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An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. (Hedges 11/8/2001; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” (Hedges 11/8/2001; McCollam 7/1/2004)
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” (Fairweather 4/2006) In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” (McCollam 7/1/2004) Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” (Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” (McCollam 7/1/2004) However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006)
A journalist and activist sues to overturn provisions in a US defense spending bill that authorize indefinite military detention, including of US citizens, who are accused of being associated with groups engaged in hostilities with the United States (see December 15, 2011, December 31, 2011). The indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA caused considerable controversy from the time they were first proposed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, and his attorneys, Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, file the suit seeking an injunction barring enforcement of section 1021 (formerly known as 1031) of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), alleging it is unconstitutional because it infringes on Hedges’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are named as defendants in the initial complaint, individually and in their official capacities. (Hedges 1/16/2012) Six other writers and activists will later join Hedges as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, “US Day of Rage,” Kai Wargalla, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is also a member of parliament in Iceland. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), John Boehner (R-OH), and Eric Cantor (R-VA), will be added as defendants, in their official capacities. (Final Complaint: Hedges v. Obama 2/23/2012 ) The plaintiffs, their attorneys, and two supporting organizations, RevolutionTruth and Demand Progress, will establish a Web site to provide news and information related to the case, including legal documents. (StopNDAA.org 2/10/2012) The Lawfare Blog will also post a number of court documents related to the case, including some not available at StopNDAA.org, such as the declarations of Wargalla, O’Brien, and Jónsdóttir. (Wakeman 4/4/2012) Journalist and activist Naomi Wolf will file an affidavit supporting the lawsuit. (Wolf 3/28/2012) The judge in the case, Katherine B. Forrest, will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the contested section, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012).
US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest (Southern Division, New York) finds a controversial section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unconstitutional and issues a preliminary injunction barring enforcement. Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of any person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces” (see December 15, 2011). The law makes no exception for US persons. It has been under review by the court because seven individuals (journalists, activists, and politicians) sued, alleging this section is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment (see January 13, 2012). (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds NDAA Undermines Protected Speech and Association - The plaintiffs argued that, due to their association with and/or reporting on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the course of their work as journalists and activists, they might be subject to detention under § 1021, and that, due to the vagueness of the law, there was no way to know if the law could be used against them. In testimony and briefs, the plaintiffs gave examples of how they had altered their speech and behavior out of fear they might be subject to detention. In her Opinion and Order, Forrest notes: “The Government was unable to define precisely what ‘direct’ or ‘substantial’ ‘support’ means.… Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.” And: “The Government was given a number of opportunities at the hearing and in its briefs to state unambiguously that the type of expressive and associational activities engaged in by plaintiffs—or others—are not within § 1021. It did not. This Court therefore must credit the chilling impact on First Amendment rights as reasonable—and real. Given our society’s strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights, the equities must tip in favor of protecting those rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Rejects All Three Arguments Made by the Government - Forrest summarizes the government’s position in this way: “[F]irst, that plaintiffs lack standing; second, that even if they have standing, they have failed to demonstrate an imminent threat requiring preliminary relief; and finally, through a series of arguments that counter plaintiffs’ substantive constitutional challenges, that Section 1021 of the NDAA is simply an ‘affirmation’ or ‘reaffirmation’ of the authority conferred by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Rejecting the first and second arguments, Forrest finds the plaintiffs do have standing because their fear of imminent indefinite detention without charge or trial is reasonable, due to the vagueness of § 1021 and the government’s failure to state that the plaintiff’s activities aren’t covered under section 1021, leaving the plaintiffs with no way of knowing if they might be subject to detention. Furthermore, Forrest finds the plaintiffs have suffered actual harm, evidenced by incurring expenses and making changes in speech and association due to fear of potential detention. Regarding the third argument, Forrest rejects the idea that § 1021 could simply be affirming the AUMF, because “[t]o so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning”; otherwise § 1021 would be “redundant” and “meaningless.” Furthermore, Forrest finds § 1021 of the NDAA is substantively different than the AUMF; it is not specific in its scope and “lacks the critical component of requiring… that an alleged violator’s conduct must have been, in some fashion, ‘knowing.’” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds Lawsuit Will Likely Succeed on Merits, Justifying Injunction - Based on the information put forward by the seven plaintiffs and the government, Forrest concludes the lawsuit will likely succeed on its merits, thus it should be allowed to proceed, stating: “This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.” Forrest also notes that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement is unusual, but called for given the evidence and circumstances, stating: “This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
President Obama’s Justice Department files a motion urging a federal judge to reconsider a ruling and order that blocked enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention. The case is Hedges v. Obama and the law at issue is section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The filing calls Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (see May 16, 2012) “extraordinary” as it restricts the president’s authority during wartime. It also questions whether “an order restraining future military operations could ever be appropriate,” and disputes Forrest’s finding that the plaintiffs who had sued to overturn the law (see January 13, 2012) have standing to sue. In footnote 1, the government states that it is construing the order “as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit.” Forrest will clarify in a subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by blocking enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons covered are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” (see June 6, 2012). (Hedges v. Obama: Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Reconsideration of the May 16, 2012, Opinion and Order 5/25/2012)
Background - The NDAA was passed by Congress on December 15, 2011 (see December 15, 2011) and signed into law by President Obama on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The provision for indefinite military detention of any person accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States, without charge or trial, began to generate controversy soon after it was disclosed (see July 6, 2011 and after).
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