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Context of 'October 4, 2004: Report: US Exaggerating Role of Al-Zarqawi to Create Al-Qaeda Connected Villain for Iraq War'

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The US military never uses its elite units to hunt Osama bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda leaders before 9/11. US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is said to have less than 1000 operatives, mainly Navy Seals and Army Delta Force, which are the most trained and qualified personnel in the US for hunting fugitives. Professor Richard Shultz at Tufts University’s Fletcher School will be commissioned by the Pentagon shortly after 9/11 to research why such special forces were not used before 9/11 to hunt bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders. He will find that US military leaders always said they needed better intelligence. They did a lot of planning but took no action. Shultz will say, “It’s your strike force, and yet it was never used once for its primary mission before Sept. 11.” JSOC forces will have more successes after 9/11, including playing roles in the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). [San Francisco Examiner, 3/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard Shultz, Navy Seals, Special Operations Command, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Destruction after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad.Destruction after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad. [Source: US Army]In the summer of 2003, Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi moves his operations to the Sunni areas of Iraq. Soon he is linked to a number of bombings of civilians.
bullet On August 7, his group al-Tawhid allegedly car bombs the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding more than 60.
bullet On August 19, a car bomb hits United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding more than 100. UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is one of those killed.
bullet On August 29, two suicide car bombs explode outside the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, one of the most sacred shrines for Shi’ites, killing 125 people. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, a revered Shia cleric, is one of those killed. [MSNBC, 5/4/2005; Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
A former Jordanian intelligence official who studied al-Zarqawi for a decade will say in 2006 of this time period, “Even then—and even more so now—al-Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency. To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad al-Hakim operation, and the attack against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support for him—with the tribes, with Saddam’s army and other remnants of his regime. They made al-Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] Over the next several years, the US government blames nearly every major bombing of civilians in Iraq on al-Zarqawi. For instance, an MSNBC article in early 2005 lists 35 attacks attributed to him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2005] But there is rarely any evidence definitively determining who was behind any given attack, and arrests or prosecutions of the bombers or their associates are even rarer. In late 2004, a Daily Telegraph article will claim that several US military intelligence sources complain that the importance of al-Zarqawi “has been exaggerated by flawed intelligence and the Bush administration’s desire to find ‘a villain’ for the post-invasion mayhem. US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear.… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq’” (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] But despite this, the blaming of nearly all attacks on al-Zarqawi will continue. The Jordanian intelligence expert on al-Zarqawi will complain in 2006, “The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now.… Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In April 2006, the Washington Post will report that the US military has been deliberately exaggerating the importance of al-Zarqawi in order to link the war in Iraq to al-Qaeda for the US public, due to al-Zarqawi’s alleged al-Qaeda ties (see April 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Dexter Filkins.Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, New York Times, Dexter Filkins, Al-Qaeda, Mark Kimmitt

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

A video still of Nick Berg being tormented by his captors in Iraq.A video still of Nick Berg being tormented by his captors in Iraq. [Source: Reuters]A video of US citizen Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq is made public and causes widespread horror and outrage around the world. Berg had been working in Iraq with private companies installing communications towers. On March 24, 2004, he is taken into custody. Berg’s family is sent e-mails confirming that he is in US custody (however, US officials will later claim they were erroneously notified and he was in Iraqi government custody instead). The official reasons for his arrest are “lack of documentation” and “suspicious activities.” Regardless of who is holding him, it is not disputed that he is visited three times by the FBI while being held. On April 5, the Berg family launches an action against the US military for false imprisonment, and the next day Berg is released. Berg stays in a hotel in Baghdad for the next few days, and tells a hotel guest that he had been held in a jail with US soldiers as guards. His family last hears of him on April 9, when he tells them he is going to try to leave Iraq. Then, nearly a month later on May 8, his headless body is found dumped on a Baghdad roadside. Three days after that, on May 11, the video of his beheading is broadcast. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004; National Public Radio, 8/14/2004] The video shows five masked men taunting and then beheading Berg, and one of them claims to be Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Two days later, a CIA official says, “After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the… video, the CIA assesses with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] However, many doubts about the video and the identity of al-Zarqawi surface:
bullet Berg is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit typically worn by detainees in US custody. At the start of the video, he speaks directly to the camera in a relaxed way. The Sydney Morning Herald will later comment, “It is highly likely that this segment is edited from the interrogation of Berg during his 13 days of custody.”
bullet Then the video cuts to scenes including the five masked men. But their Arabic is heavily accented in Russian, Jordanian, and Egyptian. One says “do it quickly” in Russian. A voice also seems to ask in English, “How will it be done?” Glimpses of their skin look white. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
bullet The masked man identified as al-Zarqawi does not speak with a Jordanian accent even though al-Zarqawi is Jordanian. CNN staff familiar with al-Zarqawi’s voice claim the voice does not sound like his. [CNN, 5/12/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
bullet Berg is then decapitated, but there is very little blood. Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, says, “I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds… if it [the video] was genuine.” Forensic death expert Jon Nordby of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators suggests that the beheading was staged and Berg was already dead. He also suggests that Berg appears to be heavily drugged in earlier parts of the video. [Asia Times, 5/22/2004] The Herald comments, “The scream is wildly out of sync, sounds female, and is obviously dubbed.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
bullet Al-Zarqawi is the one shown cutting Berg’s throat with a knife, and uses his right hand to do so. But people who spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi and knew him well claim that he was left handed. [New York Times, 7/13/2004]
bullet The timing of the video also raises suspicions, as it is broadcast just two weeks after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is exposed, and the shock of the beheadings cause some to claim a moral relativism to justify the US military’s abusive behavior towards detainees. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
bullet Strangely, Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui somehow used Berg’s e-mail account years before in Oklahoma (see Autumn 1999). US officials call this “a total coincidence.”
bullet The London Times comments that “The CIA’s insistence that al-Zarqawi was responsible appears based on the scantiest of evidence.… Sound experts have speculated that the voice might have been dubbed on.” Further, “There are discrepancies in the times on the video frames.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
bullet No autopsy is performed on Berg’s body, nor is there any determination of the time of his death. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
bullet No proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding his death is ever conducted. For instance, the US military will tell Berg’s family that they could find no evidence of Berg’s last days in a Baghdad hotel and that no Westerner stayed in that hotel for weeks. But the Washington Post was able to get a copy of the hotel register with Berg’s name on it, along with the date of his checkout, a list of the things he left in his room, and the exact words he said as he left the hotel. [National Public Radio, 8/14/2004]
It will later be reported that the US military was conducting a propaganda campaign to inflate the importance of al-Zarqawi (see April 10, 2006), but it is unknown if Berg’s death was somehow related to this campaign.

Entity Tags: Nick Berg, Jon Nordby, John Simpson, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

A US PSYOP leaflet disseminated in Iraq showing a caricature of al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap. The caption reads: “This is your future, Zarqawi.”A US PSYOP leaflet disseminated in Iraq showing a caricature of al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap. The caption reads: “This is your future, Zarqawi.” [Source: US Department of Defense]The Telegraph reports that US military intelligence agents in Iraq believe that the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been greatly exaggerated. The Bush administration has used al-Zarqawi as a villain to blame post-invasion troubles in the Iraq war and to connect the Iraqi insurgency to al-Qaeda (see February 9, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] For instance, in April 2004, US military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that more than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by terrorists recruited and trained by al-Zarqawi. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] The Telegraph reports: “US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq… Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.’” Millitary intelligence officials believe that the insurgency is dominated by Iraqis and that the number of foreign fighters such as al-Zarqawi could be as low as 200. However, some of these officials complain that their reports to US leaders about this are largely being ignored. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, leaked classified US military documents will show that the US military ran a propaganda campaign from at least early 2004 to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance in the US and Iraqi media (see April 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Rick Lynch

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group al-Tawhid pledges loyalty to bin Laden in a statement posted on the Internet. He states, [Let it be known that] al-Tawhid pledges both its leaders and its soldiers to the mujahid commander, Sheikh Osama bin Laden…” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 364] Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi began discussing the possibility of an alliance in early 2004 (see Early 2004). There had been other occasional contacts and linkages between al-Zarqawi and his group in years past, but al-Zarqawi had generally maintained his independence from al-Qaeda. Just one month earlier, al-Zarqawi stated, “I have not sworn allegiance to [bin Laden] and I am not working within the framework of his organization.” [Newsweek, 4/4/2005] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that at the same time al-Zarqwai made his loyalty oath, he also “proclaimed himself to be the ‘Emir of al-Qaeda’s Operations in the Land of Mesopotamia,’ a title that subordinated him to bin Laden but at the same time placed him firmly on the global stage. One explanation for this coming together of these two former antagonists was simple: al-Zarqawi profited from the al-Qaeda franchise, and bin Laden needed a presence in Iraq. Another explanation is more complex: bin Laden laid claim to al-Zarqawi in the hopes of forestalling his emergence as the single most important terrorist figure in the world, and al-Zarqawi accepted bin Laden’s endorsement to augment his credibility and to strengthen his grip on the Iraqi tribes. Both explanations are true. It was a pragmatic alliance, but tenuous from the start.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In December 2004, an audiotape said to be the voice of bin Laden acknowledges al-Zarqawi’s comments. “It should be known that the mujahid brother Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the emir of the al-Qaeda organization in [Iraq]. The brothers in the group there should heed his orders and obey him in all that which is good.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 364-365]

Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

The Washington Post reports that leaked documents show the US military is conducting a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. According to the Post, “The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the [Iraq] war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” According to Col. Derek Harvey, who has been a top advisor on Iraq intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although al-Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have conducted some deadly bombing attacks, they remain “a very small part of the actual numbers…. Our own focus on al-Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will—made him more important than he really is, in some ways.” Since at least 2004, the US military has manipulated the Iraq media’s coverage of Zarqawi in an effort to turn Iraqis against the insurgency. But leaked documents also explicitly list the “US Home Audience” as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign. Additionally, sections of leaked military briefings show that the US media was directly used to influence view of al-Zarqawi. For instance, one document notes that a “selective leak” about al-Zarqawi was made to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, which resulted in a 2004 front page story about a letter supposedly written by al-Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] The Daily Telegraph reported in 2004 that “senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax.” The Telegraph also reported the US was buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerated al-Zarqawi’s role and was treating it as fact, even in policy decisions (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] One US military briefing from 2004 states, “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response” and lists three methods: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite US military unit) and “PSYOP,” meaning psychological operations and propaganda. One internal US military briefing concluded that the “al-Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date… primarily for the Iraqi audience but also with the international audience.” It is supposedly US military policy not to aim psychological operations at Americans, but there appears to be no punishment for the violation of this policy in the wake of this media report. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Derek Harvey, Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

A new video thought to be from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri praises the insurgency in Iraq. He describes militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a “beloved brother” and says, “I have lived with him up close and have seen nothing but good from him.” However, the video was apparently made some time previously, in November 2005, and the man thought to be al-Zawahiri says it was made to mark the fourth anniversary of the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001). By November 2005, al-Zarqawi had had some sort of relationship with al-Qaeda for about a year (see October 17, 2004), but this relationship will end upon his death in mid-June (see June 8, 2006). [BBC, 4/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.The dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [Source: US army]Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is apparently killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad. There are contradictory details of what exactly happened in the airstrike, and three days later the Washington Post will report that “circumstances surrounding the killing [remain] cloudy.” [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] His killing is hailed by US and Iraqi officials as the most significant public triumph for US-allied forces since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. For instance, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calls him “the leading terrorist in Iraq and one of three senior al-Qaeda leaders worldwide.” The Washington Post calls al-Zarqawi the “mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2006; Washington Post, 6/10/2006] These pronouncements and media reports ignore a revelation made two months earlier by the Washington Post that the US military has been engaged in a propaganda campaign to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance. The newspaper had reported that Zarqawi wasn’t behind nearly as many attacks as commonly reported (see October 4, 2004 and April 10, 2006). Even a Washington Post article about the propaganda surrounding al-Zarqawi published two days after his death will fail to mention any of the details provided in the Post’s original reporting on the campaign. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] Later in the month, an audiotape surfaces in which bin Laden supposedly praises al-Zarqawi as a martyr (see June 30, 2006), calling him a “brave knight” and a “lion of jihad.” US officials say the tape is genuine, however it should be noted that a letter from 2004 said to tie al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leadership is believed by many experts to be a US-government promoted hoax (see April 10, 2006). [Washington Post, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi did pledge loyalty to bin Laden in 2004, but they don’t appear to have been closely linked before then and there even are doubts about how close their relationship was after that time (see October 17, 2004).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Donald Rumsfeld, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also mentioned the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a video.Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also mentioned the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a video. [Source: As Sahab]A man said to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio message following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be head of al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq (see June 8, 2006). The voice says that al-Zarqawi, who died following a US air strike, is “one of our greatest knights and one of our best emirs… We were very happy to find in him a symbol and role model for our future generations.” The voice, which the CIA says is bin Laden’s, also asks that al-Zarqawi’s body be returned to Jordan, where he was born. The speaker also says: “We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, until we drain your money and kill your men and send you home defeated, God willing, as we defeated you before, thanks to God, in Somalia.” The message lasts almost 20 minutes and is posted on a website associated with al-Qaeda. [CNN, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi pledged loyalty to bin Laden in 2004 (see October 17, 2004).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

Waleed Alshehri in his video will.Waleed Alshehri in his video will. [Source: As Sahab]A new video is released featuring an audio statement by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden and a video will by one of the 9/11 hijackers, Waleed Alshehri. The man thought to be bin Laden urges sympathizers to join the “caravan of martyrs” and praises Alshehri, saying, “It is true that this young man was little in years, but the faith in his heart was big.” The audio message is accompanied by a still image of the man thought to be bin Laden, apparently taken from a video released a few days earlier (see September 7, 2007). It is unclear whether the audio message is new or was taped some time before release, although the speaker mentions the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). In the will, Alshehri warns the US, “We shall come at you from your front and back, your right and left.” He also criticizes the state of the Islamic world, “The condition of Islam at the present time makes one cry… in view of the weakness, humiliation, scorn and enslavement it is suffering because it neglected the obligations of Allah and His orders, and permitted His forbidden things and abandoned jihad in Allah’s path.” Homeland security adviser Frances Townsend says that the video is not important and that bin Laden is “virtually impotent.” However, MSNBC will comment, “Bin Laden’s new appearances underline the failure to find the terror leader that President Bush vowed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to take ‘dead or alive.’” [MSNBC, 9/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Frances Townsend, Osama bin Laden, Waleed Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
bullet Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
bullet Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
bullet Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Matthew Alexander, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, George Casey

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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