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Who–and What–Are Behind the “Official History” of the Bin Laden Raid? August 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Media, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: This is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.  Given the total capitulation of  the mainstream media to the corporate, partisan political and industrial-military intersts, the kind of journalism found in whowhatwhy,com and a handful of other Internet sites are the Zamizdat of today.  

 

Published on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 by WhoWhatWhy.com

  by Russ Baker

The establishment media just keep getting worse. They’re further and further from good, tough investigative journalism, and more prone to be pawns in complicated games that affect the public interest in untold ways. A significant recent example is The New Yorker’s vaunted August 8 exclusive on the vanquishing of Osama bin Laden.

The piece, trumpeted as the most detailed account to date of the May 1 raid in Abbottabad Pakistan, was an instant hit. “Got the chills half dozen times reading @NewYorker killing bin Laden tick tock…exquisite journalism,” tweeted the digital director of the PBS show Frontline.  The author, freelancer Nicholas Schmidle, was quickly featured on the Charlie Rose show, an influential determiner of “chattering class” opinion. Other news outlets rushed to praise the story as “exhaustive,” “utterly compelling,” and on and on.

To be sure, it is the kind of granular, heroic story that the public loves, that generates follow-up bestsellers and movie options. The takedown even has a Hollywood-esque code name: “Operation Neptune’s Spear”

Here’s the introduction to the mission commander, full of minute details that help give it a ring of authenticity and the most intimate reportorial access:

James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower. That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle. (Others SEALs had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP7.) A “blowout kit,” for treating field trauma, was tucked into the small of James’s back. Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside. He wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat.

On and on went the “tick-tock.” Yet as Paul Farhi, a Washington Post reporter, noted, that narrative was misleading in the extreme, because the New Yorker reporter never actually spoke to James—nor to a single one of James’s fellow SEALs (who have never been identified or photographed–even from behind–to protect their identity.) Instead, every word of Schmidle’s narrative was provided to him by people who were not present at the raid. Complains Farhi:

…a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.

That didn’t trouble New Yorker editor David Remnick, according to Farhi:

Remnick says he’s satisfied with the accuracy of the account. “The sources spoke to our fact-checkers,” he said. “I know who they are.”

But we don’t.

On a story of this gravity, should we automatically join in with the huzzahs because it has the imprimatur of America’s most respected magazine? Or would we be wise to approach it with caution?

***

Most of us are not the trusting naïfs we once were. And with good reason.

The list of consequential events packaged for us by media and Hollywood in unsatisfactory ways continues to grow. It starts, certainly, with the official version of the JFK assassination, widely discredited yet still carried forward by most major media organizations. (For more on that, see this.) More and more people realize that the heroic Woodward & Bernstein story of Nixon’s demise is deeply problematical. (I’ve written extensively on both of these in my book Family of Secrets.)

And untold millions don’t think we’ve heard the real (or at least complete) story of the phenomenal, complex success of those 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. Skeptics now include former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who recently speculated that the hijackers may have been able to enter the US and move freely precisely because American intelligence hoped to recruit them as double agents—and that an ongoing cover-up is designed to hide this. And then, of course, there are the Pentagon’s account of the heroic rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, which turned out to be a hoax, and the Pentagon’s fabricated account of the heroic battle death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, who turned out to be a victim of friendly fire. These are just a few from scores of examples of deceit perpetrated upon the American people. Hardly the kind of track record to inspire confidence in official explanations with the imprimatur of the military and the CIA.

Whatever one thinks of these other matters, we’re certainly now at a point where we ought to be prudent in embracing authorized accounts of the latest seismic event: the dramatic end to one of America’s most reviled and storied nemeses.

The bin Laden raid presents us with every reason to be cautious. The government’s initial claims about what transpired at that house in Abbottabad have changed, then changed again, with no proper explanation of the discrepancies. Even making allowances for human error in such shifting accounts, almost every aspect of what we were told requires a willing suspension of disbelief—from the manner of Osama’s death and burial to the purported pornography found at the site. (For more on these issues, see previous articles we wrote on the subject, here, here and here.)

Clarke’s theory will seem less outrageous later, as we explore Saudi intelligence’s crucial, and bizarre, role at the end of bin Laden’s life—working directly with the man who now holds Clarke’s job.

Add to all of this the discovery that the reporter providing this newest account wasn’t even allowed to talk to any raid participants—and the magazine’s lack of candor on this point—and you’ve got an almost unassailable case for treating the New Yorker story with extreme caution.

***

We might begin by asking the question: Who provided The New Yorker with its exclusive, and what was their agenda in doing so? To try and sort out Schmidle’s sources, I read through the piece carefully several times.

One person who spoke to the reporter, and who is identified by name is John O. Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. Brennan is quoted directly, briefly, near the top, describing to Schmidle pre-raid debate over whether such an operation would be a success or failure:

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President’s advisers began an “interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you’re going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there.”

The mere fact of Schmidle’s reliance on Brennan at all should send up a flare for the cautious reader. After all, that’s the very same Brennan who was the principal source of incorrect details in the hours and days after the raid. These included the claim that the SEALs encountered substantial armed resistance, not least from bin Laden himself; that it took them an astounding 40 minutes to get to bin Laden, and that the White House got to hear the soldiers’ conversations in real time.

Here’s a Washington Post account from Brennan published on May 3, less than 48 hours after the raid:

Half an hour had passed on the ground, but the American commandos raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideaway had yet to find their long-sought target.

…The commandos swept methodically through the compound’s main building, clearing one room and then another as they made their way to the upper floors where they expected to find bin Laden. As they did so, Obama administration officials in the White House Situation Room listened to the SEAL team’s conversations over secure lines.

“The minutes passed like days,” said John O. Brennan, the administration’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled.”

Finally, shortly before 2 a.m. in Pakistan, the commandos burst into an upstairs room.Inside, an armed bin Laden took cover behind a woman, Brennan said. With a burst of gunfire, one of the longest and costliest manhunts in modern history was over.

.. The commandos moved inside, and finally reached bin Laden’s upstairs living quarters after nearly 40 minutes on the ground.

Osama bin Ladens compound in Abbottabad Pakistan where he was killed in a raiding operation by US Navy-SEALS.

Almost all that turns out to be hogwash—according to the new account produced by The New Yorker three months later. An account that, again, it seems, comes courtesy of Brennan. The minutes did not pass like days. Bin Laden was not armed, and did not take cover behind a woman. And the commandoes most certainly were not on the ground for 40 minutes. Some of them were up the stairs to the higher floors almost in a flash, and it didn’t take long for them to run into and kill bin Laden.

For another take, consider this account from NBC News’ Pentagon correspondent—also reported the week after the raid— two days after Brennan told the Washington Post a completely different story. This one appears to be based on a briefing from military officials who would have been likely to have good knowledge of the operational details:

According to the officials’ account, as the first SEAL team moved into the compound, they took small-arms fire from the guest house in the compound. The SEALs returned fire, killing bin Laden’s courier and the courier’s wife, who died in the crossfire. It was the only time the SEALs were shot at.

The second SEAL team entered the first floor of the main residence and could see a man standing in the dark with one hand behind his back. Fearing he was hiding a weapon, the SEALs shot and killed the lone man, who turned out to be unarmed.

As the U.S. commandos moved through the house, they found several stashes of weapons and barricades, as if the residents were prepared for a violent and lengthy standoff — which never materialized.

The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden’s sons. The Americans immediately shot and killed the 19-year-old son, who was also unarmed, according to the officials.

Hearing the shots, bin Laden peered over the railing from the floor above. The SEALs fired but missed bin Laden, who ducked back into his bedroom. As the SEALs stormed up the stairs, two young girls ran from the room.

One SEAL scooped them up and carried them out of harm’s way. The other two commandos stormed into bin Laden’s bedroom. One of bin Laden’s wives rushed toward the Navy SEAL, who shot her in the leg.

Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fired two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head. Although there were weapons in that bedroom, bin Laden was also unarmed when he was shot.

Instead of a chaotic firefight, the U.S. officials said, the American commando assault was a precision operation, with SEALs moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor.

In fact, most of the operation was spent in what the military calls “exploiting the site,” gathering up the computers, hard drives, cellphones and files that could provide valuable intelligence on al-Qaida operatives and potential operations worldwide.

The U.S. officials describing the operation said the SEALs carefully gathered up 22 women and children to ensure they were not harmed. Some of the women were put in “flexi-cuffs” the plastic straps used to bind someone’s hands at the wrists, and left them for Pakistani security forces to discover.

***

Given that Brennan’s initial version of the raid was strikingly erroneous, his later account to The New Yorker is suspect as well. So who else besides Brennan might have been Schmidle’s sources? At one point in his piece, he cites an unnamed counterterrorism official:

A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. “Everything they were working on was closely held,” the official said.

Later, that same unnamed counterterrorism official is again cited, this time seeming to continue Brennan’s narrative of the meeting before the raid, in which participants disagreed on the likely success of such a mission:

That day in Washington, Panetta convened more than a dozen senior C.I.A. officials and analysts for a final preparatory meeting. Panetta asked the participants, one by one, to declare how confident they were that bin Laden was inside the Abbottabad compound. The counterterrorism official told me that the percentages “ranged from forty per cent to ninety or ninety-five per cent,” and added, “This was a circumstantial case.”

From the story’s construction, one could reasonably conclude that the unnamed counterterrorism official is indeed still just Brennan. If not, who could it be? How many different white House counterterrorism officials would have debriefed the SEALs, if indeed that is even their role? How many would have been privy to that planning meeting? And how many different officials would have gotten authorization to sum up the events of that important day for this New Yorker writer? Also, it’s an old journalistic trick to quote the same source, on and off the record— thereby giving the source extra cover when discussing particularly delicate matters.

So, we don’t know whether the article was based on anything more than Brennan, under marching orders to clean up the conflicting accounts he originally put out.

UNEXPLAINED DISPUTES

It’s curious that the source chooses to emphasize the fundamental disagreement over whether the raid was a good idea. Presumably, there was a purpose in emphasizing this, but the New Yorker’s “tick-tock”, which is very light on analysis or context, doesn’t tell us what it was. It may have been intended to show Obama as brave, inclined toward big risks (thereby running counter to his reputation)—we can only guess.

This internal discord will get the attention of anyone who remembers all the assertions from intelligence officials over the years that bin Laden was almost certainly already dead—either of natural causes or killed at some previous time.

Here’s a bit more from The New Yorker on officials’ doubts going into the raid:

Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.’s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center’s director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Those doubts are particularly interesting for several reasons: the CIA has had a long history of disputes between its covert action wing, which tends to advocate activity, and its analysis section, historically prone to caution. The action wing also has a history of publicizing its being right—when it could purport to be right—and covering up its failures. So when an insider chooses to make public these disagreements, we should be willing to consider motives.

This dispute can also be seen as an intriguing prologue to the rush to dump Bin Laden’s body and not provide proof to the public that it was indeed bin Laden. What if it wasn’t bin Laden that they killed? Would the government announce that after such a high-stakes operation? (“While we thought he’d be there, we accidentally killed someone else instead”? Seems unlikely.)

***

Now, let us go to the next antechamber of this warren of shadowy entities and unstated agendas.

Who exactly wanted bin Laden shot rather than taken alive and interrogated—and why? There’s been much discussion about the purported reasons for terminating him on sight, but the fact remains that he would have been a source of tremendous intelligence of real value to the safety of Americans and others.

Yet, early in the piece, Schmidle writes:

If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan.

That was the plan? Whose plan? We’ve never been explicitly told by the White House that such a decision had been made. In fact, we’d previously been informed that  the president was glad to have the master plotter taken alive if he was unarmed and did not resist. So, that’s a huge and problematical discrepancy that is only heightened by Schmidle’s misleadingly matter-of-fact treatment of the matter.

GET ME RIYADH

If the justification for killing Osama presented in The New Yorker warrants concern, the account of how—and why—they disposed of his body ought to send alarm bells clanging.

At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one—that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.

So what do we learn about this from The New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners—get ready–the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.

Here’s Schmidle’s account:

All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea—a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.

Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions— arrived at in advance—are not theirs to make.

Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden—and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.

Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.

Also please consider this important caveat: As we noted in a previous article, the claim that the body had already been positively identified via DNA has been disputed by a DNA expert who said that insufficient time had elapsed before the sea burial to complete such tests.

King Abdullah meets John Brennan, assistant to the US President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

The line about Brennan himself having been a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia is just sort of dropped in there. No recognition of what it means that a person of that background was put into that position after 9/11, no recognition that a person of that background and those fraught personal connections is controlling this narrative. He’s not just a “counterterrorism expert”—he is a longtime member of an agency whose mandate includes the frequent use of disinformation. And one who has his own historic direct links to the Saudi regime, a key and problematical player in the larger chess game playing out.

It’s relevant to note that Brennan is not only a career CIA officer (they say no one ever really leaves the Agency, no matter their new title) but one with a lot of baggage. He was deputy director of the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, after which Obama initially planned to name him CIA director. That appointment was pulled, in part due to criticism from human rights advocates over statements he had made in support of sending terrorism suspects to countries where they might be tortured.

Of course, there could have been other sources besides Brennan. In addition to the unnamed “counterterrorism official” previously cited, the New Yorker mentions a “special operations officer,” as in:

…according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid.

Subsequent quotes from him indicate that this had to be a supervisory special ops officer. His comments are surprising:

“This wasn’t a hard op,” the special-operations officer told me. “It would be like hitting a target in McLean”—the upscale Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.President Barack Obama listening to John Brennans report.

Whoops! Here’s a Special Ops guy saying the Special Ops raid was actually no big deal! Shouldn’t that, if a valid assessment, get more attention? Especially given the endless praise and frequent statements of how difficult the operation was. I mean, the toughness and diciness of the Abbottabad mission is the prime reason we want to read the New Yorker’s account in the first place!

To further underline the point, consider that this fellow is not alone in his assessment:

In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions.”…. He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.”

Why would a person overseeing an operation like this deflate the bubble of adoration? It doesn’t seem helpful to the interests of Special Operations – and it doesn’t seem credible, either. So there’s presumably a reason that this person is—again speaking to The New Yorker after this important exclusive has been carefully considered and strategized. We just don’t know what it is, and the magazine doesn’t even bother to wonder.

***

Most of the other sources seem to play bit roles. One is “a senior adviser to the President” whose only comment is that Obama decided not to trust the Pakistanis with advance notice of the raid—which we already knew.  Another— named—source is Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, who does not evince any intimate knowledge of the raid itself.

The New Yorker also includes a few other officials who brief Schmidle on general background, like a “senior defense department official” explaining the overall relationship between Special Operations and CIA personnel, and a named former CIA counsel explaining that the Abottabad raid amounted to “a complete incorporation of JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] into a C.I.A. operation.”

That’s only slipped into the article, but it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the piece, along with a brief mention of the way in which former Iraq/Afghan commander General David Petraeus has gone to CIA while CIA director Panetta has been made Defense Secretary. (For more on these important but confusing games of high-level musical chairs, which were not deeply scrutinized in the conventional media, see our WhoWhatWhy pieces here and here.)

This may sound too technical for your taste, but the takeaway point is that fundamental realignments are afoot in that vast, massively-funded, powerful and secretive part of the US government that is treated by the corporate press almost as if it does not exist. The tales of internal intrigue that we do not hear would begin to provide us with the real narratives that are not ours to have.

In the New Yorker piece, we do learn lots of things we did not know before—for example, that Special Ops considered tunneling in or coming in by foot rather than helicopter. We learn that CIA director Robert Gates wanted to drop massive bombs on the house. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared that view—Cartwright is one of the few who is directly identified as a source for Schmidle. That’s important stuff, and worth more than brief mention. And, once again, we need more effort to try and understand why we are being told these things.

“WE REALLY DIDN’T KNOW…WHAT WAS GOING ON”

About two-thirds of the article is a sort of scene-setter, a prologue to on-the-ground story we’ve all been waiting for. But when the big moment arrives, The New Yorker’s Schmidle instead punts:

Meanwhile, James, the squadron commander, had breached one wall, crossed a section of the yard covered with trellises, breached a second wall, and joined up with the SEALs from helo one, who were entering the ground floor of the house. What happened next is not precisely clear. “I can tell you that there was a time period of almost twenty to twenty-five minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on,” Panetta said later, on “PBS NewsHour.”

Until this moment, the operation had been monitored by dozens of defense, intelligence, and Administration officials watching the drone’s video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS. None of them had any previous knowledge of the house’s floor plan, and they were further jostled by the awareness that they were possibly minutes away from ending the costliest manhunt in American history; as a result, some of their recollections—on which this account is based—may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.

Schmidle claims that the SEALs’ “recollections—on which this account is based”—are subject to dispute. But as I’ve noted, the article is NOT based on their recollections, but on what some source claims to Schmidle were their recollections. Why the summary may be imprecise and thus subject to dispute after it has been filtered by a person controlling the scenario, must be asked. Perhaps this is why The New Yorker is not permitted to speak directly to the SEALs—because of what they could tell the magazine.

Now, killing the men who lived in the compound: First, the SEALs shot and killed the courier, who they say was armed, and his wife, who they say was not, when they emerged from the guesthouse. Then they killed the courier’s brother inside the main house, who they say was armed. Then they moved up the stairs:

…three SEALs marched up the stairs. Midway up, they saw bin Laden’s twenty-three-year-old son, Khalid, craning his neck around the corner. He then appeared at the top of the staircase with an AK-47. Khalid, who wore a white T-shirt with an overstretched neckline and had short hair and a clipped beard, fired down at the Americans. (The counterterrorism official claims that Khalid was unarmed, though still a threat worth taking seriously. “You have an adult male, late at night, in the dark, coming down the stairs at you in an Al Qaeda house—your assumption is that you’re encountering a hostile.”) At least two of the SEALs shot back and killed Khalid.

Ok, that’s pretty strange. First, Schmidle asserts that Khalid bin Laden was armed and fired with an AK-47. Then he quotes the “counterterrorism official” saying that Khalid was unarmed. Why does The New Yorker first run the “Khalid was armed” claim as a fact, and then include Brennan’s disclaimer? What’s really going on here, even from the New Yorker’s editorial standpoint?

Here’s another such instance: a dispute over where Osama was when they first saw him:

Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft [codename for Osama]. (The counterterrorism official asserts that the SEAL first saw bin Laden on the landing, and fired but missed.)

What’s the purpose of all this? How good is intelligence work when they can’t reconstruct whether the singular focus of the operation was first spotted peeking out from a doorway, or standing on the landing above them?

And then one of the most interesting passages, about the kill:

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.)

Uh-oh. So who is this Special Operations officer? He is directly disputing the administration’s claim on what surely matters greatly—what were President Obama’s intentions here? And did they always plan to just ignore them? That The New Yorker just drops this in with no further analysis or context is, simply put, shocking.

It seems almost as if Panetta, Obama, and the people in the story who most closely approximate actual representatives of the public in a functioning democracy, were basically cut off from observing what went down that day—or from influencing what transpired.

Consider this statement from Panetta, not included in the New Yorker piece:

“Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

Panetta’s “lost 25 minutes” needs to be seen in the context of a man with civilian roots, notwithstanding two mid-60s years as a Lt. in military intel: Former Congressman, Clinton White House budget chief and Chief of Staff, credentials with civil rights and environment movements—a fellow with real distance from the true spook/military mojo.

Taken together, here’s what we have: President Obama did not know exactly what was going on. He did not decide that bin Laden should be shot. And he did not decide to dump his body in the ocean. The CIA and its Special Ops allies made all the decisions.

Then Brennan, the CIA’s man, put out the version that CIA wanted. (Keep in mind that, as noted earlier, CIA was really running the operation—with Special Ops under its direction).

What we’re looking at, folks, is the reality of democracy in America: A permanent entrenched covert establishment that marches to its own drummer or to drummers unknown. It’s exactly the kind of thing that never gets reported. Too scary. Too real. Better to dismiss this line of inquiry as too “conspiracy theory.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, let me add this rather significant consideration. It is the background of Nicholas Schmidle, the freelancer who wrote the New Yorker piece. It may give us insight into how he landed this extraordinary exclusive on this extraordinarily sensitive matter—information again, significantly, not shared by The New Yorker with its readers:

Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr.

Schmidle’s father is Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr.  General Schmidle served as Commanding Officer of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (Experimental)—that’s essentially Special Operations akin to Navy SEALs. In recent years, he was “assistant deputy commandant for Programs and Resources (Programs)”—where, among other things, he oversaw “irregular warfare.” (See various, including contract specs here on “Special Operations,” and picture caption here) In 2010, he moved into another piece of this, when Obama appointed him deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command. Cumulatively, this makes the author’s father a very important man in precisely the sort of circles who care how the raid is publicly portrayed—and who would be quite intimate with some of the folks hunkering down with Obama in the Situation Room on the big day.

You can see a photo of Gen. Schmidle on a 2010 panel about “Warring Futures.” Event co-sponsors include Slate magazine and the New America Foundation, both of which, according to Nicholas Schmidle’s website, have also provided Schmidle’s son with an ongoing perch (with Slate giving him a platform for numerous articles from war zones and the foundation employing him as a Fellow.) These parallel relationships grow more disturbing with contemplation.

***

So let’s get back to the question, Who is driving this Ship of State?

First, consider this passage:

Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later. Just before four o’clock, Panetta announced to the group in the Situation Room that the helicopters were approaching Abbottabad.

John Brennan and Obama

To be really useful reporting here, rather than just meaningless “color”, we’d need some context. Was the golf game’s purpose to blow off steam at an especially tense time? Did Obama not think it important enough for him to be constantly present in the hours leading up to the raid? Is this typical of his schedule when huge things are happening?  We desperately need a more realistic sense of what presidents do, how much they’re really in charge, or, instead, figureheads for unnamed individuals who make most of the critical decisions.

Here’s something just as strange: we are told the President took a commanding role in determining key operational tactics, but then didn’t seem interested in important details, after the fact.

Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could “fight their way out of Pakistan.”

Now, consider the following climactic New Yorker account of Obama meeting with the squadron commander after it’s all over, with bin Laden dead and the troops home and safe. Schmidle decides to call the commander “James…the names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.” The anecdote will feature a canine, one who, in true furry dog story fashion, had already been introduced early in the New Yorker piece, as “Cairo” (it’s not clear whether the dog’s name, too, was changed):

As James talked about the raid, he mentioned Cairo’s role. “There was a dog?” Obama interrupted. James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.

“I want to meet that dog,” Obama said.

“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog’s muzzle was left on.

Here’s the ending:

Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him.

Why did the president not want to ask for specifics on the most important parts of the operation—but seemed so interested in a dog that participated? While it is certainly plausible that this happened, we should be wary of one of the oldest p.r. tricks around—get people cooing over an animal, while the real action is elsewhere.

Certainly, Obama’s reaction differs dramatically from that of other previous presidents who always demanded detailed briefings and would have stayed on top of it all throughout—including fellow Democrats JFK, Carter and Clinton. At minimum, it shows a degree of caution or ceremony based upon a desire not to know too much—or an understanding that he may not ask. Does anyone doubt that Bill Clinton would have been on watch 24/7 during this operation, parsing legal, political and operational details throughout, and would have demanded to know who felled America’s most wanted?Nicholas Schmidle

Summing up about the reliability of this account, which is now likely to become required reading for every student in America, long into the future:

  • It is based on reporting by a man who fails to disclose that he never spoke to the people who conducted the raid, or that his father has a long background himself running such operations (this even suggests the possibility that Nicholas Schmidle’s own father could have been one of those “unnamed sources.”)
  • It seems to have depended heavily on trusting second-hand accounts by people with a poor track record for accurate summations, and an incentive to spin.
  • The alleged decisions on killing bin Laden and disposing of his body lack credibility.
  • The DNA evidence that the SEALs actually got their man is questionable.
  • Though certain members of Congress say they have seen photos of the body (or, to be precise, a body), the rest of us have not seen anything.
  • Promised photos of the ceremonial dumping of the body at sea have not materialized.
  • The eyewitnesses from the house—including the surviving wives—have disappeared without comment.

We weren’t allowed to hear from the raid participants. And on August 6, seventeen Navy SEALs died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. We’re told that fifteen of them came, amazingly, from the same SEAL Team 6 that carried out the Abbottabad raid—but that none of the dead were present for the raid. We do get to hear the stories of those men, and their names.

Of course, if any of those men had been in the Abbottabad raid—or knew anything about it of broad public interest, we’d be none the wiser—because, the  only  “reliable sources” still available (and featured by the New Yorker) are military and intelligence professionals, coming out of a long tradition of cover-ups and fabrications.

Meanwhile, we have this president, this one who according to the magazine article didn’t ask about the core issues—why this man was killed, who killed him, under whose orders, what would be done with the body.

Well, he may not want answers. But we ought to want them.  Otherwise, it’s all just a game.

© 2011 WhoWhatWhy.com

Bin Laden Raid ‘Was Strictly to Kill Him August 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Published on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 by Agence France-Press

  by Jon Swaine

 

NEW YORK – The raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan was a mission to kill him, and there was ”never any question” he would be captured alive, one of those directly involved has claimed.

The raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan was a mission to kill him, and there was ”never any question” he would be captured alive, one of those directly involved has claimed. (Photoillustration by John Ritter | The New Yorker)

The most detailed account so far of the assassination of the world’s most wanted man describes the May 1 operation in Abbottabad as a ”covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden”.

Published in The New Yorker magazine, it presents the strongest challenge yet to the Obama administration’s insistence that the al-Qaeda chief could have been captured had he ”conspicuously surrendered”.

An unnamed US special operations officer, said to be ”deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid”, told the magazine that the 23 Navy Seals were clear that this was not the case.

”There was never any question of detaining or capturing him,” the officer said.

”It wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees.”

The plan, according to the article’s author, Nicholas Schmidle, was for the Seals to ”overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan”.

In May, John Brennan, Mr Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, said the commandos would not have killed their target if they were confident he was not carrying an ”improvised explosive device on his body” or ”some type of hidden weapon”.

Schmidle reports the first Seal to find bin Laden believed one or both of the wives guarding him were wearing suicide vests. He shot one in the calf before rugby tackling them to save two colleagues. Neither turned out to have explosives.

A second Seal then shot bin Laden in the chest and again in the head with his M4 rifle, and said over his radio: ”For God and country – Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo” – the code word for a hit on bin Laden.

US commanders also considered a more down-to-earth way of entering bin Laden’s compound than swooping in by helicopter – tunnelling, The New Yorker report says.

The short-lived idea would have avoided ground troops having to sneak through Abbottabad.

In the end, though, they determined from satellite photos that the water table was probably just below the surface of the surrounding flat land and that tunnelling was highly unlikely to be successful.

A less exotic option was to bomb from the sky.

However, to be sure of destroying the house and any fortified bunker underneath would require such a massive bombardment that it would result in Abbottabad feeling ”the equivalent of an earthquake”, James Cartwright, the then vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told The New Yorker.

President Barack Obama disliked that idea and said the helicopter raid should go ahead.

© 2011 Agence France-Presse

Say it Ain’t So, Osama May 18, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Media, War on Terror.
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Published on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 by TomDispatch.com

His take-down was the story that grabbed almost 69% of the American “news hole” the week it happened, and from a media point of view it turns out to be the gift that never stops giving.  Small wonder, since it’s got just about everything: multiple wives, lost high-tech stealth helicopters, brave cyborg canines, killer tractors, championship-style celebrations, tiny helmet cams, private diaries, evil plans for future destruction, recalcitrant Pakistanis, shots of the world’s arch-villain changing channels whenever his arch-enemy, the president of the United States, comes on-screen, and now — the ultimate fundamentalist hypocrisy — “a stash of porn.”  If that isn’t God’s gift to web traffic, what is?

As Reuters first reported and no one on this planet can now not know, in the treasure trove of computer hard drives and thumb drives collected by the Navy SEAL team that hit bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, CIA analysts claim to have found a cache of now-classified pornographic videos.  News of this was leaked to the press in hopes of “tarnishing” the reputation of the man who, in 2002, denounced American culture for its “exploitation of women’s bodies in dress, advertising, and popular culture.”

Of course, with so much crucial news pouring out and news staffs shrinking across the media landscape, choices need to be made.  Under the circumstances, there are always a few stories that have to give way before what’s truly crucial, and so go unreported.  In recent years — explain it as you will — the Pentagon’s ongoing weapons trade with Middle Eastern despots has largely fallen into this category.  Someday, perhaps, this trade, which can take place with the most fervent of Islamic fundamentalists, might be reclassified as pornographic and so get the attention it deserves.  In the meantime, thanks to the reporting of Nick Turse, TomDispatch will continue to spend time in the unexplored interstices between what fascinates the media.

© 2011 TomDispatch.com

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Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His most recent book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).

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Obama’s Secret Prisons in Afghanistan Endanger Us All February 14, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Women.
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Published on Saturday, February 13, 2010 by The Independent/UK

He was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he’s dragging us further in

by Johann Hari

Osama bin Laden’s favourite son, Omar, recently abandoned his father’s cave in favour of spending his time dancing and drooling in the nightclubs of Damascus. The tang of freedom almost always trumps Islamist fanaticism in the end: three million people abandoned the Puritan hell of Taliban Afghanistan for freer countries, while only a few thousand faith-addled fanatics ever travelled the other way. Osama’s vision can’t even inspire his own kids. But Omar bin Laden says his father is banking on one thing to shore up his flailing, failing cause – and we are giving it to him.

[Obama was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he's dragging us further in. Whenever Obama acts like Bush, listen carefully - you will hear the distant, delighted chuckle of Osama bin Laden, and the needless stomp of fresh recruits heading his way. (CHRIS COADY/ NB ILLUSTRATIONS)]
Obama was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he’s dragging us further in. Whenever Obama acts like Bush, listen carefully – you will hear the distant, delighted chuckle of Osama bin Laden, and the needless stomp of fresh recruits heading his way. (CHRIS COADY/ NB ILLUSTRATIONS)

The day George W Bush was elected, Omar says, “my father was so happy. This is the kind of president he needs – one who will attack and spend money and break [his own] country”. Osama wanted the US and Europe to make his story about the world ring true in every mosque and every mountain-top and every souq. He said our countries were bent on looting Muslim countries of their resources, and any talk of civil liberties or democracy was a hypocritical facade. The jihadis I have interviewed – from London to Gaza to Syria – said their ranks swelled with each new whiff of Bushism as more and more were persuaded. It was like trying to extinguish fire with a blowtorch. 

The revelations this week about how the CIA and British authorities handed over a suspected jihadi to torturers in Pakistan may sound at first glance like a hangover from the Bush years. Barack Obama was elected, in part, to drag us out of this trap – but in practice he is dragging us further in. He is escalating the war in Afghanistan, and has taken the war to another Muslim country. The CIA and hired mercenaries are now operating on Obama’s orders inside Pakistan, where they are sending unarmed drones to drop bombs and sending secret agents to snatch suspects. The casualties are overwhelmingly civilians. We may not have noticed, but the Muslim world has: check out Al Jazeera any night.

Obama ran on an inspiring promise to shut down Bush’s network of kidnappings and secret prisons. He said bluntly: “I do not want to hear this is a new world and we face a new kind of enemy. I know that… but as a parent I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence.” He said it made the US “less safe” because any gain in safety by Gitmo-ing one suspected jihadi – along with dozens of innocents – is wiped out by the huge number of young men tipped over into the vile madness of jihadism by seeing their brothers disappear into a vast military machine where they may never be heard from again. Indeed, following the failed attack in Detroit, Obama pointed out the wannabe-murderer named Guantanamo as the reason he signed up for the jihad.

Yet a string of recent exposes has shown that Obama is in fact maintaining a battery of secret prisons where people are held without charge indefinitely – and he is even expanding them. The Kabul-based journalist Anand Gopal has written a remarkable expose for The Nation magazine. His story begins in the Afghan village of Zaiwalat at 3.15am on the night of November 19th 2009. A platoon of US soldiers blasted their way into a house in search of Habib ur-Rahman, a young computer programmer and government employee who they had been told by someone, somewhere was a secret Talibanist. His two cousins came out to see what the noise was – and they were shot to death. As the children of the house screamed, Habib was bundled into a helicopter and whisked away. He has never been seen since. His family do not know if he is alive or dead.

This is not an unusual event in Afghanistan today. In this small village of 300 people, some 16 men have been “disappeared” by the US and 10 killed in night raids in the past two years. The locals believe people are simply settling old clan feuds by telling the Americans their rivals are jihadists. Habib’s cousin Qarar, who works for the Afghan government, says: “I used to go on TV and argue that people should support the government and the foreigners. But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so?”

Where are all these men vanishing to? Obama ordered the closing of the CIA’s secret prisons, but not those run by Joint Special Operations. They maintain a Bermuda Triangle of jails with the notorious Bagram Air Base at its centre. One of the few outsiders has been into this ex-Soviet air-hangar is the military prosecutor Stuart Couch. He says: “In my view, having visited Guantanamo several times, the Bagram facility made Guantanamo look like a nice hotel. The men did not appear to be able to move around at will, they mostly sat in rows on the floor. It smelled like the monkey house at the zoo.”

We know that at least two innocent young men were tortured to death in Bagram. Der Spiegel has documented how some “inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex”. The accounts of released prisoners suggest the very worst abuses stopped in the last few years of the Bush administration, and Obama is supposed to have forbidden torture, but it’s hard to tell. We do know Obama has permitted the use of solitary confinement lasting for years – a process that often drives people insane. The International Red Cross has been allowed to visit some of them, but in highly restricted circumstances, and their reports remain confidential. In this darkness, abuse becomes far more likely.

The Obama administration is appealing against US court rulings insisting the detainees have the right to make a legal case against their arbitrary imprisonment. And the White House is insisting they can forcibly snatch anyone they suspect from anywhere in the world – with no legal process – and take them there. Yes: Obama is fighting for the principles behind Guantanamo Bay. The frenzied debate about whether the actual camp in Cuba is closed is a distraction, since he is proposing to simply relocate it to less sunny climes.

Once you vanish into this system, you have no way to get yourself out. The New York lawyer Tina Foster represents three men who were kidnapped by US forces in Thailand, Pakistan and Dubai and bundled to Bagram, where they have been held without charge for seven years now. She tells me there have been “shockingly few improvements” under Obama. “The Bush administration rubbed our faces in it, while Obama’s much smoother. But the reality is still indefinite detention without charge for people who are judged guilty simply by association. It’s contrary to everything we stand for as a country… I know there are children [in there] from personal experience. I have interviewed dozens of children who were detained in Bagram, some as young as 10.”

Today, Bagram is being given a $60m expansion, allowing it to hold five times as many prisoners as Guantanamo Bay currently does. Gopal reports that the abuse is leaking out to other, more secretive sites across Afghanistan. They are so underground they are known only by the names given to them by released inmates – the Salt Pit, the Prison of Darkness. Obama also asserts his right to hand over the prisoners to countries that commit torture, provided they give a written “assurance” they won’t be “abused” – assurances that have proved worthless in the past. The British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith estimates there are 18,000 people trapped in these “legal black holes” by the US.

As Obama warned in the distant days of the election campaign, these policies place us all in greater danger. Matthew Alexander, the senior interrogator in Iraq who tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says: “I listened time and time again to captured foreign fighters cite Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as their main reason for coming to Iraq to fight… We have lost hundreds if not thousands of American lives because of our policy.” The increased risk bleeds out onto the London Underground and the nightclubs of Bali. I oppose these policies precisely because I want to be safe, and I loathe jihadism.

President Obama has been tossing aside the calm jihad-draining insights of candidate Obama for a year now. Whenever Obama acts like Bush, listen carefully – you will hear the distant, delighted chuckle of Osama bin Laden, and the needless stomp of fresh recruits heading his way.

© 2010 The Independent

Is the Detroit Nigerian “Terrorist” A Patsy? January 4, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary, War.
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Posted Wed, 12/30/2009 – 12:18 by Bruce A. Dixon

 

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

What does the hapless Nigerian mope yanked off a plane in Detroit Christmas Day for setting his lap on fire have in common with color-coded terror alerts, with the shoeless, homeless Miami Haitians convicted of trying to bring down the Sears Tower, or with the 2004 pre-election videos allegedly dropped by Osama Bin Laden? Easy. All have been useful in whipping up public fear of Muslim-inspired “terrorism” and each and every one plugs neatly and sweetly into the meta-narratives that justify increasing the power of US police and intelligence establishments and the further militarization of foreign policy.

The guy is said to be an engineering student from Nigeria who received terrorist training in Yemen. Engineers are the practical souls whose profession is making things that actually work. Fortunately for the people on the plane, he seems to have been a very bad student who would have made a wretched engineer. He didn’t know the difference between an explosive device, which might have done great harm to the plane and its passengers, and a small incendiary one which could do no more than set his own lap on fire, and maybe singe the hair of the passenger immediately next to him.

His Nigerian nationality is extremely useful, as it lets “terror experts” and talking heads on TV and radio to draw simplistic and misleading pictures for American audiences of Nigeria as a place besieged by Muslim fundamentalists linked with Al Qaeda and in need of more US military assistance. In the real world Nigeria is a major US oil supplier, and West Africa furnishes about a fifth of US oil imports, a portion expected to grow over the next decade. Nigeria has pumped trillions of dollars worth of oil for the West over the last fifty years without managing to give people in the oil-rich areas schools or electricity or hospitals. It has allowed foreign oil companies to make the region one of the most polluted in the world, where the rain eats metal roofs, health problems are endemic, and fishing and farming are nearly impossible.

After decades of violent suppression by successive military and civilian governments, Nigerians in the oil-rich regions have organized resistance movements which have sometimes posed direct threats to the operations of Western oil companies. For US military planners, inserting themselves into Nigeria to bolster the regime is a major priority. That’s what AFRICOM is for.

The Nigerian reportedly received his “terror training” in Yemen. Yemen is located at the southern end of the Arabian Penninsula directly opposite AFRICOM’s Djibouti base and close to Somalia, where the US has waged a 14 year series of interventions and proxy wars to secure Somalia’s oil and gas resources for the West, an project that has killed a million Somalis, and currently has made another million homeless.

Yemen, as veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn assures us in an indispensable December 29 Counterpunch article, is next in the US crosshairs.

It is the poorest Arab country, its government is weak, its people are armed, it already faces a serious rebellion, it is strongly tribal and its mountain ranges are a natural refuge for groups like al-Qa’ida…

Yemen has been becoming increasingly unstable over the past two decades, ever since Saudi Arabia expelled a million Yemeni workers because Yemen refused to support the US-led war to expel Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1990.”

There is, Cockburn explains in the article which is well worth reading in its entirety, a civil war going on in Yemen, and the US needs excuses to beef up its intervention. Conveniently then, most terror suspects apprehended in the US will be found to have ties to the Yemeni insurgents.

Although the bumbling Nigerian had a multiple-entry US visa, he reportedly managed to board the Detroit-bound plane without showing it or his passport. Someone better dressed and better spoken intervened and got him on, according to published reports. Who? How? Why? He paid for his one-way ticket in Ghana in cash, and packed no more than a knapsack. People are profiled and searched for doing this all the time, all over the world, but he was not. And of course there’s the matter of the incendiary device itself, which should have been easily detectable. It’s not like they don’t screen passengers at European airports boarding international flights. Why was he exempt from the normal search that passengers undergo, and if he was searched why did the normal procedures fail?

One possible answer to all these questions is that the guy is a patsy, a fool manipulated by people smarter and more resourceful than him for the purpose of creating the useful “terrorist” incident. That’s what happened to the Haitians in Miami. They were disaffected and homeless, living in a Liberty City warehouse. They were contacted by a federal agent who said he could get weapons and explosives, shoes for the shoeless, rental cars (none of them had a bank account, let alone a credit card) and put them in touch with Al Qaeda. The federal agent helped them send fan mail to Osama Bin Laden and led them in taking a made-up jihadi oath, and delivered them fake weapons so they could be arrested. Journalist Webster Tarpley, in an early December Guns and Butter Radio interview (audio below – click the flash player or go to http://aud1.kpfa.org//data/20091216-Wed1300.mp3 )

with Bonnie Faulkner lays out a series of similar incidents in which apparent patsies have been used to create incidents like this. Although the interview was three weeks before the Christmas day incident, the similarities between the Liberty City case, the so-called Fort Dix 6, and other cases are numerous and startling.

Journalist I.F. Stone told us half a century ago that “Governments lie. All governments lie.” It would not be the first time our government lied to get us into or to keep us involved in an unjust war, or to create an atmosphere of crisis to support some otherwise unsupportable policy.  It wouldn’t even be the fifty-first time.   If Stone were alive today he’d assure us that the Obama government will readily lie to us too, in the service of its policy objectives, and probably in better English than Bush ever could. Is the incompetent Nigerian “terrorist” a patsy, intended to generate hysterical headlines and reinforce the administration’s policies at home and abroad? Time will tell. Maybe.

Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Documents Back Saudi Link to Extremists, but May Never Be Used in 9/11 Suit June 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, George W. Bush, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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(Roger’s note: in reading this article we should remember that 15 of the 19  9/11 terrorists were Saudi and that there are serious allegations about the historical relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud; here is one source on the latter: http://www.newsaic.com/f911chap3-2.html)
Published: June 23, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/world/middleeast/24saudi.html

WASHINGTON — Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.

The case has put the Obama administration in the middle of a political and legal dispute, with the Justice Department siding with the Saudis in court last month in seeking to kill further legal action. Adding to the intrigue, classified American intelligence documents related to Saudi finances were leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. The Justice Department had the lawyers’ copies destroyed and now wants to prevent a judge from even looking at the material.

The Saudis and their defenders in Washington have long denied links to terrorists, and they have mounted an aggressive and, so far, successful campaign to beat back the allegations in federal court based on a claim of sovereign immunity.

Allegations of Saudi links to terrorism have been the subject of years of government investigations and furious debate. Critics have said that some members of the Saudi ruling class pay off terrorist groups in part to keep them from being more active in their own country.

But the thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents compiled by lawyers for the Sept. 11 families and their insurers represented an unusually detailed look at some of the evidence.

Internal Treasury Department documents obtained by the lawyers under the Freedom of Information Act, for instance, said that a prominent Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, heavily supported by members of the Saudi royal family, showed “support for terrorist organizations” at least through 2006.

A self-described Qaeda operative in Bosnia said in an interview with lawyers in the lawsuit that another charity largely controlled by members of the royal family, the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia, provided money and supplies to the terrorist group in the 1990s and hired militant operatives like himself.

Another witness in Afghanistan said in a sworn statement that in 1998 he had witnessed an emissary for a leading Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, hand a check for one billion Saudi riyals (now worth about $267 million) to a top Taliban leader.

And a confidential German intelligence report gave a line-by-line description of tens of millions of dollars in bank transfers, with dates and dollar amounts, made in the early 1990s by Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz and other members of the Saudi royal family to another charity that was suspected of financing militants’ activities in Pakistan and Bosnia.

The new documents, provided to The New York Times by the lawyers, are among several hundred thousand pages of investigative material obtained by the Sept. 11 families and their insurers as part of a long-running civil lawsuit seeking to hold Saudi Arabia and its royal family liable for financing Al Qaeda.

Only a fraction of the documents have been entered into the court record, and much of the new material is unknown even to the Saudi lawyers in the case.

The documents provide no smoking gun connecting the royal family to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And the broader links rely at times on a circumstantial, connect-the-dots approach to tie together Saudi princes, Middle Eastern charities, suspicious transactions and terrorist groups.

Saudi lawyers and supporters say that the links are flimsy and exploit stereotypes about terrorism, and that the country is being sued because it has deep pockets and was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers.

“In looking at all the evidence the families brought together, I have not seen one iota of evidence that Saudi Arabia had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks,” Michael Kellogg, a Washington lawyer representing Prince Muhammad al-Faisal al-Saud in the lawsuit, said in an interview.

He and other defense lawyers said that rather than supporting Al Qaeda, the Saudis were sworn enemies of its leader, Osama bin Laden, who was exiled from Saudi Arabia, his native country, in 1996. “It’s an absolute tragedy what happened to them, and I understand their anger,” Mr. Kellogg said of the victims’ families. “They want to find those responsible, but I think they’ve been disserved by their lawyers by bringing claims without any merit against the wrong people.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Two federal judges and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled against the 7,630 people represented in the lawsuit, made up of survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and family members of those killed, throwing out the lawsuit on the ground that the families cannot bring legal action in the United States against a sovereign nation and its leaders.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide this week whether to hear an appeal, but the families’ prospects dimmed last month when the Justice Department sided with the Saudis in their immunity claim and urged the court not to consider the appeal.

The Justice Department said a 1976 law on sovereign immunity protected the Saudis from liability and noted that “potentially significant foreign relations consequences” would arise if such suits were allowed to proceed.

“Cases like this put the U.S. government in an extremely difficult position when it has to make legal arguments, even when they are the better view of the law, that run counter to those of terrorist victims,” said John Bellinger, a former State Department lawyer who was involved in the Saudi litigation.

Senior Obama administration officials held a private meeting on Monday with 9/11 family members to speak about progress in cracking down on terrorist financing. Administration officials at the meeting largely sidestepped questions about the lawsuit, according to participants. But the official who helped lead the meeting, Stuart A. Levey, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has been outspoken in his criticism of wealthy Saudis, saying they have helped to finance terrorism.

Even if the 9/11 families were to get their trial in the lawsuit, they might have difficulty getting some of their new material into evidence. Some would most likely be challenged on grounds it was irrelevant or uncorroborated hearsay, or that it related to Saudis who were clearly covered by sovereign immunity.

And if the families were to clear those hurdles, two intriguing pieces of evidence in the Saudi puzzle might still remain off limits.

One is a 28-page, classified section of the 2003 joint Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. The secret section is believed to discuss intelligence on Saudi financial links to two hijackers, and the Saudis themselves urged at the time that it be made public. President George W. Bush declined to do so.

Kristen Breitweiser, an advocate for Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, said in an interview that during a White House meeting in February between President Obama and victims’ families, the president told her that he was willing to make the pages public.

But she said she had not heard from the White House since then.

The other evidence that may not be admissible consists of classified documents leaked to one of the law firms representing the families, Motley Rice of South Carolina, which is headed by Ronald Motley, a well-known trial lawyer who won lucrative lawsuits involving asbestos and tobacco.

Lawyers for the firm say someone anonymously slipped them 55 documents that contained classified government material relating to the Saudi lawsuit.

Though she declined to describe the records, Jodi Flowers, a lawyer for Motley Rice, said she was pushing to have them placed in the court file.

“We wouldn’t be fighting this hard, and we wouldn’t have turned the material over to the judge, if we didn’t think it was really important to the case,” she said.

Obama’s Undeclared War Against Pakistan Continues, Despite His Attempt to Downplay It June 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, War.
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pakistan casualty
 
(Roger’s note: this article documents how “peace candidate” Lyndon Johnson, excuse me, Barack Obama, has for all intents and purposes adopted the “Bush Doctrine,” which involves the gross violation the most fundamental international law [that of  the unprovoked violation of another nation's sovereignty] and results in permanent war [under this approach the United States will be at war until the last terrorist on earth is wiped out, which will be never].  This makes President Obama, as was his predecessor, nothing less than a war criminal.  The bought-and-paid-for corporate media, of course, will not see things this way; history, however will judge.  This, I am afraid, is going to be of little consolation, for example, to the families and other loved ones of the innocent Pakistani civilians who being murdered at the President’s command.  That is why I believe it is more than justified to be angry with a president who promised change but in power is keeping to the same bloody path as the man he replaced.)
 
Published on Monday, June 22, 2009 by RebelReports

In a new interview, Obama said he has “no intention” of sending US troops into Pakistan. But US troops are already in the country and US drones attack Pakistan regularly.

by Jeremy Scahill

Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama “is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.” In the first 99 days of 2009, more than 150 people were reportedly killed in these drone attacks. The most recent documented attack was reportedly last Thursday in Waziristan. Since 2006, the US drone strikes have killed 687 people (as of April). That amounts to about 38 deaths a month just from drone attacks.

The use of these attack drones by Obama should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed his presidential campaign closely. As a candidate, Obama made clear that Pakistan’s sovereignty was subservient to US interests, saying he would attack with or without the approval of the Pakistani government. Obama said if the US had “actionable intelligence” that “high value” targets were in Pakistan, the US would attack. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, echoed those sentiments on the campaign trail and “did not rule out U.S. attacks inside Pakistan, citing the missile attacks her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, ordered against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. ‘If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured,’ she said.”

Last weekend, Obama granted his first extended interview with a Pakistani media outlet, the newspaper Dawn:

Responding to a question about drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal zone, Mr Obama said he did not comment on specific operations.‘But I will tell you that we have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan. Pakistan and its military are dealing with their security issues.’

There are a number of issues raised by this brief response offered by Obama. First, the only difference between using these attack drones and using actual US soldiers on the ground is that the soldiers are living beings. These drones sanitize war and reduce the US death toll while still unleashing military hell disproportionately on civilians. The bottom line is that the use of drones inside the borders of Pakistan amounts to the same violation of sovereignty that would result from sending US soldiers inside the country. Obama defended the attacks in the Dawn interview, saying:

“Our primary goal is to be a partner and a friend to Pakistan and to allow Pakistan to thrive on its own terms, respecting its own traditions, respecting its own culture. We simply want to make sure that our common enemies, which are extremists who would kill innocent civilians, that that kind of activity is stopped, and we believe that it has to be stopped whether it’s in the United States or in Pakistan or anywhere in the world.”

Despite Obama’s comments about respecting Pakistan “on its own terms,” this is how Reuters recently described the arrangement between Pakistan and the US regarding drone attacks:

U.S. ally Pakistan objects to the U.S. missile strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.Washington says the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to publicly criticise the attacks. Pakistan denies any such agreement.

Pakistan is now the biggest recipient of US aid with the House of Representatives recently approving a tripling of money to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for five years. Moreover, US special forces are already operating inside of Pakistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Baluchistan. According to the Wall Street Journal, US Special Forces are:

training Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who cross freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said. The U.S. trainers aren’t meant to fight alongside the Pakistanis or accompany them into battle, in part because there will be so few Special Forces personnel in the two training camps.A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

In February, The New York Times reported that US forces are also engaged in other activities inside of Pakistan:

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

It is clear-and has been for a long time- that the Obama administration is radically expanding the US war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan. Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the US is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable.

For a sense of how significant US operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the US plan to build an almost $1 billion massive US “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a US embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of US soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Obama Dances With Drones April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, War.
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 78244074WM004_Supreme_CourtPhoto-illustration: Everett Bogue / t r u t h o u t)

    “Once Obama won the presidency, the game should have changed. The question to ask before going any further was whether the military gains from killing al-Qaeda leaders justified the political reaction from ordinary Pakistanis every time one of the drones killed women, children and wedding guests, which the drones do all too often. No doubt the question has been quietly asked and answered, though only within the White House, and President Obama has decided that whatever the political costs, the military gains count more.”

by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

   In America’s relations with Islamic countries, a peculiar dishonesty reigns. It is all so hush-hush, and often done with a wink and nod, as the rulers of these lands lead Washington to believe one story while telling their own people the opposite. The media reports are hard to forget: Arab nations wanted the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Sunni Arab leaders are urging Israel and the United States to bomb suspected nuclear sites in Shiite Iran. And, from The New York Times last week, “Pakistan Rehearses Its Two-Step on Airstrikes.”

    Citing unnamed Pakistani and American officials, the well-placed Jane Perlez reported that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had given the Obama administration the go-ahead for our remotely piloted drones to fire rockets at targets inside the country. Most of the drones, she wrote, take off “with Pakistani assent from a base inside Pakistan.”

    Her account, though breathless, was hardly breaking news. Over a year ago, in March 2008, Newsweek reported that then-President Pervez Musharaff had given Washington “virtually unrestricted authority” to launch Predator drones from secret bases near Islamabad and Jacobabad. The Washington Post similarly spoke of a tacit understanding that Washington had with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to allow US strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.

    What Jane Perlez added was a candid discussion of how President Zardari was talking out of the other side of his mouth as well. He was, she reported, continuing to proclaim publicly “that the drones represent an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty that the government cannot tolerate.” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went even further, publicly rebuking Washington for the drone strikes, which were – he said – eroding trust between the allies. He said all this while standing next to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Perlez, Ambassador Holbrooke dismissed the rebuke as something to be expected.

    Expected? Perhaps. But who benefits from what Perlez called the diplomatic dance around the drones? More important, who stands to lose?

    For Obama, the go-ahead serves to justify his position during the presidential election campaign that the United States should make a priority of striking militarily against al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Candidate Obama said he would do it with or without Pakistani permission, which brought furious condemnation from both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. All three must have known from their advisers that Musharaff had already given his assent, much as candidate John F. Kennedy knew that the Eisenhower administration had already planned to invade Cuba when he called in his debates with Richard Nixon for tough action against Fidel Castro. As with JFK, Obama’s apparently undiplomatic assertion let him stand tall and talk tough, which is politically what he thought he needed to do.

    Once Obama won the presidency, the game should have changed. The question to ask before going any further was whether the military gains from killing al-Qaeda leaders justified the political reaction from ordinary Pakistanis every time one of the drones killed women, children and wedding guests, which the drones do all too often. No doubt the question has been quietly asked and answered, though only within the White House, and President Obama has decided that whatever the political costs, the military gains count more.

    Next the American brass will likely push for the right to send Special Forces on covert raids into Pakistan, as high-level officials reportedly urged General Musharaff to accept during a meeting in January 2008. Mushareff pointedly refused, but Zardari, who is widely seen in Pakistan as an American puppet, might prove more amenable. And even if Zardari says no, the American military will urge Obama to give the go-ahead for covert raids on his own, as he said he would do during the presidential campaign.

    Zardari’s permission for the drones to operate in his country and the Pakistani military’s zeal to have drones of their own do not in any way diminish the huge popular backlash against the weapons. But Islamabad’s refusal to stand openly on the issue puts the onus on Washington, making it easier for Islamist opponents to build a nationalistic, anti-American movement in the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. This is a threat that will keep on growing no matter what happens to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.

    Even more telling, the insistence on a secret understanding should in itself have warned Obama that the killer drones had become too hot to handle. Sadly, he failed to take the warning to heart. In his pursuit of a military victory against al-Qaeda, and his insistence that the Zardari government seek a military showdown with the Pakistani Taliban and their Islamist allies, our normally astute president simply cannot see that the remotely piloted Predators only feed an ever-escalating civil war. Killing bin Laden with a drone or commando raid would certainly give many Americans enormous satisfaction and win Obama unending political praise at home. But that is hardly worth the price of losing a nuclear-armed Pakistan to the Islamist jihadis.

»


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.

Publish and Be Damned, Mr Cheney April 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture, Uncategorized.
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by Philippe Sands

Dick Cheney wants classified material released to show that torture ‘worked’. Let’s see it all – waterboarding videos included

Dear Mr Cheney,

Last night, you appeared on Fox News’ Hannity show, calling for an “honest debate” on the benefits of the Bush Administration’s “bold” interrogation programme. You seem unhappy with last week’s publication of four new legal memos authorising torture, so you referred to reports that have not yet been declassified “that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity”. You told Hannity:

“I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country.”

Of course, you have a terrific track record on the intelligence material that you have seen and read. I recall that, back in August 2002, you told a Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

Now, you seem keen that we should be able to see the reports you read showing all the benefits of interrogations to be made public. But why stop there? Let’s have those reports. Let’s also have the interrogation logs. Let’s have the videos and audio tapes of the actual interrogations, assuming they haven’t all been destroyed (in the meantime, you may want to take a quick peek at this, Christopher Hitchens writing in Vanity Fair, to see what waterboarding actually looks like in practice, and its effects on one of our more robust journalists. Why not call for the declassification of the waterboarding videos, so we can see for ourselves what information was gleaned in the moments and hours and days after the waterboarding was carried out?

I hope you’ll excuse me if I am a tad sceptical. I recall, for example, that when I testified before the House Judiciary Committee last summer, Congressman Trent Franks reported that waterboarding was used on only three men and that, in each case, it had lasted no more than one minute. That gave a grand total of three minutes of waterboarding. What’s all the fuss about, Congressman Franks seemed to be saying. It seems that the source on whom he relied – Michael Hayden, who happened to be the former head of the CIA – wasn’t entirely accurate. This week’s news reports that two of those men were waterboarded on no less than 266 occasions.

And, more to the point, as I report in my book Torture Team, I made some inquiries about your administration’s claim that the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantánamo back in the autumn of 2002 had produced a great deal of useful material. It turns out that it didn’t. I met with the head of al-Qahtani’s exploitation team. Had the new interrogation techniques produced anything useful, I asked him? He chose his words with care.

“There was a lot of data of interest”, he said. “It was contextual in nature, confirming in nature. Did it help us catch Osama bin Laden? No.”

I took that as a no, confirmation that there was little to back up the usual, bullish overstatements made by your administration back in June 2004 to justify the move to abuse.

So, I’m somewhat sceptical about your claim. Perhaps waterboarding and the other techniques of torture you approved did produce information. On the basis of my conversations with seasoned interrogators, I doubt, however, that it was reliable or particularly useful.

And even if it was, that would not justify the move to torture. As you well know, such acts are never justified in law, under US law or international law. The move to torture has heaped shame on the United States, exposing its servicemen and women and intelligence officers to even greater dangers around world. It has emboldened those who seek to do us harm, serving as the primary tool of recruitment across the globe.

As you speak to the wonders of waterboarding, I wonder whether you have ever reflected on the consequences of your words and actions for others. If waterboarding isn’t torture (or even cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) when you decide to use on it others, then why should other nations not resort to its use, even against Americans who may be detained overseas, at some point in the future. I once had a chance to put that question to General Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, until 2005, in respect of a raft of lesser techniques.

“Are you comfortable with all of these techniques being used on American personnel?”, I asked him.

“Not in this memo,” he replied without pause.

He is right and, with respect, you are wrong. The acts you authorised constitute torture, with all the consequences of criminality that follows. Bring on that honest debate, I say. Put your money where your mouth is. Call for all the evidence – all of it – to be put before the US Congress or an independent investigation.

Philippe Sands QC is professor of law at University College London and author of Torture Team: Uncovering War Crimes in the Land of the Free

 

Guest Post by Lawrence Wilkerson: Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay March 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
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 Lawrence Wilkerson, www.thewashingtonnote.com, March 17, 2009

There are several dimensions to the debate over the U.S. prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed and, thus, of which the American people are almost completely unaware. For that matter, few within the government who were not directly involved are aware either.

The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.

This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, of the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and of the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to “just get the bastards to the interrogators”.

It did not help that poor U.S. policies such as bounty-hunting, a weak understanding of cultural tendencies, and an utter disregard for the fundamentals of jurisprudence prevailed as well (no blame in the latter realm should accrue to combat soldiers as this it not their bailiwick anyway).

The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.

The third basically unknown dimension is how hard Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage labored to ameliorate the GITMO situation from almost day one.

For example, Ambassador Pierre Prosper, the U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, was under a barrage of questions and directions almost daily from Powell or Armitage to repatriate every detainee who could be repatriated.

This was quite a few of them, including Uighurs from China and, incredulously, citizens of the United Kingdom (“incredulously” because few doubted the capacity of the UK to detain and manage terrorists). Standing resolutely in Ambassador Prosper’s path was Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who would have none of it. Rumsfeld was staunchly backed by the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney. Moreover, the fact that among the detainees was a 13 year-old boy and a man over 90, did not seem to faze either man, initially at least.

The fourth unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals–in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.

Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.

Another unknown, a part of the fabric of the foregoing four, was the sheer incompetence involved in cataloging and maintaining the pertinent factors surrounding the detainees that might be relevant in any eventual legal proceedings, whether in an established court system or even in a kangaroo court that pretended to at least a few of the essentials, such as evidence.

Simply stated, even for those two dozen or so of the detainees who might well be hardcore terrorists, there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand. Falling back on “sources and methods” and “intelligence secrets” became the Bush administration’s modus operandi to camouflage this grievous failing.

But their ultimate cover was that the struggle in which they were involved was war and in war those detained could be kept for the duration. And this war, by their own pronouncements, had no end. For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years. Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.

In addition, it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way–from classified information or otherwise–that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.

This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.

Lastly, there is the now prevalent supposition, recently reinforced by the new team in the White House, that closing down our prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay would take some time and development of a highly complex plan. Because of the unfortunate political realities now involved–Cheney’s recent strident and almost unparalleled remarks about the dangers of pampering terrorists, and the vulnerability of the Democrats in general on any national security issue–this may have some truth to it.

But in terms of the physical and safe shutdown of the prison facilities it is nonsense. As early as 2004 and certainly in 2005, administration leaders such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, and John Bellinger, Legal Advisor to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and, later, to that same individual as Secretary of State, and others were calling for the facilities to be shut down. No one will ever convince me that as astute a man as Gordon England would have made such a call if he did not have a plan for answering it. And if there is not such a plan, is not its absence simply another reason to condemn this most incompetent of administrations? After all, President Bush himself said he would like to close GITMO.

Recently, in an attempt to mask some of these failings and to exacerbate and make even more difficult the challenge to the new Obama administration, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview from his home in McLean, Virginia. The interview was almost mystifying in its twisted logic and terrifying in its fear-mongering.

As to twisted logic: “Cheney said at least 61 of the inmates who were released from Guantanamo (sic) during the Bush administration…have gone back into the business of being terrorists.” So, the fact that the Bush administration was so incompetent that it released 61 terrorists, is a valid criticism of the Obama administration? Or was this supposed to be an indication of what percentage of the still-detained men would likely turn to terrorism if released in future? Or was this a revelation that men kept in detention such as those at GITMO–even innocent men–would become terrorists if released because of the harsh treatment meted out to them at GITMO? Seven years in jail as an innocent man might do that for me. Hard to tell.

As for the fear-mongering: “When we get people who are more interested in reading the rights to an Al Qaeda (sic) terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” Cheney said. Who in the Obama administration has insisted on reading any al-Qa’ida terrorist his rights? More to the point, who in that administration is not interested in protecting the United States–a clear implication of Cheney’s remarks.

But far worse is the unmistakable stoking of the 20 million listeners of Rush Limbaugh, half of whom we could label, judiciously, as half-baked nuts. Such remarks as those of the former vice president’s are like waving a red flag in front of an incensed bull. And Cheney of course knows that.

Cheney went on to say in his McLean interview that “Protecting the country’s security is a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people and we are not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” I have to agree but the other way around. Cheney and his like are the evil people and we certainly are not going to prevail in the struggle with radical religion if we listen to people such as he.

When–and if–the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.

On that revelation and those actions rests much of the credibility of our nation’s return to sobriety and our truest values. In fact, on such positive developments may ultimately rest our entire future as a free people. For there shall inevitably be future terrorist attacks. Al-Qa’ida has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks.

But al-Qa’ida will be back. Iraq, GITMO, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased U.S. support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qa’ida’s resilience, staying power and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Aman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.

Lawrence B. Wilkerson was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and is chairman of the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative.

 

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