Profile: Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera was a participant or observer in the following events:
Tayseer Allouni. [Source: Public domain / Antonio Casas]Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni makes several trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, taking money with him and giving it to people who are later said to be militants. Allouni, some of whose telephone conversations are recorded by Spanish authorities from the mid-1990s (see 1995 and After), makes numerous trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, carrying no more than $4,000 each time. Allouni’s associates include Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who are linked to 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and October 9, 1999), as well as Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Barakat Yarkas, who also is in contact with Darkazanli and Zammar (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). [Miles, 2005, pp. 306-313] In 2000, Allouni is monitored by the Spanish government as he makes several trips to Afghanistan. His lawyer will later concede that he was given $35,000 by Yarkas, and Allouni will acknowledge that he did carry thousands of dollars from Yarkas to Afghanistan, Turkey, and Chechnya. [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003] However, Allouni will later say he is not a member of al-Qaeda and was only taking the money to friends and other Syrian exiles. He will later interview Osama bin Laden (see October 20, 2001) and be sentenced to jail for his alleged al-Qaeda membership (see September 26, 2005). [Miles, 2005, pp. 306-313]
[Source: Infocom]The US Joint Terrorism Task Force conducts a three-day raid of the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news channel. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; Web Host Industry Review, 9/10/2001] Three days after the initial raid, the task force is “still busy inside the building, reportedly copying every hard disc they could find. It is not clear how long these websites remain shut down.”
[Guardian, 9/10/2001] InfoCom began to be seriously investigated by the FBI in late 1998 when the name of an employee was discovered in the address book of bin Laden’s former personal secretary. There also was evidence of a financial link between InfoCom and a top Hamas leader (see October 1994-2001).
InfoCom is closely connected to the Holy Land Foundation. Not only are the two organizations across the road from each other in Richardson, Texas, a number of employees work at both organizations. For instance, Ghassan Elashi is both the vice president of InfoCom and chairman of Holy Land. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2002] A local bank closes Holy Land’s checking accounts totaling about $13 million around the same time as the raid on InfoCom, but Holy Land’s assets are not officially frozen by the government. [Dallas Business Journal, 9/7/2001] The US will shut down Holy Land and freeze their assets two months later (see December 4, 2001) for suspected ties to Hamas. Holy Land is represented by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the Bush White House. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001] In 2002, the five brothers running InfoCom will be charged of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws and of supporting Hamas by giving money to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk through 2001. In 2004, the five brothers will be convicted of the first charge, and in 2005, three brothers will be convicted of the second charge.(see December 18, 2002-April 2005). On a possibly connected note, in the Garland suburb adjoining Richardson, a fifth-grade boy apparently has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/2001]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, InfoCom Corporation, US Secret Service, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Osama bin Laden, Ghassan Elashi, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Al Jazeera, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multimillionaire considered by the United States to be the prime suspect for the 9/11 attacks, issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he denies responsibility for those attacks. [CNN, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] In the statement, which is read out by an Al Jazeera announcer, bin Laden says: “The US government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons. I have been living in the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.” The statement is signed “Sheik Osama bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 9/16/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] President Bush dismisses bin Laden’s denial. Asked whether he believes it, Bush responds: “No question he is the prime suspect. No question about that.” [White House, 9/16/2001; Baltimore Sun, 9/17/2001] Vice President Dick Cheney says he has “no doubt that [bin Laden] and his organization played a significant role” in the 9/11 attacks. [NBC, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] On this day, bin Laden also faxes a statement to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency, in which he denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). [Guardian, 9/17/2001] Previously, on September 12, he denied any involvement, according to a close aide of his (see September 12, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/13/2001] On September 13, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban said bin Laden told them he had played no role in the attacks (see September 13, 2001). [Reuters, 9/13/2001] But in mid-December 2001, the Pentagon will release a video which apparently shows bin Laden indicating his complicity (see Mid-November 2001). [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001] However, there will be questions about the authenticity of this film (see December 13, 2001). [Guardian, 12/15/2001]
Five major US television networks agree to self-censor their news broadcasts of statements by Osama bin Laden and his associates. The agreement, made by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News, comes after a conference call between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the networks; Rice’s call comes after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warns reporters that statements from suspected terrorists could contain anything from incitement to coded messages, and asks them not to print full transcripts of bin Laden’s messages (see October 10, 2001). [BBC, 10/11/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 31] Rice asks that, instead of automatically airing bin Laden videotapes, news executives should carefully review the tapes and remove any “inflammatory language” before broadcasting. [Current Events, 11/9/2001] The networks say they will now review them first, and edit or censor them as needed. While the American news networks are willing to comply with Rice’s recommendation, the Arab news network Al Jazeera disagrees: chief editor Ibrahim Halil says, “I don’t think the United States, which taught the world about freedom of expression, should now begin to limit it.” Al Jazeera has been the first to broadcast many of the statements in question, broadcasts which were often picked up by American news networks and shown in their entirety. [BBC, 10/11/2001]
'A Silky Form of Censorship' - According to the New York Times, the five networks have never before consulted one another as a group and made such a collective policy decision about news coverage. The executives deny that they were threatened or pressured by Rice or any other White House officials: “Ms. Rice made no specific request of news organizations, other than that we consider the possible existence of such messages in deciding whether and how to air portions of al-Qaeda statements,” says an ABC spokesman. They also deny that the decision amounts to censorship. CBS says it is committed to “responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives.” CBS president Andrew Heyward says: “The issue… was raised by the transmission of unedited, extended propaganda messages from a terrorist group… with the will to kill thousands of people. No network wants to serve as the platform for that propaganda.” And Fox News chairman Roger Ailes notes that “[Rice] was very, very careful to talk about freedom of the press and not to suggest how we do our job.” Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media watchdog group, has a different view. He calls the decision “a silky form of censorship.” Network executives say that the likelihood of bin Laden using his statements to send coded messages to “sleeper” agents in the US is unlikely, and if he is, the agents could get the statements from printed transcripts or Internet video. “What sense would it make to keep the tapes off the air if the message could be found transcripted in newspapers or on the Web?” one executive asks. “The videos could also appear on the Internet. They’d get the message anyway.” [BBC, 10/11/2001; Current Events, 11/9/2001]
Notion that Censorship Could Disrupt Al-Qaeda Communications Fantastical, Says Media Critic - Author and media critic Frank Rich is fascinated by the assumptions behind Rice’s assertions: in 2006, he will write that the Bush administration “entertain[s] at least a passing fantasy that al-Qaeda, despite its access both to the Internet and to the Arabic superstation Al Jazeera… could be disrupted by having its videos kept off the likes of Fox.” The administration’s “ambitions to manage the news [knows] no bounds.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 31]
British Broadcasters Refuse Similar Request - A similar request by the British government is flatly refused; the BBC issues a short statement reading, “Government interference will be resisted.” The Canadian government does not issue such a request, leaving the decision of whether to air unedited broadcasts of the terrorists’ statements up to news executives and editors. [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Al Jazeera, Center for Media and Public Affairs, CNN, Andrew Heyward, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, ABC News, New York Times, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Condoleezza Rice, Ibrahim Halil, Frank Rich, Matthew Felling, NBC News, British Broadcasting Corporation
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
An al-Qaeda representative offers to arrange a television interview of Osama bin Laden. There are two versions of how this offer is made. According to CNN, an al-Qaeda contact of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, with which it has a footage-sharing agreement, invites CNN and Al Jazeera to submit questions to bin Laden. CNN, worried about accusations of improper conduct, contacts the other major US television news stations and tells them it will share any footage that emerges. It also says it will only air the interview as long as it is newsworthy and not “propaganda.” CNN then draws up six questions about al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 and the recent anthrax attacks in the US. It gives the questions to Al Jazeera, which adds another 25 and sends them to its Kabul bureau, which, in turn, passes them on to its al-Qaeda contact. The ethics of this are hotly debated in the US media, with Fox News publicly refusing to participate. Nevertheless, an Al Jazeera manager will later say: “I assure you they [Fox] contacted me to send more questions of their own. I got calls and emails from them.” Fox will later admit to the contacts, but say it would only have agreed to take part in the event of a regular interview. However, Al Jazeera media relations manager Jihad Ballout will contradict CNN’s account of the offer, saying the two organizations are approached independently, and al-Qaeda eventually chooses Al Jazeera. [Miles, 2005, pp. 175-176, 179-180] The interview will take place on October 20 (see October 20, 2001).
Osama bin Laden admits “inciting” the 9/11 attacks in a controversial interview by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV station. The interview is conducted by Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera’s Kabul correspondent. Allouni had discussed a possible interview of bin Laden with al-Qaeda about a week previously (see Mid-October 2001), but nothing further had been said and Allouni assumed the interview would not be conducted.
Taken Blindfolded to Bin Laden - However, he is contacted by al-Qaeda representatives, who tell him they will take him to a story. He is blindfolded and driven around in circles outside Kabul for some time, until the car stops, the blindfold is taken off, and he finds himself in an unknown place, face-to-face with bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader is wearing camouflage fatigues and has a sub-machine gun close by; there are other armed men present. Allouni is told he cannot use his own questions, but will ask a set of questions prepared by al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden 'Ambiguously' Discusses Responsibility for 9/11 - The interview lasts for over an hour and covers several topics. On the key question of responsibility for 9/11, author Hugh Miles will point out that bin Laden speaks “ambiguously, seeming first to deny, then confirm, his involvement in the attacks.” When asked about US allegations of his responsibility, bin Laden answers: “America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted.” However, a few seconds later he adds, “If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we were terrorists.” He then says: “We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders, and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically.” Allouni interrupts him and asks, “They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?” The reply is, “So we kill their innocents.” Bin Laden also gives a vague non-answer to a question about his responsibility for the recent anthrax attacks in the US: “These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers’ prayers in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and everywhere.”
Interview Not Broadcast - Al Jazeera decides not to broadcast the interview. Its media relations manager, Jihad Ballout, will later say the decision is taken because the questions Allouni was forced to ask came from bin Laden, and because “bin Laden was using Al Jazeera to give out a very edited and sanitized statement to his people. It was a message, a pure message.” Neither does Al Jazeera inform CNN of the interview. However, western intelligence services will obtain it (see Before November 11, 2001) and it will eventually be broadcast on CNN in early 2002 (see January 31, 2002). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 177-179, 182]
Walter Isaacson. [Source: Amazon (.com)]CNN chairman Walter Isaacson orders his staff to balance the network’s coverage of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11. Isaacson says it “seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” In an internal memo to his international correspondents, he writes: “As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/31/2001] Inside sources later say that CNN is bowing to pressure from certain segments of its viewing audience. [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Suggested Endings Reiterate Pentagon Statements - In a corollary memo, CNN’s head of standards and practices, Rick Davis, writes: “As we get enterprising reports from our correspondents or Al Jazeera inside Afghanistan, we must continue to make sure that we do not inadvertently seem to be reporting uncritically from the perspective or vantage of the Taliban. Also, given the enormity of the toll on innocent human lives in the US, we must remain careful not to focus excessively on the casualties and hardships in Afghanistan that will inevitably be a part of this war, or to forget that it is the Taliban leadership that is responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in.” Davis orders CNN reports from Afghanistan to end with a formulaic reminder, such as the following: “We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the US.” Another suggested ending: “The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban regime continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September 11 attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the US.” If relevant to the piece, the correspondent can end with the reminder that “the Pentagon has stressed that the Taliban continues to harbor the terrorists and the Taliban forces are reported to be hiding in populated areas and using civilians as human shields.” Davis concludes, “Even though it may start sounding rote, it is important that we make this point each time.” Isaacson tells reporters: “I want to make sure we’re not used as a propaganda platform. We’re entering a period in which there’s a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it’s in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States.” Presenters on CNN International are not subject to the edict. [Guardian, 11/1/2001]
Correspondents Fear 'Pro-American Stamp' on CNN Reporting - Some CNN correspondents worry that the network will put an overtly “pro-American stamp” on their reports; CNN executives worry that images showing misdirected US missile attacks landing on residential areas or Red Cross warehouses could be manipulated before they come out of Afghanistan. Some have criticized network coverage of the destruction rained on Afghan cities, towns, and villages by errant US bombs, while others say such coverage is necessary to present more than one side of the issue. CNN, like other American networks, airs hours of coverage every day of President Bush and his top officials. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/31/2001; Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2002, then-CNN foreign correspondent Anthony Collings will say that “the Pentagon must surely have been pleased to learn that whenever its planes killed the wrong Afghans, CNN would quickly provide PR damage control.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Some Pundits Agree with CNN's Position - Fox News anchor Brit Hume agrees that stories of casualties should not be emphasized, explaining, “Civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war.” National Public Radio White House correspondent Mara Liasson agrees with Hume, noting, “War is about killing people; civilian casualties are unavoidable.” [Bob Zelnick, 3/22/2003]
Other Networks Not Following Suit - Other US news networks do not follow CNN’s lead. Jim Murphy, executive producer of the CBS Evening News, says: “I wouldn’t order anybody to do anything like that. Our reporters are smart enough to know it has to be put in context.” NBC News vice president Bill Wheatley adds, “I’d give the American public more credit, frankly.” In Britain, the BBC has no plans to put any such reminders on its broadcasts, but a spokeswoman for that network says, “Correspondents may or may not decide to put in this sort of detail in their reports to put things in context.” [Guardian, 11/1/2001]
Issue Not Relevant if Good Journalistic Standards Observed - In 2003, veteran foreign correspondent Robert Zelnick will write that the entire issue should have been moot, as long as reporters and networks followed strong standards of journalism. It is newsworthy in a tactical, a psychological, and a propagandistic sense to report civilian casualties, Zelnick will observe, especially when the targeting of civilians is deliberate. He cites examples of media coverage in Korea, Kosovo, and especially Vietnam, that galvanized public debate on those wars. “[N]o reasonable case can be made for temporizing reports of the war’s impact on the civilians that US forces were fighting to ‘save,’” he will write. On the other side, he will cite the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and Israel’s ongoing battles with the Palestinians as examples of wars fought with little US media coverage of civilian casualties; as a result, relatively few Americans raised objections or expressed doubts about those military actions. [Bob Zelnick, 3/22/2003]
Entity Tags: Brit Hume, Al Jazeera, Anthony Collings, Bill Wheatley, US Department of Defense, Walter Isaacson, Rick Davis, Robert Zelnick, CNN, Mara Liasson, Jim Murphy
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
Western intelligence services obtain a copy of a secret Al Jazeera interview of Osama bin Laden. Al Jazeera had decided not to broadcast the interview, conducted on October 20 (see October 20, 2001), because its correspondent had not been allowed to ask his own questions, but had been told what to say by bin Laden. [Miles, 2005, pp. 179, 181] The fact that the video is obtained by Western intelligence is first revealed by the Daily Telegraph, which says the transcript proves bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11 and that it will soon be used as the “centrepiece of Britain and America’s new evidence against bin Laden.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/11/2001] Author Hugh Miles will note that bin Laden is actually ambiguous about his responsibility for 9/11 on the tape, and will speculate about how it was obtained. According to Miles, al-Qaeda kept a copy of the tape, but it is unlikely that al-Qaeda would give it to Western intelligence or CNN, which will air it later (see January 31, 2002). Therefore, the tape was probably obtained for the West by US authorities, who “made it their business to know all of Al Jazeera’s internal affairs.” [Miles, 2005, pp. 179-182] On November 14, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will refer to the video in a speech before the House of Commons and say, “The intelligence material now leaves no doubt whatever of the guilt of bin Laden and his associates.” [CNN, 11/14/2001; UK Prime Minister, 11/14/2001] Yet the British government will say it does not have a copy of the video, only information about it from intelligence sources. [Washington Post, 11/14/2001]
Ahmed Alhaznawi in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi is shown by the Al Jazeera television network. Alhaznawi does not mention details of the 9/11 plot, but he pledges to send a “bloodied message” to Americans. He says, “It is time to kill the Americans on their own ground among their families and soldiers… The time of humiliation and subjugation is over. It’s time to kill Americans in their heartland.… Lord I regard myself as a martyr for you to accept me as such.” A picture of the World Trade Center exploding appears behind him during his entire speech. It is believed that he recorded the video around March 2001, the same time most other 9/11 hijackers recorded similar videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)), and the background was added in digitally after 9/11. Al Jazeera says they received the video about a week earlier, along with videos from top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as part of a documentary prepared by al-Qaeda. The Guardian notes that “The al-Qaeda tapes broadcast by [Al Jazeera since 9/11] have gradually moved towards acknowledging the organization’s role in the September 11 conspiracy,” and “Alhaznawi’s statement comes close to a full admission…” [Guardian, 4/16/2002]
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. [Source: Qatar embassy]Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda recently interviewed 9/11 figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), though there are conflicting accounts about whether the interview took place before or after KSM was publicly identified as the 9/11 mastermind (see April, June, or August 2002). Author Ron Suskind will later claim in the book The One Percent Doctrine that on June 14, 2002, Fouda went to his superiors at Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar and told them about the interview. He speaks to Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani, the chairman of Al Jazeera and the cousin of the emir of Qatar, and a few others. At this time, the US is intensely pressuring the Qatari government to get Al Jazeera to tone down what the US perceives as anti-American news coverage. In fact, it is widely believed in Qatar that the US deliberately bombed the Al Jazeera office in Kabul, Afghanistan, in November 2001 to send a message. Perhaps as a result of this pressure, a few days after Fouda reveals his interview, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, tells the CIA all about it. Fouda described some of al-Qaeda’s operational plans and even had a good idea where the apartment was in Karachi, Pakistan, where the interview took place, and what floor he had been on. Suskind claims that “No one, not even Al Jazeera management, knew the emir was making the call” to the CIA. US intelligence begins an intense surveillance of Karachi in an attempt to find KSM and bin al-Shibh (see Before September 11, 2002). Mostly because of this lead, bin al-Shibh will be arrested in Karachi in September 2002, around the time when Fouda’s interview is finally aired in public (see September 11, 2002). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 134-140] Interestingly, in early September 2002, it will be reported that KSM was arrested in an apartment in Karachi on June 16, 2002, which would be right about when the CIA was given this information (see June 16, 2002).
Abdulaziz Alomari filmed speaking in Afghanistan in early 2001. He stands in front of a large map of the world. [Source: Spiegel TV]Details of an Al Jazeera interview with al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see April, June, or August 2002) are widely publicized starting on September 8, 2002. [London Times, 9/8/2002; Australian, 9/9/2002; Guardian, 9/9/2002] But there are numerous doubts about this interview, since there is no video footage and only audio footage from bin al-Shibh. It has further been suggested that the broadcast of bin al-Shibh’s voice in the interview helps in his arrest (see September 11, 2002). [Observer, 9/15/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002] Bin al-Shibh’s voice is first broadcast on September 9, 2002, as part of uncredited narration on another documentary released that day (see September 9, 2002). His voice is only publicly identified as his on the morning of September 11, 2002, just hours before bin al-Shibh is said to be arrested. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 159] Al Jazeera also broadcasts footage of hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari speaking against the US filmed in Afghanistan in early 2001 (see September 9, 2002) and other footage of some other hijackers (see September 9, 2002). [Financial Times, 9/11/2002]
Abdulaziz Alomari in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari is broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. In it, Alomari gives a speech that he calls his last will and testament, and says: “I am writing this with my full conscience and I am writing this in expectation of the end, which is near. An end that is really a beginning.” He implores the US to “take your fat hands off the land of Arabs.… We will get you. We will humiliate you. We will never stop following you.… God praise everybody who trained and helped me, namely the leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden. May God bless him. May God accept our deeds.” It is believed that Alomari recorded the video around March 2001, the same time most of the other 9/11 hijackers recorded similar videos (see March 2001), and the background of a burning Pentagon was added digitally after 9/11. [CNN, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Alomari’s speech is part of an hour-long al-Qaeda video broadcast on Al Jazeera (see September 9, 2002).
The US search for al-Qaeda figures Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh focuses on the city of Karachi, Pakistan, culminating in the capture of bin al-Shibh there on September 11, 2002. Accounts differ, but at some point in mid-2002 Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda allegedly interviews bin al-Shibh and KSM in Karachi (see April, June, or August 2002). In 2003, Fouda will write a book about 9/11 with London Times reporter Nick Fielding. In the book, they will speculate why bin al-Shibh was arrested in Karachi on September 11, 2002, only a few months after the interview (see September 11, 2002), and within two days of when Fouda’s report (with audio from bin al-Shibh but not KSM) is first broadcast (see September 8-11, 2002): “Al Jazeera’s broadcasts probably confirmed what intelligence agencies already suspected, namely that bin al-Shibh and [KSM] were hiding in the Karachi area. That information would have been enough to justify the deployment of massive electronic resources in the area.” The authors further claim that, according to unnamed intelligence sources, while the NSA’s Echelon satellite network intercepts communications all over the world, the network’s “real strength” is that it “can concentrate huge resources into one specified area.” A source close to US intelligence will tell the authors: “Bin al-Shibh was apparently caught because he was a geek who was too willing to get onto his [satellite phone] and his e-mail. He thought he was too clever and had been getting away with things for too long.” Declassified Russian intelligence reports say that US intelligence satellites oscillate in their orbit in a way that allows the satellites to pick up the same satellite phone signals from slightly different angles and thus take bearings to identify the precise locations of the calls. The authors will further say that sources close to the NSA have dismissed the idea that bin al-Shibh was located by an electronic voice print based on his voice in the Al Jazeera interview, as such a technique is very hard to do, especially since his voice was electronically altered. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 184] Three years after the book by Fouda and Fielding is published, a book by Ron Suskind will claim that this intensive US surveillance of Karachi begins not because of bin al-Shibh’s voice in the interview, but because shortly after the interview takes place, Fouda tells his superiors at Al Jazeera that the interview had been in Karachi, and this information gets passed on to US intelligence (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). This would have given US intelligence several months to home in on bin al-Shibh’s location instead of just two days (see September 9, 2002). KSM apparently makes it out of Karachi without being captured, and he will be captured elsewhere in Pakistan in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, just one day after the interview with Fouda is aired, there are reports that KSM was captured in Karachi in June 2002, close to the time the interview is said to have taken place (see June 16, 2002).
Secretary of State Colin Powell obtains an advance transcript of a new audio tape thought to be from Osama bin Laden before it is broadcast on Al Jazeera, but misrepresents the contents to a US Senate panel, implying it shows a partnership between al-Qaeda and Iraq. [CNN, 2/12/2003] Following Powell’s initial claim the tape exists, Al Jazeera says that it has no such tape and dismisses Powell’s statement as a rumor. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] However, later in the day Al Jazeera says that it does have the tape. [Reuters, 2/12/2003] It is unclear how Powell obtains the advance copy, and Counterpunch even jokes, “Maybe the CIA gave Powell the tape before they delivered it to Al Jazeera?” [CounterPunch, 2/13/2003] In his testimony to the Senate Budget Committee Powell says, “[Bin Laden] speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] Powell’s spokesperson, Richard Boucher, says that the recording proves “that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein seem to find common ground.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 2/12/2003; Washington Post, 11/12/2003] However, although bin Laden tells his supporters in Iraq they may fight alongside the Saddam Hussein, if the country is invaded by the US (see November 12, 2002), he does not express any direct support for the current regime in Iraq, which he describes as “pagan.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] A senior editor for Al Jazeera says the tape offers no evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. “When you hear it, it doesn’t prove any relation between bin Laden or al-Qaeda group and the Iraqi regime,” he argues. [ABC News, 2/12/2003] Several news reports also challenge Powell and Boucher’s interpretation. For example, CNN reveals that the voice had criticized Saddam’s regime, declaring that “the socialists and the rulers [had] lost their legitimacy a long time ago, and the socialists are infidels regardless of where they are, whether in Baghdad or in Aden.” [CNN, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 11/12/2003] Similarly, a report published by Reuters notes that the voice “did not express support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein—it said Muslims should support the Iraqi people rather than the country’s government.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003]
Photos of five US captives broadcast by Al Jazeera. The soldiers are, clockwise from the left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley. [Source: Al Jazeera / CNN]The Arab television network Al Jazeera broadcasts graphic close-up shots of dead US soldiers taken during the same ambush that saw the capture of Private Jessica Lynch (see March 23, 2003). The bodies are sprawled on a concrete floor; a smiling Iraqi fighter points out the individual bodies for the camera. At least two of the soldiers appear to have been shot, one between the eyes. In the same broadcast, four exhausted and shaken captured US soldiers, also members of Lynch’s unit, are shown giving short and uninformative answers to their captors. Still photos of five soldiers are shown by the network. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] The still images of the prisoners are shown on at least one US news show, NBC’s “Dateline.” [New York Times, 3/28/2003] The parents of one of the captives, Shoshana Johnson, learned of their daughter’s capture from a Spanish-language news broadcast on Telemundo before they were informed by the Pentagon. Joseph Hudson’s mother learned of her son’s capture from a Filipino television broadcast. Johnson’s sister, Army Captain Nikki Johnson, says that it is not necessarily wrong for footage of American POWs to be broadcast because “[y]ou get to see the condition the soldiers are in now. It’ll be very hard for them to mistreat them and try and say, ‘Oh, we found them that way.’” Johnson’s father, Claude, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War as an Army sergeant, says, “The instant we found out they were prisoners, we should have been talking to the people in the Red Cross and ensuring that somebody got out there. We can’t turn the clock back. What is done is done. Now is the time to get the people from the Red Cross or whatever organization is available to go in and make a true assessment, and then we can go from there.” Miller’s half-brother Thomas Hershberger says, “We are glad he wasn’t killed. We hope he makes it back. We all love him, and we hope he is treated humanely.” Hudson’s mother Anecita says tearfully, “I just would like [to say] to the president of United States of America [to] do something about it—to save my son. And I want him to come home.” [CNN, 5/25/2003] Excluding Lynch, the US soldiers will be freed 22 days later; Lynch will be rescued from a Nasiriyah hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003).
Entity Tags: Patrick Miller, Jessica Lynch, International Committee of the Red Cross, Claude Johnson, Anecita Hudson, Al Jazeera, Joseph Hudson, Nikki Johnson, Thomas Hershberger, Shoshana Johnson, NBC, Telemundo
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
A photo of a slain US soldier as broadcast on Al Jazeera. [Source: Al Jazeera / TheWE (.cc)]With the first broadcast of graphic, disturbing images from the Iraq war on Al Jazeera television news shows, the media coverage of the US strike begins turning away from what media critic Frank Rich will later call “cheerleading” (see March 19-20, 2003) to a more somber assessment of the events taking place in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, is embarrassed when host Bob Schieffer shows part of an Al Jazeera film clip of US troops being killed. (The Pentagon is also denying media reports that around ten US soldiers were either captured or missing. The juxtaposition is inopportune for Rumsfeld and the “shock and awe” story he and the Defense Department wish to tell.) The Pentagon will quickly decide that for the US media to show such images violates “the principles of the Geneva Conventions” and attempt to stop them from being shown in the American press. The Pentagon’s proscription of such images being published and broadcast is only partially successful. ABC news anchor Charles Gibson engages in an on-air discussion of the propriety of airing such images with reporter Ted Koppel. Gibson says to broadcast such disturbing images would be “simply disrespectful,” a point with which Koppel, embedded with the Third Infantry Division, disagrees. The news media is “ginning up patriotic feelings” in covering the war, Koppel says: “I feel that we do have an obligation to remind people in the most graphic way that war is a dreadful thing.… The fact of the matter is young Americans are dying. Young Iraqis are dying. And I think to turn our faces away from that is a mistake.… To sanitize it too much is a dreadful mistake.” However, Koppel’s is not a popular argument. CNN decided at the onset of the war to minimize its broadcast of graphic imagery in deference to “the sensibilities of our viewers.” The other US television news outlets make similar decisions, leaving it to the BBC and other non-American news organizations to show what Rich calls “the savagery and blood of warfare.” Ex-Marine Anthony Swofford, who wrote the bestseller Jarhead about his experiences during the 1991 Gulf War, later says the television coverage is so sanitized that he quickly shut off his TV “and stayed with the print.… [T]he actual experience of combat doesn’t make it to the other side of the screen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 76]
General Vincent Brooks briefing reporters, with a photograph of Jessica Lynch displayed in the background. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, at US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar, shows reporters a video clip of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003), filmed with night-vision lenses. The clip shows Lynch on a stretcher and being rushed to a helicopter. Brooks says that before the raid, the hospital was apparently doubling as a military command post for Iraqi forces. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] “We were successful in that operation last night and did retrieve Pfc. Jessica Lynch, bringing her away from that location of danger, clearing the building of some of the military activity that was in there.” Brooks says. “There was not a fire-fight inside the building I will tell you, but there were fire-fights outside of the building getting in and getting out. There were no coalition casualties as a result of this and in the destruction that occurred inside of the building, particularly in the basement area where the operations centers had been, we found ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model, and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post. The nature of the operation was a coalition special operation that involved Army Rangers, Air Force pilots and combat controllers, US Marines and Navy Seals. It was a classical joint operation done by some of our nation’s finest warriors, who are dedicated to never leaving a comrade behind.” [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Reporters Given Video - Within hours, reporters are given a slickly produced five-minute edited version of the video of Lynch’s rescue, edited by a Defense Department production crew. Author and media critic Frank Rich later calls it “an action-packed montage of the guns-blazing Special Operations raid to rescue Lynch, bathed in the iridescent green glow of night-vision photography.” The video vies with a still photo of a barely conscious Lynch lying on a stretcher, with an American flag on her chest, for the most-broadcast image of the day. [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82] (In a tragic corollary to the video of Lynch’s rescue, the father of James Kiehl, a fellow soldier killed in the March 23 assault, was unable to find his son in the video footage. He will eventually find a shot of his son, dead and laid out behind the hospital, in a picture on the Al Jazeera Web site. The Defense Department videographers had left footage of Kiehl on the cutting room floor.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82; Huffington Post, 3/19/2006]
Some Reporters Dubious - CNN’s veteran war correspondent, Tom Mintier, later says, “I was a bit upset that [the Pentagon] spent so much time giving us all the minute-by-minute, this happened, that happened, she said this, we said that… and on a day when you have forces going into Baghdad, it wasn’t part of the briefing. Seems like there is an effort to manage the news in an unmanageable situation. They tried it in the first Gulf War, this time it was supposed to be different.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82]
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).
The toppling of the Firdos Square statue (see April 9, 2003) is presented as an iconic moment in history by many US media outlets. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cues the news analysts by saying of the “spontaneously” celebrating Iraqis, “Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.” NBC analyst Tim Russert says shortly afterwards, “Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have I seen anything quite like this.” CNN’s Bill Hemmer says, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history… indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” David Asman of Fox News tells viewers, “My goose bumps have never been higher than they are right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume says, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Al-Jazeera news producer Samir Khader will later say: “The Americans played the media element intelligently.… It was a show. It was a media show.” Al-Jazeera producer Deema Khatib will agree. Referring to various elements shown on American news broadcasts, he will say: “I bet you they brought in those teenage guys who broke the statue, they brought them in with them, because if you notice, they are all sort of the same age, no women, and they all went in and it was the same people on the square. You couldn’t see more people gathering from the houses around. No one came down to the street to see what was happening, because people were scared. And those people who came in, how come one of them had the flag of Iraq before 1991 in his pocket? Has he been waiting there for 10 years with the flag on that square? I don’t think so. But this is not something the US media will talk about.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 84] Most US news outlets dramatically cut back on their war reporting after the fall of the statue (see April 9, 2003).
Entity Tags: Fox News, CNN, Brit Hume, Bill Hemmer, Al Jazeera, David Asman, Donald Rumsfeld, Samir Khader, Tim Russert, NBC News, Deema Khatib
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Jessica Lynch being carried from a transport plane to a hospital in Ramstein, Germany, April 2, 2003. [Source: Associated Press / Baltimore Sun]The Washington Post publishes a much more exhaustively researched attempt at telling the accurate story of US Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture, rescue, and subsequent recovery. The Post printed a dramatic tale of Lynch’s guns-blazing capture, her abuse at the hands of her captors, and the firefight that resulted in her rescue (see April 1, 2003). That story turned out to be almost entirely fictional, most likely a product of Pentagon propaganda (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, and May 25, 2003). In a very different front-page story, it now attempts to tell the story directly and without embellishment.
Brief Propaganda Victory - The original story, featuring Lynch emptying her M-16 into her assailants until finally succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds, quickly made Lynch into what the Post calls “the story of the war, boosting morale at home and among the troops. It was irresistible and cinematic, the maintenance clerk turned woman-warrior from the hollows of West Virginia who just wouldn’t quit. Hollywood promised to make a movie and the media, too, were hungry for heroes.” That story was quickly exposed as a fraud. This Post story, its reporters assert, is far more extensively researched: “The Post interviewed dozens of people, including associates of Lynch’s family in West Virginia; Iraqi doctors, nurses and civilian witnesses in Nasiriyah; and U.S. intelligence and military officials in Washington, three of whom have knowledge of a weeks-long Army investigation into the matter. The result is a second, more thorough but inconclusive cut at history.” At least one similarity with the original story remains, the reporters acknowledge: most of the US officials who spoke to the reporters insisted that their identities not be revealed.
The Real Story of the Capture - According to military officials, Lynch indeed tried to fight her assailants, but her weapon jammed. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed. Her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, fell prey to an ambush outside Nasiriyah after getting lost. Army investigators believe that Lynch and her colleagues became lost because they were not informed that the column they had been following was rerouted. Lynch was riding in a Humvee when it crashed into a jackknified US truck. She was severely injured in the crash, including multiple broken bones and compression of the spine. The other four soldiers in the Humvee were killed or mortally wounded. She was captured by Iraqi guerrillas. In what may be a continuation of the government’s attempt to inflate the tale, two US officials familiar with the Army investigation say that Lynch was mistreated by her captors but refuse to give details.
Eyewitness Account - Sahib Khudher, an Iraqi farmer, saw a large US convoy of trucks, trailers, wreckers, and Humvees pass by his house before dawn on March 23. A few hours later, he saw trucks again pass his house, this time fighting off an ad hoc assault force of Iraqi irregulars in pickup trucks. The Iraqis were firing into the US vehicles and at their tires. “There was shooting, shooting everywhere,” Khudher recalls. “There were accidents, too. Crash sounds. You could see and hear the vehicles hitting each other. And yelling. Screaming. I could hear English.” Khudher was witnessing the tail end of the 507th Maintenance Company’s convoy, 18 Humvees, trailers, and tow trucks. Most of the soldiers were part of a Patriot missile maintenance crew.
Missed Route Change - The 507th missed a route change and quickly became separated from their larger 3rd Infantry unit. Because of truck breakdowns, 18 vehicles of the 507th split off from the rest of their convoy, and became entirely separated. Lynch was with these vehicles, which entered Nasiriyah around 6:30 a.m. Unfamiliar with the streets, the commander became lost, and eventually ordered the convoy to attempt to turn around and backtrack. By that point, around 7 a.m., the streets were filling with Iraqis, and the commander ordered the troops to lock and load their weapons.
Assault - As the convoy attempted to drive into central Nasiriyah, Iraqi forces launched an attack. The assailants were both uniformed soldiers and civilians, according to accounts by the American survivors of the assault. The attackers fired on the convoy with small arms, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. The situation worsened for the Americans when an Iraqi T-55 tank appeared, and the assailants positioned sandbags, debris, and cars to block the convoy’s path. The senior military officer later described the battle as “very harrowing, very intense.” Lynch may have been one of the soldiers returning fire, but she may not have gotten off a single round: “We don’t know how many rounds she got off,” says the official. “Her weapon jammed severely.” While details are unclear, it is believed that Lynch’s vehicle broke down, and she clambered into a soft-top Humvee driven by Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit. Another occupant, Master Sergeant Robert Dowdy, pulled two more soldiers into the Humvee. Lynch rode the transmission hump between the two seat. The senior military officer says that Dowdy was encouraging his four soldiers “to get into the fight” as well as “trying to get vehicles to move and getting soldiers out of one broken-down vehicle and into another.” The four soldiers in the Humvee “had their weapons at the ready and their seat belts off,” says the senior officer. “We assume they were firing back.” [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] (Lynch will later confirm that her weapon and others’ were jammed with sand and useless.) [Time, 11/9/2003]
Collision - During the firefight, a US tractor-trailer with a flatbed swerved around an Iraqi dump truck and jackknifed. As the Humvee sped towards the overturned tractor-trailer, it was struck on the driver’s side by a rocket-propelled grenade. Piestewa lost control of the Humvee and plowed into the trailer. The senior defense official calls the collision “catastrophic.” Dowdy was killed instantly, as were the two soldiers to either side of Lynch. Both she and Piestewa were severely injured. Lynch’s arm and both legs were crushed; bone fragments tore through her skin. Khudher recalls seeing a Humvee crash into a truck. Watching from a safe distance, he saw “two American women, one dark-skinned, one light-skinned, pulled from the Humvee. I think the light one was dead. The dark-skinned one was hurt.” The light-skinned woman was apparently Lynch. She and Piestewa, who was Native American, were both captured by Iraqi guerrillas.
Garbled, Contradictory Reports - Understandably, the reports of the ambush in the hours after the attack were garbled, contradictory, and confused. Arabic-speaking interpreters at the National Security Agency intercepted Iraqi transmissions referring to “an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them,” according to a senior military officer who read the top-secret intelligence report when it came in. Some of the Iraqis at the scene said she had emptied her weapon at her assailants. Over the next few days, numerous reports are received by the commanders at US CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar. Some of the reports are relayed Iraqi transmissions concerning a female soldier. The stories are contradictory. Some say she died in battle. Others say she was wounded by shrapnel. Others say she was shot and stabbed during the firefight. The only ones to receive these reports were generals, intelligence officers, and Washington policymakers, all of whom must be cleared to read the most sensitive information the US government possesses. The initial tale of Lynch’s “fight to the death” came from these high-level officials. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] Another possible explanation later given forth was that the Army had intercepted Iraqi radio chatter about a yellow-haired soldier from Lynch’s unit who fought bravely before falling; that soldier was later identified as Sergeant Donald Walters. Interpreters had confused the Arabic pronouns for “he” and “she” and thought the radio transmissions were about Lynch. [New York Times, 12/14/2003]
Initial Treatment - Lynch and Piestewa were taken to a small military hospital in Nasiriyah, where both are initially treated for their wounds. That hospital is nothing more than a burned-out ruin today, but on the morning of Lynch’s captivity, it was the scene of frenzied activity, overwhelmed with Iraqi soldiers and irregulars fleeing, fighting, and bleeding from wounds. US soldiers were coming in from Kuwait in heavy numbers. The hospital’s director, Adnan Mushafafawi, remembers a policeman bringing in two female American soldiers about 10 a.m. Both were unconscious, he remembers, severely wounded and suffering from shock. According to their dog tags, they were Lynch and Piestewa. “Miss Lori had bruises all over her face,” he remembers. “She was bleeding from the eyes. A severe head wound.” Piestewa died soon after arriving at the hospital. Though Piestewa may have been shot, Mushafafawi says, Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed. Mushafafawi and medical staffers cut away Lynch’s uniform, lay her on a gurney and began working on her. She had major fractures of her arm and both legs, and a minor head wound. They sutured the head wound, and gave her blood and intravenous fluids. After X-raying her fractures, they applied splints and plaster casts. “If we had left her without treatment, she would have died,” Mushafafawi says. Lynch briefly regained consciousness during the treatment, but was disoriented. “She was very scared,” he says. “We reassured her that she would be safe now.” She resisted having Mushafafawi reset her leg, he remembers. Two or three hours later, Lynch was sent to Nasirayah’s main civilian facility, Saddam Hussein General Hospital. Mushafafawi believed at the time that his hospital would be attacked by US military forces (it was overrun two days later). He had both Lynch and Piestewa’s body sent to the civilian hospital. Mushafafawi says he does not know what happened to either of the soldiers between the time they were captured and when they were brought to his hospital.
Hospitalized - Lynch arrived at Saddam Hussein hospital that afternoon in a military ambulance. The doctors there were shocked to find a severely injured, nearly naked American woman, wearing heavy casts, beneath a sheet. Hospital officials say that during her time there, she was given the best possible care they could provide. They do not believe it was possible for Iraqi agents to have abused her while at the hospital. A member of Iraq’s intelligence service was posted outside the door to her room, but the staff never saw anyone mistreat her, nor did they see evidence of any mistreatment. Her condition was grave, the doctors and nurses recall, unconscious and obviously in shock. The hospital was overloaded with casualties and barely staffed; only a dozen doctors from a staff of 60 were on duty. Many nurses had not come to work either. The roads were unsafe, the electricity came and went, medical supplies were stretched thin, and casualties kept pouring in. “It was substandard care, by American standards, we know this, okay?” says Dr. Harith al-Houssona. “But Jessica got the best we could offer.” Lynch began to improve after several days of treatment. She was moved from the emergency room to an empty cardiac care unit, where she had her own room, and was tended to by two female nurses. She was in terrible pain, and was given powerful drugs. Though she was hungry, she was leery of the food being offered her, insisting that the food containers be opened in front of her before she would eat. Her mental state fluctuated. Sometimes she joked and smiled with her doctors and nurses, sometimes she would weep. “She didn’t want to be left alone and she didn’t want strangers to care for her,” Dr. Anmar Uday recalls. “One time, she asked me, ‘Why are you standing in front of me? Are you gong to hurt me?’ We said no, we’re here to help you.” Her primary nurse, Khalida Shinah, weeps herself when describing Lynch’s misery. Shinah recalls singing her to sleep and rubbing talc into her shoulders. Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, says that there was more than mere sympathy and camaraderie responsible for the decision to give Lynch the best care they could. Everyone knew that the Americans would soon come for Lynch, he says, and “we wanted to show the Americans that we are human beings.… She was more important at that moment than Saddam Hussein.” Besides, he adds, “You could not help but feeling sorry for her. A young girl. An American. A prisoner. We did our best. Believe me, she was the only orthopedic surgery I performed.” The hospital staff were not the only ones interested in ensuring the Americans would be happy with Lynch’s treatment. At the time, the hospital had between 50 and 100 Iraqi fighters in or around the site at any one time, though the number steadily dwindled as US forces came ever closer. Senior Iraqi officials worked and lived out of the basement, clinics, and the doctors’ residence halls and offices. They all knew the Americans were coming, al-Houssona recalls, “and toward the end, they were most worried about saving themselves.”
Suspicious Wounds - Khafaji was suspicious of Lynch’s wounds. He had trouble believing they came from an auto accident, no matter how severe. The fractures were on both sides of her body, and there was no glass embedded in her wounds. US military sources believe most if not all the fractures could have been caused by the accident. Khafaji says, “[M]aybe a car accident, or maybe [her captors] broke her bones with rifle butts or by stomping on her legs. I don’t know. They know and Jessica knows. I can only guess.”
Interrogation - Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, a lawyer, says he learned about Lynch’s capture on March 27, when he went to visit his wife Iman, a nurse at the hospital. Al-Rehaief saw numerous Fedayeen in the “traditional black ninja-style uniforms that covered everything but their eyes,” as well as “high army officials there.” Al-Rehaief says one of his friends, a doctor, told him of Lynch. Curious, he peered through a glass panel into her room and, he says, “saw a large man in black looming over a bed that contained a small bandaged woman with blond hair.” The man wore epaulets on his shirt, indicating that he was a Fedayeen officer. Al-Rehaief recalls, “He appeared to be questioning the woman through a translator. Then I saw him slap her—first with the palm of his hand, then with the back of his hand.” After the Fedayeen officer left, al-Rehaief slipped into Lynch’s room and told her he would help. He left the hospital and sought out US soldiers, soon finding a group of US Marines. He told them about Lynch. (The Marines corroborate what they know of al-Rehaief’s story.) They sent him back to the hospital several times to map it out and routes in and out of the hospital. He also counts the number of Iraqi troops there.
Fabrication? - While the hospital doctors and staffers believe al-Rehaief did tell the Marines about Lynch, they dispute other portions of his story. There is no nurse named Iman at the hospital, they say, and no nurse married to a lawyer. “This is something we would know,” says one nurse. Al-Houssona believes little of al-Rehaief’s story. “Never happened,” he says. As for the Fedayeen slapping Lynch in her hospital bed, “That’s some Hollywood crap you’d tell the Americans.” Al-Houssona believes al-Rehaief embellished his story for his listeners. Al-Rehaief and his wife were taken to a military camp in Kuwait, and later received political asylum. He now lives in northern Virginia, where he is working on a book for HarperCollins and a television movie for NBC about his version of events (see April 10, 2003 and After).
Task Force 20 - The Special Operations unit given the assignment of rescuing Lynch, Task Force 20, is a covert Special Ops unit assigned the highest priority tasks. There was a larger reason than Lynch for that unit to be interested in the hospital: pre-mission briefings indicated that the hospital had been repeatedly visited by Ali Hassan Majeed, the infamous “Chemical Ali,” in recent days. Ground sources and images from Predator drones indicate that the hospital might be a military command post. There was every reason for Task Force 20 to go into the hospital heavily armed and taking full precautions, or as one Special Ops officer puts it, “loaded for bear.” A force of Marines, with tanks and armored personnel carriers, was ordered to mount a feint into Nasiriyah to draw off Iraqi forces near the hospital.
Rescue - Around 1 a.m. on April 1, commandos in blacked-out Black Hawk helicopters, protected by AC-130 gunships, entered the hospital grounds. Marines established an exterior perimeter, and Army Rangers set up a second perimeter just outside the hospital walls. These forces were fired upon from adjacent buildings, military sources say, though the fire was light. Commandos burst into the hospital, set off explosives meant to disorient anyone inside, and made for Lynch’s room. Uday says that the doctors and staffers fled to the X-ray room, where they might be more secure. Though the soldiers quickly burst into the X-ray room, no shots were fired and no resistance was offered. “It was like a ‘Rambo’ movie,” Uday recalls. “But we were not Rambo. We just waited to be told what to do.” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who gave American reporters video footage of the rescue mission, says, “There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were firefights outside of the building, getting in and out.” The commandos found Lynch in a private bed, lying on the hospital’s only bed used to ease bedsores. A male nurse in a white jacket was with her. One of the soldiers called out, “Jessica Lynch, we’re the United States soldiers and we’re here to protect you and take you home.” She answered, “I’m an American soldier, too.” The commandos find “ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post,” Brooks says. It is unclear if the hospital had indeed been used as any sort of military headquarters, but it is certain that the last of the Iraqi soldiers had fled the day before.
Recovering the Dead - The commandos retrieve two American bodies from the morgue. Staff members lead soldiers outside, where seven other soldiers were buried in shallow graves. They tell the soldiers that they buried the seven because the morgue’s faltering refrigeration couldn’t slow their decomposition. All nine bodies are from Lynch’s unit. Navy SEALs dug up the bodies with their hands, military officials say.
Propaganda Opportunity - Within hours of the rescue, a second contingent of US tanks and trucks rolled up to the hospital. They were not there to attack anyone. Instead, CENTCOM’s public affairs office in Qatar had seen an opportunity. “We wanted to make sure we got whatever visuals were available,” a public affairs officer involved in the operation recalls. The rescue force had photographed the rescue, and Special Forces had provided video footage of Iraqi border posts being obliterated to the news media. That video footage had received extensive airplay in the US. This, the public affairs officers think, could be much bigger. Lieutenant Colonel John Robinson, a CENTCOM public affairs officer, says, “We let them know, if possible we wanted to get it, we’d like to have” the video. “We were hoping we would have good visuals. We knew it would be the hottest thing of the day. There was not an intent to talk it down or embellish it because we didn’t need to. It was an awesome story.” The Lynch story, if properly presented, could be a boon to the military’s public relations. Stories of US troops bogged down on the way to Baghdad and killed by the dozens in vicious firefights could be erased from the news broadcasts by a feel-good story of heroism and camaraderie. According to one colonel who dealt with the media in the days after the rescue, the story “took on a life of its own. Reporters seem to be reporting on each other’s information. The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept.” No one at CENTCOM ever explains how the details of Lynch’s “heroic resistance,” “emptying her gun” into her assailants, and finally “falling from multiple gunshot wounds” were given to reporters. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003]
Entity Tags: Ali Hassan Majeed, Jessica Lynch, Adnan Mushafafawi, Anmar Uday, Harith al-Houssona, John Robinson, Donald Walters, Khalida Shinah, Al Jazeera, Vincent Brooks, Robert Dowdy, Washington Post, Lori Piestewa, Sahib Khudher, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Task Force 20
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
A frame of Saeed Alghamdi in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi is broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. Alghamdi says, “America is the enemy that every Muslim should fight.… I tell you that we are preparing something for you. God will punish you in a big way. And we promise the United States of America that we will stop you, that we will hurt you - and we will make sure that you don’t have any peace.” Alghamdi specifically mentions in the video that it was recorded December 23, 2000, and that it will serve as the reading of his final will and testimony before he leaves to the US. Al Jazeera has previously broadcast two 9/11 hijacker martyr videos (see April 15, 2002 and September 9, 2002), but while those only showed speeches, this seven-minute video also shows Alghamdi using a variety of weapons in Afghanistan, including a rocket launcher. The video also contains audio of a voice said to belong to Osama bin Laden praising Alghamdi. Bin Laden is heard saying, “He is a good person. He has good qualities. He is very righteous. He fears God, and God may protect him.” [CNN, 9/12/2003]
Hamza Alghamdi, top, and Wail Alshehri, bottom, in their martyr videos. [Source: Al Jazeera]Two more martyr videos of 9/11 hijackers are broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. Al-Qaeda has released some hijacker martyr videos before, usually around 9/11 anniversaries. One of the new videos is of Wail Alshehri. In it he says: “If struggle and jihad is not mandatory now, then when is it mandatory?… When is it time to help Muslims who are under fire in Chechnya? And what about Kashmir and the Philippines? Blood continues to flow. When will it be?” [CNN, 9/8/2006] The other video is of Hamza Alghamdi. In it he says, “If we are content with being humiliated and inclined to comfort, the tooth of the enemy will stretch from Jerusalem to Mecca, and then everyone will regret on a day when regret is of no use.” The videos were made by As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm. Footage of 9/11 destruction has been digitally added to the backgrounds of the videos after 9/11. [Associated Press, 9/7/2006] Both videos were probably recorded around March 2001, when most of the 9/11 hijackers recorded martyr videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)). The two videos are released at the same time as previously unknown footage of Osama bin Laden with 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 7, 2006).
Two British men are found guilty of leaking a secret memo about talks between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. David Keogh, a communications officer at the Cabinet Office, is found guilty of two offenses under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and Leo O’Connor, a researcher for then-member of parliament Anthony Clarke, is found guilty of one offense under the same law. [BBC, 5/9/2007] The memo recorded talks held in the Oval Office between Bush and Blair on April 16, 2004 about the Iraq occupation. Prosecutors claimed during the trial that publication of the document could cost British lives because it contained details about troop movements within Iraq. Few details of the “highly sensitive” memo have been disclosed. However it is known that during his talk with Blair, Bush suggested that allied forces bomb the offices of Arab television network Al Jazeera, a suggestion that many experts and observers have found, in the words of reporter Sarah Lyall, “shocking.” At the time, the White House dismissed reports suggesting this as “outlandish” and a Blair spokesman said, “I’m not aware of any suggestion of bombing any Al Jazeera television station.” [New York Times, 7/12/2006] The jury for the trial is instructed to remain quiet about what they have learned in the courtroom. Keogh originally passed a copy of the classified memo to O’Connor, who passed it along to his boss, Clarke, who is strongly against the war. After receiving the memo, Clarke called the police. O’Connor calls some of the statements in the four-page memo “embarrassing [and] outlandish,” and says he never intended to send copies of the memo to newspapers or other members of parliament. Keogh’s lawyer, Rex Tedd, tells the court that his client “acted out of conscience” and not for any political motivation. “No doubt, he did so misguidedly and he did so in a way which was likely to cause damage.” [BBC, 5/9/2007]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video accusing Iran of collaborating with the United States. Excerpts of the video are played on the Qatar-based pan-Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera, but apparently not posted to the websites usually used for disseminating such videos. Al-Zawahiri says Tehran is “cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,” and denounces the Iranians for recognizing the two governments. “Not even one Shiite authority—whether in Iraq or elsewhere—has issued a fatwa [religious edict] obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he adds. The video also features clips of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/2008]
Secret negotiations backed by the British government are under way to bring warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into Afghanistan’s political process, according to Al Jazeera. The talks between Taliban-linked mediators, Western officials, and the Afghan government are believed to involve a proposal for the return to Afghanistan of Hekmatyar, granting him immunity from prosecution there. Hekmatyar would first be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia under the proposal. The meetings recall earlier Afghan negotiations involving Hekmatyar and a Saudi role (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Ghairat Baheer, a Hektmatyar son-in-law released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is reported to be involved in the negotiations. Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to London by British authorities last month. Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and another son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said to have been involved. This is consistent with a report published late last year of Hekmatyar family members being engaged in negotiations with the Afghan government in coordination with Britain (see November 13, 2008). James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, adds that the plan is to widen these talks and bring in elements of the Taliban. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Al Jazeera, 2/27/2009]
Al Jazeera, the Arab news outlet, reports that US soldiers in Afghanistan may have been encouraged to proselytize the message of Christianity to native Afghani citizens, who are largely Muslim. Bibles written in Pashto and Dari, the country’s main languages, are also apparently being distributed by military chaplains. Al Jazeera has obtained video footage from Brian Hughes, a former soldier who shot documentary footage in Bagram during 2008. The film shows Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, the highest-ranking chaplain in Afghanistan, telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.” Hensley told the soldiers: “The special forces guys—they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.… Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.” Other footage shows Sergeant Jon Watt, who was then training to become a chaplain, giving thanks for the work that his church has done in getting Bibles printed and sent to Afghanistan. In the film, Watt told a Bible study class: “I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out.” It is uncertain whether the Bibles were ever distributed, but Hughes notes that none of the people he filmed spoke either Pashto or Dari. “They weren’t talking about learning how to speak Dari or Pashto, by reading the Bible and using that as the tool for language lessons,” Hughes says. “The only reason they would have these documents there was to distribute them to the Afghan people. And I knew it was wrong, and I knew that filming it… documenting it would be important.” US CENTCOM regulations expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith, or practice.” In the film, the chaplains seem to have found a way around that regulation. “Do we know what it means to proselytize?” Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, says to a gathering of soldiers. “It is General Order Number One,” an unidentified soldier replies. Watt interjects, “You can’t proselytize but you can give gifts.” Watt also mentions distributing Bibles during his service in Iraq. [Al Jazeera, 5/4/2009]
Al Jazeera broadcasts footage showing Afghan insurgents in possession of American weapons and ammunition. The fighters depicted in the video brandish the weapons, including anti-personnel mines with US markings on them, in a remote district of Nuristan Province in eastern Afghanistan. The area was the site of a battle in which up to 300 fighters bombarded a joint US-Afghan army outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar shells, killing eight US troops and three Afghan soldiers. The US military subsequently abandoned the post and claims that its forces had removed and accounted for their equipment. NATO spokespersons Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician and Angela Eggman confirm that the material in the footage “appears to be US equipment” but say it is unclear how or when the insurgents got the weapons. “It’s debatable whether they got them from that location,” Vician says, referring to the mountainous zone where the nearly six-hour battle took place. “Before departing the base, the units removed all sensitive items and accounted for them,” states Eggman. However, General Mohammad Qassim Jangulbagh, provincial police chief in Nuristan, says that the US destroyed most of the ammunition, but left some of it behind only to fall into the hands of insurgents. Al Jazeera reports that the insurgents say they seized the weapons from two US remote outposts in Nuristan. General Shir Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the Afghan Defense Ministry, expresses skepticism. “As far as I know, nothing was left behind,” he says. The Associated Press notes that it is unclear when the video was filmed. [Associated Press, 11/10/2009; Al Jazeera, 11/11/2009]
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