Evidence of Connections between Iraq, al-Qaeda - On the general subject of Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, the DIA report notes: “Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” The report also questions the reliability of information provided by high-value al-Qaeda detainees being held in secret CIA facilities or who have been “rendered” to foreign countries where they are believed to undergo harsh interrogation tactics.
Using al-Libi's Information to Bolster Case for War - Information supplied by al-Libi will be the basis for a claim included in an October 2002 speech (see October 7, 2002) by President Bush, in which he states, “[W]e’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Intelligence provided by al-Libi will also be included in Colin Powell’s February speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. In that speech, Powell will cite “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda.” (Jehl 11/6/2005; Pincus 11/6/2005; Gaouette 11/7/2005; Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005)
Report Released as Proof of Administration's Reliance on Poor Intelligence Sources - Declassified portions of the DIA report will be issued on November 6, 2005 by two senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller will tell CNN that al-Libi is “an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing a substantial intelligence trust.” The situation was, Rockefeller will say, “a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people.” (Gaouette 11/7/2005)
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” (Podhoretz 2/2002; Buchanan 3/24/2003)
Pakistani police, with the help of the FBI, determine Saeed Sheikh is behind the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, but are unable to find him. They round up about ten of his relatives and threaten to harm them unless he turns himself in. Saeed Sheikh does turn himself in, but to Ijaz Shah, his former ISI boss. (Donnelly 2/7/2002; Anson 8/2002) The ISI holds Saeed for a week, but fails to tell Pakistani police or anyone else that they have him. This “missing week” is the cause of much speculation. The ISI never tells Pakistani police any details about this week. (Moreau et al. 3/11/2002) Saeed also later refuses to discuss the week or his connection to the ISI, only saying, “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed.” He adds, “I know people in the government and they know me and my work.” (Klaidman 3/13/2002; Anson 8/2002) It is suggested Saeed is held for this week to make sure that Pearl would be killed. Saeed later says that during this week he got a coded message from the kidnappers that Pearl had been murdered. Also, the time might have been spent working out a deal with the ISI over what Saeed would tell police and the public. (Moreau et al. 3/11/2002) Several others with both extensive ISI and al-Qaeda ties wanted for the kidnapping are arrested around this time. (Anderson and Baker 2/23/2002; Hussain and Whitworth 2/25/2002) One of these men, Khalid Khawaja, “has never hidden his links with Osama bin Laden. At one time he used to fly Osama’s personal plane.” (Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA) 2/11/2002)
Pakistani police publicly name Saeed Sheikh and a Islamic militant group he belongs to, Jaish-e-Mohammed, as those responsible for reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder. (Burke and McCarthy 2/24/2002) In the next several months, at least 12 Western news articles mention Saeed’s links to al-Qaeda (ABC News 2/7/2002; Donnelly 2/7/2002; Yost 2/24/2002; Miller 3/15/2002) , including his financing of 9/11 (Goldiner 2/7/2002; Costello and Wedeman 2/8/2002; Gannon 2/9/2002; McCarthy 2/9/2002; Popham 2/10/2002; Kher 2/10/2002; Miller 2/10/2002; Dovkants 2/12/2002; Mohan and Gettleman 2/13/2002; Miller 2/22/2002; Mackay 2/24/2002; USA Today 3/8/2002) , and at least 16 articles mention his links to the ISI. (Cox News Service 2/21/2002; Burke and McCarthy 2/24/2002; Khan and West 2/24/2002; Newsweek 2/25/2002; Jehl 2/25/2002; Smith 2/25/2002; Cienski 2/26/2002; Boston Globe 2/28/2002; Moreau et al. 3/11/2002; Klaidman 3/13/2002; Ali 4/5/2002; Allen 4/5/2002) However, many other articles fail to mention either link. Only a few articles consider that Saeed could have been connected to both groups at the same time (Hussain and Whitworth 2/25/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 3/3/2002; Fielding 4/21/2002) , and apparently, only one of these mentions he could be involved in the ISI, al-Qaeda, and financing 9/11. (Fielding 4/21/2002) By the time Saeed is convicted of Pearl’s murder in July 2002, Saeed’s possible connections to al-Qaeda and/or the ISI are virtually unreported in US newspapers, while many British newspapers are still making one or the other connection.
Pakistani forces raid a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, and arrest 17 suspected al-Qaeda operatives. All 17 will eventually be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
Abu Bara al-Taizi - One of them is Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), who attended the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and was to be a hijacker for an Asian portion of the 9/11 attacks that never materialized. Al-Taizi will be handed to the US on February 27, and then transferred to Guantanamo a few months later.
Abdu Ali Sharqawi - The safe house is run by Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, a Yemeni commonly known as Riyadh the Facilitator. He is arrested as well, but he will not be handed to the US and then sent to Guantanamo until September 2004. (US Department of Defense 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Another Guantanamo prisoner, Hassan Ali bin Attash, will later say that he and al-Sharqawi were held in a Jordanian prison for over a year. That would explain most of the time between al-Sharqawi’s arrest and his transfer to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008) The New York Times will later identify al-Sharqawi as one of the four most important al-Qaeda leaders captured in the first year after 9/11. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002)
Al-Sharqawi's Al-Qaeda Activity - According to al-Sharqawi’s Guantanamo file, he joined al-Qaeda after fighting in Bosnia in 1995 and was closely linked to many al-Qaeda leaders. For a time, he even took part in weekly planning meetings with Osama bin Laden and others. In the summer of 2001, he began running the safe house in Karachi. His file says that he photo-identifies 11 of the 9/11 hijackers and provides varying amounts of information on each of them. He estimates that he helped over 100 al-Qaeda operatives leave Pakistan in the post-9/11 crackdown before his safe house was shut down. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh passed through his safe house in January 2002, a few weeks before the safe house is raided. As of late 2008, al-Sharqawi, al-Taizi, and nine others captured in the raid remain imprisoned in Guantanamo, while six others have been transferred out. (US Department of Defense 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Most of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
Neighbor's Tip Led to Raid - The safe house was discovered because the Pakistani Army asked the public for leads on the movements of suspicious foreigners. Apparently one or more neighbors pointed out the safe house (see Late 2001).
Accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) is charged with one count of credit card fraud. He has already been arrested on a material witness warrant pertaining to the investigation of the 9/11 attacks; since January, he has been in detention in New York City, where most of the investigations are centered. (Bradley Scout 3/29/2002) According to the FBI, phone records link al-Marri with a phone number in the United Arab Emirates that was used by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and one of his associates, Ramzi bin Al-Shibh. Al-Marri’s lawyer, Richard Jasper, says there is no evidence linking al-Marri to the phone calls by Atta and bin al-Shibh, al-Marri merely attempted three phone calls to the same number. “Attempted—I don’t know what that means, do you?” Jasper says. “It’s the thinnest of inferences, actually. If you read the affidavit carefully there’s no direct or indirect evidence he made the calls. How do we know there wasn’t some kind of mistaken call or some flaw in recovering the numbers?” Al-Marri has family members in the UAE. (Robinson 3/21/2002)
Samir al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative who helped run a vital al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Late 1998-Early 2002), dies while being pursued by Yemeni police. The Yemeni police were tipped off by Samir’s landlord that he was planning to flee the country when he failed to produce identity documents to renew his lease. The police stake out his hideout for a week but he escapes and, during the chase, a grenade explodes in his hand and kills him. He was the brother-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (BBC 2/13/2002; Whitaker 2/14/2002; CNN 2/14/2002; Arrabyee 2/21/2002) After the attack, the police search the house where al-Hada had been staying and seize weapons, documents, books, a mobile phone, and a piece of paper containing phone numbers. (CBS News 2/13/2002; BBC 2/15/2002) The al-Hada hub was used in planning the embassy bombings in 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and October 4, 2001), the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It had been monitored by the NSA since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998 and Early 1999). Ahmed al-Hada is in Yemeni custody by 2006; it has not been stated when or how he was captured. (Wright 2006, pp. 378) It appears that the communications hub is no longer functional after al-Hada’s death, as there are no more references to it operating, several of the al-Hada clan are rounded up, the hub is again discussed by the media (see February 2001 and After), and the clan’s patriarch, Ahmed al-Hada, is again named in the media. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2/14/2002; CNN 2/14/2002; Arrabyee 2/21/2002)
Time magazine reports the CIA is still not interested in talking to Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, easily the highest ranking Taliban defector. Khaksar was the Taliban’s deputy interior minister, which put him in charge of vital security matters. He was secretly giving the Northern Alliance intelligence on the Taliban since 1997, and he had sporadic and mostly unsuccessful efforts trying to give information to the US while he still worked for the Taliban (see April 1999 and Between September 12 and Late November 2001). In late November 2001, he defected to the Northern Alliance and was given an amnesty due to his secret collaboration with them. He continues to live in his house in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, but is unable to get in contact with US intelligence. In February 2002, Time magazine informs US officials that Khaksar wants to talk, but two weeks later the magazine will report that he still has not been properly interviewed. (Time 2/25/2002) The US may be reluctant to speak to him because much of what he has to say seems to be about al-Qaeda’s links with the Pakistani ISI, and the US is now closely working with Pakistan. Time magazine reports, “The little that Khaksar has divulged to an American general and his intelligence aide—is tantalizing.… He says that the ISI agents are still mixed up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” and that the three groups have formed a new political group to get the US out of Afghanistan. He also says that “the ISI recently assassinated an Afghan in the Paktika province who knew the full extent of ISI’s collaboration with al-Qaeda.” (McGirk 2/19/2002) He will similarly comment to journalist Kathy Gannon that bin Laden’s foreign fighters in Afghanistan “were all protected by the Taliban leadership, but their money and instructions came direction from Pakistan’s ISI.” (Gannon 2005, pp. 161) Khaksar will continue to live in Afghanistan until early 2006, when he is apparently assassinated by the Taliban. (Witte 1/15/2006)
At some time around February 2002, intelligence leads to the location of Abu Zubaida. He will be captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). However, accounts on what intelligence leads to Zubaida’s location differ greatly:
Call to Yemen? - According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani intelligence officials have said quietly that a mobile phone call Abu Zubaida made to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen led to his arrest.” (Linzer 4/20/2002) This could be a reference to the “Yemen hub,” an important al-Qaeda communication node in Yemen that has long been monitored by US intelligence. The hub is used until the middle of February 2002, when it is raided and shut down (see February 13, 2002).
Bribes Play Key Role? - According to books by Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind, Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan’s tribal region notice a caravan of vehicles carrying tall women wearing burqas who turn out to be male Islamist militants in disguise. According to Suskind’s version, the militants are arrested, but refuse to talk. According to Mayer’s version, the caravan is allowed to proceed. However, both authors agree that a bribe to the driver of one of the cars reveals that their destination is Faisalabad, Pakistan. Suskind adds that the driver gives up the name of a contact in Faisalabad, and that contact is found and reveals that Zubaida has arrived in town. US intelligence begins intensively monitoring Faisalabad. Afterwards, Mayer claims that the CIA buys the ISI’s help. A CIA source involved in the situation will later tell Mayer, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubaida.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 84; Mayer 2008) In 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will write in a memoir, “Those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.” (Musharraf 2006, pp. 190)
CIA Tracks Zubaida's Calls? - According to a 2008 New York Times article, in February 2002, the CIA learns that Zubaida is in Lahore or Faisalabad, Pakistani cities about 80 miles apart and with a combined population of over 10 million. The Times does not say how the CIA learns this. The CIA knows Zubaida’s cell phone number, although it is not explained how this was discovered either. (However, it had been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s number had been monitored since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After) and was still being monitored after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and After) and October 8, 2001).) Specialists use an electronic scanner that can track any operating cell phone and give its approximate location. However, Zubaida only turns his phone on briefly to collect messages, so his location cannot be pinpointed. A talented CIA official named Deuce Martinez gets involved. He posts a large, blank piece of paper on a wall, and writes Zubaida’s phone number in the middle of it. Then he and others add linked phone numbers, using the monitoring capabilities of the NSA and Pakistani intelligence. A map of Zubaida’s contacts grows. Eventually, Martinez and others are able to narrow Zubaida’s location down to 14 addresses in Lahore and Faisalabad, and these places are put under surveillance. Rather than wait any longer for more intelligence, all 14 locations are raided at once in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation on March 28, 2002, and Zubaida is found in one of the Faisalabad addresses. (Shane 6/22/2008)
Key Call to Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri? - Suskind’s book will also give the story of the CIA narrowing down the locations by monitoring local phone calls. He says that teams of CIA and FBI arrive in Faisalabad on March 17 for more intensive monitoring. Then, the key break comes near the end of the month, when two calls from a certain house in Faisalabad are made to phone numbers in Afghanistan that might be linked to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. By this account, US intelligence already has a good idea which of the 14 locations Zubaida is in, because of those calls. (Suskind 2006, pp. 87-89)
Explanations May Not Conflict - Note that these explanations do not necessarily conflict. For instance, bribes could have provided the lead that Zubaida was in Faisalabad, and then further CIA monitoring could have narrowed down his location there. Bribes also could have helped insure that Pakistani intelligence did not tip off Zubaida prior to the raid. The calls to Yemen and/or Afghanistan may have played a role along with other intelligence.
An al-Qaeda operations leader gives American al-Qaeda member Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000) an assignment: target high-rise buildings in the US that use natural gas. Padilla and al-Qaeda leaders consider buildings in Florida, Washington, DC, and New York City as potential targets. Though al-Qaeda leaders consider Padilla an incompetent (see Mid-April 2002), they give him $15,000 to begin putting together a plan. (Associated Press 6/2004) Instead, Padilla will be captured by FBI agents as he comes into Chicago (see May 8, 2002).
The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation was founded in 1988 as a branch of the Muslim World League charity, and just like the Muslim World League it is closely linked to the Saudi government. It develops branches in about 50 countries, including a US branch based in Oregon. It has an annual budget of $40 million to $60 million, paid by the Saudi government, and about 3,000 employees. It gives considerable aid to religious causes such as building mosques. But by the early 1990s evidence began to grow that it was funding Islamist militants in Somalia and Bosnia, and a 1996 CIA report detailed its Bosnian militant ties (see January 1996). In 1998, several links were discovered between the charity and the African embassy bombings that year (see Autumn 1997 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
In March 2002, the US and Saudi governments jointly announce the closing of Al Haramain’s branches in Somalia and Bosnia, but Al Haramain defiantly keeps its Bosnian branch open and it is shut down again after police raids in December 2003. (Ottaway 8/19/2004; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 38-41) In December 2002, it is reported that the Somali branch is still open as well. (Harman 12/18/2002)
In late 2002, Al Haramain is linked to the October 2002 Bali bombing and al-Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia in general (see September-October 2002).
In May 2003, Al Haramain announces the closing of its branches in Albania, Croatia, and Ethiopia, soon followed by branches in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Indonesia. But this is because of pressure due to suspected militant links, and at least the Indonesian branch secretly changes locations and stays open. (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 38-41)
In late 2003, Al Haramain Director-General Aqeel al-Aqeel indiscreetly mentions that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah recently donated money to his charity. Al-Aqeel, Deputy General Mansour al-Kadi, and two other senior officials are fired from the charity by the Saudi minister of religious affairs in January 2004. Interestingly, the Saudi minister is also the chairman of Al-Haramain’s board. In 1997, US intelligence found al-Kadi’s business card in the possession of Wadih el-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). (Netherlands Interior Ministry 1/6/2005 ; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 38-41)
In February 2004, the US Treasury Department freezes the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation.
In June 2004, The charity is disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.
In September 2004, the US designates Al-Haramain a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda. (US Treasury Department 9/9/2004; Leonnig and Sheridan 3/2/2006) The United Nations also bans the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. (United Nations 7/27/2007)
The US launches Operation Anaconda, a major offensive in Shah-i-Kot valley, near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan. About 2,000 US and allied soldiers attack a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold in the valley. The goal is to surround and cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda from being able to retreat into Pakistan. Officially, the operation is hailed as an easy victory. For instance, Gen. Tommy Franks calls the operation “an unqualified and absolute success.” (Krushelnycky 3/20/2002) A Pentagon spokesperson calls the operation “a great success,” and says that of the hundreds or even thousands of enemy fighters trapped in the valley,“less than 100 escaped.” (Bearak 3/14/2002) Up to 800 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are reported killed. (Bearak 3/14/2002)
Unexpected Resistance - However, other accounts paint a different picture. The operation runs into unexpected resistance from the start, and eight US soldiers and a small number of allied Afghan fighters are killed in the first few days. The London Times later notes, “what was to have been a two-day operation stretched to 12.” Australian special forces troops who took part later say the operation was botched. “They blamed much of the problem on inadequate US air power, poor intelligence, and faulty technology.” (Krushelnycky 3/20/2002; Maynard 6/18/2002)
Militants Able to Escape - It appears that, as in Tora Bora, Afghan warlord armies supervised by a small number of US special forces, were given the key task of cutting off escape routes. At least one of the warlords involved had tricked the US military earlier in the war. “Although [Afghan] commanders insisted from the start of the campaign that the slopes were surrounded, [one Afghan commander] admitted that there had been at least one escape route” left open. The Guardian notes that “US troops spent weeks planning the attack on Shah-i-Kot, training and arming Afghan soldiers to prevent a repeat of the battle at Tora Bora,” but nonetheless, “nearly all the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters appeared to have fled the area.” (Baker and Vogel 3/4/2002; McCarthy 3/15/2002) Most flee across the border into Pakistan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The New York Times even reported that “some participants… said the Taliban had more or less come and gone as they pleased, visiting villagers in nearby towns.” (Bearak 3/14/2002) One captured Taliban soldier who fought in the battle later claims that bin Laden made a brief personal appearance to rally his troops. (Nordland, Yousafzai, and Dehghanpisheh 8/11/2002) Only about 20 prisoners are captured and fewer than 20 bodies are found. (Bearak 3/14/2002; Burns 3/18/2002) After retreating, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will change strategies and no longer attempt to congregate in Afghanistan in large numbers.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge admits that the FBI has failed to find a single al-Qaeda cell operating in the US. He suspects there are active cells, but cannot explain why none have been caught. (McGrory 3/11/2002) Seemingly obvious al-Qaeda cells, such as Nabil al-Marabh’s Boston cell (see June 27, 2004) and Ali Mohamed’s Santa Clara, California, cell (see Mid-1990s), appear to have escaped detection or public mention. The FBI will issue a report in 2005 that again will claim that no sleeper cells can be found in the US (see February 2005). On September 12, 2001, the New York Times reported, “Authorities said they had also identified accomplices in several cities who had helped plan and execute Tuesday’s attacks. Officials said they knew who these people were and important biographical details about many of them.” (Johnston and Risen 9/13/2001)
Attorney General Ashcroft announces a second US criminal indictment of Saeed Sheikh, this time for his role in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. The amount of background information given about Saeed is very brief, with only scant reference to his involvement with Islamic militant groups after his release from prison in 1999. It only mentions is that he fought in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda in September and October 2001. The indictment and Ashcroft fail to mention Saeed’s financing of the 9/11 attacks, and no reporters ask Ashcroft about this either. (Ressa 3/14/2002; Miller 3/15/2002)
Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. (Burns 4/14/2002; Suskind 2006, pp. 84-89) US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. (Johnston 9/10/2006)
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). (US Department of State 4/30/2008)
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 )
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Burns 4/14/2002) But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. (Burke 6/13/2004; Danner 3/15/2009) One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 94-96, 100) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). (Burns 4/14/2002)
Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb) is arrested in Faisalabad, Pakistan, as part of a series of raids that also results in the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and other suspected al-Qaeda operatives (see March 28, 2002). Apparently, he is in the same house as Zubaida when both of them are arrested. Ahmed is transferred to US custody two months later, and then sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on August 5, 2002.
History of Robbery and Drug Dealing - Ahmed is an Algerian in his late 40s. In the early 1980s, he served in the Algerian army for four years. He was found guilty several times of robbery. In the early 1990s, he lived in Italy and was found guilty several times of drug dealing and robbery. From 1994 onwards he lived in Hamburg, Germany, and spent a total of two years in prison for a variety of crimes, including robbery and credit card fraud. He continued to deal illegal drugs. Eventually, he became a radical Islamist and associated with members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, although when and how this happened is unclear. (Note that in 1995, Hamburg cell member and future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was investigated for petty drug crimes (see 1995).) (US Department of Defense 9/16/2005)
Plane Flight with Hamburg Cell Members - On September 3, 2001, Ahmed flew to Pakistan with cell member Said Bahaji, another older Algerian named Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete), and others suspected of links to the Hamburg cell. They stayed in the same hotel when they arrived in Karachi, Pakistan. Information on Ahmed’s travel was uncovered by German investigators (see September 3-5, 2001).
Training and Fighting in Afghanistan, Hiding in Pakistan - According to Ahmed’s 2008 Guantanamo file, Ahmed confesses that he, Bin Murabit, and Bahaji traveled together to the al-Faruq training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, they met Zakariya Essabar, another Hamburg cell member who had just left Germany (see Late August 2001). Ahmed and Bin Murabit stayed together and trained at a variety of locations in Afghanistan. Later in 2001, they fought against US forces near Bagram, Afghanistan. Ahmed then snuck across the Pakistan border with the help of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, and lived in the same safe house as Zubaida and other militants for about a month before they are all captured. Apparently, Ahmed split up from Bin Murabit at some point, because Bin Murabit is not captured, and it is unclear what happens to him. (US Department of Defense 4/23/2008) (Note that the contents of these Guantanamo files are often based on dubious sources, and sometimes on torture (see April 24, 2011).) Despite Ahmed’s links to the Hamburg cell and Zubaida, he will be transferred to Algeria on November 10, 2008. It is unknown if he is set free or imprisoned by the Algerian government. (New York Times 4/25/2011)
Not long after alleged al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Pakistan (see March 28, 2002), he is interrogated by the CIA.
Zubaida Allegedly Building a Bomb - Zubaida was shot three times while being captured. When he awakes in a Lahore hospital, he is confronted by CIA agent John Kiriakou (a member of the capture team), who will later recall: “I asked him in Arabic what his name was. And he shook his head. And I asked him again in Arabic. And then he answered me in English. And he said that he would not speak to me in God’s language. And then I said: ‘That’s okay. We know who you are.’ And then he asked me to smother him with a pillow. And I said: ‘No, no. We have plans for you.’” Kiriakou will later call Zubaida “the biggest fish that we had caught,” and will say, “We knew he was full of information… and we wanted to get it.” Kiriakou will allege that Zubaida’s captors found evidence that he “and two other men were building a bomb. The soldering [iron] was still hot. And they had plans for a school on the table,” apparently the British school in Lahore.
Zubaida Has Current Threat Information - Zubaida, Kiriakou will say, is “very current. On top of the current threat information.” Kiriakou will report that while in the hospital, Zubaida “wanted to talk about current events. He told us a couple of times that he had nothing personal against the United States.… He said that 9/11 was necessary. That although he didn’t think that there would be such a massive loss of life, his view was that 9/11 was supposed to be a wake-up call to the United States.” But, Kiriakou will claim, Zubaida is “willing to talk about philosophy, [but] he was unwilling to give us any actionable intelligence.” Later CIA reports also indicate that CIA officials, presumably Kiriakou and others, believe that Zubaida has information pertaining to planned al-Qaeda attacks against US targets. (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ) Apparently, Kiriakou is only with Zubaida a short time. Zubaida is quickly sent to a secret CIA prison in Thailand to be interrogated and eventually tortured, while Kiriakou stays in Pakistan (see Mid-May 2002 and After).
It is originally reported that Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda interviews 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 associate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh at a secret location in Karachi, Pakistan, in either June (Fielding 9/8/2002) or August. (Tremlett 9/9/2002) Details and audio footage of the interview come out between September 8 and 12, 2002. The video footage of the interview al-Qaeda promised to hand over is never given to Al Jazeera. (Shahine 9/8/2002) Both figures claim the 9/11 attacks were originally going to target nuclear reactors, but “decided against it for fear it would go out of control.” Interviewer Fouda is struck that KSM and bin al-Shibh remember only the hijackers’ code names, and have trouble remembering their real names. (Fouda 9/9/2002) KSM, who calls himself the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee and refers to bin al-Shibh as the coordinator of the “Holy Tuesday” operation, reportedly acknowledges “[a]nd, yes, we did it.” (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 38) These interviews “are the first full admission by senior figures from bin Laden’s network that they carried out the September 11 attacks.” (Fielding 9/8/2002) Some, however, call Fouda’s claims into doubt. For example, the Financial Times states: “Analysts cited the crude editing of [Fouda’s interview] tapes and the timing of the broadcasts as reasons to be suspicious about their authenticity. Dia Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said: ‘I have very serious doubts [about the authenticity of this tape]. It could have been a script written by the FBI.’” (Drummond 9/11/2002) KSM is later variously reported to be arrested in June 2002, killed or arrested in September 2002, and then arrested in March 2003. After this last arrest report, for the first time Fouda claims this interview took place in April, placing it safely before the first reports of KSM’s capture. (Guardian 3/4/2003; CTV Television 3/6/2003) Bin al-Shibh also gets captured several days after Fouda’s interview is broadcast, and some reports say he is captured because this interview allows his voice to be identified. (Burke 9/15/2002; CBS News 10/9/2002) As a result, Fouda has been accused of betraying al-Qaeda, and now fears for his life. (Gumbel 9/17/2002) As the Washington Post states, “Now Al Jazeera is also subject to rumors of a conspiracy.” (Williams 9/15/2002) Yet after being so reviled by al-Qaeda supporters, Fouda is later given a cassette said to be a bin Laden speech. (MSNBC 11/18/2002) US officials believe the voice on that cassette is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes said it is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. (BBC 11/18/2002; BBC 11/29/2002) It will later be revealed that details of the interview were told to the CIA in mid-June 2002, which directly resulted in bin al-Shibh’s arrest a few months later (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
In the days following the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), a group of top White House officials, the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, begins a series of meetings that result in the authorization of specific torture methods against Zubaida and other detainees. The top secret talks and meetings eventually approve such methods to be used by CIA agents against high-value terrorism suspects. The US media will not learn of this until six years later (see April 9, 2008). The Principals Committee meetings are chaired by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and attendees include Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, will also participate in the meetings. Sometimes deputies attend in place of their superiors. Rice’s group not only discusses and approves specific “harsh” methods of interrogation, but also approves the use of “combined” interrogation techniques on suspects who prove recalcitrant. The approved techniques include slapping and shoving prisoners, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, a technique banned for decades by the US military. Some of the discussions of the interrogation sessions are so detailed that the Principals Committee virtually choreographs the sessions down to the number of times CIA agents can use specific tactics. (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008; Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008; Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008) The Principals Committee also ensures that President Bush is not involved in the meetings, thereby granting him “deniability” over the decisions, though Bush will eventually admit to being aware of the decisions (see April 11, 2008). The Principals Committee, particularly Cheney, is described by a senior intelligence official as “deeply immersed” in the specifics of the decisions, often viewing demonstrations of how specific tactics work. (Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008)
Imminent Threat Calls for Extreme Measures - The move towards using harsh and likely illegal interrogation tactics begins shortly after the capture of Zubaida in late March 2002 (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and March 28, 2002). Zubaida is seen as a potentially critical source of information about potential attacks similar to 9/11. He is kept in a secret CIA prison where he recovers from the wounds suffered during his capture, and where he is repeatedly questioned. However, he is allegedly uncooperative with his inquisitors, and CIA officials want to use more physical and aggressive techniques to force him to talk (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004 and April - June 2002). The CIA briefs the Principals Committee, chaired by Rice, and the committee signs off on the agency’s plan to use more extreme interrogation methods on Zubaida. After Zubaida is waterboarded (see April - June 2002), CIA officials tell the White House that he provided information leading to the capture of two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Late 2002 and May 2002-2003). The committee approves of waterboarding as well as a number of “combined” interrogation methods, basically a combination of harsh techniques to use against recalcitrant prisoners.
The 'Golden Shield' - The committee asks the Justice Department to determine whether using such methods would violate domestic or international laws. “No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” a second senior intelligence official will recall in 2008. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.” In August 2002, Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel will write a memo that gives formal legal authority to government interrogators to use harsh, abusive methods on detainees (see August 1, 2002). The memo is called the “Golden Shield” for CIA agents who worry that they could be held criminally liable if the harsh, perhaps tortuous interrogations ever become public knowledge. CIA veterans remember how everything from the Vietnam-era “Phoenix Program” of assassinations to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were portrayed as actions of a “rogue,” “out-of-control” CIA; this time, they intend to ensure that the White House and not the agency is given ultimate responsibility for authorizing extreme techniques against terror suspects. Tenet demands White House approval for the use of the methods, even after the Justice Department issues its so-called “Golden Shield” memo explicitly authorizing government interrogators to torture suspected terrorists (see August 1, 2002). Press sources will reveal that Tenet, and later Goss, convey requests for specific techniques to be used against detainees to the committee (see Summer 2003). One high-ranking official will recall: “It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time. They’d say: ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.’” The committee approves every request. One source will say of the discussions: “These discussions weren’t adding value. Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008; Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008; Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008) In April 2008, law professor Jonathan Turley will say: “[H]ere you have the CIA, which is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.’ So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.” (MSNBC 4/10/2008) A former senior intelligence official will say, “If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation.” Those who attended the dozens of meetings decided “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on detainees. (Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008)
Ashcroft Uneasy at White House Involvement - Ashcroft in particular is uncomfortable with the discussions of harsh interrogation methods that sometimes cross the line into torture, though his objections seem more focused on White House involvement than on any moral, ethical, or legal problems. After one meeting, Ashcroft reportedly asks: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” However, others in the discussions, particularly Rice, continue to support the torture program. Even after Jack Goldsmith, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), withdraws the “Golden Shield” memo and after Powell begins arguing that the torture program is harming the image of the US abroad, when CIA officials ask to continue using particular torture techniques, Rice responds: “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Reaction after Press Learns of Meetings - After the press learns of the meetings (see April 9, 2008), the only person involved who will comment will be Powell, who will say through an assistant that there were “hundreds of [Principals Committee] meetings” on a wide variety of topics and that he is “not at liberty to discuss private meetings.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008; Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008; Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008)
Author Gerald Posner, controversial for his books dismissing JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories, will claim that a remarkable interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoner Abu Zubaida begins at this time. Zubaida, arrested three days earlier (see March 28, 2002), is flown to a US Special Forces compound outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, he is tricked into thinking the US has handed him to the Saudis for a more brutal interrogation, but in fact “the Saudis” are still American agents. Zubaida expresses great relief at this and, under the influence of the “truth serum” sodium pentothal, tells his interrogators to call Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a nephew of the Saudi king. He provides telephone numbers from memory and says, “He will tell you what to do.” He proceeds to give more information and phone numbers, claiming ties with higher-ups in both the Saudi and Pakistani governments. He also names:
Pakistani Air Force chief Mushaf Ali Mir, who is said to be closely tied to the fundamentalists in the ISI.
Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal.
Prince Sultan bin Faisal, another nephew of the Saudi King.
Prince Fahd bin Turki, another member of the Saudi royalty.
9/11 'Rosetta Stone?' - According to Posner, Zubaida claims that all of these people were intermediaries he dealt with in the frequent transfer of money to al-Qaeda. The phone numbers and other details he provides are consistent with information already known by US intelligence. Zubaida then lays out many secrets about the 9/11 attacks. One unnamed investigator will later call them “the Rosetta Stone” of 9/11. According to Zubaida, he was present in a meeting in 1996 where the Pakistanis and the Saudis struck a deal with Osama bin Laden (see 1996), promising him protection, arms, and supplies in exchange for not being the targets of future terror attacks. He claims both governments were told the US would be attacked on 9/11, but not given the details of how the attack would work. Within months, all of the people named by Zubaida will die mysteriously except for Prince Turki, who is made an ambassador, giving him diplomatic immunity. (Posner 2003, pp. 186-94)
Zubaida Sent to Thailand - Shortly after his stint in Afghanistan, Zubaida is sent to a secret detention facility in Thailand, where he is subjected to extensive torture and abuse (see April - June 2002).
Questionable Sourcing - Posner will say he learned of this story from two unnamed US government sources who gave similar, independent accounts. One is from the CIA and the other is a senior Bush administration official “inside the executive branch.” (Follman 10/18/2003) With the notable exception of a prominent Time magazine article (Zabriskie 8/31/2003) , few news outlets will cover the story (Mitchell 9/5/2003; Sirohi 9/17/2003; Follman 10/18/2003) , and some that cover it only do so in the form of book reviews. (Leiby 9/10/2003; Lichtblau 10/12/2003; Mead 10/29/2003) Some experts will put forth the theory that the story could have been made up by neoconservatives interested in starting a war with Saudi Arabia. It is also possible Zubaida mixed facts with lies, as he will be found to have lied to interrogators on many other occasions. (Follman 10/18/2003) There will also be speculation that the gist of the story may be true, but that Zubaida’s Saudi and Pakistani contacts may have been pinned on dead men to protect the actual guilty parties. (Raman 9/17/2003; Follman 10/18/2003)
Later Confirmation from US Government Officials - New York Times reporter James Risen will essentially repeat and confirm Posner’s account in his 2006 book State of War. He will add, “In addition to the incidents described by Posner, a senior former American government official said that the United States has obtained other evidence that suggests connections between al-Qaeda operatives and telephone numbers associated with Saudi officials.” Risen further points out, “There is no evidence that a thorough examination of [Zubaida’s] claims of ties to powerful Saudis was ever conducted.” (Risen 2006, pp. 187) Also, in 2005, the New York Times will report that Michael Chertoff, who is currently a Justice Department official, advised the CIA about which interrogation techniques they could use on Abu Zubaida and others, and allowed the use of trickery to make the detainee believe “he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country” (see 2002-2003).
Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. (Weiner 2007, pp. 297; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009) In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. (Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” (Danner 3/15/2009)
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. (Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).
The Pakistani trial of Saeed Sheikh and three others begins. (BBC 7/5/2002) NBC reports that death sentences are expected for the four accused killers of Daniel Pearl, despite a lack of evidence. The case will be decided in top secret by handpicked judges in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts. “Some in Pakistan’s government also are very concerned about what [the defendant] Saeed might say in court. His organization and other militant groups here have ties to Pakistan’s secret intelligence agency [the ISI]. There are concerns he could try to implicate that government agency in the Pearl case, or other questionable dealings that could be at the very least embarrassing, or worse.” (Allen 4/5/2002) Later in the month the London Times says that the real truth about Saeed will not come out in the trial because, “Sheikh is no ordinary terrorist but a man who has connections that reach high into Pakistan’s military and intelligence elite and into the innermost circles of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization.” (Fielding 4/21/2002)
A truck bomb kills 19 people, mostly German tourists, at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. It is later claimed that al-Qaeda is behind the attack, and that the suspected bomber speaks with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) by phone about three hours before the attack. (Czuczka 8/24/2002) In June 2002, al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith will say that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing (see June 22, 2002).
Around mid-April 2002, the CIA begins using aggressive interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. A new CIA team led by psychologist James Elmer Mitchell arrives and takes control of Zubaida’s interrogation from the FBI (see Mid-April 2002). This team soon begins using techniques commonly described as torture, such as waterboarding (see April - June 2002, May 2002-2003 and Mid-May 2002 and After). Journalist James Risen will write in a 2006 book: “The assertions that the CIA’s tactics stopped short of torture were undercut by the fact that the FBI decided that the tactics were so severe that the bureau wanted no part of them, and FBI agents were ordered to stay away from the CIA-run interrogations. FBI agents did briefly see Abu Zubaida in custody, and at least one agent came away convinced that Zubaida was being tortured, according to an FBI source.” (Risen 2006, pp. 32) Newsweek will similarly report in 2007 that Zubaida’s interrogation “sparked an internal battle within the US intelligence community after FBI agents angrily protested the aggressive methods that were used. In addition to waterboarding, Zubaida was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.” (Isikoff, Hosenball, and Hirsh 12/12/2007) The FBI completely withdraws its personnel, wanting to avoid legal entanglements with the dubious methods. The CIA then is able to use even more aggressive methods on Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After). (Johnston 9/10/2006) The CIA torture of Zubaida produces a raft of almost useless information (see Mid-April 2002 and June 2002). Zubaida, already mentally unstable (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), says yes to every question asked of him: if al-Qaeda is planning on bombing shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, and water systems. After each “confession,” the CIA cables Washington with the “intelligence,” and much of it is given to President Bush. White House officials will use Zubaida’s dubious admissions to issue many groundless terror warnings and alerts. (Savage 2007, pp. 220)
A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi is shown by the Al Jazeera television network. Alhaznawi does not mention details of the 9/11 plot, but he pledges to send a “bloodied message” to Americans. He says, “It is time to kill the Americans on their own ground among their families and soldiers… The time of humiliation and subjugation is over. It’s time to kill Americans in their heartland.… Lord I regard myself as a martyr for you to accept me as such.” A picture of the World Trade Center exploding appears behind him during his entire speech. It is believed that he recorded the video around March 2001, the same time most other 9/11 hijackers recorded similar videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)), and the background was added in digitally after 9/11. Al Jazeera says they received the video about a week earlier, along with videos from top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as part of a documentary prepared by al-Qaeda. The Guardian notes that “The al-Qaeda tapes broadcast by [Al Jazeera since 9/11] have gradually moved towards acknowledging the organization’s role in the September 11 conspiracy,” and “Alhaznawi’s statement comes close to a full admission…” (Borger 4/16/2002)
The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The newspaper claims that while the administration has failed to acknowledge the mistake publicly, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.” (Gellman and Ricks 4/17/2002) The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” (Moniz 4/18/2002) Apparently, Rumsfeld soon forces the removal of Cofer Black from his position of head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division, because Rumsfeld thinks Black leaked information for this damning Washington Post article (see May 17, 2002).
FBI Director Mueller states: “In our investigation, we have not uncovered a single piece of paper either here in the United States or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and elsewhere that mentioned any aspect of the September 11 plot.” He also claims that the attackers used “extraordinary secrecy” and “investigators have found no computers, laptops, hard drives or other storage media that may have been used by the hijackers, who hid their communications by using hundreds of pay phones and cell phones, coupled with hard-to-trace prepaid calling cards.” (Mueller 4/19/2002; Lichtblau and Meyer 4/22/2002) However, before 9/11, CIA Director Tenet told the Senate that al-Qaeda is “embracing the opportunities offered by recent leaps in information technology” (US Congress 3/21/2000) ; the FBI broke the al-Qaeda computer encryption before February 2001 (Sale 2/13/2001) ; witnesses report seeing the hijackers use computers for e-mail at public libraries in Florida and Maine (Holland, Peltz, and Benedick 9/16/2001; Wedge and Farmer 10/5/2001) ; in October 2001 there were many reports that hundreds of e-mails discussing the 9/11 plot had been found (see October 2001); Moussaoui’s laptop was found to contain important information (see (Late July-Early August, 2002)), and so on.
Spanish authorities arrest Syrian-born Spanish businessman Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, alleging that he is a key al-Qaeda financier. (Simpson, Cohen, and Martinez 5/6/2002) An accountant, Zouaydi is considered to be the “big financier” behind the al-Qaeda network in Europe, according to French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard. From 1996 to 2001, Zouaydi lived in Saudi Arabia and funneled money into a series of companies set up to accept donations. (The source of the donations is unknown.) Around $1 million was then forwarded to al-Qaeda agents throughout Europe, especially to Germany. Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg apartment telephone number was saved in the cell phone memory of one of Zouaydi’s associates. (France-Presse 9/20/2002) Zouaydi also allegedly sent money to Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-born businessman who has admitted knowing Atta and others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Before 9/11, Spanish intelligence monitored Darkazanli several times as he traveled to Spain and met with Zouaydi and others (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). (Simpson, Cohen, and Martinez 5/6/2002) One of Zouaydi’s employees in Spain visited the WTC in 1997. While there, he extensively videotaped the buildings. Perhaps only coincidentally, while in Saudi Arabia, Zouaydi “was an accountant for the al-Faisal branch of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud and Prince Turki al-Faisal.” (France-Presse 9/20/2002) Al-Faisal al-Saud also has a large financial stake in a Sudanese bank allegedly co-founded by and closely linked to Osama bin Laden (see September 24, 2001 and After).
British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesperson states, “Given what we know about al-Qaeda’s interest in the material [Iraq’s supposed WMD], we have to have concerns about a possible marriage between those who wish to acquire it and those who have it.” Immediately after the statement is made, Britain’s own senior military officials refute the claim saying that there is no credible evidence to support the claim. A senior source tells the Independent of London, “We are not aware of evidence, intelligence or otherwise, that the Iraqi government or its agencies are passing on weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda. Nor have we seen any credible evidence linking the Iraqi government to the September 11 attacks.” (Sengupta and Morris 3/26/2002)
Salon reports on the Israeli “art student spy ring.” All the “students” claim to have come from either Bezalel Academy or the University of Jerusalem. An examination of the Bezalel database shows that not a single “art student” appears to have attended school there. There is no such thing as the University of Jerusalem. In fact, the article points out that the sheer sloppiness and brazenness of the spy operation appears to be a great mystery, especially since the Mossad is renowned as one of the best spy agencies in the world. One government source suggests a theory to Salon that the “art students” were actually a smoke screen. They were meant to be caught and connected to DEA surveillance so that a smaller number of spies also posing as art students could complete other missions. One such mission could have been the monitoring of al-Qaeda operatives. (Ketcham 5/7/2002) Shortly afterwards, a major Israeli newspaper publishes a story about the spy ring, but does not come to any conclusions. (Guttman 5/14/2002)
Brigadier Roger Lane, the commander of British forces in Afghanistan, says the war there against al-Qaeda and the Taliban is “all but won.” He claims that military operations will end in a matter of weeks rather than months. (BBC 5/8/2002) In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will announce that the Afghanistan war is over.(see May 1, 2003). But his pronouncement will be just as inaccurate as Lane’s. Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces will begin regrouping in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2002 (see Autumn 2002).
A car bomb blows up outside the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan. A bus full of French engineers is targeted, killing seven of them as well as three Pakistanis. (Rashid 2008, pp. 154) The attack is blamed on a new militant group, called Lashkar-e-Omar in tribute to Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is said to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. This group is said to have been formed from factions of other Pakistani militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Al-Qaeda is also alleged to have been involved in the attack. (Filkins 6/15/2002)
Coming from Pakistan, Jose Padilla steps off the plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and is arrested by FBI agents. Padilla is carrying $10,526, a cell phone, the names and phone numbers of his al-Qaeda training camp sponsor and recruiter, and e-mail addresses of other al-Qaeda operatives. The FBI takes him to New York and holds him in federal criminal custody on the basis of a material witness warrant in connection to a grand jury investigation into the 9/11 attacks. Padilla is a Muslim convert and also goes by the name of Abdullah Al-Muhajir. (Associated Press 6/2004; Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Donald Rumsfeld v. Jose Padilla 6/28/2004)
A US filmmaker is able to penetrate al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan. John Christopher Turner is a US citizen from Missouri, but he lived in Pashtun tribal areas and fought with the mujaheddin against the Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s, speaks fluent Pashto, converted to Islam, and has a long beard. As a result, traveling under the protection of a clan chief, he is able to penetrate the province of Baluchistan in the far west of Pakistan. Turner will later tell the Washington Post that Baluchistan “is where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are comfortably living right now. There’s nobody trying to run them off. In fact, they’re honored guests.… I probably went to ten hornets’ nests, and there were always two or three al-Qaeda in supervisory positions—overseeing, I’d say; the last thing you can do is boss a Pashtun. But obviously they were conduits for money.” He claims to have seen hundreds of Taliban living openly in Baluchistan, with a smaller number of al-Qaeda who are using posing as charity workers. He also runs into al-Qaeda operatives elsewhere. “There are madrassas [Islamic schools] right outside Karachi that are full of al-Qaeda. You go to any madrassa and the al-Qaeda are out there.” He claims to have long philosophical discussions with al-Qaeda figures, and shoots extensive video footage of the militants he meets. US officials say they find Turner’s account credible. ISI agents followed Turner to the vicinity of al-Qaeda safe houses in north Karachi. Turner is extensively interrogated by the FBI after returning from Baluchistan, and they also watch the video footage from his trip. He is put on a plane back to the US. The documentary Turner is planning about his Pakistan trip apparently is never made, as there are no subsequent references to it. (Vick 8/4/2002)
A CD-ROM containing a picture of a young Saudi man named Saud al-Rashid is seized in an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi, Pakistan. The CD also contains the pictures of three 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Abdulaziz Alomari, placed in the same folder with the picture of al-Rashid. The pictures are all passport photos or pages of entry and exit stamps from the same passports. All the computer files of the pictures were saved in May 2001. A senior US official says that investigators “were able to take this piece of information and it showed clear signals or lines that [al-Rashid] was connected to 9/11.” Media reports in 2002 say that the raid takes place on August 15, but an FBI report made public years later will show the raid took place on May 16 but the importance of the CD-ROM’s contents was not discovered until August 15. (Associated Press 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526; Federal Bureau of Investigation 2010)
Al-Rashid Escapes Dragnet - On August 21, six days after the files on the CD-ROM are discovered, the US will issue a worldwide dragnet to find al-Rashid. (Associated Press 8/21/2002) But they are unable to catch him because a few days later, he flees from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and turns himself in to the Saudi authorities. The Saudis apparently will not try him for any crime or allow the FBI to interview him. (CNN 8/26/2002; CNN 8/31/2002)
Al-Rashid's Background - Al-Rashid was in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001, where he met 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi “once or twice” in a guest house. (Johnston and Jehl 7/29/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526) Although detainees identify him as a candidate 9/11 hijacker, he claims not to have met Osama bin Laden or Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), or even to have heard of al-Qaeda. Under interrogation, KSM will say al-Rashid was headstrong and immature and dropped out of the plot after returning to Saudi Arabia for a visa, either due to second thoughts or the influence of his family. However, doubts will be raised about the reliability of KSM’s statements under interrogation (see August 6, 2007). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526) Intriguingly, al-Rashid’s father is Hamid al-Rashid, a Saudi government official who paid a salary to Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of both Almihdhar and Alhazmi who is later suspected of being a Saudi agent. (Johnston and Jehl 7/29/2003)
Passport Clue - Also intriguingly, the pictures from Saeed Alghamdi’s and Khalid Almihdhar’s passports show the passports were issued at “Holy Capital.” This may be an indicator placed by the Saudi government to show that the passport holders are radicals. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2010)
Other Evidence? - Florida FBI agent Tom Yowell will later mention to the 9/11 Commission that he remembers some other 9/11-related evidence captured in a May 2002 Karachi raid, including mention of the address of a Virginia post office box (see February 19-20, 2001 and April 3-4, 2001 and around) and videos of the 9/11 hijackers. But which hijackers were videotaped, and where and when, is not mentioned. (9/11 Commission 12/4/2003 )
It is announced that Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division for the last three years, has been assigned to another position. However, in 2004, six anonymous US intelligence officials will claim that, in fact, Black is removed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because Black publicly revealed details of the US military’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001. Sources will call Black “very aggressive, very knowledgeable,” in fighting al-Qaeda. According to these sources, after the Tora Bora battle ended, an intelligence analysis determined that bin Laden had been trapped in Tora Bora, and deemed his escape a “significant defeat” for the US. Rumsfeld, however, disagreed with the criticism, and said there was not enough “solid evidence” to come to that conclusion. Black then spoke on deep background to the Washington Post, and on April 17, 2002, the Post called the failure to capture bin Laden “the gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda.”(see April 17, 2002) Rumsfeld learned about Black’s role and used his influence to get him removed. (Sale 7/29/2004)
The Bush administration issues a remarkable series of terror warnings that many believe are politically motivated. Vice President Cheney warns it is “not a matter of if, but when” al-Qaeda will next attack the US. (CNN 5/20/2002) Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says the same thing. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says terrorists will “inevitably” obtain weapons of mass destruction (see May 21, 2002). FBI Director Mueller says more suicide bombings are “inevitable.” (Miller and Haughney 5/22/2002) Authorities also issue separate warnings that al-Qaeda militants might target apartment buildings nationwide, banks, rail and transit systems, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. USA Today titles an article, “Some Question Motives Behind Series of Alerts.” (Locy 5/24/2002) David Martin, CBS’s national security correspondent, says, “Right now they’re putting out all these warnings to change the subject from what was known prior to September 11 to what is known now.” It had been revealed the week before that Bush received a briefing in August 2001 entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). (Kurtz 5/27/2002) Remarkably, even Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says the alerts were issued “as a result of all the controversy that took place last week.” (Curl 5/22/2002; Gray 5/23/2002) A retired CIA official reveals that the administration “made a political decision” to make any threat public, even those deemed to be hoaxes. In response to the alleged threat to New York, the former head of the FBI bureau there states that “there really isn’t any hard information.” (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Time notes, “Though uncorroborated and vague, the terror alerts were a political godsend for an administration trying to fend off a bruising bipartisan inquiry into its handling of the terrorist chatter last summer. After the wave of warnings, the Democratic clamor for an investigation into the government’s mistakes subsided.” (Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002)
Walid Arkeh, a prisoner in Florida, is interviewed by a group of FBI agents in New York City. The agents seek information regarding the 1988 US embassy bombings and are there to interview him about information he learned from three al-Qaeda prisoners he had befriended. During the interview, Arkeh claims that, in August 2001, he told the FBI that al-Qaeda was likely to attack the WTC and other targets soon, but he was dismissed (see August 21, 2001). After 9/11, his warning still was not taken seriously by the local FBI. The New York FBI agents are stunned. One says to him: “Let me tell you something. If you know what happened in New York, we are all in deep sh_t. We are in deep trouble.” Arkeh tells the agents that these prisoners hinted that the WTC would be attacked, and targets in Washington were mentioned as well. However, they did not tell him a date or that airplanes would be used. The New York FBI later will inform him that they find his information credible. (Bloodsworth 10/30/2002) Arkeh is later deported to Jordan despite a Responsible Cooperators Program promising visas to those who provided important information to US-designated terrorist groups. (It is unclear whether any one ever has been given a reward through this program.) (Bloodsworth 11/10/2002; Bloodsworth 1/11/2003; Bloodsworth 3/12/2003)
During a speech before the Heritage Foundation, Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) unfurls a chart, which, his comments suggest, was produced by Able Danger. He says it is “the unclassified chart that was done by the Special Forces Command briefing center one year before 9/11. It is the complete architecture of al-Qaeda and pan-Islamic extremism. It gives all the linkages.” However, he does not mention Mohamed Atta or any other 9/11 hijackers during the speech. Video footage of the speech shows the chart, but the picture quality is too poor to determine whether Atta is on it. (Limbacher 8/29/2005) Weldon later claims to have given up his only copy of the chart showing Atta’s face in late 2001 (see September 25, 2001). (Burger and Bennett 8/29/2005) In September 2005, Weldon will refer to the chart shown in this 2002 speech and suggest it may not have been the same chart that contained Atta’s face. He also says he cannot find the chart used in the speech anymore. (Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005)
In the wake of the defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, many of them flee into the tribal region of Waziristan, just across the Pakistani border (see December 2001-Spring 2002). These tribal regions normally have no Pakistani military presence, and the Pakistani army left the border near Waziristan unguarded (see December 10, 2001). (Rashid 2008, pp. 148, 268) In early May, the US begins applying pressure on Pakistan to act. On anonymous Defense Department official tells the Washington Post, “We know where there is a large concentration of al-Qaeda.” He notes there are several hundred in one Waziristan border town alone. A senior US offical says, “We are trying to encourage, wheedle, coerce, urge the Pakistanis to move more aggressively” against the Waziristan safe haven, but have not been having much progress. (Ricks and Khan 5/12/2002) Pakistan finally moves army units into Waziristan in late May 2002, but even then the 8,000 troops remain in the administrative capital of Wana and do not attempt to seal the border with Afghanistan. (Rashid 2008, pp. 148, 268)
In September 2002, the Washington Post reports that European, US, and Pakistani investigators believe that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have secretly shipped large quantities of gold from Pakistan to Sudan in recent weeks and months. Disguised boxes of gold are taken by small boat from Karachi, Pakistan, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, or Iran, and then flown to Khartoum, Sudan. European officials claim that some of the chartered planes used to fly the gold and other commodities are linked to Victor Bout, the world’s largest illegal arms dealer. (Farah 9/3/2002) Bout worked extensively with the Taliban before 9/11 (see October 1996-Late 2001), but reportedly began working with the US after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). So if these various allegations against Bout are true, it means he would be working with the US and the Taliban and al-Qaeda at the same time. European and US intelligence sources say Sudan may have been chosen because Osama bin Laden used to live there and still retains business contacts there. The Taliban kept most of their money in gold when they ruled Afghanistan. Large amounts of gold were also apparently shipped out of Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban were driven from power there in late 2001. (Farah 9/3/2002) The US learned of bin Laden’s extensive financial network in Sudan several years before 9/11, but apparently never shut it down, even after 9/11 (see December 1996-January 1997 and March 16, 2000).
In June 2002, US military officers in Bagram, Afghanistan, tell Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid that up to 3,500 al-Qaeda-linked militants are hiding out in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). They say they cannot understand why the Pakistani ISI is turning a blind eye to them. Some Pakistani army units moved into the area in May, but they only patrol the administrative capitol of Wana. At the time, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is claiming he has no troops to spare for the tribal region due to tensions with India. (Rashid 2008, pp. 268) Pakistan will not allow US troops to enter the tribal regions (see Early 2002 and After).
Accused al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, having been tortured for months in a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see April - June 2002), has had a respite from the intensive interrogations he was initially subjected to. Now, though, the interrogations begin again, being what Zubaida will later recall as “more intens[e] than before.”
Intensified Interrogations - Zubaida will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face.… I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.… They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”
In the Box - Zubaida will give detailed recollections of his time in the box: “After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted. I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress. I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me.… I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before. I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation. During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday. I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.” Author Mark Danner will note that, according to the ICRC report, Zubaida’s impression of being a “guinea pig” is accurate. Some of the techniques used on him will not be reported again—the weeks of sitting in shackles, the coffin-sized boxes. Other techniques, such as the waterboarding, the permanent shackling, the “cold cell,” the incessant loud music and noise, will be used frequently on later captives, as will the constant light and the repeated beatings and physical abuse.
Everything Authorized by Senior CIA, White House Officials - Danner will remind readers that the CIA interrogators never acted alone or with any degree of independence. Everything that is done and said to Zubaida is monitored by other officials on-site—guards, interrogators, doctors—and by senior CIA officials in Washington. CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later tell a reporter: “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him. Or I’m going to shake him. Or I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps… had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’ And that permission would come.… The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.… No one wanted to be the guy who accidentally did lasting damage to a prisoner.” Danner also notes that shortly after Zubaida’s capture, the CIA briefed top White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, ABC News will later report, “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan” (see April 2002 and After and July 2002). During this time the White House is working with Justice Department officials to produce the so-called “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) that will, supposedly, protect the White House and CIA from criminal charges. Even after the memo’s adoption, CIA Director George Tenet continues to tell top White House officials about the specific procedures being used on Zubaida and other prisoners, including techniques such as waterboarding, to ensure that the White House considered them legal. As ABC will later report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that “some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed.” (Danner 3/15/2009)
Former FBI Deputy Director Weldon Kennedy states: “Even in the [Zacarias] Moussaoui case, there’s lots of uproar over the fact that the—there was a failure to obtain a warrant to search his computer. Well, the facts now are that warrant was ultimately obtained. The computer was searched and guess what? There was nothing significant on there pertaining to 9/11.” (CNN 6/3/2002) Three days later, the Washington Post reports: “Amid the latest revelations about FBI and CIA lapses prior to the September 11 attacks, congressional investigators say it is now clear that the evidence that lay unexamined in Zacarias Moussaoui’s possession was even more valuable than previously believed. A notebook and correspondence of Moussaoui’s not only appears to link him to the main hijacking cell in Hamburg, Germany, but also to an al-Qaeda associate in Malaysia whose activities were monitored by the CIA more than a year before the terror attacks on New York and Washington.” (Washington Post 6/6/2002) Slate magazine later gives Kennedy the “Whopper of the Week” award for his comment. (Noah 6/7/2002)
Attorney General John Ashcroft announces the arrest of Abdullah al-Mujahir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla. He claims that Padilla was part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city, and supposedly Padilla was scouting bomb targets when arrested. Padilla, a US citizen, is being held as an “enemy combatant,” allowing him to be held indefinitely. (Borger 6/11/2002; PBS 6/11/2002) But almost immediately, doubts grow about this story. The London Times says that it is “beyond dispute” that the timing of the announcement of his arrest was “politically inspired.” Padilla was actually arrested a month earlier, on May 8. (Maddox 6/13/2002) It is widely believed that Ashcroft made the arrest announcement “only to divert attention from Intelligence Committee inquiries into the FBI and CIA handling of 9/11.” (Ridgeway 6/12/2002; Sengupta and Buncombe 6/12/2002; van Wel 6/13/2002; Pincus 6/13/2003) Four days earlier, Coleen Rowley testified before Congress. The FBI whistleblower stated her belief that the attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the FBI flight-school warnings been made available to the agents investigating Zacharias Moussaoui. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Bush soon privately chastises Ashcroft for overstating claims about Padilla. (Burkeman 8/15/2002) The government attorneys apparently could not get an indictment out of a New York grand jury and, rather than let him go, made Padilla an enemy combatant. (Ridgeway 6/12/2002) It later comes out that the FBI found no evidence that he was preparing a dirty bomb attack and little evidence to suggest he had any support from al-Qaeda, or any ties to al-Qaeda cells in the US. Yet the Justice Department maintains that its view of Padilla “remains unchanged,” and that he is a “serious and continuing threat.” (Burkeman 8/15/2002) Because Padilla is a US citizen, he cannot be tried in a military court. So apparently he will simply be held indefinitely. It is pointed out that any American could be declared an enemy combatant and never tried or have that status questioned. (Epstein 6/11/2002; Washington Post 6/11/2002) The Washington Post says, “If that’s the case, nobody’s constitutional rights are safe.” (Washington Post 6/11/2002) Despite the evidence that Padilla’s case is grossly overstated, the government won’t allow him access to a lawyer (see December 4, 2002; March 11, 2003).
Sudan arrests an unnamed al-Qaeda leader who has confessed to firing a missile at a US plane taking off from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in May 2002. Saudi Arabia had failed to arrest him. This is just the latest in a series of events where “some countries long deemed key US allies—such as Saudi Arabia—are considered less than helpful in the war against terror, while other states remaining on the US State Department’s blacklist of terrorist sponsors, such as Syria and Sudan, are apparently proving more cooperative than their pariah status would suggest.” The US hasn’t been given access to al-Qaeda members arrested by Saudi Arabia, and “concerns over the Saudi authorities’ ‘unhelpful’ stance are increasing.” (Jane's Intelligence Review 7/5/2002)
A car bomb explodes outside the US consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 12 Pakistanis and wounding 45. The building is considered one of the most heavily guarded in Pakistan. Several of the suspected bombers are later arrested, including a naval soldier and a paramilitary ranger. They say that the same car bomb had been positioned in April to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, but the bomb failed to explode. The explosives were allegedly provided by al-Qaeda. The bombers are said to have come from several Pakistani militant groups, working under the new name Lashkar-e-Omar, which is named after Omar Saeed Sheikh. He is alleged to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. This is the last known bombing attributed to the group. (Filkins 6/15/2002; Rashid 2008, pp. 154)
Anonymous US officials tell the Los Angeles Times that Pakistan “has in effect replaced Afghanistan as a command-and-control center for at least some” of al-Qaeda. The group has formed or renewed alliances with local Muslim militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, who are providing safe houses and other assistance. One US intelligence official says, “They don’t operate with impunity there like they did in Afghanistan, but they have lots of supporters, and it’s easy for them to blend in.” A Justice Department official agrees, saying that al-Qaeda operatives are able to go “wherever they want” in Pakistan’s cities. “They’re hiding in plain sight.” The article says, “Al-Qaeda leaders and followers have been arrested or tracked in nearly every major Pakistani city… In some cases, US officials say, Pakistani militants and even some members of the [ISI] have openly supported al-Qaeda and have used an informal underground railroad to help fleeing terrorists.” A recently retired US counterterrorism official says, “The ISI is filled with extremists, and I don’t think they’re trying very hard to find these people. In fact, they’re actively trying to hide them.” Publicly US officials continue to support the Pakistani government due to Pakistani help with certain things, such as allowing US troops to be stationed in Pakistan. But privately they are growing increasingly worried at the lack of cooperation regarding Islamist militancy. (Drogin, Meyer, and Lichtblau 6/16/2002)
Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaks highly classified information to Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron just minutes after his committee learns it in a closed-door hearing with NSA Director Michael Hayden, according to later testimony. Shelby learns that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack, but the agency failed to translate the intercepts until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cameron does not report the story, but instead gives the material to CNN reporter Dana Bash. A half-hour after Cameron’s meeting with Bash, CNN broadcasts the story, citing “two Congressional sources” in its report. CNN does not identify Shelby as a source. Moments after the broadcast, a CIA official upbraids committee members who have by then reconvened to continue the hearing. USA Today and the Washington Post publish more detailed stories on the NSA intercepts the next day. White House and intelligence community officials will quickly claim that the leak proves Congress cannot be trusted with classified information, but experts in electronic surveillance will later say the information about the NSA’s intercepts contains nothing harmful because it does not reveal the source of the information or the methods used to gather it. (Lengel and Priest 8/5/2004; Waas 2/15/2007) The next day, a furious Vice President Dick Cheney will threaten Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) with termination of the White House’s cooperation with the 9/11 Congressional inquiry unless Graham and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Porter Goss (R-FL), push for an investigation (see June 20, 2002). Shelby will deny any involvement in the leak (see August 5, 2004).
Al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman Abu Ghaith allegedly claims that al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, plus Taliban leader Mullah Omar, are alive and well. “I want to assure Muslims that Sheik Osama bin Laden… is in good and prosperous health and all what is being rumored about his illness and injury in Tora Bora has no truth,” he says. He adds that al-Qaeda is ready to attack new targets, and says it is responsible for a recent bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia (see April 11, 2002). Although he does not explicitly say al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, he calls the attacks a “great historic victory that broke the backs of the Americans, the strongest power in this world.” The comments are made in an audiotape played on Al Jazeera. The authenticity of the recording has not been independently confirmed, and Al Jazeera does not explain how it got the recording or when it was made. (Associated Press 6/22/2002) Abu Ghaith previously issued video recordings of his statements (see October 10, 2001).
Although the Western media continues to report that the ISI has reformed itself, “few in Pakistan believe it.” The Independent later reports rumors that on this day ISI officers hide three al-Qaeda members after a gun battle in which ten soldiers were killed. This follows several other betrayals—now the FBI and the other Pakistani law enforcement authorities no longer tell the ISI about their raids in advance. Other Pakistani investigators are forced to build files on militants from scratch, because the ISI will not share what it knows. (Fisk 7/21/2002)
In November 2001, the Sudanese allowed the FBI to interview two al-Qaeda operatives living in Sudan, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, and Mubarak al Duri (see November 2001). Even though both men had links to al-Qaeda dating back to the 1980s (Bayazid even was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members), CIA Director George Tenet will later claim that the FBI agents “reported back that, although their suspicions were great, they were unable to develop sufficient grounds for a case against either man that would justify an extradition request.” But the CIA continues to find more intelligence that appears to tie both of them to al-Qaeda efforts to get weapons of mass destruction. For instance, a trusted informant claims Bayazid helped in an effort to buy uranium for bin Laden (see Late 1993). Tenet claims that “Both men had developed business connections to Sudanese WMD-related entities, and both had established businesses that could have served as dual-use front companies for developing nuclear and biological weapons.” In mid-2002, the CIA tries to get the two men to change sides. CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen goes to Sudan and is allowed to speak with them in a neutral location. But both men are unrepentant. After an appeal to help uncover al-Qaeda’s WMD program to potentially save millions of lives, one of them replies, “No… I think it is legitimate to kill millions of you because of how many of us you killed.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 270-271) There have been no reports since of the US capturing or killing either man or putting them on any public wanted lists.
The US secretly indicts Rajaa Gulum Abbas and Abdul Malik for attempting to buy $32 million in Stinger missiles and other military weaponry in an undercover arms-dealing investigation. However, a US official states that Abbas is an alleged member of the ISI, and is thought to have ties to Middle Eastern militant groups and arms-trafficking operations. He also appears to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Abdul Malik is said to be Abbas’s money man. Abdul Malik is not related to Mohammed Malik, another Pakistani targeted by the undercover operation. The chief US informant in the case, Randy Glass, says that both men also have clear ties to al-Qaeda, and the arms were going to be funneled to al-Qaeda and used against American targets. (Spencer-Wendel and Pacenti 3/20/2003; Burstein 3/20/2003) The indictment is not revealed until March 2003; both men still remain missing and are presumed to be in Pakistan. The US says it is still working on capturing and extraditing Abbas and Malik. (NBC 3/18/2003) NBC seems to have no trouble reaching Abbas in Pakistan by telephone. (MSNBC 8/2/2002; NBC 3/18/2003) The indictment “makes no mention of Pakistan, any ties to Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime or the ultimate destination of the weapons.” (Spencer-Wendel and Pacenti 3/20/2003)
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues a report that concludes, “[C]ompelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and al-Qaeda has not been established, despite a large body of anecdotal information.” (Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008)
The Christian Science Monitor reports that some al-Qaeda forces have relocated to the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir since being driven out of Afghanistan, and they are there with the tacit support of the Pakistani ISI. This is very problematic for the US, due to diplomatic sensitivities regarding the Kashmir region, which is split by a UN monitored Line of Control between Pakistan and India, and is claimed by both countries. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently commented that he had “seen indications that there are al-Qaeda operating near the [Kashmir] Line of Control.” Pakistani militant groups linked to al-Qaeda such as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen operate openly in Pakistani Kashmir, even though they have been officially banned by the US and Pakistan. For many years, the ISI has used such group to harass the Indian army on India’s portion of Kashmir, and they continue to do so. (Smucker 7/2/2002)
Saeed Sheikh and three co-defendants are judged guilty for the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. Saeed, the supposed mastermind of the murder, is sentenced to death by hanging, and the others are given 25-year terms. Saeed threatens the judge with retribution. As if to confirm that his death covers up unpleasant truths, in the stories of his sentencing every major US media story fails to report Saeed’s connections to 9/11 and even to the ISI. (Linzer 7/15/2002; Gannon 7/15/2002; News 7/15/2002; CNN 7/15/2002; Watson 7/15/2002; Colt 7/15/2002; Filkins 7/15/2002; Reuters 7/15/2002; Levine 7/15/2002; Khan 7/15/2002; O'Neill 7/16/2002) In contrast, the British media connects Saeed to the ISI (McCarthy 7/16/2002; McCarthy 7/16/2002; Williams 7/16/2002) , al-Qaeda (Fisk 7/16/2002) , the 9/11 attacks (Mcginty 7/16/2002) , or some combination of the three (Hussain and McGrory 7/16/2002; Williams 7/16/2002; O'Neill 7/16/2002) (with one exception (Abbas 7/16/2002; BBC 7/16/2002) ). The US and British governments both approve of the verdict. (Levine 7/15/2002; BBC 7/15/2002) In the US, only the Washington Post questions the justice of the verdict. (Khan 7/15/2002; Khan 7/16/2002) By contrast, all British newspapers question the verdict, and subsequently raise additional questions about it (see July 16-21, 2002). Saeed has appealed the decision, but a second trial has yet to begin. (Nadeem 8/18/2002)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair states, “We knew about al-Qaeda for a long time. They were committing terrorist acts, they were planning, they were organizing. Everybody knew, we all knew, that Afghanistan was a failed state living on drugs and terror. We did not act.… To be truthful about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent to have suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened on September 11.” (Webster 7/17/2002) In a book released one month later, Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will similarly state, “You show me one reporter, one commentator, one member of Congress who thought we should invade Afghanistan before September 11 and I’ll buy you dinner in the best restaurant in New York City.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 219)
More questions emerge in British newspapers about the conviction of Saeed Sheikh for reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder in the days immediately after the verdict. Pakistani police have secretly arrested two men who many believe are the real masterminds of Pearl’s murder, and official confirmation of these crucial arrests could have ended Saeed’s trial. (McCarthy 7/18/2002) On May 16, Pearl’s body was found and identified, but the FBI does not officially release the DNA results because official confirmation of the body would also have meant a new trial. (Fisk 7/16/2002) Pakistani officials admit they waited to release the results until after the verdict. (McCarthy 7/18/2002) After the trial ends, Pakistani officials admit that the key testimony of a taxi driver is doubtful. The “taxi driver” turns out to be a head constable policeman. (McCarthy 7/18/2002) One of the co-defendants turns out to be working for the Special Branch. (Fisk 7/21/2002) According to Pakistani law, the trial needed to be completed in a week, but in fact it took three months. The trial judge and the venue were changed three times. (Abbas 7/16/2002) The trial was held in a bunker underneath a prison, and no reporters were allowed to attend. When all the appeals are done, it is doubtful that Saeed will be extradited to the US, “because Mr. Sheikh might tell the Americans about the links between al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s own intelligence organization.” (Fisk 7/16/2002) Meanwhile, at least seven more suspects remain at large. All have ties to the ISI, and as one investigator remarks, “It seems inconceivable that there isn’t someone in the ISI who knows where they’re hiding.” (McGirk 5/6/2002)
FBI Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson says he thinks Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead. According to the BBC, this is “thought to be the first time a senior US law enforcement official has publicly offered an opinion on whether bin Laden… is dead or alive.” “Is [bin Laden] alive or is he dead?” Watson says at a law enforcement conference in Washington, DC. “I am not really sure of the answer.… I personally think he is probably not with us anymore but I have no evidence to support that.” The BBC will add that “Watson’s comments suggest that the FBI, at least, has no firsthand information that confirms bin Laden is still alive.” However, other US officials tell the Associated Press they are surprised by Watson’s remarks, as the US administration’s official position remains that it does not know where bin Laden is, or whether he is still alive. (BBC 7/18/2002)
An editorial in an Indian newspaper wonders why the US is still not interrogating Saeed Sheikh, recently convicted of murdering Daniel Pearl. Saeed was briefly interrogated by the FBI in February, but they were unable to ask about his links to al-Qaeda, and no known US contact has taken place since. (Fisk 7/16/2002; Indian Express 7/19/2002) The editorial suggests that if the US pressures its close ally Pakistan to allow Saeed to be interrogated in his Pakistani prison, they could learn more about his financing of the 9/11 attacks and the criminal underworld that Saeed was connected to. Also, US attempts to find al-Qaeda cells in Pakistan could be strongly boosted with new information. (Indian Express 7/19/2002)
Two influential neoconservatives, Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] reservist and Penn State political science professor Chris Carney and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, give two presentations on Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda to the CIA at the agency’s Langley headquarters. CIA analysts are not impressed, having seen much of the information before and having already determined that it was not credible. Some of the information will nevertheless be included in speeches by Bush and in testimony by Tenet to Congress. The information is also put into a classified memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee by Feith, which is later leaked to the Weekly Standard, a neoconservative magazine (see November 14, 2003). (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238)
Since its defeat in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001, thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been regrouping in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The Pakistani army finally entered Waziristan in May 2002 (see Late May 2002), but the army remains in the administrative capital of Wana, leaving al-Qaeda free to operate in the countryside. Emboldened, al-Qaeda begins setting up small mobile training camps in South Waziristan by August 2002. (Rashid 2008, pp. 148)
CNN reporter Nic Robertson obtains a large number of al-Qaeda videos in Afghanistan. The tapes show the organization’s capabilities in bomb-making and assassination techniques, and its efforts to develop chemical weapons (see Before December 2001). Among the 250 tapes obtained, many provide instructions in terror techniques. Others show al-Qaeda meetings with Osama bin Laden, or bin Laden interviews with journalists. Al-Qaeda’s global reach is also evident from the tapes provided by affiliated groups in Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Burma, Algeria, and Sudan. According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, the tapes show that al-Qaeda has become “an organization of organizations… waging a universal jihad campaign.” The earliest are from the 1980s; the latest include news reporting of the 9/11 attacks. “This is their history, the record room of Osama bin Laden,” says Gunaratna. “No terrorist organization is ever known to have put this much knowledge on videotape before,” reports CNN. (Miller 8/19/2002; Robertson 8/19/2002; Robertson and Boettcher 8/23/2002) CNN does not disclose how it obtained the material, except to say that a trusted source drove Robertson to a remote part of Afghanistan and that the tapes had been moved from their original location. (Robertson 8/19/2002)
Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter casts doubt on Salman Pak’s characterization as a terrorist training facility (see April 6, 2003), in an August 2002 interview later included in his book War on Iraq. Ritter says in part, “Iraqi defectors have been talking lately about the training camp at Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. They say there’s a Boeing aircraft there. That’s not true. There’s an Antonov aircraft of Russian manufacture. They say there are railroad mock-ups, bus mock-ups, buildings, and so on. These are all things you’d find in a hostage rescue training camp, which is what this camp was when it was built in the mid-1980s with British intelligence supervision. In fact, British SAS special operations forces were sent to help train the Iraqis in hostage rescue techniques. Any nation with a national airline and that is under attack from terrorists—and Iraq was, from Iran and Syria at the time would need this capability. Iraq operated Salman Pak as a hostage rescue training facility up until 1992. In 1992, because Iraq no longer had a functioning airline, and because their railroad system was inoperative, Iraq turned the facility over to the Iraqi Intelligence service, particularly the Department of External Threats. These are documented facts coming out of multiple sources from a variety of different countries. The Department of External Threats was created to deal with Kurdistan, in particular, the infusion of Islamic fundamentalist elements from Iran into Kurdistan. So, rather than being a camp dedicated to train Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, it was a camp dedicated to train Iraq to deal with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. And they did so. Their number one target was the Islamic Kurdish party, which later grew into [Ansar al-Islam]. Now, Jeff Goldberg claimed in the New Yorker that [Ansar al-Islam] is funded by the Iraqi Intelligence service. But that’s exactly the opposite of reality: the Iraqis have been fighting Ansar for years now. Ansar comes out of Iran and is supported by Iranians. Iraq, as part of their ongoing war against Islamic fundamentalism, created a unit specifically designed to destroy these people. It would be ludicrous for Iraq to support al-Qaeda, either conventionally, as many have claimed, or even worse, to give it weapons of mass destruction…” (Ritter and Pitt 9/25/2002)
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” (US Department of Justice 8/1/2002 ) This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008)
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” (Schmidt 6/8/2004) International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. (Cannon 6/21/2004) Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. (Priest 6/27/2004)
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” (Savage 2007, pp. 155-156)
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Priest 6/27/2004)
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. (Lewis 6/8/2004; Bloomberg 6/8/2004; Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
More than 600 relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuse of financing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. The number of plaintiffs will quickly increase to 2,500 after the suit is widely publicized. Up to 10,000 were eligible to join this suit. The lawsuit does not allege that Saudi defendants directly participated in the 9/11 attacks, or approved them. Instead, it is alleged they helped fund and sustain al-Qaeda, which enabled the attacks to occur. (Schmidt 8/16/2002; Missing 9/13/2002) Defendants named include:
The Saudi Binladin Group, the conglomerate owned by the bin Laden family. (CNN 8/15/2002)
The National Commercial Bank, one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia. (Kellman 8/15/2002)
The government of Sudan, for letting bin Laden live in that country until 1996. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The SAAR Foundation. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which the plaintiffs contend is the primary bank for a number of charities that funnel money to terrorists. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The Benevolence International Foundation. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and its parent organization, the Muslim World League (MWL). The suit claims that the IIRO gave more than $60 million to the Taliban. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Khalid bin Mahfouz, one-time prominent investor in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) who had to pay a $225 million fine following the collapse of that bank. It is claimed he later operated a bank that funneled millions of dollars to charities controlled by al-Qaeda. (Mahfouz denies supporting terrorism and has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, a Saudi prince. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002) “The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 8/15/2002) The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. (News 8/15/2002) Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. (Gordon 8/16/2002) The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. (News 8/15/2002) A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward (see August 20, 2002). More defendants will be added to the suit later in the year (see November 22, 2002). (English 8/20/2002)
The Los Angeles Times reports that “despite intense interrogations and investigations,” no senior al-Qaeda leaders appear to be amongst the nearly 600 detainees at the Guantanamo prison. One US official says that some usual intelligence has been gained from the detainees, but “it’s not roll-up-plots, knock-your-socks-off-kind of stuff.” This official says the detainees are mostly “low-and middle-level” fighters and supporters, not “the big-time guys” high enough to help unravel plots and understand al-Qaeda’s structure. Another official similarly says there are “no big fish” there. “Some of these guys literally don’t know the world is round.” The Times also notes that several European countries “have quietly offered to take prisoners home and put them on trial if US officials can provide evidence that they have committed a crime.” But none has been released for trial so far. (Drogin 8/18/2002) The New York Times will confirm in June 2004 that no al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders are being held at the prison and that in fact the vast majority are innocent of any militant connections (see June 21, 2004). Some al-Qaeda leaders will be sent into the prison from secret CIA prisons in September 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006).
Although he will later come to prominence for accusing it of failing to adequately address the al-Qaeda threat before 9/11 (see March 21, 2004), in a background briefing to reporters, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke appears to praise the Bush administration for aggressively pursuing al-Qaeda from the outset. (King and Bash 3/24/2004)
'Rapid Elimination' - During the briefing, Clarke says that when the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it had “decided then” to “vigorously pursue the existing policy” on al-Qaeda, “including all of the lethal covert action findings.” He says that in the first week of February 2001, the administration decided in principle “to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al-Qaeda.” He says the strategy was changed “from one of rollback with al-Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al-Qaeda.”
Response to Time Magazine - Clarke responds to a recent Time magazine article that suggested the Bush administration was unwilling to adopt suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of a general animus against its foreign policy. He says: “This is the one issue where the National Security Council leadership decided continuity was important and kept the same guy around, the same team in place. That doesn’t sound like animus against, uh, the previous team to me.” He is asked, “You’re saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold?” Clarke replies, “All of that’s correct.”
No Plan, No Delay - One reporter asks about an alleged Clinton administration plan against al-Qaeda, to which Clarke responds, “There was never a plan.” Regarding problems the Clinton administration faced in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat, a reporter asks, “And none of that really changed until we were attacked [on 9/11]?” Clarke says: “No, that’s not true. In the spring, the Bush administration changed—began to change Pakistani policy, um, by a dialogue that said we would be willing to lift sanctions.… So that’s really how it started.” He is asked, “[W]hat you’re saying is that… one, there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of ‘98 were made in the spring months just after the [Bush] administration came into office?” Clarke replies: “You got it. That’s right.” (Fox News 3/24/2004)
Comments Published - In March 2004, the White House will violate a long-standing confidentiality policy by authorizing Fox News to publish these comments that Clarke has made off the record (see March 24, 2004). (Montopoli 3/25/2004; Dean 4/9/2004)
Clarke's Explanation - Around that time, when Clarke appears before the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004), Commissioner James Thompson will ask him about the apparent discrepancies between his comments during this briefing and the criticisms he makes of the Bush administration in his book Against All Enemies. Clarke will explain that his briefing was in the context of Time magazine’s critical story. He will say, “So I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White House to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts in a way that minimized criticism of the administration.” He will add, “I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done.” (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will defend Clarke, writing, “The truth is that the background briefing simply does not conflict with anything Clarke says openly, if more bluntly, in his book.” (Dean 4/9/2004)
Previous Briefing for 9/11 Congressional Inquiry - Two months before this, Clarke had briefed the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry on the Bush administration’s counterterrorism record and had been largely uncritical of its policies (see June 11, 2002).
The Washington Post reports, “A global campaign to block al-Qaeda’s access to money has stalled, enabling the terrorist network to obtain a fresh infusion of tens of millions of dollars and putting it in a position to finance future attacks, according to a draft UN report.” In the months immediately following 9/11, more than $112 million in assets was frozen. Since then, only $10 million more has been frozen, and most of the original money has been unfrozen due to lack of evidence. Private donations to the group, estimated at $16 million a year, are believed to “continue, largely unabated.” The US and other governments are not sharing information about suspected militants, and known militants are not being put on official lists of suspected terrorists. (Lynch 8/29/2002) One month later, a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential US think tank, largely blames the US relationship with Saudi Arabia for the failure. The report says, “It is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official US government spokespersons have not. For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda, and for years the Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” The report will also note that the Bush administration “appears to have made a policy decision not to use the full power of US influence and legal authorities to pressure or compel other governments to combat terrorist financing more effectively.” (Farah 10/16/2002) News reports from early 2006 will show little change to the situation (see November 29, 2005; January 15, 2006).
With the US having diverted much of their best troops and equipment to Iraq, the Taliban and al-Qaeda begin regrouping inside Afghanistan. In August 2002, it is reported that former Taliban head Mullah Omar has secretly returned to Afghanistan and is living in remote hideouts near Kandahar. (Harding 8/30/2002) In September, US intelligence officials say “al-Qaeda operatives who found refuge in Pakistan are starting to regroup and move back into Afghanistan… The movement back into Afghanistan is still relatively small and involves al-Qaeda members traveling in small groups, the officials say.… American officials say the world’s largest concentrations of al-Qaeda operatives are now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the recent influx into Afghanistan is creating new dangers.” (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) In December, a United Nations report claims that al-Qaeda training camps have recently been reactivated in Afghanistan, and new volunteers are making their way to the camps. While the new camps are basic, they are said to be “increasing the long-term capabilities of the al-Qaeda network.” (Associated Press 12/17/2002)
As the administration’s push to convince Americans that the Iraq war is necessary is reaching its height, the Pentagon sends its military analysts out to the television networks and the press (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) with talking points portraying Iraq as an imminent threat. The analysts are to emphasize that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons that it can and will use, that it is developing nuclear weapons, and that it is sure to provide these weapons to al-Qaeda. A military invasion, the talking points state, is not only a necessity, but will be a relatively quick, relatively bloodless, and relatively inexpensive “war of liberation.” Pentagon public relations chief Victoria Clarke and her staff are thrilled at how well the analysts incorporate Pentagon talking points into their own presentations. Clarke’s aide Brent Krueger recalls: “You could see that they were messaging. You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
In the first half of September 2002, a secret report compiled by the CIA, State Department, FBI, NSA, and other US agencies lists six likely bomb targets in Indonesia, including two Bali nightclubs (the Sahid Bali Seaside Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel) that are just a short distance away from the two nightclubs that will ultimately be attacked one month later (see October 12, 2002). The CIA passes the report to its stations in Southeast Asia, alerting them to an imminent attack. The information is at least partially based on the interrogation of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who revealed that al-Qaeda is planning an attack on nightclubs and restaurants in Southeast Asia, particularly in Bali (see August 21, 2002). (Borger and Aglionby 10/17/2002; Caldwell 6/26/2003) On September 26, 2002, the US embassy in Indonesia issues a public warning that states, “Americans and Westerners should avoid large gatherings, and locations known to cater primarily to a Western clientele such as certain bars, restaurants and tourist areas.” However, the US State Department does not issue any travel warning for Indonesia, and other governments such as Australia do not issue any warnings. There also is no evidence that the owners of Bali nightclubs are given any warnings. (Kingston 10/10/2003) A US intelligence source will later tell the Guardian, “The State Department didn’t act on [the early September warning] and it’s become a bubbling scandal.” The Guardian will say shortly after the October 2002 Bali bombings that the warning has “fueled a growing row” in the US, Britain, and Australia “over whether Indonesia could have acted sooner against Islamist militants or whether tourists could have been given more warning of the dangers of traveling to resorts like Bali.” (Borger and Aglionby 10/17/2002) The Sydney Morning Herald will conclude in 2003 that it is now “impossible for anyone to believe that Mohammed Mansour Jabarah’s interrogation did not result in the US learning of JI’s plan for a terrorist attack in Bali.” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later call Jabarah’s warning “stunningly explicit and specific.” (Kingston 10/10/2003)
The US and United Nations designate Wael Hamza Julaidan a terrorist financier and freezes the funds of the Rabita Trust. Julaidan worked with bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam in the Muslim World League in Pakistan in the 1980s and was one of the founders of al-Qaeda in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003) Julaidan’s name was on the “Golden Chain” list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989), serving as an intermediary between bin Laden and Saudi multimillionaires. Beginning in 2000, he became director general of the Rabita Trust, a Pakistani charity which the UN determined has been funding al-Qaeda. The US froze the bank accounts of the Rabita Trust shortly after 9/11 due to suspected terrorist links, but the organization changed its name and continued to operate (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001). Julaidan is considered highly connected in Saudi Arabia and even though the Saudi government officially goes along with the terrorist designations of Julaidan and the Rabita Trust, some top Saudi officials publicly defend him. For instance, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz publicly suggests that Julaidan is innocent. Julaidan is not arrested and the Saudi government offers no proof that they seized any of his or Rabita’s bank accounts. In December 2003, the Washington Post will report that US and UN officials believe Julaidan continues to work with charity fronts and handles large sums of money. (Farah 12/14/2003; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 100-101)
Al-Qaeda appears to have martyr videos for most of the 9/11 hijackers. The Al Jazeera satellite network shows an hour-long video about al-Qaeda containing footage given to it from al-Qaeda of some of the 9/11 hijackers, including a martyr video from hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari (see September 9, 2002 and September 9, 2002). A martyr video from hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi was shown in April 2002 (see April 15, 2002). But this new hour-long video contains images of each of the hijacker teams that hijacked Flights 11, 77, 93 and 175 on September 11. These images show pictures of each hijacker in the team floating over a background. The pictures of the four hijacker pilots appear to come from newspaper photographs, but the rest seem to come from other hijacker martyr videos that have yet to be released. All these martyr videos are said to have been recorded in late 2000 or early 2001 in Afghanistan (see (December 2000-March 2001)). As the pictures of the hijackers show up, a voice said to belong to Osama bin Laden praises each of them. He calls the hijackers “men who changed the course of history” for the better. (BBC 9/10/2002) In future years, more hijacker martyr videos will be released, and images from these videos will match pictures of the hijacker teams in the hour-long 2002 video (see September 12, 2003, September 7, 2006, and September 19, 2008).
A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari is broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. In it, Alomari gives a speech that he calls his last will and testament, and says: “I am writing this with my full conscience and I am writing this in expectation of the end, which is near. An end that is really a beginning.” He implores the US to “take your fat hands off the land of Arabs.… We will get you. We will humiliate you. We will never stop following you.… God praise everybody who trained and helped me, namely the leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden. May God bless him. May God accept our deeds.” It is believed that Alomari recorded the video around March 2001, the same time most of the other 9/11 hijackers recorded similar videos (see March 2001), and the background of a burning Pentagon was added digitally after 9/11. (CNN 9/9/2002; Finn 9/11/2002) Alomari’s speech is part of an hour-long al-Qaeda video broadcast on Al Jazeera (see September 9, 2002).
US officials claim that approximately 2,700 known or suspected al-Qaeda operatives have been captured around the world in the year since 9/11. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) However, what this means exactly is unclear. It is estimated that there were only about 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives at the time of 9/11, although many more people passed through al-Qaeda training camps (see Just Before September 11, 2001). Furthermore, a later investigation will suggest that only one or two dozen of the many hundreds of prisoners sent to Guantanamo prison have any significant al-Qaeda links (see June 21, 2004).
The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) The four most important figures considered still at large are:
Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The four leaders captured are:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
A suspected al-Qaeda operative named Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani is arrested in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 10, 2002. He is a Saudi who later became a Pakistani citizen. Starting in 2000, he began running an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi. He will be held in Pakistani custody until he is transferred to a US prison in Afghanistan in May 2004. He will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba in September 2004. His driver, Muhammad Madni, is arrested too, and Madni reportedly quickly reveals the location of other safe houses in Karachi. (US Department of Defense 5/26/2008)
Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani’s brother, is arrested at one of the safe houses this same day. According to Abdul Rahim’s 2008 Guantanamo file, he is an important al-Qaeda figure because he began running up to six Karachi safe houses, on behalf of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), from early 2000 until his capture. According to his file, many important al-Qaeda leaders stayed at his safe houses and interacted with him or his brother while they were passing through Karachi, including: Saif al-Adel, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Khallad bin Attash, Saad bin Laden, KSM, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Musaad Aruchi, and Hassan Ghul (who is said to be his brother-in-law). Furthermore, 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers stayed at his safe houses while coming or going through Pakistan, including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Hani Hanjour, and Ahmed Alghamdi (the others are not mentioned in his Guantanamo file by name). Abdul Rahim does not admit knowing their mission, but says he picked them up at airports, kept them at safe houses, and transported some of them to their next destinations. He apparently is working on a plot to bomb Karachi hotels used by Westerners, but it is scuttled by the arrests. He is held by Pakistan for two months, then he will be handed to US forces and held in various prisons in Afghanistan until September 2004, when he is transferred to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/9/2008)
The next day, these other safe houses are raided by the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency). 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh is arrested at one of the safe houses (see September 11, 2002). However, in contrast to the claim that the arrest of Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani led to the arrest of bin al-Shibh and others, there is a claim that an Al Jazeera reporter, Yosri Fouda, interviewed bin al-Shibh and KSM in a Karachi safe house in the middle of 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), then told the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, where the interview took place, and the emir told the CIA. The CIA then began intensely monitoring Karachi for safe houses, which finally led to these raids (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
Hassan Ali bin Attash, brother of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, is arrested at the same safe house as bin al-Shibh. Hassan will later be named by many other Guantanamo prisoners as an al-Qaeda operative, but not nearly as important a one as his brother. He will later say that he was held by the Pakistani government for a few days, then taken to Kabul, Afghanistan, by US forces for a few days, and then sent to Jordan and kept in Jordanian custody for over a year. He will be transferred to Guantanamo in January 2004, and where he subsequently remains. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008)
One other suspected al-Qaeda operative is arrested at the safe house with bin al-Shibh and bin Attash (located on Tariq Road). The three of them allegedly hold knives to their throats and threaten to kill themselves rather than be captured. But they are overwhelmed after a four-hour stand-off. (US Department of Defense 12/8/2006)
At another safe house, there is a gun battle when it is raided. Two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are killed. One of those killed, Hamza al-Zubayr, is considered an al-Qaeda leader and the leader of the group in the house. The remaining six are arrested. All six will later be transferred to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008) All of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
In response to Tony Snow’s probing on Fox News Sunday as to whether or not President Bush was convinced there were links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is circumspect until she’s pressed. “He clearly has links to terrorism…—Links to terrorism [that] would include al-Qaeda….” (Fox News 9/15/2002; Islam Online 9/15/2002; CNN 9/26/2002; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)
CIA Director George Tenet testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. On the subject of alleged connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Tenet, using a recently released CIA draft report entitled “Iraqi Support for Terrorism,” tells the panel that no evidence of any such connections exists. Iraq had no foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks or any other al-Qaeda strike, Tenet says. He testifies: “The intelligence indicates that the two sides at various points have discussed safe-haven, training, and reciprocal non-aggression. There are several reported suggestions by al-Qaeda to Iraq about joint terrorist ventures, but in no case can we establish that Iraq accepted or followed up on these suggestions.” (Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008)
CBS reports that in the days after the arrest of Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 11, 2002) and four other al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan on September 11, 2002 (see September 10-11, 2002), “a search of the home of the five al-Qaeda suspects turned up passports belonging to members of the family of Osama bin Laden.” No more details, such as which family members, or why bin al-Shibh’s group had these passports, is given. (CBS News 9/17/2002)
Two 9/11 victims’ relatives testify before the Congressional 9/11 inquiry. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband Ronald died at the WTC, asks how the FBI was so quickly able to assemble information on the hijackers. She cites a New York Times article stating that agents descended on flight schools within hours of the attacks. “How did the FBI know where to go a few hours after the attacks?” she asks. “Were any of the hijackers already under surveillance?” (Miklaszewski 9/18/2002) She adds, “Our intelligence agencies suffered an utter collapse in their duties and responsibilities leading up to and on September 11th. But their negligence does not stand alone. Agencies like the Port Authority, the City of NY, the FAA, the INS, the Secret Service, NORAD, the Air Force, and the airlines also failed our nation that morning.” (US Congress 9/18/2002) Stephen Push states, “If the intelligence community had been doing its job, my wife, Lisa Raines, would be alive today.” He cites the government’s failure to place Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on a terrorist watch list until long after they were photographed meeting with alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). (Miklaszewski 9/18/2002)
The first traces of the alleged ricin plot later uncovered in London in January 2003 (see January 7, 2003) are discovered in the wake of the arrest of an illegal Algerian immigrant. Mohammed Meguerba, later alleged to be the mastermind of the plot, is arrested in north London with various false IDs. An epileptic, Meguerba had entered Britain as an illegal immigrant. He had left his homeland in 1995 and traveled through Europe. He became a waiter in Ireland and married, divorced, remarried and, “by pure chance or cultural void,” said Algerian secret service, “allowed himself to be recruited by fundamentalists” at a Belfast mosque in 2000. Activists in London sent him to training camps in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden himself allegedly gave him a mission in Britain and supplied him with documentation and money. (Riddell 4/17/2005) After this training, Meguerba returned to London in March 2002. He went to the Finsbury Park mosque, where he began to work on crude poisons with fellow Algerian Kamal Bourgass. On September 18, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in London during an operation into suspected terrorist fundraising. But he is released on bail after suffering an epileptic fit, and then flees to Algeria. (Hassaine and O?Neill 5/9/2005) On December 16, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in Algeria by security forces after allegedly being smuggled in by Islamist radicals. On December 28, police begin his interrogation. Within two days, he tells them that he had been working with an al-Qaeda cell in north London and had been helping them produce poisons at a flat. Authorities in Britain receive this information from the Algerian security forces on January 2 or 3. The Algerian intelligence report spurs British authorities into action. As well as information on the poison plot, it contains information on many individuals in Britain who are allegedly engaged in hard-line, violent Islamic radicalism. The report also suggests the existence of a number of terrorist cells in Britain. (Riddell 4/17/2005) Meguerba names Bourgass as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators. (Carrell and Whitacker 4/17/2005) Meguerba had been held in a secret detention center for 17 months by the Algerian security service. His relatives are unaware he had been held from December 2002 until he was moved to a prison in Algiers. When they are finally permitted to visit him, Meguerba weighs 77 lbs and claims he has been badly tortured. These claims are backed up another Algerian man, residing in Britain, who was detained in Algiers in January 2003 and placed by his interrogators in a room with Meguerba, whom the man describes as “bruised, cut, and swollen.” Upon his appearance in an Algiers court, Meguerba appears frail and is missing teeth. The confession extracted from Meguerba during this time was the evidence that led to the Wood Green raid. However, during the later trial, the confession is not relied on by the prosecution as the allegations of torture could be raised by the defense. One source says “the Government has introduced the Human Rights Act but finds itself relying on regimes with appalling human rights records for information.” Algerian secret services deny the claims of torture. (Hassaine and O?Neill 5/9/2005)
A Bosnian government probe connects the Saudi charity Talibah International Aid Association to the funding of Islamic militant groups and an al-Qaeda front group. Talibah has been under investigation since shortly after 9/11 due to a foiled attack in Bosnia that has been connected to Talibah and al-Qaeda. Abdullah Awad bin Laden, one of bin Laden’s nephews, is a Talibah officer in its Virginia office. An investigation into him was cancelled in September 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996). The US has been criticized for failing to list Talibah as a sponsor of terrorism and for not freezing its assets. (Simpson 9/20/2002)
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley convenes a meeting in the White House Situation Room to discuss Iraq with Colin Powell, George Tenet, and Donald Rumsfeld. The White House wants to be sure they are all on the same page when they testify before Congress next week. When a CIA officer notes that the alleged ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda are not supported by current intelligence, Douglas Feith cuts in insisting that Mohamed Atta had met an Iraqi agent in Prague, and that the director of Iraqi intelligence had met with Osama bin Laden in 1996. Both theories have been dismissed by the intelligence community. After a few minutes, Hadley cuts him off and tells him to sit down. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 113-114)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike