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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
Al-Qaeda was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 10 of 12 (1118 events)previous
In an interview with Christopher Deliso of Antiwar.com, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds says that the US government—the State Department in particular—consistently blocks counterterrorism investigations that come too close to certain top-level people. “We go for the Attas and Hamdis—but never touch the guys on the top.… [It] would upset ‘certain foreign relations.’ But it would also expose certain of our elected officials, who have significant connections with high-level drugs- and weapons- smuggling—and thus with the criminal underground, even with the terrorists themselves.… [A]ll of these high-level criminal operations involve working with foreign people, foreign countries, the outside world—and to a certain extent these relations do depend on the continuation of criminal activities.” Edmonds says that the government’s investigation into the financing of al-Qaeda is a case in point. “You know, they are coming down on these charities as the finance of al-Qaeda.… [But] a very small percentage comes from these charity foundations. The vast majority of their financing comes from narcotics. Look, we had 4 to 6 percent of the narcotics coming from the East, coming from Pakistan, coming from Afghanistan via the Balkans to the United States. Today, three or four years after Sept. 11, that has reached over 15 percent. How is it getting here? Who are getting the proceedings from those big narcotics?… But I can tell you there are a lot of people involved, a lot of ranking officials, and a lot of illegal activities that include multi-billion-dollar drug-smuggling operations, black-market nuclear sales to terrorists and unsavory regimes, you name it. And of course a lot of people from abroad are involved.” She says that her allegations against co-worker Melek Can Dickerson and her lawsuit against the FBI are just the tip of the iceberg. She expresses frustration that the media wants to only focus on the whistleblower aspect of her case instead of looking into the substance of her allegations. She says that it was completely by chance that she stumbled over an ongoing investigation into this international criminal network. “You can start from the AIPAC angle. You can start from the [Valerie] Plame case. You can start from my case. They all end up going to the same place, and they revolve around the same nucleus of people. There may be a lot of them, but it is one group. And they are very dangerous for all of us.” [Anti-War (.com), 8/15/2005]
Knight Ridder reports, “Nearly four years after a US-led military intervention toppled them from power, the Taliban has re-emerged as a potent threat to stability in Afghanistan. Though it’s a far cry from the mass movement that overran most of the country in the 1990s, today’s Taliban is fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, according to Afghan and Western officials.… The Taliban is now a disparate assemblage of radical groups estimated to number several thousand, far fewer than when it was in power before November 2001. The fighters operate in small cells that occasionally come together for specific missions. They’re unable to hold territory or defeat coalition troops.… The Taliban insurgents have adopted some of the terrorist tactics that their Iraqi counterparts have used to stoke popular anger at the Iraqi government and the US military. They’ve stalled reconstruction and fomented sectarian tensions in a country that remains mired in poverty and corruption, illegal drugs and ethnic and political hatred.” Most of the original top leaders were never captured. Some who were briefly held and then released, such as former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund (see Early January 2002), are part of the resurgence. Forty-four US soldiers have been killed in the last six months. Afghan and Western officials claim that the Taliban continues to be supported by Pakistan’s ISI. Pakistan “seeks a weak government in [Afghanistan] that it can influence.” It is claimed that the Taliban are allowed to maintain training camps and arms depots just across the border from Pakistan. [Knight Ridder, 8/18/2005]
Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]
Several individuals come forward and corroborate claims made about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger that, by mid-2000, allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers. Days previously, a US Army intelligence officer called Anthony Shaffer made claims about the unit (see August 17, 2005). On August 22, Scott J. Phillpott, an active-duty Navy captain who managed the Able Danger program for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, comes forward and corroborates Shaffer’s claims. He says, “My story is consistent. Atta was identified by Able Danger in January-February of 2000.” Phillpott states that he was the officer who met with staff from the 9/11 Commission in July 2004, and told them about the program (see July 12, 2004). [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Claims about the program are further corroborated when a former employee of a defense contractor who says he worked on the technical side of the unit, also comes forward. James D. Smith, who worked for Orion Scientific Systems [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] , states that in 2000 he helped create a chart for Able Danger. He says, “I am absolutely positive that he [Atta] was on our chart among other pictures and ties that we were doing mainly based upon [terror] cells in New York City.”
[Fox News, 8/28/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon admits that they have found three others, apart from Anthony Shaffer and Scott Phillpott, associated with Able Danger who assert that the program identified Mohamed Atta as an al-Qaeda suspect inside the US more than a year before 9/11. An official says that the five individuals associated with the program (including Shaffer and Phillpott) were all considered “credible people,” and that four of them recalled a photo of Mohamed Atta accompanying the chart they produced. [Reuters, 9/1/2005] Eleven people ran Able Danger. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The Pentagon interviewed a total of 80 people who had some kind of association with the Able Danger program. [New York Times, 9/1/2005]
Still from Mohammad Sidique Khan’s last testament video. [Source: Reuters]The Al Jazeera satellite network broadcasts a video apparently featuring short speeches from Mohammad Sidique Khan, considered the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. The two do not appear together. The man resembling Khan praises “our beloved sheikh, Osama bin Laden.” He declares: “Until we feel security, you will be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.” The man resembling Al-Zawahiri does not explicitly take credit for the 7/7 bombings, but he speaks of “the blessed London battle, which came as a slap to the face of the tyrannical, crusader British arrogance.… Like its glorious predecessors in New York, Washington, and Madrid, this blessed battle has transferred the battle to the enemies’ land.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair has strenuously denied that the 7/7 bombings were inspired by British involvement in the Iraq war, but the man resembling al-Zawahiri refers to the “inferno of Iraq,” and says Blair is conducting a “crusader war against Islam.” There are no obvious visual signs of where the speeches were recorded. [New York Times, 9/2/2005] Remarkably, British counterterrorism officials continue to deny a direct al-Qaeda link to the 7/7 bombings and are not convinced by the video. One unnamed senior official says, “It leaves us in the same position.” A police source admits that the video “makes it a bit more likely al-Qaeda were directly involved.” The video is made by As-Sahab, the al-Qaeda media production company behind other al-Qaeda videos. [Guardian, 9/3/2005] Another 7/7 bomber will apparently appear in a similar video one year later (see July 6, 2006).
On October 6, 2005, the FBI warns of al-Qaeda subway bombings in New York City. It is alleged that a terror plot will be put into motion “on or about October 9, 2005.” A counterterrorism official states that the warning is unnecessary: “There was no there there.” [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] It is later confirmed that New York City authorities had been aware of the threat for at least three days and had responded accordingly. Local TV station WNBC had been asked by federal authorities to hold the story back. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Meanwhile, Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is failing (see October 3-27, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
In a speech, President Bush lists ten terrorist plots the US has supposedly foiled since 9/11, as well as five “casings and infiltrations.” Here are the plots, exactly as they are described in a White House press release, rearranged into a rough chronological order:
West Coast Airliner Plot - In mid-2002 the US disrupted a plot to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes. The plotters included at least one major operational planner involved in planning the events of 9/11.
Jose Padilla Plot - In May 2002 the US disrupted a plot that involved blowing up apartment buildings in the United States. One of the plotters, Jose Padilla, also discussed the possibility of using a “dirty bomb” in the US.
2002 Straits of Hormuz Plot - In 2002 the US and partners disrupted a plot to attack ships transiting the Straits of Hormuz.
2002 Arabian Gulf Shipping Plot - In late 2002 and 2003 the US and a partner nation disrupted a plot by al-Qaeda operatives to attack ships in the Arabian Gulf.
2003 Karachi Plot - In the spring of 2003 the US and a partner disrupted a plot to attack Westerners at several targets in Karachi, Pakistan.
East Coast Airliner Plot - In mid-2003 the US and a partner disrupted a plot to attack targets on the East Coast of the United States using hijacked commercial airplanes.
2003 Tourist Site Plot - In 2003 the US and a partner nation disrupted a plot to attack a tourist site outside the United States.
Heathrow Airport Plot - In 2003 the US and several partners disrupted a plot to attack Heathrow Airport using hijacked commercial airliners. The planning for this attack was undertaken by a major 9/11 operational figure.
2004 UK Plot - In the spring of 2004 the US and partners, using a combination of law enforcement and intelligence resources, disrupted a plot to conduct large-scale bombings in [Britain].
2004 [British] Urban Targets Plot - In mid-2004 the US and partners disrupted a plot that involved urban targets in [Britain]. These plots involved using explosives against a variety of sites.
Here are the five additional “casings and infiltrations”:
2001 Tasking - In 2001, al-Qaeda sent an individual to facilitate post-September 11 attacks in the US. US law enforcement authorities arrested the individual.
2003 Tasking - In 2003, an individual was tasked by an al-Qaeda leader to conduct reconnaissance on populated areas in the US.
Gas Station Tasking - In approximately 2003, an individual was tasked to collect targeting information on US gas stations and their support mechanisms on behalf of a senior al-Qaeda planner.
Iyman Faris and the Brooklyn Bridge - In 2003, and in conjunction with a partner nation, the US government arrested and prosecuted Iyman Faris, who was exploring the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Faris ultimately pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaeda and is now in a federal correctional institution.
US Government & Tourist Sites Tasking - In 2003 and 2004, an individual was tasked by al-Qaeda to case important US Government and tourist targets within the United States. [White House, 10/6/2005]
However, later in the month the Washington Post publishes a story questioning the importance of most of these plots. The article states that the plot list “has confused counterterrorism experts and officials, who say they cannot distinguish between the importance of some incidents on the list and others that were left off. Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed. Others noted that the nation’s color-coded threat index was not raised from yellow, or ‘elevated’ risk of attack, to orange, or ‘high’ risk, for most of the time covered by the incidents on the list.” An anonymous former CIA counterterrorism official tells the Post that Bush made it “sound like well-hatched plans… I don’t think they fall into that category.” Another anonymous counterterrorism official says, “We don’t know how they came to the conclusions they came to… It’s safe to say that most of the [intelligence] community doesn’t think [the list is] worth very much.” [Washington Post, 10/23/2005]
Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Around this date, al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, is arrested in a raid in Quetta, Pakistan. The US posted a $5 million reward for his capture in 2004. A red-haired, light-skinned Syrian citizen, he also is a citizen of Spain and long-time resident there. The raid takes place in a Quetta shop used as an office for the Madina Trust, a Pakistani charity that is linked to the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. A man arrested with Nasar is believed to be a Jaish-e-Mohammed member; another man is killed in the raid. [CNN, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 5/2/2006] He is believed to have taught the use of poisons and chemicals at Afghanistan training camps and he is suspected of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But he is best known for his strategic writings. The Washington Post calls him “one of the jihad movement’s prime theorists.” He long advocated a decentralized militant movement, and was often critical of bin Laden’s and al-Qaeda’s mistakes. He says, “Al-Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be. It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He is soon flown out of Pakistan and into US custody. In 2006, US intelligence sources will claim that he is now in the secret custody of another unnamed country. [Washington Post, 5/23/2006; New Yorker, 9/4/2006] In 2006, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge involved in many al-Qaeda related cases, will complain that the US has not shared any information about Nasar since his secret arrest. He adds, “I don’t know where he is. Nobody knows where he is. Can you tell me how this helps the struggle against terrorism?” [New York Times, 6/4/2006]
Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006. [Source: Alan Diaz / Associated Press]Jose Padilla, a US citizen and “enemy combatant” alleged to be an al-Qaeda terrorist (see May 8, 2002) and held without charges for over three years (see October 9, 2005), is charged with being part of a North American terrorist cell that sent money and recruits overseas to, as the indictment reads, “murder, maim, and kidnap.” The indictment contains none of the sensational allegations that the US government has made against Padilla (see June 10, 2002), including his supposed plan to detonate a “dirty bomb” inside the US (see Early 2002) and his plans to blow up US hotel and apartment buildings (see March 2002). Nor does the indictment accuse Padilla of being a member of al-Qaeda. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says, “The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist (see September-October 2000) with the intention of fighting a violent jihad.” He refuses to say why the more serious charges were not filed. Some provisions of the Patriot Act helped the investigation, Gonzales adds: “By tearing down the artificial wall that would have prevented this kind of investigation in the past, we’re able to bring these terrorists to justice,” he says. The Padilla case has become a central part of the dispute over holding prisoners such as Padilla without charge; by charging Padilla with lesser crimes, the Bush administration avoids the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling that he and other “enemy combatants,” particularly American citizens, must either be tried or released. Law professor Eric Freedman says the Padilla indictment is an effort by the administration “to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court.” Law professor Jenny Martinez, who represents Padilla, says: “There’s no guarantee the government won’t do this again to Mr. Padilla or others. The Supreme Court needs to review this case on the merits so the lower court decision is not left lying like a loaded gun for the government to use whenever it wants.” Padilla’s lawyers say the government’s case against their client is based on little more than “double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation.” Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department, where he will await trial in a federal prison in Miami. He faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder, maim, and kidnap overseas. The lesser charges—providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy—carry maximum prison terms of 15 years each. [Associated Press, 11/22/2005; Fox News, 11/23/2005]
'Dirty Bomb' Allegations 'Not Credible,' Says Former FBI Agent - Retired FBI agent Jack Cloonan, an expert on al-Qaeda, later says: “The dirty bomb plot was simply not credible. The government would never have given up that case if there was any hint of credibility to it. Padilla didn’t stand trial for it, because there was no evidence to support it.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Issue with CIA Videotapes - In 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identified Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative (see Mid-April 2002) and the government cited Zubaida as a source of information about Padilla after Padilla’s arrest. Yet, sometime this same month, the CIA destroys the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogations from the time period where he allegedly identified Padilla (see November 2005). The Nation’s Aziz Huq will later comment: “Given the [Bush] administration’s reliance on Zubaida’s statements as evidence of Padilla’s guilt, tapes of Zubaida’s interrogation were clearly relevant to the Padilla trial.… A federal criminal statute prevents the destruction of any record for a foreseeable proceeding, even if the evidence is not admissible.… [I]t seems almost certain that preservation of the tapes was legally required by the Jose Padilla prosecution.” [Nation, 12/11/2007]
Entity Tags: Jenny Martinez, Jose Padilla, US Supreme Court, Jack Cloonan, Eric Freedman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Aziz Huq, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an impartial investigative arm of Congress, claims the US effort to help foreign nations cut off terrorism funding has been frustrated by infighting among US agencies, a lack of funding, and leadership problems. The report says “the US government lacks an integrated strategy” to train foreign countries and give them technical assistance. Officials at the State and Treasury Departments cannot even agree on who is supposed to be in charge of the effort. In at least one case, the State Department refused to even allow a Treasury official to enter a certain foreign country. “Investigators found clear tensions between officials at State, Treasury, Justice, and other US government departments.” Remarkably, private contractors have sometimes been allowed to draft proposed laws for foreign countries to curb terrorist financing. The contractors’ work at times resulted in proposals with “substantial deficiencies.” Generally speaking, the New York Times notes that experts say that the Bush administration’s efforts with terrorist financing has been “spotty, with few clear dents in al-Qaeda’s ability to move money and finance terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 11/29/2005]
Kevin Brock, the new deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says that the US has not detected a significant al-Qaeda operational capability in the US since the 2003 arrest of a truck driver plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. But he says that al-Qaeda’s capabilities remain unclear and the group is still dangerous. [Associated Press, 12/2/2005]
Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager in US custody at Guantanamo for nearly three years (see December 17, 2002 and October 19, 2004), is found by a US Administrative Review Board (ARB) to pose a continuing danger to the national security of the United States, and is denied release. The decision is based on US claims that Jawad belongs to a group with ties to al-Qaeda, and on a signed “confession” obtained from Jawad. The boy claims that Afghan police tortured and beat him until he signed the confession. The ARB decision will be reaffirmed in late 2006. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Jawad “signed” his confession with a fingerprint, as he cannot write his name. The confession was written in a language he cannot speak or read, and, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will later note, “was given to him after several days of beatings, druggings, and threats—all while he was likely 15 or 16 years old.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
President Bush acknowledges that he issued a 2002 executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mails without proper warrants, and accuses the New York Times of jeopardizing national security by publishing its December 15 article (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Bush says he was within the law to issue such an order, which many feel shatters fundamental Constitutional guarantees of liberty and privacy, but accuses the Times of breaking the law by publishing the article. Bush tells listeners during his weekly radio address that the executive order is “fully consistent” with his “constitutional responsibilities and authorities.” But, he continues, “Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.” He admits allowing the NSA to “to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” in a program designed to “detect and prevent terrorist attacks.” Under the law, the NSA must obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, but after Bush’s executive order, it was no longer required to do so. Bush justifies the order by citing the example of two 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who, he says, “communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al-Qaeda who were overseas, but we didn’t know they were here until it was too late.” Because of the unconstitutional wiretapping program, it is “more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time, and the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.” Bush also admits to reauthorizing the program “more than thirty times,” and adds, “I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaeda and related groups.” [CNN, 12/16/2005] Bush fails to address the likelihood that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” [White House, 12/19/2005] The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. [White House, 9/18/2001]
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. [White House, 12/19/2005]
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) writes that Congress explicitly rejected several attempts by the Bush administration to provide him with war-making authority and the authority to wiretap and monitor US citizens “in the United States” when it approved the September 18, 2001 authorization to use military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Instead, the Bush administration merely usurped that authority and launched—or expanded (see Spring 2001)—its warrantless wiretapping program, conducted by the NSA. Since then, the Bush administration and the Justice Department have both repeatedly asserted that the AUMF gave them the right to conduct the wiretapping program, an assertion that Daschle says is flatly wrong. On December 21, the Justice Department admitted in a letter that the October 2001 presidential order authorizing warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens did not comply with “the ‘procedures’ of” the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, “except as authorized by statute.” However, the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, argues that the AUMF gave the administration the authority to conduct the program. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005] The letter continues the argument that Congress gave President Bush the implict authority to create an exception to FISA’s warrant requirements, though the AUMF resolution did not mention surveillance and made no reference to the president’s intelligence-gathering authority. The Bush administration kept the program secret until it was revealed by the New York Times on December 15, 2005. Moschella argues that secret intelligence-gathering, even against US citizens, is “a fundamental incident to the use of military force” and that its absence from the resolution “cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy.” Such eavesdropping, he argued, must by necessity include conversations in which one party is in the United States. [William Moschella, 12/22/2005 ] Daschle, one of the primary authors of the resolution, says that Moschella and the Bush administration are wrong in their assertions: “I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance” (see September 12-18, 2001). [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, William E. Moschella, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Daschle
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department opens an investigation into the leak of classified information about the Bush domestic surveillance program. The investigation focuses on disclosures to the New York Times about the secret warrantless wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency since shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). The White House claims that the Justice Department initiated the investigation on its own after receiving a request from the NSA, and that it was not even informed of the investigation until the decision had already been made. But White House spokesman Trent Duffy hails the investigation, and implicitly accuses the Times of aiding and abetting terrorists by printing its stories. “The leaking of classified information is a serious issue,” Duffy says. “The fact is that al-Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] President Bush fuels the attack on the Times when he says, “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Many outside of the administration have accused the wiretapping program, which functions without external oversight or court warrants, of being illegal, and Bush of breaking the law by authorizing it. Administration officials insist that Bush has the power to make such a decision, both under the Constitution’s war powers provision and under the post-9/11 Congressional authorization to use military force against terrorism, even though, as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recalls, Congress explicitly refused to give Bush the authority to take military action inside the US itself (see December 21-22, 2005). And, in a recent letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the White House claimed that the nation’s security needs outweigh the needs of the citizenry to be secure from secret government surveillance. [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] Others disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero says, “President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of US citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.” And Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the NSA should be the focus of an investigation to determine if it broke federal surveillance laws. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggests a middle course. His group does not object to a limited investigation into the leak of classified information, but, he says, if the administration does “a blanket witch hunt, which I fear, it would trample all over good government laws” designed to protect government workers who expose wrongdoing. “The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public’s eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Ultimately, this leak investigation may not achieve much, according to law professor Carl Tobias. “It doesn’t seem to me that this leak investigation will take on the importance of the Plame case,” Tobias says. “The bigger story here is still the one about domestic spying and whether the president intends, as he said, to continue doing it.” [Washington Post, 12/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Anthony D. Romero, Tom Devine, Trent Duffy, American Civil Liberties Union, Al-Qaeda, Tom Daschle, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Carl Tobias, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Government Accountability Project, George W. Bush, Marc Rotenberg, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Over the course of 2006, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are able to increase their control over the Pakistani tribal regions where both groups are based. More than 120 tribal elders who oppose them are executed during the year. Al-Qaeda feels so secure that its media production arm, As-Sahab, greatly increases its output, releasing 58 audio and videotapes, which is three times as many as in 2005. Militant groups are particularly secure in the region of Waziristan. The Pakistani government made a deal with militants in South Waziristan in 2005 (see February 7, 2005), which still holds, and makes a similar deal with militants in North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 278]
The CIA misses a chance to kill al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. In 2006, the CIA hears from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, that Habib is staying at a compound in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. An involved CIA officer will later tell the Los Angeles Times that he spends weeks at a nearby military outpost, monitoring live images from a Predator drone. He says, “We had a Predator up there for hours at a stretch, just watching, watching.” The CIA closely studies the layout of the compound in preparation for a drone strike. “They took a shot at the compound a week after I left. We got some bodyguards, but he was not there.” Under US policy at this time, the CIA needs permission from the Pakistani government before any drone strike, and getting the approval can take a day or more. Apparently, such delays contribute to the failure to successfully kill Habib. Habib will finally be killed in a Predator strike in 2008. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009] There are no contemporary media accounts of any Predator strike at Miram Shah in 2006, so the date of the strike remains unknown.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new “reasonable belief” standard for wiretaps is just another term for “probable cause.” Gonzales’s claim is legally false. The difference between the two standards is significant: while administration officials must present relatively compelling evidence that a US citizen has ties to US-designated terrorist organizations or is involved in terror plots to meet the “probable cause” standard for authorizing electronic surveillance, the “reasonable belief” standard is far more lenient. Gonzales also repeats for the committee President Bush’s claims that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) isn’t “agile” or “nimble” enough to assist the Justice Department and the US intelligence community in finding and arresting terrorists, a claim that FISC judges find baffling. FISC routinely approves almost all warrant requests, and FISA allows the government to conduct surveillance for 72 hours before even applying for a warrant. Additionally, FISC has consistently worked with the government to expedite requests and streamline the warrant-issuance procedure. For example, in March 2002, when the FBI and Pakistani police arrested al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, agents found that almost all of Zubaida’s contacts were already being monitored under FISA warrants or through international surveillance efforts (see March 28, 2002). One government official says that the Zubaida discovery gave them “some comfort” that surveillance efforts were working as needed. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
Douglas Feith. [Source: Whodidit.org]Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. [Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. [Washington Post, 5/25/2006] Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Dr. Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, claims he has seen evidence indicating that Osama bin Laden is either dead or seriously ill. The evidence was provided by an Indian colleague and indicated bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April 2005. “It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I’ve been provided with that he’s certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage,” Williams comments, adding that bin Laden has not released a statement for some time. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/16/2006] Bin Laden releases a new audio statement three days later (see January 19, 2006), but the origin of this tape will be questioned (see January 19, 2006). [Christian Science Monitor, 1/20/2006]
A new audio tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden surfaces. In the tape, the US is offered a truce by al-Qaeda. The voice on the tape criticizes President Bush, and discusses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are said to be going badly for the US. The tape is also critical of the Pentagon’s efforts to manage the war news, and references an alleged US plan to attack the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Qatar. After comparing the US to Saddam Hussein and saying that US soldiers are raping women and taking them hostage, the voice says the US is torturing detainees, and that “Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.” The voice also threatens further attacks in the US, “Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing.” The US is offered a truce: “We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect… In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.” He also recommends the book Rogue State by William Blum. [BBC, 1/19/2006] The US rejects the proposed truce, and Vice President Dick Cheney calls it a “ploy”. [BBC, 1/20/2006] However, a bin Laden expert is skeptical about the tape (see January 19, 2006).
In a public speech, former National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden claims that everything the NSA does is with authorization from the White House, specifically the warrantless wiretapping program that spies on US citizens (see Early 2002). “I didn’t craft the authorization,” he says. “I am responding to a lawful order.” Hayden claims that while the NSA continues to use court warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), technological advances and terrorist threats have made the law that created and supports FISC, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (see 1978), obsolete. Therefore, the NSA has carried out domestic surveillance operations with or without FISC warrants. Hayden says the warrantless surveillance operations are “operationally more relevant, operationally more effective” than anything FISA can handle. Hayden repeatedly denies, in the face of reams of evidence collected by journalists and others to the contrary, that the NSA is spying on domestic antiwar groups and religious organizations like the Quakers who publicly advocate nonviolence and peace. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
New York Times journalist James Risen writes in his new book, State of War: “[B]oth before and after 9/11, President Bush and his administration have displayed a remarkable lack of interest in aggressively examining the connections between Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Saudi power elite. Even as the Bush administration spent enormous time and energy trying in vain to prove connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in order to help justify the war in Iraq, the administration was ignoring the far more conclusive ties with Saudi Arabia. Those links are much stronger and far more troubling than has ever been previously disclosed, and until they are thoroughly investigated, the roots of al-Qaeda’s power, and the full story of 9/11, will never be known.” [Risen, 2006]
Seven telecommunications executives confirm to the press that large telecommunications companies such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint have cooperated with the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. Those firms, along with BellSouth, previously denied they had cooperated with the NSA (see October 2001). In typical domestic investigations, telecom companies require court warrants before mounting any surveillance operations, but this has not been the case with the NSA program. Apparently, the companies decided to assist the NSA in tracking international telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens and routed through “switches” which handle millions of communications, both domestic and international, every day. The telecom firms in question have undergone several mergers and reorganizations—BellSouth, another firm accused of cooperating with the NSA, is now part of AT&T, MCI (formerly WorldCom) was recently acquired by Verizon, and Sprint has merged with Nextel. The companies comply with the NSA requests for information once the NSA determines that there is a “reasonable basis” for believing that the communications may have a connection with militant Islamic organizations such as al-Qaeda. The firms do not require court warrants, but rather implement the monitoring on nothing more than oral requests from senior NSA officials. [USA Today, 2/5/2006]
During a speech defending his campaign against al-Qaeda, President Bush describes a previously obscure al-Qaeda plot to crash an airplane into the Library Tower (since renamed the US Bank tower) in Los Angeles in 2002 (see October 2001-February 2002). It is the tallest building on the West Coast of the US. The plot was first briefly mentioned in a Bush speech in October 2005 (see October 6, 2005), but Bush and his aides now provide new details. The plot was allegedly masterminded by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but was foiled when the four Asians recruited for the plot were arrested in Asia. Bush’s speech on the plot comes on the same day as a Senate hearing into the NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping program. The Washington Post comments, “several US intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush’s speech to politics. The officials… said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk.” One intelligence official “attributed the [speech on the plot] to the administration’s desire to justify its efforts in the face of criticism of the domestic surveillance program, which has no connection to the incident.” [Washington Post, 2/10/2006] The New York Times will similarly comment, “Bush’s speech came as Republicans are intent on establishing their record on national security as the pre-eminent issue in the 2006 midterm elections, and when the president is facing questions from members of both parties about a secret eavesdropping program that he describes as pivotal to fighting terrorism.” [New York Times, 2/10/2006]
The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct Saudi Arabian charitable organization that once operated in Oregon, sues the Bush administration [Associated Press, 2/28/2006] over what it calls illegal surveillance of its telephone and e-mail communications by the National Security Agency, the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program. The lawsuit may provide the first direct evidence of US residents and citizens being spied upon by the Bush administration’s secret eavesdropping program, according to the lawsuit (see December 15, 2005). According to a source familiar with the case, the NSA monitored telephone conversations between Al Haramain’s director, then in Saudi Arabia, and two US citizens working as lawyers for the organization and operating out of Washington, DC. The lawsuit alleges that the NSA violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), the US citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, and the attorney-client privilege. FISA experts say that while they are unfamiliar with the specifics of this lawsuit, they question whether a FISA judge would have allowed surveillance of conversations between US lawyers and their client under the circumstances described in the lawsuit. Other lawsuits have been filed against the Bush administration over suspicions of illegal government wiretapping, but this is the first lawsuit to present classified government documents as evidence to support its contentions. The lawsuit alleges that the NSA illegally intercepted communications between Al Haramain officer Suliman al-Buthe in Saudi Arabia, and its lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor in Washington. One of its most effective pieces of evidence is a document accidentally turned over to the group by the Treasury Department, dated May 24, 2004, that shows the NSA did indeed monitor conversations between Al Haramain officials and lawyers. When Al Haramain officials received the document in late May, 2004, they gave a copy to the Washington Post, whose editors and lawyers decided, under threat of government prosecution, to return the document to the government rather than report on it (see Late May, 2004). [Washington Post, 3/2/2006; Washington Post, 3/3/2006] Lawyer Thomas Nelson, who represents Al Haramain and Belew, later recalls he didn’t realize what the organization had until he read the New York Times’s December 2005 story of the NSA’s secret wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). “I got up in the morning and read the story, and I thought, ‘My god, we had a log of a wiretap and it may or may not have been the NSA and on further reflection it was NSA,’” Nelson will recall. “So we decided to file a lawsuit.” Nelson and other lawyers were able to retrieve one of the remaining copies of the document, most likely from Saudi Arabia, and turned it over to the court as part of their lawsuit. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]
Al Haramain Designated a Terrorist Organization - In February 2004, the Treasury Department froze the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation, and in September 2004, designated it a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda and alleging financial ties between Al Haramain and the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The organization was disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government in June 2004 and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad (see March 2002-September 2004). In February 2005, the organization was indicted for conspiring to funnel money to Islamist fighters in Chechnya. The charges were later dropped. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004; Washington Post, 3/2/2006] The United Nations has banned the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. [United Nations, 7/27/2007]
Challenging Designation - In its lawsuit, Al Haramain is also demanding that its designation as a terrorist organization be reversed. It says it can prove that its financial support for Chechen Muslims was entirely humanitarian, with no connections to terrorism or violence, and that the Treasury Department has never provided any evidence for its claims that Al Haramain is linked to al-Qaeda or has funded terrorist activities. [Associated Press, 8/6/2007] The lawsuit also asks for $1 million in damages, and the unfreezing of Al Haramain’s US assets. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Administration Seeks to Have Lawsuit Dismissed - The Bush administration will seek to have the lawsuit thrown out on grounds of national security and executive privilege (see Late 2006-July 2007, Mid-2007).
Entity Tags: Wendell Belew, Suliman al-Buthe, Taliban, Washington Post, United Nations, Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, Thomas Nelson, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Al-Qaeda, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Asim Ghafoor, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that Osama bin Laden has died in Iran. According to Weldon, the information comes from a high-level Iranian exile source, who claims that bin Laden had been in hiding in Iran. Weldon, who last spoke to the source three weeks ago, says: “[The source has] told me that Osama bin Laden is dead. He died in Iran.” Weldon has long alleged that bin Laden has been using Iran for sanctuary. For example, last June he said: “I’m confident that I know for sure that [bin Laden] has been in and out of Iran.… Two years ago, he was in the southern town of Ladis, 10 kilometers inside the Pakistan border. I also know that earlier this year, he had a meeting with [Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi in Tehran.” [NewsMax, 3/17/2003] Despite this, a man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release statements to the media (see, for example, May 23, 2006).
The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq says that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the 9/11 attacks. The NIE is compiled from information provided by the 16 American intelligence agencies, and written by the US government’s National Intelligence Council. The NIE is released internally in April 2006, but portions are made public on September 24, 2006. It is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began. [New York Times, 9/24/2006] Robert Hutchings, the council’s former chairman, says, "The war in Iraq has exasperated the global war on terror." [Toronto Daily News, 9/24/2006] The White House has issued its own reports touting its successes against Islamist terrorism and predicting that such activities will dwindle in the coming months. [New York Times, 9/24/2006] The NIE report says, "[T]he Iraq war has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists…and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives. …[T]he Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of al-Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea. Our study shows that the Iraq war has generated a stunning increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and civilian lives lost. Even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one third." Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the British secret service (MI5), agrees. She will say in early 2007, "Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers. The threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation." [Independent, 3/1/2007] Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says the report should "put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war." [ABC News, 9/25/2006]
The US intelligence community completes a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States.” It concludes, “Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although still a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic distribution. If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.” It lists four factors “fueling the jihadist movement”:
“Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness.”
The Iraq war. “The Iraq conflict has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating support for the global jihadist movement.”
“The slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations.”
The “pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims.” [Salon, 3/27/2008] It also concludes that al-Qaeda’s operations have been disrupted and its leadership is “seriously damaged.” This assessment will be reversed in the next NIE on terrorism, completed one year later (see July 18, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Jeffrey Rapp, the director of the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism at the Defense Intelligence Agency, provides a 16-page document supporting the government’s declaration that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is an enemy combatant (see December 12, 2001). Rapp gives the classified document, originally prepared in September 2004 and partially declassified for the court, to the trial judge presiding over the case, Henry Floyd (see April 6, 2006). The document, informally known as the “Rapp Declarations,” makes an array of charges against al-Marri, including alleging that he “met personally” with Osama bin Laden and was sent to the US to “explore computer-hacking methods to disrupt bank records and the US financial system.” Rapp claims that al-Marri was trained in the use of poisons and had detailed information about poisonous chemicals on his laptop computer, a claim verified by an FBI search. Additionally, Rapp says that al-Qaeda “instructed al-Marri to explore possibilities for hacking into the mainframe computers of banks with the objective of wreaking havoc on US banking records.” Rapp also says that al-Marri’s computer was loaded with “numerous computer programs typically utilized by computer hackers; ‘proxy’ computer software which can be utilized to hide a user’s origin or identity when connected to the Internet; and bookmarked lists of favorite Web sites apparently devoted to computer hacking.” Rapp refuses to cite any sources other than “specific intelligence sources” that are “highly classified.” [Jeffrey M. Rapp, 9/9/2004 ; CNET News, 9/22/2006] While this kind of evidence is routinely dismissed as hearsay evidence inadmissible in court, Floyd rules that because the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that hearsay evidence can be used against alleged enemy combatants (see June 28, 2004), the “Rapp Declarations” would be considered. Floyd says that al-Marri’s lawyers will have to provide “more persuasive evidence” that counters the government’s case—a reversal of the usual burden of proof that places the responsibility of proving guilt on the prosecution and not the defense. [CNET News, 9/22/2006]
Court documents filed by the Justice Department allege that accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari national, was chosen to come to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed because, in part, al-Marri has a wife and children, and therefore would arouse less suspicion. Al-Marri was taken into federal custody as a material witness to the attacks (see December 12, 2001) and later designated as a “enemy combatant” (see June 23, 2003). The Justice Department is battling a lawsuit filed by al-Marri’s lawyers challenging his detention. According to the Justice Department, al-Marri was told to arrive in the US before the attacks, and to head to Pakistan if he didn’t get inside the US in time. Al-Marri, his wife, and their five children arrived in the US on September 10, 2001, where he began taking courses at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. The new details come from declassified portions of a sworn statement that the government is using to justify al-Marri’s indefinite detention. The Bush administration has insisted on limiting the information available to detainees and to the public, but was pressured into releasing the al-Marri information after a federal magistrate told government lawyers in February that “the deck is stacked pretty good in favor of the government to start with,” and thusly he wouldn’t consider evidence about al-Marri that al-Marri and his lawyers were not permitted to view for themselves. The magistrate, Judge Robert Carr, is expected to soon recommend whether al-Marri should continue to be held as an enemy combatant. According to the declassified summary, al-Marri traveled to Dubai in August 2001 and was given somewhere between $10,000 and $13,000 plus $3,000 more for a laptop computer. Al-Marri was allegedly given the money by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an al-Qaeda paymaster and one of Mohammed’s lieutenants who also allegedly helped some of the 9/11 hijackers (see Early-Late June, 2001). When al-Marri was taken into custody, the computer was found to contain files on the manufacture of hydrogen cyanide as well as over a thousand credit card numbers. The documents say that Mohammed communicated about al-Marri’s activities in the US through his brother, Jaralla Saleh Mohamed Kahla al-Marri, currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Jonathan Hafetz, one of Ali al-Marri’s lawyers, says that not only should al-Marri “been given this information long ago,” but because the government has not offered any evidence to support the summary, the document is little more than hearsay. Carr told government lawyers to either stop using classified information or declassify it so that al-Marri could see it and respond to it. “You need to make your choice, because this deals with a man’s freedom,” Carr tells the Justice Department lawyers. “He has been removed from the battlefield, so to speak, for many years.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/6/2006]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Robert Carr, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bradley University, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Hafetz, Jaralla Saleh Mohamed Kahla al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
A leaked draft of the “narrative” of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) compiled by the Home Office in lieu of an official investigation concludes that there was no direct support from al-Qaeda for the 7/7 bombings. The Observer reports that the narrative concludes, “Far from being the work of an international terror network, as originally suspected, the attack was carried out by four men who had scoured terror sites on the Internet.” It does acknowledge that two of the suicide bombers—Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer—traveled to Pakistan and met with known militants, but concludes that these trips were “ideological, rather than fact-finding.” Even a video of Khan’s last testament released by an al-Qaeda production company in Pakistan is dismissed as evidence of any al-Qaeda involvement in the attack (see September 1, 2005). Patrick Mercer, a spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, says an independent inquiry into 7/7 remains necessary, adding, “A series of reports such as this narrative simply does not answer questions such as the reduced terror alert before the attack, the apparent involvement of al-Qaeda, and links to earlier or later terrorist plots.” [Observer, 4/9/2006] But within months, this assertion of no direct al-Qaeda invovlement will collapse as more information is made public about the bombers’ links to al-Qaeda figures and training in al-Qaeda linked camps in Pakistan. On May 12, 2006, Home Secretary John Reid concludes for the first time that there is “considerable” circumstantial evidence of an al-Qaeda connection. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] By July 2006, Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police force’s head of anti-terrorism, will concede, “Such information as we do have does suggest there is probably a link to al-Qaeda” (see July 6, 2006). [New York Times, 7/7/2006; Daily Telegraph, 7/8/2006] The BBC will report that same month: “British intelligence agencies believe some form of operational training is likely to have taken place while Khan and Tanweer were in Pakistan together and that it is likely they did have contact with al-Qaeda figures.… [T]he evidence pointing to a major role for al-Qaeda is mounting.” [BBC, 7/6/2006] British counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed will argue that the government has deliberately downplayed evidence of al-Qaeda involvement in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years (see July 2, 2006).
Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, until October 2002 the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is another in a small but vocal group of current and retired generals voicing public dissent against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Newbold writes an op-ed for Time magazine, and leads off by saying that after Vietnam, he and other career military officers determined never again to “stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.” But, Newbold writes, it happened again. He takes responsibility for his own actions in planning for the invasion of Iraq, but notes that “[i]nside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots’ rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda.” Newbold retired from the military in late 2002, “in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I’ve been silent long enough.” The cost of the Bush administration’s “flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood,” he writes, and that blood debt drives him to speak out.
A Justifiable War - Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, Newbold says, to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And though invading Iraq was unnecessary and wrong, he says, the US cannot now just withdraw precipitously: “It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists’ message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.”
Outrage - Newbold writes of his deep anger at the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently said that “we” made the “right strategic decisions,” but made thousands of “tactical errors” (see March 31-April 1, 2006). Newbold calls that statement “an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.” Instead, he writes: “What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures.… My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.” Many of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking generals bear their own blame, Newbold writes, in “act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military’s effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction.” Some few actually believed the rationale for war, others were intimidated, and many believed that their sense of duty and obedience precluded their speaking out. “The consequence of the military’s quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.” Many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, “defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight.” Many media reporters, editors, and pundits ignored the warnings and instead played up the rationale for war.
New Visions, New Strategies - The first thing to do, says Newbold, is to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with “many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.” The US owes their troops, living and dead, a debt of gratitude and the responsibility to “construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it.” More generals and others in positions of leadership need to speak out, Newbold concludes, and make sure that we as a nation are not “fooled again.” [Time, 4/9/2006]
The Washington Post reports that leaked documents show the US military is conducting a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. According to the Post, “The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the [Iraq] war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” According to Col. Derek Harvey, who has been a top advisor on Iraq intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although al-Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have conducted some deadly bombing attacks, they remain “a very small part of the actual numbers…. Our own focus on al-Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will—made him more important than he really is, in some ways.” Since at least 2004, the US military has manipulated the Iraq media’s coverage of Zarqawi in an effort to turn Iraqis against the insurgency. But leaked documents also explicitly list the “US Home Audience” as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign. Additionally, sections of leaked military briefings show that the US media was directly used to influence view of al-Zarqawi. For instance, one document notes that a “selective leak” about al-Zarqawi was made to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, which resulted in a 2004 front page story about a letter supposedly written by al-Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] The Daily Telegraph reported in 2004 that “senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax.” The Telegraph also reported the US was buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerated al-Zarqawi’s role and was treating it as fact, even in policy decisions (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] One US military briefing from 2004 states, “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response” and lists three methods: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite US military unit) and “PSYOP,” meaning psychological operations and propaganda. One internal US military briefing concluded that the “al-Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date… primarily for the Iraqi audience but also with the international audience.” It is supposedly US military policy not to aim psychological operations at Americans, but there appears to be no punishment for the violation of this policy in the wake of this media report. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
President Bush reiterates claims that the NSA wiretapping program specifically targets only suspected al-Qaeda members and sympathizers and does not target domestic communications without court authorizations. “[T]he privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,” Bush asserts. “We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” Serious questions have been raised about the accuracy of these assertions (see October 2001, December 18, 2005, and May 12, 2006). [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]
The British government releases two official reports into the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). One report is from the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not a House of Commons committee, but a Cabinet Office committee appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. It concludes that two of the 7/7 bombers had been under surveillance, but while there were “intelligence gaps,” there was no evidence of an “intelligence failure that could have prevented the bombings.” British intelligence was justified in not devoting more resources to monitor the 7/7 bombers. The second report is a “narrative of events” by the Home Office. It acknowledges that British foreign policy was an element in the radicalization of the bombers, but concludes that British involvement in the Iraq war was not a key contributory factor behind the bombings. It highlights the “home-grown” nature of the bombers. It acknowledges that the bombers were inspired by Osama bin Laden’s ideology, but says that there is no evidence so far pointing to a direct al-Qaeda link or a mastermind in addition to the four suicide bombers. The Guardian editorial board criticizes the reports, and says that they are unlikely to quiet calls for an independent public inquiry. “The purpose of such reports is to draw lessons and point to ways of improving the public’s safety. In this respect neither report is entirely satisfactory. Each report leaves important questions hanging in the air. Each report tells a story of serious official failure. The failures were particular and general. Two of the 7/7 gang, [Mohammad Sidique] Khan and [Shehzad] Tanweer, were known to the security services. Both had visited Pakistan for extended periods in the months before their suicide mission. Khan, in particular, was already of considerable interest to MI5. It is MI5’s job to collate, to sift, to match and to interpret information of this kind. Patently, the service failed to do that in these cases. This seems not to have been purely a matter of inadequate resources. It was also an operational failure, and thus a failure for which management must take responsibility. The new home secretary, John Reid, gave no indication yesterday that this has happened.” [Guardian, 5/11/2006; Guardian, 5/12/2006] Yet within days, it will be revealed that key evidence had been withheld from the Intelligence and Security Committee that directly contradicts its conclusion that British intelligence was justified in not monitoring the 7/7 bombers more closely (see May 13-14, 2006).
Bobby Ray Inman. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman says that the secret NSA program to wiretap US citizens’ phone and e-mail conversations without court warrants (see After September 11, 2001) “is not authorized.” President Bush authorized the secret wiretapping over four years ago (see Early 2002), a program only revealed at the end of 2005 (see December 15, 2005). Since the program was revealed, it has created tremendous controversy over its possible illegality and its encroachment on fundamental American civil liberties. Bush and other White House officials have repeatedly asserted that the program is legal, mainly because Bush and his officials assert that the president has the authority to implement such a program (see December 15, 2005); Bush also insists, as recently as the day before Inman’s statement, that the program is only being used to spy on terrorists and the privacy of US citizens is being “fiercely protected,” a statement that does not jibe with the facts. [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]
Around the summer of 2006, the CIA sends up to 50 additional case officers to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a renewed effort to find al-Qaeda’s top leaders. This is said to be a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the newly arrived personnel are given the primary task of finding Osama bin Laden and his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some former CIA officials will say this new push comes after the White House pushed the CIA to step up the effort to find bin Laden. Mid-term US Congressional elections are being held in November 2006. However, the CIA will deny any pressure from the White House and say it was “driven solely by operational considerations.” But the renewed effort results in no significant leads on the whereabouts of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. US intelligence officials will largely blame this on the peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). As part of the treaty, the Pakistani army withdraws ten of thousands of troops from Waziristan and other tribal border regions where the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders has been focused. A senior US intelligence official will later comment: “Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in North Waziristan. Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that’s the most damaging development. The one thing al-Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “The pullback took significant pressure off al-Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
The dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [Source: US army]Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is apparently killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad. There are contradictory details of what exactly happened in the airstrike, and three days later the Washington Post will report that “circumstances surrounding the killing [remain] cloudy.” [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] His killing is hailed by US and Iraqi officials as the most significant public triumph for US-allied forces since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. For instance, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calls him “the leading terrorist in Iraq and one of three senior al-Qaeda leaders worldwide.” The Washington Post calls al-Zarqawi the “mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2006; Washington Post, 6/10/2006] These pronouncements and media reports ignore a revelation made two months earlier by the Washington Post that the US military has been engaged in a propaganda campaign to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance. The newspaper had reported that Zarqawi wasn’t behind nearly as many attacks as commonly reported (see October 4, 2004 and April 10, 2006). Even a Washington Post article about the propaganda surrounding al-Zarqawi published two days after his death will fail to mention any of the details provided in the Post’s original reporting on the campaign. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] Later in the month, an audiotape surfaces in which bin Laden supposedly praises al-Zarqawi as a martyr (see June 30, 2006), calling him a “brave knight” and a “lion of jihad.” US officials say the tape is genuine, however it should be noted that a letter from 2004 said to tie al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leadership is believed by many experts to be a US-government promoted hoax (see April 10, 2006). [Washington Post, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi did pledge loyalty to bin Laden in 2004, but they don’t appear to have been closely linked before then and there even are doubts about how close their relationship was after that time (see October 17, 2004).
The Miami Seven. Group leader Narseal Batiste is on the bottom right. [Source: BBC]Police arrest seven people during a raid on a warehouse in the Miami area. The men are alleged to be a “home-grown” terrorist cell plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building in Miami, as well as possible other unspecified targets. They had allegedly conducted video surveillance of their targets. [CNN, 6/23/2006] The men are identified in the federal indictment as Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augustine. [FindLaw, 6/22/2006] Two are Haitians, five are US citizens, and two are US immigrants. [Democracy Now!, 6/26/2006] Vice President Dick Cheney describes them as a “a very real threat.” [London Times, 6/25/2006] Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert who heads the Washington office of the Rand Corp., says that “amateur terrorists can kill as effectively as the professional kind.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] However, officials concede that the group never had any contact with any other terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. [BBC, 6/23/2006] Officials also admit that the men had not acquired any explosives or weapons. Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline says “there was never any danger to the Sears Tower or Chicago.” Deputy FBI Director John Pistole says that the plot had not progressed beyond early planning stages and “was aspirational rather than operational.” Hoffman says that it is “not clear is whether they had any real capabilities to pull [the plot] off.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] An FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda operative had infiltrated the group for nearly six months and many conversations were recorded. [Washington Post, 9/2/2006] Batiste, the leader of the group, allegedly stated that he and his “soldiers” wanted to receive terrorist training in order to wage a “full ground war” against the US and to “kill all the devils we can.” [BBC, 6/23/2006] He requested boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles, and $50,000 in cash from the informant. However, the men were only able to acquire military boots and a video camera. The indictment indicates that the men lacked any real resources; these organizational problems caused the plot to peter out by May. [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] Critics accuse the FBI of running a border-line entrapment operation in which a plot that was virtually a pipe-dream was kept alive by the involvement of the informant. Max Rameau of Miami CopWatch points out that the military gear and cameras had been supplied to the men by the government, via the informant. [Democracy Now!, 6/26/2006] Court records would later show that not only did the government provide materiel to the group, but the informant also suggested the Miami FBI office as the first target. The records show that the informant, known as CW2, played a key role in the advancement of the plot, such as administering the “al-Qaeda oaths” taken by the men. At a detention hearing, judge Ted E. Bandstra says that the allegations are “disturbing,” but adds that “the plans appear to be beyond the present ability of these defendants.” [Washington Post, 9/2/2006]
Entity Tags: Narseal Batiste, Naudimar Herrera, Patrick Abraham, Rotschild Augustine, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Max Rameau, Philip J. Cline, Lyglenson Lemorin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joan Leonard, Al-Qaeda, John S. Pistole, Bruce Hoffman, CW2, Burson Augustin, Ted E. Bandstra, Stanley Grant Phanor
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999. [Source: Pubic domain via the New York Times]In the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court rules 5-3 to strike down the Bush administration’s plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. Ruling in favor of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan (see November 8, 2004), the Court rules that the commissions are unauthorized by federal statutes and violate international law. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens says, “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction.” The opinion throws out each of the administration’s arguments in favor of the commissions, including its assertion that Congress had stripped the Supreme Court of the jurisdiction to decide the case. One of the major flaws in the commissions, the Court rules, is that President Bush unilaterally established them without the authorization of Congress. [New York Times, 6/30/2006] During the oral arguments three months before, Hamdan’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the Court: “The whole point of this [proceeding] is to say we’re challenging the lawfulness of the tribunal [the military commissions] itself. This isn’t a challenge to some decision that a court makes. This is a challenge to the court itself, and that’s why it’s different than the ordinary criminal context that you’re positing.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 274-275]
Major Defeat for Bush Administration - Civil libertarian and human rights organizations consider the ruling a shattering defeat for the administration, particularly in its assertions of expansive, unfettered presidential authority. Bush says in light of the decision, he will work with Congress to “find a way forward” to implement the commissions. “The ruling destroys one of the key pillars of the Guantanamo system,” says Gerald Staberock, a director of the International Commission of Jurists. “Guantanamo was built on the idea that prisoners there have limited rights. There is no longer that legal black hole.” The ruling also says that prisoners held as “enemy combatants” must be afforded rights under the Geneva Conventions, specifically those requiring humane treatment for detainees and the right to free and open trials in the US legal system. While some form of military trials may be permissible, the ruling states that defendants must be given basic rights such as the ability to attend the trial and the right to see and challenge evidence submitted by the prosecution. Stevens writes that the historical origin of military commissions was in their use as a “tribunal of necessity” under wartime conditions. “Exigency lent the commission its legitimacy, but did not further justify the wholesale jettisoning of procedural protections.” [New York Times, 6/30/2006] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Five justices on the Supreme Court said Bush had broken the law.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 275]
Hardline Conservative Justices Dissent - Stevens is joined by Justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Anthony Kennedy issues a concurring opinion. Dissenting are Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas, in a dissent signed by Scalia and Alito, calls the decision “untenable” and “dangerous.” Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because of his participation in a federal appeals court that ruled in favor of the administration (see November 8, 2004).
Not Charged for Three Years - Hamdan is a Guantanamo detainee from Yemen, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in June 2002. He is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, in his function as driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. He was not charged with a crime—conspiracy—until mid-2004. [New York Times, 6/30/2006]
Entity Tags: Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John G. Roberts, Jr, Al-Qaeda, Antonin Scalia, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, International Commission of Jurists, Gerald Staberock, Geneva Conventions, Clarence Thomas
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. [Source: Publicity photo]The Independent publishes an article questioning some aspects of the official account of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). The article notes that “There are some bewildering gaps in the [government’s] account of 7/7…” It quotes counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, who has recently published a book questioning the government account of the bombings. Ahmed concludes that the government has deliberately downplayed the sophistication of the operation, the size of its support network, and evidence of al-Qaeda involvement, in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years. The Independent notes that “even the nature of the explosives used in the bombing is unclear.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a group of MPs chosen by the prime minister, published a report on the 7/7 bombings in May 2006 (see May 11, 2006), but was vague about the explosives used. The Independent comments, “The report says only that ‘it appears’ they were home-made, although there is plenty of evidence that the bombs were powered by at least some commercial or military explosive.” Ahmed says: “Forensic science… tends to produce unambiguous answers within a matter of hours and days. The idea that continuous examination over many months has failed to finish the job beggars belief.” Ahmed also notes that the links between the 7/7 bombers such as Mohammad Sidique Khan and known al-Qaeda figures have been underplayed. For instance, the ISC report fails to mention Haroon Rashid Aswat at all, despite many articles suggesting that he may have been the mastermind of the bombings and may even have had a relationship with British intelligence (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Ahmed says, “In systematically downplaying the undeniable role of al-Qaeda in the London bombings, the official account is attempting to draw public attention from the fact British authorities have tolerated the activities of an entrenched and burgeoning network of radical Islamists with terrorist connections for more than a decade.” [Independent, 7/2/2006]
The Daily Telegraph reports that an investigation in Pakistan has learned that an al-Qaeda recruiter known only by the alias Abdul Rehman introduced the 7/7 London bombers to al-Qaeda. Rehman is said to be of Afghan origin but holds a British passport and lived in Britain. He allegedly met head suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in a British mosque and then later introduced him and Khan’s friend and fellow suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer to al-Qaeda. Rehman is said to be in his fifties and wealthy. He fought against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s and recruited Muslims from Western countries to join that fight. He continued to recruit in the 1990s for the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. A Pakistani official says, “He is very rich and quite often arranged funds for the militant organizations, before and after 9/11.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/8/2006]
Daniel Dell’Orto. [Source: US Department of Defense]Shortly after the Supreme Court rules that the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees suspected of terrorist affiliations (see June 30, 2006), the Bush administration publicly agrees to apply the Conventions to all terrorism suspects in US custody, and the Pentagon announces that it is now requiring all military officials to adhere to the Conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration says that from now on, all prisoners in US custody will be treated humanely in accordance with the Conventions, a stipulation that would preclude torture and “harsh interrogation methods.” Until the ruling, the administration has held that prisoners suspected of terrorist affiliations did not have the right to be granted Geneva protections (see February 7, 2002). Lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees, says, “At a symbolic level, it is a huge moral triumph that the administration has acknowledged that it must, under the Supreme Court ruling, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The legal architecture of the war on terror was built on a foundation of unlimited and unaccountable presidential power, including the power to decide unilaterally whether, when and to whom to apply the Geneva Conventions.” But in the wake of the ruling the administration is pressuring Congress to introduce legislation that would strip detainees of some of the rights afforded them under the Conventions, including the right to free and open trials, even in a military setting. “The court-martial procedures are wholly inappropriate for the current circumstances and would be infeasible for the trial of these alien enemy combatants,” says Steven Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Bradbury and Daniel Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy attorney general, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to limit the rights of detainees captured in what the administration terms its war on terrorism. Dell’Orto says Congress should not require that enemy combatants be provided lawyers to challenge their imprisonment. Congressional Democrats have a different view. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “I find it hard to fathom that this administration is so incompetent that it needs kangaroo-court procedures to convince a tribunal of United States military officers that the ‘worst of the worst’ imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be held accountable” for crimes. “We need to know why we’re being asked to deviate from rules for courts-martial.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2006]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, US Department of Defense, Patrick J. Leahy, Al-Qaeda, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, David Remes, Geneva Conventions, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
The US and UN finally officially designates the Philippines and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as a financier of terrorism. Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, executive director of the IRRO’s far east division, is similarly designated as well. The IIRO is a major charity connected to the Saudi government that has long been suspected of financing Islamic militant groups (see January 1996). It was reported shortly after 9/11 that the US left the IIRO off a list of designated terrorism financiers so as to not embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). The Philippine IIRO branch in particular has been publicly accused of funding al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, due to the activities of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who headed that branch when he funded the Bojinka plot in the early 1990s (see 1987-1991). [Associated Press, 8/3/2006; Manila Times, 12/12/2006] A US Treasury Department press release says Al-Mujil has been nicknamed the “million dollar man” for his “long history of providing support to terrorist organizations.” He is accused of funding the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. He is said to have had relationships with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The press release also calls “a senior al-Qaeda member” and accuses the current director of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, “a trusted associate of Khalifa.” But curiously, Khalifa himself is still not officially listed, nor is Daguit. He will die in mysterious circumstances several months later. [Treasury Department, 8/3/2006]
Ayman al-Zawahiri announcing a link-up between al-Qaeda and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. [Source: Al Jazeera]A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video recording, which is aired on Al Jazeera. In the video he says that the Egyptian group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has joined forces with al-Qaeda and the two will form “one line, facing its enemies.” The spiritual leader of Al-Gama is the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, currently in prison in the US on terror charges (see (April 25-May 1989) and 1997-2002). Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader Mohamed Hakaima appears in the video and confirms the link-up. Before it was folded into al-Qaeda, Al-Zawahiri himself headed the Egyptian organization Islamic Jihad, which had sometimes worked with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. However, Al-Gam’a al-Islamiyya, which renounced violence in 1998 following which hundreds of its members were released from jail, denies the alliance, and analysts say that Hakaima is not a top leader in the organization. It issues a statement in Egypt that “categorically denies” al-Zawahiri’s claims, and a former leader, Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, says, “If [some] brothers… have joined, then this is their personal view and I don’t think that most Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members share that same opinion.” [CNN, 8/5/2006; Al Jazeera, 8/7/2006]
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]
Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Harun Shirzad al-Afghani. [Source: Defense Department]Harun Shirzad al-Afghani is an alleged veteran Islamist militant held in Guanatanamo prison starting in 2007. His Guantanamo file will later be leaked to the public, and it states that he is believed to have attended an important meeting of militant groups on August 11, 2006. A letter found with al-Afghani explains that the meeting is meant to bring together senior figures in the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (a Pakistani militant group), and Hezb-i-Islami (another militant group, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). But most interestingly, the file claims that senior Pakistani military and ISI (intelligence) officials also attend the meeting. The meeting discusses coordination of attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Plans are made to “increase terrorist operations” in certain Afghanistan provinces, including suicide bombings, assassinations, and mines. Al-Afghani also allegedly tells his Guantanamo interrogators that in 2006 an unnamed ISI officer pays an Islamist militant a large sum of money to transport ammunition into Afghanistan to help al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hezb-e-Islami. Al-Afghani’s file describes him as a leader both in al-Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami, with links to important leaders in both groups predating the 9/11 attacks. He is captured in Afghanistan in February 2007 and transferred to Guantanamo several months later. [Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 8/2/2007 ; Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Peter Hoekstra. [Source: Public domain]The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. [House Intelligence Committee, 8/23/2006]
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2006]
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006]
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” [Antiwar.com, 8/26/2007]
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006] Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” [Tom Paine (.com), 8/25/2006]
Entity Tags: John Prados, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, National Security Council, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jane Harman, Saddam Hussein, Rush Holt, Peter Hoekstra, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, David Albright, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Christian Westermann, International Atomic Energy Agency, Frederick Fleitz, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Intelligence Committee, Gary G. Sick, Donald Rumsfeld, Hezbollah
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
On September 15, 2006, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Pakistani government has recently released thousands of Islamist militants. Pakistani lawyers involved in court cases say that 2,500 foreigners who were originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban have been freed. Many are released in the wake of a peace accord was signed between the Pakistani government and militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions in early September (see September 5, 2006), but some are released in the months before that accord. A US diplomat based in Pakistan complains, “We have repeatedly warned Pakistan over arresting and then releasing suspects. We are monitoring their response with great concern.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2006]
By autumn 2006, al-Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan’s tribal region near the border of Afghanistan appears to be short on funds. But a peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in the tribal region of North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006) gives al-Qaeda’s leaders breathing room and allows them to receive money from new sources abroad. US intelligence determines that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is increasingly funded by the Iraq war. Operatives in Iraq are raising considerable sums from donations to the anti-US insurgency there, as well as criminal activity such as kidnappings for ransom common in the chaos of the Iraq war zone. Al-Qaeda’s central command had previously sent money outward to Iraq and elsewhere. A senior US counterterrorism official will say in 2007, “Iraq is a big moneymaker for them.” The Pakistani peace deal with militants results in tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers withdrawing from the tribal regions. This in turn allows militants to move between Pakistan and Iraq much easier than before. This official will say there are “lots of indications they can move people in and out easier,” and that operatives from Iraq often bring money. “A year ago we were saying they were having serious money problems. That seems to have eased up.” It is also believed that Taliban forces in Afghanistan are now being taught by al-Qaeda operatives experienced with fighting US forces in Iraq. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
The government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with rebels in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as Waziristan. This is the area where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have a strong influence and many believe al-Qaeda’s top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hiding there. The accord effectively puts an end to fighting between the Pakistani army and the rebels. Details of the accord are published in a Pakistani newspaper the next day. The main points include:
The Pakistani government agrees to stop attacks in Waziristan.
Militants are to cease cross-border movement into and out of Afghanistan.
Foreign jihadists will have to leave Pakistan, but “those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement.”
Area check-points and border patrols will be manned by a tribal force and the Pakistan army will withdraw from control points.
No parallel administration will be established in the area, but Pakistan law will remain in force.
Tribal leaders will ensure that no one attacks government personnel or damages state property.
The Pakistani government will release captured militants and will pay compensation for property damage and the deaths of innocent civilians. [Dawn (Karachi), 9/6/2006] The deal is negotiated and signed by Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai, who had become the governor of the nearby North-West Frontier Province some months earlier. Orakzai, a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, is known to hate the US and NATO and admire militant groups such as the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Two days later, President Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 7, 2006). The Wall Street Journal comments that Musharraf decided to approve the deal in order to take care of “an even bigger security problem: a growing rebellion in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan.” He does not have the forces to deal with widespread violence in both regions. [Wall Street Journal, 9/8/2006]
A similar deal was made with South Waziristan in February 2005 (see February 7, 2005). The agreement will soon be seen as a big success for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In July 2007, the Washington Post will report that senior US intelligence officials attribute “the resurgence of bin Laden’s organization almost entirely to its protected safe haven among tribal groups in North Waziristan…” (see July 18, 2007). The same month, the Bush administration will publicly call the accord a failure as it collapses amidst an all out fight between the government and militants in Pakistan (see July 11-Late July, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
The Senate Intelligence Committee, reporting on the pre-invasion intelligence on Iraq, finds that the US intelligence community had no evidence whatsoever of terrorist training facilities or activities at Iraq’s Salman Pak military base. The report says, “Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qaeda training at Salman Pak or anywhere else in Iraq. There have been no credible reports since the war that Iraq trained al-Qaeda operatives at Salman Pak to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations.” The report will note testimony from both CIA and DIA officials that found “no indications that training of al-Qaeda linked individuals took place there.” The DIA told the committee in June 2006 that it has “no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991.” [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ] The base was found to be just what the Iraqis said it was: a training camp for counterterrorism operations, focused on foiling terrorist hijackings of jetliners (see April 6, 2003).
Vice President Cheney appears on Meet the Press two days after a bipartisan Senate report asserts that there was no link of any sort between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before 9/11, except for one meeting held in 1995. Cheney claims he has not read the report yet, but he says, “whether or not there was a historic relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The basis for that is probably best captured in George Tenet’s testimony before the Senate Intel Commission, an open session, where he said specifically that there was a pattern of relationship that went back at least a decade between Iraq and al-Qaeda.… [Militant leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad after we took Afghanistan and before we went into Iraq. You had the facility up at Kermal, poisons facility, ran by Ansar al-Islam, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.… [The Iraqi government] was a state sponsor of terror. [Saddam Hussein] had a relationship with terror groups. No question about it. Nobody denies that.” [Meet the Press, 9/10/2006] In fact, the Senate report determined that although al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad, the Iraqi government tried hard to find him and catch him, and that Ansar al-Islam was in a part of Iraq outside the control of the Iraq government and the government was actively opposed to them as well. The report claims there was no meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ] But regarding that meeting, Cheney still does not deny it took place, even though it has been widely discredited. “We don’t know. I mean, we’ve never been able to, to, to link it, and the FBI and CIA have worked it aggressively. I would say, at this point, nobody has been able to confirm…” [Meet the Press, 9/10/2006] Earlier in the year, Cheney had conceded that the meeting “has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place” (see March 29, 2006).
It is reported that the US has not conducted a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups since 9/11. An NIE is a formal, top-secret analysis about a particular threat combining intelligence from all relevant government agencies. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, says, “When I left the CIA in November 2004, they had not done an NIE on al-Qaeda. In fact, there has never been an NIE on the subject since the 1990s.” The last NIE on the subject in fact was released in 1997 (see 1997 and Late 2000-September 10, 2001). Rolling Stone magazine concludes, “Today, the [NIE] process remains bogged down in interagency disputes—largely because of resistance by the Pentagon to any conclusions that would weaken its primary role in counterterrorism. As a result, the Bush administration remains uncertain about the true nature of the terrorist foes that America faces—and unable to devise an effective strategy to combat those foes.” [Rolling Stone, 9/12/2006]
Two simultaneous suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in Yemen fail. The Safer refinery in Marib and the al-Dhabba terminal in Hadramout are attacked by four suicide bombers with car bombs, but Yemeni security forces blow the cars up just before they reach their targets. The four suicide bombers and one security guard are killed. The attacks come just a few days after al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks on oil facilities in the Persian Gulf region. A Yemeni court later sentences 32 men to between two and 15 years in jail for their roles in the attacks. Three of them are alleged al-Qaeda operatives tried in absentia who escaped from prison earlier in 2006 (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 11/7/2007] Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam for several of the 9/11 hijackers while they lived in the US, was arrested in Yemen earlier in the month (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He allegedly also has a role preparing for the foiled attacks. [Australian, 11/3/2006; Australian, 11/4/2006] The attempted attacks also come just days before Yemen’s presidential elections. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power since 1978, quickly uses the attacks to criticize his opponent, because one of the opponents’ guards was accused of being involved. The guard is later acquitted. Saleh wins reelection. [New York Times, 3/1/2008] In 2008, one anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Washington Post that some important al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
NATO Commander Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, says that the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to profit from the sale of opium in Afghanistan. He says: “We’re losing ground. It affects the insurgency because there’s increasing evidence that a lot of funding goes from the narcotics traffickers to the criminal elements, to what’s left of al-Qaeda, to the Taliban and anyone else that wants to create mischief.” [ABC News, 9/21/2006]
Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).
Secretary of State Rice says that she does not recall the meeting on July 10, 2001, when CIA Director Tenet and other officials briefed her about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 10, 2001). “What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2006] Rice says she has no recollection of what she variously calls “the supposed meeting” and “the emergency so-called meeting.” [Editor & Publisher, 10/1/2006; McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] The Washington Post comments that “Rice added to the confusion… by strongly suggesting that the meeting may never have occurred at all—even though administration officials had conceded for several days that it had.” Hours after Rice’s latest denial, the State Department confirms that documents show Rice did attend such a meeting on that date. However, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack then says, “The briefing was a summary of the threat reporting from the previous weeks. There was nothing new.” The Washington Post notes that when it was pointed out to McCormack that Rice asked for the briefing to be shown to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft (see July 11-17, 2001), “McCormack was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2006]
The New York Times pens an editorial issuing a grim warning about the ramifications of the newly passed Military Commission Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The editorial calls the law’s stripping of habeas corpus rights for so-called “enemy combatants” “undemocratic.” It criticizes the highly charged rhetoric of the Republicans who attacked Democrats in opposition to the law as part of the Republican Party’s “scare-America-first strategy” for the upcoming midterm elections. The Times notes that President Bush misled the country into believing that the MCA is the only way the country has of adequately putting 9/11 suspects on trial: “The truth is that Mr. Bush could have done that long ago, but chose to detain them illegally at hidden CIA camps to extract information. He sent them to Guantanamo only to stampede Congress into passing the new law. The 60 or so men at Guantanamo who are now facing tribunals—out of about 450 inmates—also could have been tried years ago if Mr. Bush had not rebuffed efforts by Congress to create suitable courts. He imposed a system of kangaroo courts that was more about expanding his power than about combating terrorism.” The editorial criticizes Bush’s new “separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an ‘illegal enemy combatant,” one that “raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions [and] does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.” However, the editorial gives false comfort to its readers by asserting that the MCA “does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Times Errs in Stating MCA Does Not Apply to US Citizens - Most other mainstream media outlets do not mention the possibility of the MCA applying to US citizens. But on the same day as the Times editorial, author and investigative journalist Robert Parry gives a powerful argument that the MCA can indeed be applied to them. The MCA reads in part, “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission.… Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States… shall be punished as a military commission… may direct.” The legal meaning of “any person,” Parry notes, clearly includes US citizens, particularly those who may act “in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States.” Parry asks, “Who has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’ if not an American citizen? That provision would not presumably apply to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, nor would it apply generally to foreign citizens. This section of the law appears to be singling out American citizens.” If an American citizen is charged with a crime under the MCA, that citizen, like the foreign nationals currently laboring under the weight of the law, cannot challenge their detention and charges under the habeas corpus provisions of US law, and cannot expect a fair trial. They will not be given the chance to appeal their convictions until they are prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. And since the MCA defendant has no right to a “speedy trial,” that defendant cannot expect to be granted an appeal in any reasonable length of time. In effect, an American citizen, like a foreign national charged under the MCA, can be imprisoned indefinitely without recourse to the US judiciary.
Potential to Jail Media Leakers and Reporters - One aspect of the MCA that has not been widely discussed, Parry notes, is the provision that would allow the incarceration of “any person” who “collects or attempts to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States.” That provision is tremendously vague, and could easily be stretched to fit, for example, the whistleblowers who revealed the existence of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program to the Times (see December 15, 2005) and the reporters and editors who published the story based on those revelations. [Consortium News, 10/19/2006] Six months later, a Justice Department lawyer will confirm that the Bush administration believes MCA does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Several days before US midterm elections, President Bush is asked at a press conference if the US is winning the war on terror. He replies: “Absolutely, we’re winning. Al-Qaeda is on the run.” He adds: “We’re winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle right now is Iraq.” [White House, 10/25/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney says foreign terrorists in Iraq are launching a spate of attacks in order to influence the upcoming US midterm elections—in essence, accusing terrorists of trying to sway Americans to vote for Democrats. Al-Qaeda and other terror groups active in Iraq are trying to “break the will of the American people.” He continues, “They’re very sensitive to the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled.” He goes on to claim that terror attacks in Iraq are being scheduled to coincide with US election events and to garner maximum media coverage to impact the elections. He provides no evidence for this. October saw one of the highest death tolls for US forces since the invasion of March 2003. Republicans fear that bad news from Iraq will cost them seats in the US Congress. Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff echoes Cheney’s statements, saying that Islamist militants are trying to “increase opposition to the war and have an influence against the president.” White House officials add that the US media is deliberately focusing on the “bad” news of casualties, carnage, and terrorist attacks, and failing to cover the “good” news coming out of the occupation. The White House and the Pentagon are launching a new propaganda effort to use “new media” outlets such as blogs to spread their message and counter what they say is a sophisticated propaganda effort by Islamists to manipulate the news and affect the US elections. [BBC, 10/31/2006]
Speaking publicly before a Congressional committee, CIA Director Michael Hayden says that “the lessons learned in Iraq are being applied to Afghanistan” by al-Qaeda. For instance, the number of suicide bombings in Afghanistan is greatly increasing (see 2004-2007). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 282, 442] The Taliban also greatly increase the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the roadside bombs which have proven highly effective in Iraq. The use of IED bombings rises from 530 times in 2005 to 1,297 in 2006. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 367]
The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program launches an advertising campaign in dozens of airports in the US. The program distributes hundreds of wanted posters featuring al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden. But strangely, the campaign is limited to the US and includes such airports as Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which are not locations frequented by al-Qaeda leaders. Walter Deering, head of the Rewards for Justice program until 2003, will later point out that advertising in the wrong places can bog down investigators with false leads. “We’d get a lot of tips that were totally off the wall.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2008] Most al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. But since at least the start of 2004, the Rewards for Justice program has been conducting little to no advertising in Pakistan (see January 2004).
Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio message, entitled “Set Out and Support Your Brothers in Somalia.” The audio comes with a video still of al-Zawahiri from one of his previous videos, lasts for five and a half minutes, and was produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab. “You have to use ambushes and mines, and raids and suicidal attacks until you rend and eat your prey as the lion does with his prey,” says al-Zawahiri, who calls on Muslims everywhere—but specifically those in Yemen, the Arab Peninsula, Egypt, North Africa, and Sudan—to participate in a holy war against secular government and Ethiopian forces in Somalia. According to al-Zawahiri, Somalia needs men, experience, money, and advice to defeat the Ethiopian forces, which he calls the “slaves of America.” Addressing Somali Muslims directly, al-Zawahiri reminds them of US intervention in Somalia between 1992 and 1994, saying that America has been defeated before (see October 3-4, 1993), and due to terrorist strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American Army is relatively weaker. Al-Zawahiri also directly calls upon the youth of the radical Egyptian Islamic group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya to participate in the jihad. He states that these members joined the group to obey Allah, and if they are prevented from that duty, “they must crush the sarcophagus where they were embalmed alive.” [Fox News, 1/5/2007]
Details of ‘surge’ troop deployments . [Source: Jordan Times] (click image to enlarge)In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” [New York Times, 1/10/2007; ABC News, 1/10/2007; White House, 1/10/2007] While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. [Marketwatch, 1/5/2005]
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” [CBS News, 1/5/2007; USA Today, 1/5/2007]
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, George W. Bush, American Enterprise Institute, Carl Levin, Frederick Kagan, Harry Reid, Iraq Study Group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Peter Pace, Robert M. Gates, John P. Abizaid, John McCain, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld, Nouri al-Maliki, Nancy Pelosi, Ole Holsti
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte says that al-Qaeda’s central leadership is based in Pakistan and is regrouping there. Speaking before a Senate committee, he says that al-Qaeda operatives “are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.” This is the first time a high-ranking US official has described Pakistan as a “secure hide-out” for al-Qaeda or used similar language. He adds, “Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror and has captured several al-Qaeda leaders. However, it is also a major source of Islamic extremism. Eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan’s tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan but it is necessary.” [Reuters, 1/12/2007]
The National Intelligence Council (NIE) releases a “National Intelligence Estimate ” that warns Iraq may be heading into a civil war. The NIE, compiled from reports produced by the 16 US intelligence agencies, says that the US has little control over events in Iraq, and that the situation there will continue to deteriorate. The NIE avoids the use of the term “civil war, ” noting, “The Intelligence Community judges that the term &slquo;civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. ” The report emphasizes that although al-Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to US goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not considered responsible for much of the violence. “Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events in Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is lot likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining” sectarian strife, says the report. [Washington Post, 2/2/2007]
The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” [New York Times, 2/2/2007]
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” [Consortium News, 2/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, David Salmons, George W. Bush, Robert Parry, Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, US Department of Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorneys for accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) challenge his detention as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003). The attorneys, appearing before a three-judge panel in Richmond’s Fourth US Court of Appeals, say that al-Marri is being held unconstitutionally and should be allowed to challenge his imprisonment in court under his right to habeas corpus. Al-Marri, a Qatari national, is the only person being held as an enemy combatant on US soil. His lawyers argue that he has inalienable rights as a legal resident of the US, including the right to due process and to challenge his accusers in court. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, tells the court: “The basic question is whether criminal or military law governs this case. [The president] cannot militarize the case of a man in Peoria with the stroke of a pen.” The government says that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) gives the government the right to hold al-Marri and any other designated enemy combatant indefinitely, without recourse to the courts. Hafetz contends that the MCA doesn’t repeal defendants’ right to challenge their detention. He also says al-Marri was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. Justice Department lawyers argue that the court has no jurisdiction to hear such cases, and that the government has classified evidence proving that al-Marri is indeed an al-Qaeda agent. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons what would stop Bush from declaring anyone he chose an enemy combatant, even if that person was a citizen of a nation not at war with the US. “What I don’t understand is how you make one an enemy combatant,” she says. “What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?” Salmons says that Congress and the Supreme Court have granted Bush the authority to fight terrorism, (see September 14-18, 2001) and that authorization grants Bush the right to designate people with suspected al-Qaeda links as enemy combatants. Motz disagrees: “If the US can do this, it’s contrary to the Constitution. It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Salmons says the 9/11 attacks make the situation different. Al-Marri is supported in the court by, among others, former Attorney General Janet Reno, seven former Justice Department officials, and 29 US law school professors, who all contend that the government’s treatment of al-Marri is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent in depriving US residents of basic legal rights. The case is al-Marri v. Wright, 06-7427. [Associated Press, 2/1/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf. The White House is tight-lipped about the trip and refuses to provide details about what the two leaders discuss. But media accounts, citing administration officials, suggest that Cheney warns Musharraf that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy if his government does not improve in its efforts to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [New York Times, 2/26/2007] Cheney’s trip comes after the head of US military operations in Afghanistan compiled a dossier of evidence indicating the Pakistani government is secretly supporting the militants attacking US troops in Afghanistan (see Autumn 2006- February 2007). But Cheney is known to be a strong supporter of Musharraf and generally has blocked pressure against him (see June 27, 2007). Pakistani intelligence sources will later tell ABC news that the two leaders discussed a secret operation (see 2005 and After) to support attacks against Iran by the Sunni militant group Jundullah. [ABC News, 4/3/2007]
A report by the Center on Law and Security (CLS) finds that the “Iraq effect” is costing lives around the world. The report finds that the Iraq occupation is directly to blame for an upsurge in fundamentalist violence worldwide. It finds that the number killed in jihadist attacks around the world has risen dramatically since the Iraq war began in March 2003, comparing the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq with the period since the invasion. The count—excluding the Arab-Israel conflict—shows the number of deaths due to terrorism rose from 729 to 5,420. Iraq has served as the catalyst for a ferocious fundamentalist backlash, according to the study, which says that the number of those killed by Islamists within Iraq rose from 7 to 3,122. A similar rise in attacks has occurred in Afghanistan, Chechnya, in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, and throughout Europe. Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair insist that the opposite is true. Bush has said, “If we were not fighting and destroying the enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.” Blair insists that the Iraq war was not been responsible for Muslim fundamentalist attacks such as the 7/7 London bombings which killed 52 people (see July 7, 2005). “Iraq, the region and the wider world is a safer place without Saddam,” Blair said in July 2004. [Independent, 3/1/2007]
Admiral Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence. [Source: Salon]Saudi Arabia is funding the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, according to Congressional testimony by the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. The Sunni insurgency is considered far more dangerous, at this point, to US troops than are the Shi’ite insurgents of the Mahdi Army and other groups, some of whom are funded by Iran. McConnell’s testimony highlights government worries that Iraq’s civil war could turn into a direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, by Iraqi proxies, with US troops caught in the middle. Brian Jenkins, a military expert with the Rand Corporation, says, "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia." While Iran has been considered, in recent years, an opponent of the US in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has had a long and close relationship with both the US government and the Bush family. In his testimony before Congress, McConnell is reluctant to identify the Saudis as the source of funding for the Sunni insurgents and only does so after tough questioning from Carl Levin (D-MI). McConnell and his deputy, Thomas Fingar, later qualify McConnell’s Senate testimony by saying that they cannot be sure whether the Saudi money is actually coming from the Saudi government. They also refuse to clarify whether the Saudis are supporting al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq (al-Qaeda being a Sunni organization) or homegrown Iraqi Sunni insurgents. A largely ignored section of the December 2006 report by the Iraq Study Group noted, "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States even as those governments help facilitate US military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues." Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, says Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name." He continues, "There is a renewed desire to protect the US-Saudi bilateral relationship. So you don’t want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests." [Hearst News, 3/4/2007]
Judge Marcia Cooke. [Source: Daily Business Review]Federal prosecutors in the Jose Padilla case (see May 8, 2002) say that a video of Padilla’s final interrogation, on March 2, 2004, is inexplicably missing. The video was not part of a packet of DVDs containing classified material turned over to the court handling the Padilla case. Padilla’s lawyers believe that the missing videotape may show Padilla being subjected to “harsh” interrogation techniques that may qualify as torture, and wonder if other potentially exculpatory recordings and documentation of Padilla’s interrogations have also been lost. Padilla’s lawyers say something happened during that last interrogation session on March 2, 2004, at the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, that led Padilla to believe that the lawyers are actually government agents. Padilla no longer trusts them, the lawyers say, and they want to know what happened. Prosecutors say that they cannot find the tape despite an intensive search. “I don’t know what happened to it,” Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing. US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke finds the government’s claim hard to believe. “Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?” Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month. Padilla, a US citizen, is scheduled to stand trial in April. Padilla’s lawyers want the brig tapes, medical records, and other documentation to prove their claims that Padilla suffers intense post-traumatic stress syndrome from his long isolation and repeated interrogations, though Cooke has ruled that Padilla is competent to stand trial. They believe that he was mistreated and possibly tortured in the Naval brig before being transferred to civilian custody. This missing DVD may not be the only one because brig logs indicate that there were approximately 72 hours of interrogations that either were not recorded, or whose recordings were never disclosed. Prosecutors claim some interrogations were not recorded, but defense lawyers question that, pointing out that there are even videos of Padilla taking showers. [Newsweek, 2/28/2007; Associated Press, 3/9/2007] Statements by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey in June 2004 indirectly support the defense’s claim that Padilla was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics (see June 2004). Other videotapes that may pertain to the Padilla case have been destroyed by the CIA (see November 22, 2005). Former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald writes, “[I]f the administration’s patently unbelievable claim were true—namely, that it did ‘lose’ the video of its interrogation of this Extremely Dangerous International Terrorist—that would, by itself, evidence a reckless ineptitude with American national security so grave that it ought to be a scandal by itself. But the likelihood that the key interrogation video with regard to Padilla’s torture claims was simply ‘lost’ is virtually non-existent. Destruction of relevant evidence in any litigation is grounds for dismissal of the case (or defense) of the party engaged in that behavior. But where, as here, the issues extend far beyond the singular proceeding itself—we are talking about claims by a US citizen that he was tortured by his own government—destruction of evidence of this sort would be obstruction of justice of the most serious magnitude.” [Salon, 3/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Anthony Natale, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Marcia Cooke, Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Glenn Greenwald, James B. Comey Jr., James Schmidli
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
At a Guantanamo Bay tribunal to decide his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007), militant Islamist logistics manager Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is accused of heading Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan and of co-ordinating their operation with Osama bin Laden, as well as moving money for al-Qaeda, desiring fraudulently-obtained Canadian passports for a terrorist plot, and making diary entries about planned attacks in the US. [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ]
Complaints of Torture, Admission of False Confessions - Zubaida complains of being tortured in US custody (see Mid-May 2002 and After and March 10-April 15, 2007). Zubaida’s statements about his treatment in US custody will be redacted from the trial transcripts, but a few remarks remain. In broken English, Zubaida states: “I was nearly before half die plus [because] what they do [to] torture me. There I was not afraid from die because I do believe I will be shahid [martyr], but as God make me as a human and I weak, so they say yes, I say okay, I do I do, but leave me. They say no, we don’t want to. You to admit you do this, we want you to give us more information… they want what’s after more information about more operations, so I can’t. They keep torturing me.” The tribunal president, a colonel whose name is also redacted, asks, “So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?” Zubaida replies, “Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Denies Being Al-Qaeda Member or Enemy of US - He goes on to deny that he is an “enemy combatant,” saying that the Khaldan training camp, which he admits being logistics manager of, was around since the Soviet-Afghan War and was also used to train Muslims who wanted to fight invaders in Muslim lands, such as Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines, and Bosnia, where “America helped us.” After he was captured the US administration exaggerated his importance, and some media accounts have suggested his role was greatly exaggerated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He denies being an official member of al-Qaeda and says he disagrees with attacks on civilians. However, he admits some of his trainees subsequently decided to join al-Qaeda and that he did not prevent them from doing this. He also denies moving the money and submits a volume of his diary that apparently shows he was in Pakistan when the charges state he went to Saudi Arabia to collect the money. He requests the production of other volumes of his diaries, on which some of the charges are based, but they are not made available to the tribunal. In addition, he denies corresponding with bin Laden before 2000 and details a dispute that arose between them after that time. He says his diary entries about military targets are “strictly hypothetical,” and the passports are for non-terrorist travel. Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, he admits he helped non-aligned fighters escape from South Asia. He states that he is an enemy of the US because of its alliance with Israel, which he claims is oppressing his fellow Palestinians, saying, “A partner of a killer is also a killer.” [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ]
French investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquie writes an article for Le Monde detailing the extensive knowledge obtained by the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about al-Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001. The article is based on a series of DGSE reports leaked to Dasquie about al-Qaeda’s funding (see July 24, 2000), aerial photographs of Osama bin Laden (see August 28, 2000), and al-Qaeda threats against the US (see Between September 2000 and August 2001), including aircraft piracy. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 7/4/2007]
Bob Simon. [Source: CBS News]Veteran CBS war correspondent Bob Simon discusses the media’s enthusiasm for a war with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion, and its credulity, with PBS host Bill Moyers. [PBS, 4/25/2007] CBS News describes Simon as “the most honored journalist in international reporting.” A regular contributor to CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes, Simon has won 18 Emmy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in September 2003. [CBS News, 6/8/2007] He did one of the first broadcast news examinations of the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts to sell the war with Iraq to the American public. [CBS News, 12/6/2002] Simon says that foreign journalists had a perspective that Washington-based journalists did not. “From overseas we had a clearer view,” he explains. “I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” Moyers asks: “Absurdity. The Washington press corps cannot question an absurdity?” Simon replies: “Well, maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn’t as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washington press corps travels, it travels with the president or with the secretary of state… [i]n a bubble. Where as we who’ve spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situations in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not.” Simon and his camera crew had been captured and brutalized by Hussein’s forces for 40 days during the 1991 Gulf War, and, Moyers notes, Simon “was under no illusions about Saddam Hussein.… It didn’t make sense to Simon that the dictator would trust Islamic terrorists.” Simon explains his reasoning: “Saddam as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al-Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. [Source: PBS]John Walcott, the bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers (now McClatchy), recalls that he and his colleagues did not believe the Bush administration’s assertions of the connections between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. “It was not clear to us why anyone was asking questions about Iraq in the wake of an attack that had al-Qaeda written all over it,” he recalls. He assigned his two top foreign affairs and national security reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, veterans with more than 40 years’ experience between them, to investigate the claims. Strobel recalls, “We were basically, I think, hearing two different messages from—there’s a message, the public message the administration was giving out about Iraq—it’s WMD, the fact there was an immediate threat, grave threat, gathering threat—but that was so different from what we were hearing from people on the inside, people we had known in many cases for years and trusted.” Strobel and Landay learned from reliable sources inside the US intelligence community that few outside the White House believed the assertions of an Iraq-9/11 connection. “When you’re talking to the working grunts, you know, uniform military officers, intelligence professionals, professional diplomats, those people are more likely than not—not always, of course, but more likely than not—to tell you some version of the truth, and to be knowledgeable about what they’re talking about when it comes to terrorism or the Middle East, things like that,” says Strobel. He and Landay wrote numerous articles detailing the skepticism about the administration’s claims, but, in many cases, editors chose not to use their work. “There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting and some of our papers frankly, just didn’t run the stories,” Strobel says. “They had access to the New York Times wire and the Washington Post wire and they chose those stories instead.” Walcott explains his own rationale: “A decision to go to war, even against an eighth-rate power such as Iraq, is the most serious decision that a government can ever make. And it deserves the most serious kind of scrutiny that we in the media can give it. Is this really necessary? Is it necessary to send our young men and women to go kill somebody else’s young men and women?”
Outside the Beltway - Knight Ridder did not have newspapers in either Washington or New York City, and therefore was viewed by many insiders as “out of the loop.” Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus says: “The administration can withstand the Knight Ridder critique because it wasn’t reverberating inside Washington. And therefore people weren’t picking it up.” Walcott describes Knight Ridder as “under the radar most of the time.… We were not a company that, I think, Karl Rove and others cared deeply about, even though in terms of readers, we’re much bigger than the New York Times and the Washington Post. We’re less influential. There’s no way around that.” Strobel half-humorously asks: “How many times did I get invited on the talk show? How many times did you [Landay] get invited on a talk show?” Landay replies: “You know what? I’ll tell you who invited me on a talk show. C-SPAN.”
Self-Doubts - Strobel says of that time period: “But there was a period when we were sittin’ out there and I had a lot of late night gut checks where I was just like, ‘Are we totally off on some loop here?‘… ‘Are we wrong? Are we gonna be embarrassed?’” Landay adds, “Everyday we would look at each other and say—literally one of us would find something out—and I’d look at him and say, ‘What’s going on here?’” Media analyst Eric Boehlert says: “But I think it’s telling that they didn’t really operate by that beltway game the way the networks, the cable channels, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post. They seem to sort of operate outside that bubble. And look at what the benefits were when they operated outside that bubble. They actually got the story right. What’s important is it’s proof positive that that story was there. And it could have been gotten. And some people did get it. But the vast majority chose to ignore or not even try.” Former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson confirms the solid reporting of Strobel and Landay: “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, ya know, that intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Walter Isaacson, Warren Strobel, Newsweek, Eric Boehlert, John Walcott, C-SPAN, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Karl C. Rove, New York Times, Time magazine, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Bush administration officials tell Senate Intelligence Committee members that they will not promise to continue seeking warrants for surveillance on US citizens, as the administration agreed to do in January 2007. They insist that President Bush has the Constitutional authority to decide whether or not to order the NSA to conduct surveillance without warrants if he desires. The secret wiretapping program was revealed to the public just weeks before the agreement (see December 15, 2005), and immediately drew tremendous outcries of criticism from civil libertarians, from lawmakers from all across the political spectrum, and from much of the public. Since the January agreement, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has issued warrants for domestic wiretaps after being given evidence showing some kind of probable cause to justify the proposed surveillance. Previously, the wiretapping program had ignored the FISA restrictions. Now Bush officials, most notably the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, are saying that Bush has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to order warrantless wiretaps on US citizens.
Invoking Presidential Authority - In Senate testimony on this day, Russ Feingold (D-WI) asks McConnell if he is willing to promise that the administration will no longer ignore the law and the court when monitoring citizens. McConnell replies, “Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution. So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.” McConnell is echoing previous arguments made by Bush and other officials, who have said that Bush has the power to order wiretaps without court review, both under the Constitution and under the September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda. McConnell says that the administration is conducting surveillance against Americans only with court warrants, and has no plans “that we are formulating or thinking about currently” to resume domestic wiretapping without warrants. “But I’d just highlight,” he adds, “Article II is Article II, so in a different circumstance, I can’t speak for the president what he might decide.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007] Article II is the section of the Constitution that delineates the powers of the executive branch, and establishes the fundamental “separation of powers” doctrine that governs American democracy. Constitutional expert Steve Mount notes that the “Constitution is deliberately inefficient; the “Separation of Powers devised by the framers of the Constitution was designed to do one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist.” [Mount, 1995]
White House Seeking Congressional Authorization - While the administration continues to argue that it has the power to eavesdrop on US citizens without warrants, it also continues to seek Congressional legislation affirming and perhaps expanding that power. The White House justifies that hoped-for legislation by pointing to national security and the war on terrorism, as well as the challenges posed by new communications technologies such as e-mail and wireless communications. White House officials have consistently refused to go into specifics as to what communications gaps they feel need plugging. And they have consistently ignored Congressional requests for information and documents related to the NSA’s domestic spy program, now being called the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” by White House officials and their Republican colleagues. Many Congressional Democrats say they would be reluctant to support any such legislation until they receive the information they have requested. “To this day, we have never been provided the presidential authorization that cleared that program to go or the attorney general-Department of Justice opinions that declared it to be lawful,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “Where’s the transparency as to the presidential authorizations for this closed program? That’s a pretty big ‘we’re not going to tell you’ in this new atmosphere of trust we’re trying to build.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
A federal appeals court rules that “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007) must be released from military custody. “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians,” writes Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution—and the country.” She adds, “We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007] Motz continues, “The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention.”
Military Commissons Act Does Not Apply - The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) does not apply to al-Marri, the court rules. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007] Motz writes that the MCA does not apply to al-Marri and the court also rules that the government failed to prove its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), gives President Bush the power to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] Motz also notes that even though the government says the MCA applies to al-Marri’s case, it did not follow its own guidelines under that law. The MCA requires all such detainees to be granted a Combat Status Review Tribunal (CRST) determination; all Guantanamo-based detainees have been given such a procedure. Al-Marri has not. The government did not suggest the procedure for al-Marri until the day it filed its motion to dismiss al-Marri’s case. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007] The case, al-Marri v. Wright, was filed against Navy Commander S.L. Wright, who oversees the Charleston military prison that houses al-Marri. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Government Arguments Repudiated - The 2-1 decision of the US Court of Appeals in Richmond was written for the majority by Motz. Al-Marri is the only person held on the US mainland as an enemy combatant, and has been held in isolation for four years (see August 8, 2005). The government has alleged since 2002 that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent sent to the US to commit mass murder and disrupt the US banking system (see June 23, 2003). Motz writes that while al-Marri may well be guilty of serious crimes, the government cannot sidestep the US criminal justice system through military detention. The al-Marri ruling apparently does not apply to enemy combatants and other detainees held without charges or legal access at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The dissenting judge, Henry Hudson, writes that President Bush “had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent” because “he is the type of stealth warrior used by al-Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.” Hudson is a Bush appointee. Motz and Judge Roger Gregory, the concurring judge, were appointed by former president Bill Clinton. Motz orders the Pentagon to issue a writ of habeas corpus for al-Marri “within a reasonable period of time.” The Pentagon may release him, hold him as a material witness, or charge him in the civilian court system. Al-Marri “can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely,” she writes, “But military detention of al-Marri must cease.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007; Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Democracy Vs. 'Police State' - Hafetz says: “We’re pleased the court saw through the government’s stunning position in this case. Had it not, the executive could effectively disappear people by picking up any immigrant in this country, locking them in a military jail, and holding the keys to the courthouse.… This is exactly what separates a country that is democratic and committed to the rule of law from a country that is a police state.” [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007]
Justice Department to Challenge Decision - The Justice Department intends to challenge the decision (see June 11, 2007 and Late October-Early November, 2007). The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court, and may help define what authority the government has to indefinitely detain terror suspects and to strip detainees of their right to challenge the legality and conditions of their detention. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] For the time being, al-Marri will remain in military custody in the Charleston naval brig. [Cincinnati Post, 6/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Diana Gribbon Motz, Combat Status Review Tribunal, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, US Department of Justice, Henry Hudson, US Supreme Court, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Defense, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, S.L. Wright
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Amnesty International logo. [Source: Amnesty International]The human rights group Amnesty International hails an appeal court decision to release alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 11, 2007) from military detention. Executive director Larry Cox says in a statement: “Today’s decision strikes down a fundamental premise of the Bush administration’s ill-advised and immoral detention regime: the president’s assertion that he can decide who to detain, and how to detain them, without any judicial review. The Fourth Circuit has affirmed al-Marri’s fundamental human right to challenge his detention. This and other recent developments are an indictment of the Bush administration’s detention regime. It’s now up to Congress to act. They should seize this opportunity to reverse their ill-considered decision last year to strip habeas rights from non-citizens in US custody. This decision restores constitutional habeas rights to those arrested on US soil. However, that is only a tiny subset of the many individuals whose rights have been trampled in the name of the war on terror. Today’s ruling is plain common sense: the president can’t seize civilians in the United States, hold them in military custody, and deny them habeas rights. It’s a sign of how bad things have gotten that the decision comes as such a welcome glimmer of hope.” [US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the administration is “disappointed” in the decision to void Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s “enemy combatant” status (see June 11, 2007), and will ask that the full appellate court re-hear the case (see Late October-Early November, 2007). “The president has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al-Qaeda attack, including the capture and detention of al-Qaeda agents who enter our borders,” Boyd says. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007; US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
The Al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest of Shi’ite shrines, is attacked for a second time, apparently by Sunni insurgents. The mosque was partially destroyed in a massive bombing attack over a year ago (see February 22, 2006), sparking a calamitous increase in sectarian violence that claimed at least 10,000 lives. Both US and Iraqi officials fear a similar outbreak of violence following this bombing. President Bush says the attack is “clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions.” Additional US forces are sent to Samarra to enforce security. US and Iraqi officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group with loose ties to the larger al-Qaeda network, but as with the February 2006 bombings, that assertion cannot be proven. In what are apparently retaliatory strikes, Shi’ite members of the Mahdi Army destroy the Sunni Grand Mosque in Iskandariyah, and attack another Sunni mosque in the same city. Mahdi leader Moqtada al-Sadr blames the Golden Mosque attack on “the hidden hands of the occupiers,” his term for the US military, but calls for peaceful protests instead of violent responses to the attacks. Al-Maliki says that Sunni security forces responsible for guarding the mosque may have been involved in the attack; until very recently, Sunni forces were the only ones delegated to guard the Shi’ite mosque. Iraqi authorities believe those forces may have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda operatives. One day prior, a Shi’ite force from Baghdad was deployed to the mosque. According to a resident, the Sunni and Shi’ite forces engaged in “some disagreement and fighting…because the previous force did not want to leave their position, but later they had to.” It is possible that the conflict between the two Iraqi forces precipitated the attack. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] Many Iraqis feel that the latest attacks could carry Iraq to the brink of an all-out civil war. A Shi’ite graduate student says, “The problem is that ignorant people carry out the orders of those who want to arm Iraq. We have some of those, and some of the Sunnis also have some among them. We are on the edge of a catastrophe.” A Sunni housewife says, “We feel that the gap is getting bigger and bigger between us and the Shiites.” [New York Times, 6/13/2007]
Former Reagan Justice Department official and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald applaud the recent ruling requiring the government to overturn alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s military detention status (see June 11, 2007). Fein writes that the decision “rebuked President Bush’s frightening claim that the Constitution crowned him with power to pluck every American citizen from his home for indefinite detention without trial on suspicion of preparing for acts of international terrorism.” Other terrorist acts, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993), “were tried and punished in civilian courts,” Fein notes, adding that Bush bypassed the USA Patriot Act to classify al-Marri as an enemy combatant, although the Patriot Act “provides a specific method for the government to detain aliens affiliated with terrorist organizations who are believed likely to engage in terrorist activity.” Al-Marri was denied that procedure due to his classification as an enemy combatant. [Washington Times, 6/19/2007] Greenwald writes, “How extraordinary it is—how extraordinarily disturbing it is—that we are even debating these issues at all. Although its ultimate resolution is complicated, the question raised by al-Marri is a clear and simple one: Does the president have the power—and/or should he have it—to arrest individuals on US soil and keep them imprisoned for years and years, indefinitely, without charging them with a crime, allowing them access to lawyers or the outside world, and/or providing a meaningful opportunity to contest the validity of the charges? How can that question not answer itself?… Who would possibly believe that an American president has such powers, and more to the point, what kind of a person would want a president to have such powers? That is one of a handful of powers that this country was founded to prevent.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in Pakistan away from the tribal region, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, the warning comes shortly after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, also attended by al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, top leaders of the Haqqani network (a semi-autonomous Taliban faction based in Pakistan), and at least two officials of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Immediately afterwards, al-Zawahiri visits Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in the country’s northwest. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “The urgency with which al-Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told [the US] about al-Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got.” Islamabad is only 31 miles from Abbottabad, where bin Laden will eventually be found. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
The Pakistani government secretly releases al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul from its custody. Ghul was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and spent two and a half years in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). The CIA handed Ghul to Pakistan in mid-2006 after Pakistani pressure (see (Mid-2006)). Pakistan apparently wanted Ghul because he was linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). The ISI had secretly promised to make sure that Ghul would never be freed, but he is released after about a year without ever being tried or even charged. It is not known exactly when Ghul is released. However, a British prisoner named Rangzieb Ahmed will later testify in Britain that he was held in an adjacent cell to Ghul’s in Pakistan, and the last time he sees Ghul is in January 2007. In 2011, the Associated Press will report that unnamed former and current US intelligence officials say that Ghul has since rejoined al-Qaeda. Under US interrogation, Ghul provided key intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s main courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. So when Ghul returns to al-Qaeda, he could warn bin Laden that US intelligence is learning about Ahmed. But either Ghul does not reveal what he confessed, or his warning is not heeded, because bin Laden continues to live with Ahmed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011] Despite Ghul’s return to al-Qaeda, the US has yet to put Ghul on any of its most wanted lists. No picture of Ghul has ever been made public either, even though the US goverment must know what he looks like since he was held by the US for several years.
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces. His arrest will be reported in Pakistani newspapers in early August 2007, but the arrest receives little international attention because al-Afghani is a previously unheard of figure. However, the US government considers him valuable. He is soon transferred to the CIA’s secret prison system and is held there until March 2008 when he will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison and officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008 and March 14, 2008). Rahim is an Afghan who is said to have been a long-time al-Qaeda planner and facilitator. He is probably highly valued because it is said he served as a translator for Osama bin Laden in recent years, and not many people in recent contact with bin Laden have been caught. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
Security forces after the Sheba temple bombing. [Source: Marib Press / Associated Press]A suicide bomber drives into a convoy of Spanish tourists visiting an ancient temple in Yemen, killing eight Spaniards and two Yemenis. The attack takes place near a 3,000 year old temple dedicated to the Queen of Sheba, about 85 miles east of the capital of Sana’a. No group claims responsibility for the bombing, but less than two weeks earlier, the US embassy issued a warning for Americans to avoid the area, due to suspicions of a planned al-Qaeda attack. [Associated Press, 7/3/2007; BBC, 8/8/2007] One month later, Yemeni security forces kill some suspected al-Qaeda militants, including three men, Ali bin Ali Naser Doha, Naji Ali Jaradan, and Abdul-Aziz Saeed Jaradan, who are believed to have been involved in the bombing. One of those that is not killed is Kassem al-Raimi, an alleged top al-Qaeda operative thought to have masterminded the attack. Al-Raimi was one of many who escaped from a Yemeni prison the year before (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 8/8/2007; Yemen Times, 8/12/2007] In several interviews after the bombing, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh will claim his government has reached a new truce with al-Qaeda. [Associated Press, 10/26/2007]
The New York Times reports that the US still rarely conducts missions inside Pakistan, where most of the top al-Qaeda leadership is assumed to be, out of consideration for the government of Pakistan. Such attacks could politically hurt Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. A former Bush administration official says, “The Special Operations guys are tearing their hair out at the highest levels.” While there has not been good intelligence on the locations of the highest al-Qaeda leaders recently, there sometimes has been useful information on other figures. “There is a degree of frustration that is off the charts, because they are looking at targets on a daily basis and can’t move against them.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
John Kringen. [Source: CIA]A new threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” is presented to a House committee and then leaked to some reporters. It concludes that al-Qaeda has significantly rebuilt itself. CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John Kringen says that al-Qaeda appears “to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” adding: “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2007] While the assessment remains classified, another official tells a reporter that it concludes al-Qaeda is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago,” “has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001,” and has managed to create “the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives.” A different official concludes that the group is “showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States.” [Salon, 3/27/2008]
An explosion at the Red Mosque during the government raid. [Source: Inter Services Public Relations]Prior to the Pakistani Army’s raid on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) from July 3-11, 2007, the Pakistani government had generally maintained an uneasy alliance with Pakistani Islamist militants, although these militants sometimes launched violent attacks on the government. But in the immediate aftermath of the Red Mosque raid (see July 3-11, 2007), Pakistani militants and government forces openly war with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the government made peace deals with militants in the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan (see February 7, 2005 and September 5, 2006). But these deals immediately collapse. On July 11, the last day of the mosque raid, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently condemns the raid and calls for Pakistanis to overthrow their government (see July 11, 2007). On July 12, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vows in a nationally televised address that he will crush extremists throughout Pakistan. He says, “Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.” He also says that over the next few months, security forces will retake the tribal regions near the Afghanistan border now controlled by a mix of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militants. On the same day, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the Red Mosque along with his brother but was arrested during the raid, is allowed to speak at the funeral of his brother. He says, “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.” Also on July 12, the first retaliatory suicide bombings take place. [Associated Press, 7/12/2007; London Times, 7/16/2007] Over the next three weeks, 167 people, including 120 soldiers and police, are killed in 21 militant attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Most of these take place in the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal regions, both of which have a strong militant presence. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The government’s inept handling of the [Red Mosque] crisis was a turning point for al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, and other extremist groups, who now joined together and vowed to topple the government and create an Islamic state.” Hundreds of potential new suicide bombers vowed revenge and began training in the tribal regions. Al-Qaeda’s focus “shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it saw a demoralized army, a terrified citizenry, and an opportunity to destabilize the state. For the first time, senior Pakistani officials told me, the army’s corps commanders accepted that the situation had radically changed and the state was under threat from Islamic extremism. In fact, the Pakistan army was now fighting a civil war.” [Rashid, 2008]
George W. Bush, defying calls to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, says, “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.” Critics say Bush is grossly oversimplifying the nature of the Iraq insurgency and its putative, unproven links with al-Qaeda, and is attempting to exploit the same kinds of post-9/11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the months preceding the Iraqi offensive. The al-Qaeda affiliate group in Iraq called al-Qaeda in Iraq (or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia) did not exist at all before the March 2003 invasion, and since then, it has thrived as a magnet for recruiting and for violence largely because of the invasion. While US military and intelligence agencies contend that al-Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for a disproportionately large share of the suicide car bomb attacks that have stoked sectarian violence, the organization is uniquely Iraqi in origin and makeup, with few operational ties to the overall terrorist group. Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert and former CIA official, says, “The president wants to play on al-Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat al-Qaeda poses. But what I don’t think he demonstrates is that fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq precludes al-Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al-Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.” Counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that if US forces were to withdraw from Iraq, the indigeneous al-Qaeda fighters would focus much more on battling Shi’ite militias in the struggle for dominance in Iraq than on trying to follow US troops home. Al-Qaeda in Iraq “may have more grandiose expectations, but that does not mean [it] could turn al-Qaeda of Iraq into a transnational terrorist entity,” he says. [International Herald Tribune, 7/13/2007]
Justice Department official Patrick Philbin testifies in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on the subject of interrogation tactics. Philbin testifies that each of the 24 approved interrogation tactics used by US personnel to interrogate terrorist suspects are “plainly lawful.” He notes that laws such as the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice define, to an extent, what is and is not torture, and prohibit excessive interrogation methods that might come under that rubric. He also notes that the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which defines torture broadly as the intentional infliction of “severe pain or suffering” by anyone acting in an official capacity. He insists the US has done nothing to violate this treaty, nor the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions, or Fifth and the Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution. Although terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and “extragovernmental” organizations such as the Taliban do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, Philbin argues that the US continues to follow its guidelines in its treatment of prisoners from those groups “to the extent consistent with military necessity…” [House Intelligence Committee, 7/14/2007 ] However, in 2004, a classified report by the CIA’s Inspector General concluded that some of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA probably did violate the Convention Against Torture (see May 7, 2004).
Entity Tags: War Crimes Act, US Department of Justice, Uniform Code of Military Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, House Intelligence Committee, Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Sunday Times reports that “al-Qaeda’s leadership secretly directed the Islamic militants” in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), a center of Islamist militancy is Islamabad, Pakistan, that was raided by the Pakistani army several days earlier (see July 3-11, 2007). The Times claims that “senior intelligence officials” say that the soldiers who took over the mosque discovered letters from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri written to Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, two brothers who ran the mosque and surrounding compound. The article alleges that up to 18 foreign fighters arrived weeks before the government raid and set up firing ranges to teach students how to handle weapons. Pakistani government ministers blame the presence of foreign fighters for the breakdown of negotiations between government and those inside the mosque. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Ghazi brothers admitted to having good contacts with many al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. After 9/11, they denied links with al-Qaeda and other officially banned militant groups, but they strongly supported “jihad against America.” Numerous speakers at the mosque openly condemned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and even called for his assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007] Al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audiotape condemning the raid and callis for open revolt in Pakistan (see July 11, 2007).
A 2007 map showing Pakistan’s tribal areas. Regions dominated by Islamist militants are highlighted in pink. [Source: New York Times]A summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland” is declassified. The NIE, a unified assessment from all 16 US intelligence agencies, says that al-Qaeda has, in the words of the Post, “reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure, and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a ‘heightened threat environment‘…” The last NIE on terrorism worldwide was completed in April 2006 and indicated that al-Qaeda’s fortunes were declining (see April 2006). The main reason the new NIE gives for al-Qaeda’s resurgence is the establishment of a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Its link with the affiliate group Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also helped “energize” militants and aided recruitment and funding. The NIE’s release comes just days after a similar report by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” (see July 11, 2007), and also just days after the Pakistani government broke peace deals with Islamist militants in the tribal region (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Edward Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats and the primary author of the NIE, says in a press briefing, “Over the past 18 to 24 months, safe haven in Pakistan has become more secure.” He says it has allowed al-Qaeda to develop of a new tier of leadership in the form of “lieutenants… coming off the bench,” to replace the leaders who have been captured or killed. On the same day the NIE is released, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell says of al-Qaeda, “They’re working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States.… They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into… Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population… and carry out acts.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
In the wake of the Pakistani government’s attack on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in early July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007), peace deals between the government and militant groups in Pakistan completely break down (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fires Ali Jan Orakzai, a regional military commander sympathetic to the Taliban who had been promoted to governor of the North-West Frontier Province. Then, on July 19, 2007, the Pakistani army formally launches an offensive in Pakistan’s tribal region. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are believed to have their central leaderships there. There is no quick resolution, and fighting rages for months. Militants divert the army’s attention by launching suicide bombings and other attacks in other parts of the country. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 385]
President Bush signs Executive Order 13440, which authorizes the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh” interrogation methods against anyone in US custody suspected of being a terrorist, or having knowledge of terrorist activities. The order relies on, and reaffirms, Bush’s classification of “al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces” as “unlawful enemy combatants” who are not covered under the Geneva Conventions. The order also emphasizes that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) “reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The order does not include “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments… other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment… any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited” by law. It also precludes acts of extreme humiliation “that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [or] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield.” The order also excludes acts that denigrate a detainee’s religion or religious practices. [White House, 7/20/2007] The order does not apply to the Army, which has numerous interrogators operating at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. [Social Science Research Network, 3/18/2008] CIA Director Michael Hayden says, “We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined.” Administration officials say that because of the order, suspects now in US custody can be moved immediately into the “enhanced interrogation” program. Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are much less enamored of the new order. Human Rights Watch official Tom Malinowski says, “All the order really does is to have the president say, ‘Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal—trust me.’” [Washington Post, 7/21/2007] In January 2009, President Obama will withdraw the order. [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Tom Malinowski, Taliban, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Military Commissions Act, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
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