This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=david_petraeus_1
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003)
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. (Foer 5/21/2005)
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003; Foer 5/21/2005) In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. (Kurtz 6/25/2003; Foer 5/21/2005)
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003)
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. (Kurtz 6/25/2003) In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” (Massing 2/26/2004) In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” (Massing 2/26/2004)
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).
New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” (Miller 4/21/2003) The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” (Layton 8/2003; Palermo 1/30/2007)
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). (Slate 7/25/2003) Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. (Layton 8/2003)
Members of the US House Committee on Government Reform travel to Mosul, Iraq and talk with Major General David Petraeus, commander of the US Army 101st Airborne Division. Petraeus tells them how he was responsible for fixing a cement plant in northern Iraq. US engineers told him it would cost $15 million to restore the plant. Instead, he gave the job to Iraqis, who managed to fix the plant with only $80,000. (US Congress 9/30/2003, pp. 2, 4-5 )
General David Petraeus, the commander of US military forces in Iraq, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “Battling for Iraq.” Petraeus praises the Iraqi security forces for standing up and taking much of the burden of securing the country from the US troops on the ground, writing: “Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.” There has been significant “progress” made, he writes, and there is “reason for optimism.” He concludes: “With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition—and now NATO—support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.” (Petraeus 9/26/2004) Perhaps coincidentally, the op-ed appears in time for the Bush re-election campaign to make much of it. Columnist Tom Engelhardt will note in 2008 that the op-ed is “just the sort of thing a president trying to outrun a bunch of Iraqi insurgents to the November 4 finish line might like to see in print in his hometown paper.” Perhaps just as coincidentally, Petraeus will soon be awarded his third star. (Engelhardt 4/29/2008)
Major General Paul Eaton, who retired last month after being in charge of training new Iraqi military personnel, says the Bush administration’s strategy to use those new Iraqi troops to replace departing American troops was crippled from the beginning. Eaton says that the replacement program was never given the planning, funding, or staffing it needed to progress. The first year of the occupation was a critical time, Eaton says, and the US and Iraqi military might be much closer to President Bush’s goal of Iraqi forces “standing up” as US forces “stand down” had so much of that first year not been lost. Former military officials interviewed by the New York Times agree with Eaton’s assessment, as do a number of civilian officials involved in US operations in Iraq at the time. Eaton was replaced as the senior US official in charge of training Iraqi troops by Lieutenant General David Petraeus. Eaton began his yearlong stint on May 9, 2003, and now recalls: “I was very surprised to receive a mission so vital to our exit strategy so late. I would have expected this to have been done well before troops crossed the line of departure. That was my first reaction: ‘We’re a little late here.’” Eaton was told that training Iraqi troops was fifth on the priority list for Iraqi security forces, behind a civil defense corps, police, border guards, and guards for government and commercial facilities. “We set out to man, train, and equip an army for a country of 25 million—with six men,” Eaton recalls. He worked into the fall of 2003 with what he calls “a revolving door of individual loaned talent that would spend between two weeks and two months.” He never received even half of the 250 professional staff members he was promised. Between the chaos that ensued immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the decision by Coalition Provisional Agency head L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and the insurgency that arose shortly thereafter, Eaton and his small staff were never able to build the army they had hoped. Perhaps the worst blow was the wholesale dissolution of the Iraqi army. This left Eaton to train an entire military force essentially from scratch, without any Iraqi noncommissioned officers. New York Times reporter Thom Shanker observes, “Training an army without noncommissioned officers to serve as drill sergeants is like pitching a tent without poles.” (Shanker 2/11/2006)
The Pentagon-sponsored “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) have been so successful in shaping the media response and public opinion towards the war that others in the Bush administration begin making use of them as well. General David Petraeus, newly appointed to command US forces in Iraq, meets with the analysts, presumably to craft the message they will spread in the media about the benefits of Petraeus’s appointment. (Barstow 4/20/2008)
In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. (USA Today 1/5/2007; Wolfson 1/5/2007)
Admiral William J. Fallon takes over the United States Central Command (Centcom), replacing the retiring General John P. Abizaid. Fallon, a decorated Vietnam veteran pilot, formerly led the US Pacific Command (Pacom). Fallon now commands the US forces throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa, and is in charge of strategic and tactical operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon is the first naval officer to command Centcom. Fallon was nominated for the position by President Bush in January, and was easily confirmed by the Senate in February. (Baker 3/16/2007)
Fallon In Place to Oversee Strike on Iran? - Many observers see Fallon’s new command as a sign that the Bush administration is preparing for war with Iran. Fallon’s position is not a promotion, but a lateral transfer—as commander of Pacom, he actually commanded more forces than he does at Centcom, and Fallon will not have the direct control of the forces in Iraq, which remain under the day-to-day command of General David Petraeus. Fallon is a naval officer, with no real experience in commanding large numbers of ground troops, but a great deal of experience in commanding and deploying carrier groups. Centcom’s primary responsibility is on the ground, battling insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Nation’s Michael Klare observes, “If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you’d want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that’s not on the agenda, if you’re thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you’d want at Centcom.” Fallon’s experience is in air and naval operations, the kind of operations that would lead any US strikes against Iran. (Klare 1/10/2007) Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang says of Fallon’s appointment, “It makes very little sense that a person with [Fallon’s naval] background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially ‘ground’ wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character. The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign.” (Unger 3/2007)
Fallon Won't Countenance Attack on Iran - However, other events indicate Fallon may not be as gung-ho for a war with Iran as some now perceive. In February, Fallon privately expressed his opposition to the proposed increase of US carrier groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three, and told administration officials an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch” (see February 2007).
A peaceful antiwar press conference and demonstration in Lafayette Square near the White House is broken up by a phalanx of mounted police officers, who charge the podium, forcibly disperse the participants, and arrest three people on unspecified charges. “The police suppressed the press conference,” says Brian Becker, national organizer for the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) antiwar coalition organization. “In the middle of the speeches, they grabbed the podium…. Then, mounted police charged the media present to disperse them.” The crowd, of some twenty journalists and four or five protesters, “scatter in terror,” according to a journalist at the scene. Three people are arrested: Tina Richards, whose son served two tours of duty in Iraq; Adam Kokesh, a leader of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); and ANSWER organizer lawyer Ian Thompson. The small press conference was designed to help prepare for a much larger antiwar demonstration scheduled for September 15. The conference and demonstration may have been broken up over an issue of paste. In August, Washington, DC authorities threatened ANSWER with a $10,000 fine if it didn’t remove posters it had put up throughout the city announcing the September 15 march. The reason: ANSWER used an adhesive that doesn’t meet city regulations. Becker later says that the organizers are actually demonstrating to journalists that the paste they use conforms to city regulations when the police charge. Becker says, “At our demonstration today we were showing the media that the paste we use conforms to the rules. One of our activists was making a speech when the police barged in and grabbed the podium. At that point, Tina Richards started to put up a poster, so they arrested her and two others.” Becker calls the police dispersal a “strategy of suppression” against antiwar demonstrators. ANSWER’s protest is scheduled to coincide with the release of a much-anticipated report on Iraq by US military commander General David Petraeus. (Agence France-Presse 9/6/2007)
US officials hail a marked drop in casualties in Iraq in recent weeks. One major reason for the drop seems to be the recent decision by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to observe a six-month ceasefire (see August 30, 2007), but Pentagon and White House officials instead credit it to the recent “surge” of US troops into the country (see January 10, 2007), and do not mention the ceasefire at all.
Number of Explosively Formed Projectiles Decreasing - The number of deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) coming into the country seems to be dropping as well, with 99 being detonated or found in July 2007 and 53 in October, according to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been alleged to be a major recipient and user of EFPs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not yet declare “victory” in Iraq, saying that use of terms like “victory” or “winning” are “loaded words.” However, Gates says: “We have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.” Iran has promised to help curtail the flow of EFPs into Iraq; some believe that Iran is the source of most EFPs used in Iraq, and some US officials do not yet believe the Iranians. Odierno says: “In terms of Iran… it’s unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not. I’ll still wait and see.” (Tyson 11/2/2007)
Bush, Others Claim Surge a Success - President George Bush says the strategy is successful; at Fort Jackson, SC, he says, “Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society.” White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe adds, “The purpose of the strategy is to make the lull a trend,” and says the trend suggests “steady forward movement on the security front.” (Gerstenzang 11/3/2007) Presidential candidate and senator John McCain (R-AZ), an advocate of increasing the US presence in Iraq, says that the US is experiencing “astonishing success” in Iraq because of the surge: “Things are dramatically better, particularly since Gen. Petraeus went before the Congress of the United States and Americans had a chance to see what a great and dynamic leader he is.” (Memmott and Lawrence 11/1/2007) The London Times agrees, writing, “[O]n every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging.” The Times goes even further, avowing: “As the pace of reconstruction quickens, the prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced yet further. With oil at record high prices, Iraq should be an extremely prosperous nation and in a position to start planning for its future with confidence.” The editors dismiss the opposition to the war by British and American politicians alike as “outdated.” (London Times 11/3/2007)
The Associated Press reports that 2007 is the deadliest year yet for US troops in Iraq, though the death toll has dropped significantly in the last few months. The US military’s official count of US war dead for 2007 in Iraq is 899. (The previous high was 850 in 2004. The current death toll since the March 2003 invasion is 3,902.) The unofficial count for Iraqi civilian deaths in 2007 is 18,610. (Brooks 12/30/2007) CNN reports that there was a spike in US deaths in the spring as the “surge” was getting underway. There were 104 deaths in April, 126 in May, and 101 in June: the deadliest three-month stretch in the war for US troops. (CNN 12/31/2007) The reasons for the downturn in US deaths are said to include the self-imposed cease-fire by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army, a grassroots Sunni revolt against extremists (see August 30, 2007), Iran’s apparent decision to slow down its provisions of aid for Shi’ite fighters, and the US “surge” (see February 2, 2007). General David Petraeus, the supreme commander of US military forces in Iraq, says: “We’re focusing our energy on building on what coalition and Iraqi troopers have accomplished in 2007. Success will not, however, be akin to flipping on a light switch. It will emerge slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating fewer bad days and gradually more good days.” Security consultant James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation warns that the US is not out of the weeds yet. “The number of people who have the power to turns things around appears to be dwindling,” he says, referring to Iraqi extremists. “But there are still people in Iraq that could string together a week of really bad days.… People have to be really careful about over-promising that this [decline in violence] is an irreversible trend. I think it is a soft trend.” (Brooks 12/30/2007)
In remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Association, President Bush misrepresents two important aspects of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Misrepresenting the 'Surge of Their Own' - Referring to the so-called “surge” of US troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007), Bush says: “As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities… . Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government… . I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.” Bush is referring to the Iraqi counterattack against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist terrorists—the so-called “Anbar Awakening.” He is wrong in saying that the Iraqis “launched a surge of their own” in response to the US troop escalation. The “Iraqi surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq predates the US surge by months. In fact, two years before the “Iraqi surge,” Bush had rejected offers of similar assistance from Sunni leaders eager to bring Sunni-led terrorism in Iraq to a close. Instead, the Sunni leaders took action without US approval. Bush is now linking the Sunni initiative to the US “surge,” and in the process misrepresents both the chronological chain of the events and the forces driving the “Iraqi surge.”
Misrepresenting the Effectiveness of the US 'Surge' - Bush also says that some US forces are coming home as “a return on our success” in the surge. That implies that because the “surge” is successful, Bush and US military commanders are beginning to bring some troops home. “And as a return on our success, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home,” he says: “They’re not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They’re coming home because we’re successful.” In reality, Bush has been quite reluctant to bring any troops home, only grudgingly giving way to the recommendations of US commanders such as General David Petraeus, the head of military operations in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus, Fallon, and other US military commanders have long said that the surge is designed to be temporary, with drawdown dates of early 2008 built into the planning from the outset. (Koppelman 3/11/2008)
General David Petraeus, the newly named commander of CENTCOM and the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East, takes time out from testifying to Congress to speak in a conference call to a group of the Pentagon’s carefully groomed “military analysts,” whom it uses regularly to promote the occupation of Iraq and sell the administration’s Middle East policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, tells Petraeus to “keep up the great work.” In an interview, Garrett reaffirms his intention to continue selling the occupation of Iraq: “Hey, anything we can do to help.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. (Engelhardt 4/29/2008)
Author Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on the recent exposure of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), writes that this is but one of possibly many such operations. The others, if they exist, remain to be exposed. The military analysts operation is “unlikely to have been the only one,” Engelhardt writes. He has his suspicions:
Selling the 'Surge' - “We don’t yet fully know the full range of sources the Pentagon and this administration mustered in the service of its ‘surge,’” he writes, though he notes how quickly General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, was to turn to the analysts for support in their nightly news broadcasts (see April 29, 2008).
Sunnis and Shi'ites - Engelhardt notes that it is possible that a similar propaganda campaign helped transform Iraqi Sunni insurgents into heroes—“Sons of Iraq”—if they joined the “Awakening” movement, or members of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” if they did not join the movement. Similarly, it may have been a propaganda campaign that encouraged the media to quickly label every Shi’ite rebel as an Iranian agent.
Iran's Influence - “We don’t know what sort of administration planning has gone into the drumbeat of well-orchestrated, ever more intense claims that Iran is the source of all the US’s ills in Iraq, and directly responsible for a striking percentage of US military deaths there,” Engelhardt writes. The New York Times recently reported that, according to “senior officers” in the US military in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 73% of attacks on US troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups,” a euphemism for Iraqi Shi’ites trained by Iran.
Guided Tours - Many influential Washington insiders have been given carefully orchestrated tours of Iraq by the Pentagon, including former military figures, prominent think tank analysts, journalists, pundits, and Congressional representatives. Many of them have been granted a special audience with Petraeus and his top commanders; many have subsequently lauded the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) and praised the US policies in Iraq.
Successful Marketing Campaign - Engelhardt writes, “Put everything we do know, and enough that we suspect, together and you get our last ‘surge’ year-plus in the US as a selling/propaganda campaign par excellence. The result has been a mix of media good news about ‘surge success,’ especially in ‘lowering violence,’ and no news at all as the Iraq story grew boringly humdrum and simply fell off the front pages of our papers and out of the TV news (as well as out of the Democratic Congress). This was, of course, a public relations bonanza for an administration that might otherwise have appeared fatally wounded. Think, in the president’s terminology, of victory—not over Shi’ite or Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but, once again, over the media at home. None of this should surprise anyone. The greatest skill of the Bush administration has always been its ability to market itself on ‘the home front.’ From September 14, 2001, on, through all those early ‘mission accomplished’ years, it was on the home front, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, that administration officials worked hardest, pacifying the media, rolling out their own “products”, and establishing the rep of their leader and ‘wartime’ commander-in-chief.” (Engelhardt 4/29/2008)
Second Author Concurs - Author and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald concurs with Engelhardt. Greenwald writes, “It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon’s overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration’s general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We’re only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the [New York Times] was so dogged in attempting to compel the [Pentagon] to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done—including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior—remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.” (Greenwald 5/12/2008)
The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 10/29/2008)
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” (Palm Beach Post 10/31/2008)
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). (Media Matters 10/30/2008)
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” (Alexander 11/30/2008)
The Bush administration touted its “surge” of additional forces in Iraq (see January 10, 2007) as “a game-changer,” bringing what it described as “peace and stability” to the beleagured nation. In retrospect, national security expert Anthony Cordesman agrees to a point. “We can all argue over the semantics of the word ‘surge,’ and it is fair to say that some goals were not met,” he tells a reporter. “We didn’t come close to providing additional civilian-aid workers that were called for in the original plan. And often it took much longer to achieve the effects than people had planned. But the fact was that this was a broad political, military, and economic strategy, which was executed on many different levels. And credit has to go to General [David] Petraeus, General [Raymond] Odierno, and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker for taking what often were ideas, very loosely defined, and policies which were very broadly stated, and transforming them into a remarkably effective real-world effort. It’s important to note that we made even more mistakes in Afghanistan than we did in Iraq. We were far slower to react, but in both cases we were unprepared for stability operations; we had totally unrealistic goals for nation building; at a political level we were in a state of denial about the seriousness of popular anger and resistance, about the rise of the insurgency, about the need for host-country support and forces; and we had a singularly unfortunate combination of a Secretary of Defense [Donald Rumsfeld] and a Vice President [Dick Cheney] who tried to win through ideology rather than realism and a Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] who essentially stood aside from many of the issues involved. And in fairness, rather than blame subordinates, you had a president who basically took until late 2006 to understand how much trouble he was in in Iraq and seems to have taken till late 2008 to understand how much trouble he was in in Afghanistan.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. (McCain 2/25/2009)
Conservative talk radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck interviews self-described “martial arts master, actor, and political activist” Chuck Norris on his radio show. Beck begins by telling Norris he wants to see a military investigation of Congress: “I was talking about General [David] Petraeus [the commander of US forces in the Middle East] the other day. I mean this sincerely: I would love to have General Petraeus go up to Washington and clean that hornet’s nest out. I’d like him to set up a military tribunal and call them in one by one, okay, going to have a little interview with you. Find out if they’re guilty or innocent of being involved in, you know, all kinds of the scandals that are going on and kick them out.” Norris offers to mete out some extrajudicial justice: “I want to go with General Petraeus myself and be next to him and when he finds out who’s guilty and, you know, dishonest, then I will take care of it for him. Took him out. I’ll choke them out, the ones that he finds dishonest, I will choke them out and stick them into a pile.” Later in the conversation, the two discuss the possibility of Texas seceding from the United States. Norris, a Texas resident, says, “Yeah, we could break off from the union if we wanted to.” Beck agrees: “You do, you call me.… Seriously, you do. I don’t mind having that lone star on my flag. I really don’t mind it. I’ve been out with a seam ripper looking at my flag going, I don’t know, California could go. I’m just saying—” Norris interjects jokingly, “I may run for president of Texas.” (Norris 3/3/2009) Beck is putting together a conservative anti-government movement called “We Surround Them,” and Norris is an enthusiastic supporter (see March 9, 2009). (Glenn Beck 3/10/2009)
Many top US military commanders in the Middle East are distressed at Senate Republicans’ efforts to block Christopher Hill’s attempt to become the next US ambassador to Iraq. Hill, who was largely successful in crafting a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with North Korea (see Spring and Summer 2005 and February 8, 2007 and After), is being blocked by the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Republican Opprobrium - Brownback calls Hill’s past dealings with Congress over North Korea “evasive and unprofessional”; McCain and Graham have said that Hill has a “controversial legacy” on North Korea, and added: “The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the US military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither.”
Military Wants Hill Confirmed - But CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, top Iraq commander General Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want Hill in the slot as soon as possible. Odierno says he has served as de facto ambassador since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the position on February 13. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Ambassador Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job, and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly.… Everybody involved with Iraq wants to find a way to replicate that arrangement,” referring to the effective interaction between Generals Odierno and Petraeus and former Ambassador Crocker. “So that you have an even yoke that on the civilian/diplomatic side and on the military side which share the burden and are working together to get the job done. It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people. With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this. We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Difficult, Myriad Tasks in New Position - Hill faces a difficult job: political stabilization and economic development have taken precedence over military missions in Iraq; tensions between Arabs and Kurds are heightening; sectarian groups are struggling for political dominance; and national elections are approaching. A Washington official says that keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge, yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.” Retired General William Nash, who commanded US troops in Bosnia, says: “I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don’t have a new ambassador in position. The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and US efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That’s particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.”
Political Retribution? - Asked why McCain, Brownback, and Graham are blocking Hill’s appointment, Nash says the three are “being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.” Crocker has spoken out in favor of Hill, as has Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So have former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and former US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who join in writing a letter that reads in part: “We need his experience during this crucial time in Iraq. His previous experiences will serve him greatly when addressing extreme challenges in Iraq.” A Democratic Senate staffer says, “This is all about retribution.” Conservatives blame Hill for nudging Bush’s second term North Korea policy towards multi-party talks, and thusly, “[t]hey want to give Hill a black eye.” Noting that these same Republican senators have argued that Iraq is a central element in America’s national security, the staffer asks, “Why are they d_cking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?” (Rozen 3/18/2009)
US CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus disagrees with assertions by former Vice President Cheney that President Obama is endangering the country (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). Petraeus, whom Cheney has called “extremely capable,” says when asked about Cheney’s comments: “Well, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. I think in fact that there is a good debate going on about the importance of values in all that we do. I think that if one violates the values that we hold so dear, that we jeopardize.… We think for the military, in particular that camp, that’s a line [torture] that can’t be crossed. It is hugely significant to us to live the values that we hold so dear and that we have fought so hard to protect over the years.” (Khanna 3/29/2009)
Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pens a lengthy op-ed for the Huffington Post to coincide with his committee’s release of a report documenting the abuse of prisoners under Bush administration policies (see April 21, 2009). Levin calls the report “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples,’ were simply false. The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone.” Levin cites numerous statements and actions by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, among others, but the ultimate responsibility for the torture program, he writes, must lie with Bush and Cheney. Levin writes that many high-ranking officials who must be counted as supporters of the administration, such as Iraq commander General David Petraeus, opposed the use of torture and abusive interrogation methods on detainees. Levin concludes: “If we are to retain our status as a leader in the world, we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody. The committee’s report and investigation makes significant progress toward that goal. There is still the question, however, of whether high level officials who approved and authorized those policies should be held accountable.” Levin has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special investigator “to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials—including lawyers.” (Levin 4/21/2009)
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. (Harvey 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs 8/26/2009) In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. (Lake 8/24/2009)
President Obama asks the Pakistani government for permission to launch raids on the ground against strongholds of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but the request is refused. Haqqani has become the de facto leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban. Although it is based in Pakistan’s tribal region, it launches attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. The US has put a $5 million bounty on Haqqani’s head, and attempts to kill him with drone strikes have been unsuccessful (see for instance September 8, 2008). Obama makes the request in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which is hand delivered by National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. General David Petraeus, head of US forces in the region, follows up with a meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military. However, Pakistan says no. A senior Pakistani official says that a fight with the Haqqani network would create too many problems for Pakistan’s over-stretched army. “We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by US forces,” he says. However, US intelligence believes that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is actually allied with the Haqqani network and has been for over 20 years. (Daily Beast 1/6/2010) US intelligence believes that in 2008, the Haqqani network and the ISI worked together to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008). Later in the month, a suicide bomber will kill nine people at a CIA base in Afghanistan, and US intelligence will suspect that the Haqqani network was involved in the attack (see December 30, 2009) and the ISI may have played a role as well (see January 6, 2010).
General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warns that a plan to burn a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) will endanger the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus says in a CNN interview that burning a Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” In a statement issued by his office, Petraeus adds: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.… Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” referring to a protest by Afghan citizens against the news of the planned Koran-burning. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen lambasts the plans, telling reporters that the planned Koran-burning violates NATO’s “values,” and adding, “There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.” Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, says he was informed of Jones’s plans to burn a Koran a few days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government. Caldwell says many Afghans do not understand Jones’s First Amendment rights to burn a Koran, or why President Obama cannot legally stop Jones from his demonstration. “There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Caldwell says. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.” Jones has said he would go through with the burning no matter what kind of pressure he encounters: “We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won’t make Islam any more moderate,” said Jones, who has said he has the right to burn the Koran because “it’s full of lies.” Protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and other nations have followed news reports of Jones’s plans. An armed Christian militia called “Right Wing Extreme” has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today, and forum posters on the group’s Web site are engaged in harsh debate over the topic; one poster writes, “This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas.” (Barnes and Rosenberg 9/6/2010; Adams 9/7/2010; BBC 9/7/2010) A senior defense official who asks to remain anonymous says Petraeus deliberately cast the issue first and foremost as a threat to US troops. “Then it no longer is simply a political issue,” he says. “That way you can get [Fox News talk show host] Glenn Beck and [Fox News commentator and former vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to agree.” (Gerhart and Londono 9/10/2010) Right-wing blogger Robert Spencer, who runs JihadWatch (.org), writes that although he opposes the Koran-burning—he would rather people read the Koran and learn “the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence”—he disagrees with Petraeus’s statement against Jones’s demonstration. “The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender,” he writes. “One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.” Instead, Spencer writes, Petraeus should defend Jones’s right to free speech, and use his defense “as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, ‘We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.’” (Robert Spencer 9/7/2010)
Spokespersons for 11 nations with large Muslim populations speak out against Florida pastor Terry Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010). The Christian Science Monitor has reported: “Muslims see [the Koran] as the uninterrupted, unchangeable, and eternal word of God. Burning the Koran is akin to directly burning the word of God.” India’s Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, says: “We condemn the action of the pastor. It is totally unbecoming of anyone who claims to be a man of religion. We hope that the US authorities will take strong action to prevent such an outrage being committed.… While we await the action of the US authorities, we would appeal to the media in India—both print and visual media—to refrain from telecasting visuals or publishing photographs of the deplorable act.” Fourteen percent of Indian citizens are Muslim. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appeals to US President Obama to stop the burning (see September 10, 2010). “Indonesia and the US are building or bridging relations between the Western world and Islam,” Yudhoyono writes in a letter to Obama. “If the Koran burning occurs, then those efforts will be useless.” Eighty-six percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, and it is the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Bahrain’s foreign minister issues a statement that calls the planned Koran-burning a “shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence.” Bahrain is over 80 percent Muslim. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls the plan to burn the Koran “despicable,” saying in a statement that “anyone who even thought of such a despicable act must be suffering from a diseased mind and a sickly soul.… It will inflame sentiments among Muslims throughout the world and cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace.” Zardari calls “for doing all that it takes to stop such a senseless and outrageous act.” Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husein Haqqani, tells a reporter that “the United States should live up to its high ideals and all these people who are against religious extremism and intolerance in the Muslim world should also speak up against meaningless gestures such as burning the Koran.” He also calls on Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck to speak out against the burning: “I think it would help if Mr. Glenn Beck came out against it, and said that people of faith do not burn the books of people of other faith,” Haqqani says. Some 95 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims. (The Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn compares Jones to Osama bin Laden, calling both “extremists.”) British Prime Minister David Cameron says through a spokesman that “primarily this is an issue for the US, but clearly the government’s view is that we would not condone the burning of any book.… We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. We are committed to religious tolerance.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemns the plan, saying: “I deplore the act of burning the Koran. It is disrespectful, wrong, and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none. You do not have to be a Muslim to share a sense of deep concern at such a disrespectful way to treat the Holy Book of Islam. Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it.” Some 1.3 million British citizens are Muslims. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says: “I unequivocally condemn it. We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.… I don’t speak very often about my own religion, but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that’s what we want to see in this world. I don’t think that’s the way you treat other faiths, as different as those faiths may be from your own.” Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay, echoing sentiments expressed by General David Petraeus (see September 6, 2010), says that the burning could endanger NATO troops overseas: “It will incite further violence and hatred and I’m concerned that this will put Canadians and other ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] soldiers in harm’s way.” Some 500,000 Canadians practice Islam. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman says: “That is the most heinous crime and action, it’s unthinkable. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is an attack on Muslims. It will not only anger the Muslims in Malaysia and throughout the world—Christians also don’t condone this kind of action.… I believe America will take appropriate action so this thing will not happen.” Malaysia has a Muslim majority of 15.5 million. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman says in a statement: “The president condemns the announcement of a religious group in the United States of its intention to openly burn copies of the Koran. It is a clear contradiction of the teachings of the three Abrahamic religions and of dialogue among the three faiths [Christianity, Islam and Judaism].” Lebanon is about 60 percent Muslim. Amr Moussa, the chief of the 22-nation Arab League, calls Jones a “fanatic” and calls on the US to oppose his “destructive approach.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel says, “If a fundamentalist, evangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Koran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong.” Brigadier General Hans-Werner Fritz, commander of German troops in Afghanistan, adds, “I only wish this wouldn’t happen, because it would provide a trigger for violence towards all ISAF troops, including the Germans in northern Afghanistan.” Germany has over 3 million practicing Muslims. A Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry official says, “This bizarre plan… undermines our faith [and] is a flagrant insult to the feelings of Muslims worldwide and would ruin efforts to preach understanding amongst faiths.” The official says that Kuwait has asked its ambassador to the US to coordinate with other Arab and Muslim envoys to ensure that the “tolerant Islamic faith is respected.” The head of Kuwait’s Christian churches league, pastor Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, also condemns the plan in a statement and stresses it does not represent Christ’s teachings of tolerance. Kuwait’s 2.7 million population is 85 percent Muslim. The Vatican issues a condemnation of the burning, saying through the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Affairs: “These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community.… Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.” The Vatican, technically the world’s smallest country with a population of 800, is, presumably, all Roman Catholic. The Vatican is joined by several US Christian organizations in condemning the proposed Koran-burning (see September 8-9, 2010). (Kurczy 9/9/2010) Jones is burned in effigy in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, in one of a number of protests around the world against his plans to burn a Koran. (Smith 9/11/2010)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates makes what the Washington Post terms “a curt call” to pastor Terry Jones, asking him to stop his plans to burn a Koran on September 11 (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010). Gates echoes the concerns publicly expressed by General David Petraeus, who two days ago said Jones’s Koran-burning would endanger American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (see September 6, 2010). (Gerhart and Londono 9/10/2010) Jones will call off the Koran-burning (see September 9-10, 2010).
ABC’s Terry Moran interviews Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, who has gained notoriety by publicly announcing his intention to burn a Koran as part of what he has called “International Burn a Koran Day” (see July 12, 2010 and After). Jones says he and his church have conducted demonstrations before against the Islamic religion, which he calls “evil” and a source of worldwide terrorism. His plans, as they now stand, are to burn a Koran on September 11, in commemoration, he says, of those who died during the 9/11 attacks, and to protest “radical Islam” and “Shari’a law.” Such an act is itself “radical,” he admits, but “we feel that a radical message is necessary. We also want to send a message to the moderate Muslim to stay peaceful and moderate. We live in America, we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, they are more than welcome to be here, worship, build mosques, but we do not want as it appears to be in parts of the world after they gain in numbers in population they begin to push Shari’a law, that type of government. We expect the Muslims that are here in America to respect honor, obey, submit to our Constitution.” Jones says he has no problem burning the holy book of another religion, and cites Scripture which he says justifies the burning of books that are “damaging” and “dangerous” to a Christian society. He denies that the planned burning is a “publicity stunt,” and says he and his church members are “risking our lives” by carrying through with their plans: “We have had over a hundred death threats. Some of them have been very graphic.”
Admits Most Muslims Will Be 'Hurt and Insulted' by Koran Burning - Jones admits that most of the world’s Muslims will be “hurt and insulted” by the Koran-burning, and explains: “Well, when people burn the flag, when they burn the Bible, when they burn down churches, I’m also hurt and insulted. But we feel that this message to that radical element is that important. In fact to a certain extent we would expect moderate Muslims to agree with us. We would expect for them to say the burning of the Koran we don’t agree with, that’s not a message that we agree with. We do not believe that this man, this church, this society should burn our holy book, there is no problem with that. But the message we are trying to send with that even Muslims should agree with. We are trying to send a message to the radical element of Islam. They should also be against that. Because it makes their religion look very, very bad. They should also stand to that and say: ‘Yes, that we agree with. We do not want Shari’a law. We do not want radical fanaticism Islam.’”
'Millions of People ... Agree with Us' - Told by Moran that “millions” of American Christians are “revolted” by his plans to burn a Koran, Jones responds that “there are also millions of people who agree with us.” He cites polls that his church has conducted, and that he says prove between “40 and 60 percent of the population agree with us.… We’ve had several times pastors come here saying: ‘We are in agreement with you, what you are doing is right, or anyway the message that you are wanting to send is right. But we can’t say anything. If we do we will lose our congregation.’ We have people who work for large companies have stopped out front and said, ‘We are in agreement with you but if we say anything we will be fired.’ That is in a country where we supposedly have free speech.”
Holy War? - Asked if his burning of a Koran and his invitation to Christians to join in the burning are not incitements to “holy war,” Jones responds: “If [American Christians] have a problem with the burning of the Koran, that’s fine. I realize the actual burning of the Koran is a radical statement we feel very convinced about it, we plan on doing it, we feel its very necessary. But if Christians were to say that’s too much for us or just normal people, they say the actual burning of the Koran is too much for us, that’s fine. I can absolutely understand that. That is no problem. But they should, all Christians should agree with our message. Our message is that radical Islam is dangerous, let’s keep an eye on it, let’s say no to it. and from a Christian standpoint they have to agree with us. Because according to Christianity, Jesus Christ is the only way. And the Koran does not recognize the resurrection, the virgin birth, that Jesus died for our sins, that he’s the son of God, that he’s God. So from the Christian standpoint they must agree with us.” Jones says that if Jesus Christ were alive today, he would “absolutely” join in the burning of Korans. Moran says the burning of a Koran is “hateful,” and asks if there is not some other way to get his message across. Jones says that radical Islamists must be met by radical acts from those such as himself who oppose them. He says that no Muslim, moderate or radical, should react with violence to any such Koran-burning: “I don’t like it when they burn the Bible. I don’t like it when in Afghanistan when they burn the flag but I also do not serve a god of violence. It doesn’t make me want to kill people. It doesn’t make me want to storm an embassy. It doesn’t make me want to call for the death of the president and that is what we are trying to reveal. Of course its insulting. Of course it’s not a nice thing to do.” The burning would not be an act of “holy war,” he insists.
Concerns from Military Commander - Moran tells Jones that General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, has expressed his concern about any such Koran-burning (see September 6, 2010), and warned that such an action would jeopardize the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; moreover, such an action would be used to recruit Muslims to extremist groups such as al-Qaeda. Jones calls Petraeus’s concerns “valid,” but says to call off the Koran-burning would be “backing down,” and he has no intention of doing so.
Turning the Other Cheek - Moran asks, “Didn’t Jesus say love your enemy and if you’re struck on one cheek, turn the other cheek?” Jones agrees, and says that Christians should follow that principle “90 percent” or “95 percent, 99 percent of the time.” However, this is not one of those times, he says. “[N]ow is not the time to turn the other cheek, now is the time to face challenge.”
Rejection by Fellow Christians - Other Christian churches in Gainesville are conducting services where passages from the Koran are being read, to oppose Jones’s plans and to encourage outreach towards Muslims. Jones calls those actions “an abomination,” and says only the Bible should be read in any Christian church. “[F]or us to read that book from pulpits, that, that is absolutely terrible.… Christianity is not open minded.… And when we do acts like that we have left the Bible, those people are not Christians, those men of God do not represent Jesus Christ.” He acknowledges that his Koran-burning may put fellow Gainesville Christians and others at risk of reprisal, but says the symbolic action is worth the risk.
Problems with Law Enforcement - Jones says he and his church have been repeatedly denied open-burn permits by local officials, in what he says are efforts to prevent him from burning the Koran in the front yard of the church as planned. He calls the denials an abrogation of his First Amendment rights, and compares his actions to the civil disobedience practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights protests. The FBI and local police will be on hand on September 11 for the burning, he says.
Conclusion - The interview concludes as follows:
Moran: “And as of right now you’re going to go forward and burn Korans on Sept. 11th.”
Jones: “As of right now our plans are to still burn the Koran on Sept. 11th. Yes.”
Moran: “Such a hurtful thing to do to somebody.”
Jones: “It’s an insult. But we feel that the end message is more important than the insult. Of course it’s not a compliment when you burn the bible or the flag or the Muslims’ Koran, obviously not.”
Moran: “It’s sacrireligious, it’s a desecration of what they hold sacred and precious.”
Jones: “To them. Of course to us, the Koran is an evil book, an evil deceptive book.” (Moran 9/9/2010)
Florida pastor Terry Jones, who earlier in the day announced that he would “never” burn a Koran as he has previously threatened (see September 9-10, 2010), issues a new set of demands from his Gainesville church, the Dove World Outreach Center. He has announced his intention to meet with New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in an attempt to dissuade Rauf and his colleagues from building the Cordoba Center, a Muslim community center and mosque, a few blocks away from “Ground Zero,” the site of the fallen World Trade Center. (The Cordoba Center will later be renamed Park51.) Jones, accompanied by Houston evangelist K.A. Paul, announces that he will give Rauf two hours to answer his questions about relocating the Cordoba Center to a different location. “This challenge goes to the imam in New York,” Jones says at a hastily called press conference. “We would like to make an announcement to give a challenge to the imam in New York.” Paul, the head of the evangelical Global Peace Initiative, says: “[T]here is a confusion going on. We want to clear that confusion to find out if he has agreed to move the mosque from Ground Zero.” Neither Jones nor Paul indicate what, if anything, they will do if they do not hear from Rauf. Rauf does not contact the two and Paul says in response: “The last two days I have been in much prayer with Pastor Terry Jones. I asked the pastor not to burn the Korans, and I ask the imam not to build the mosque at Ground Zero. The pastor has agreed in principle” not to burn the Korans. Paul confirms that Jones will not burn a Koran as he had originally planned. Jones’s son Luke Jones, a youth pastor at their church, tells reporters that Paul is only speaking for himself. “There will be no Koran-burning tomorrow,” he says. “I can’t speak for the future.” Jones did not make a meeting with Rauf a condition of not burning a Koran during a morning interview on NBC, but said then that “God is telling us to stop.” Luke Jones and assistant pastors Wayne Sapp and Stephanie Sapp appear at the press conference wearing sidearms. Luke Jones says they are armed to defend themselves from people who have issued death threats: “The FBI’s been here four times. They told us the threats are very severe and we need to take them very seriously.” After the press conference, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, which routinely conducts anti-gay protests at the funerals of US servicemembers (see October 14, 1998), says it now plans to hold a burning of both a Koran and a US flag. (Copeland and Hampson 9/10/2010) Jones has also received calls from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warning him that to burn the Koran would endanger US troops in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq (see September 6, 2010 and September 9, 2010). (Peter 4/1/2011) Jones will later blame Rauf’s failure to meet with him as the reason for his decision to go ahead and burn a Koran (see March 20, 2011). (Daily Mail 4/2/2011)
The Australian newspaper The Age publishes an analysis by reporter Matthew Weaver that examines the media’s role in bringing an obscure Florida pastor and his idea to burn Korans to international prominence. Pastor Terry Jones launched a Facebook page discussing his idea to burn Korans (see July 12, 2010 and After). The page did not garner a great deal of attention, Weaver says, but days later, the Religion News Service (RNS) published Jones’s claims that people had sent him copies of the Koran to burn. RNS asked the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for a response. Weaver writes, “It didn’t take the bait, but other religious organizations did not show such restraint.” Jones began posting videos on YouTube; in one, he held up a copy of the Koran and said, “This is the book that is responsible for 9/11.” The national press began paying attention to Jones, ignoring pleas from Craig Lowe, the mayor of Gainesville, where Jones’s church is located, to ignore him. CAIR and other religious groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, began issuing public statements condemning the Koran-burning plans. A British group called Campaign Islam posted a YouTube message claiming that the event would “wake up the [Islamic] lion from the den.” An Egyptian Sunni authority, the al-Azhar supreme council, accused Jones of stirring up hate. By early September, when the holy month of Ramadan was coming to a close, demonstrators in Afghanistan and elsewhere began taking to the streets to burn Jones in effigy alongside the American flag, and national representatives from a number of countries issued their own condemnations and pleas to cancel the Koran-burning (see September 6-9, 2010). General David Petraeus, the supreme US commander in the Middle East, publicly warned that Jones’s Koran-burning would endanger US troops (see September 6, 2010). Weaver writes, “The general’s intervention pushed the story to the top of the international news agenda, where it stayed for the rest of the week.” He cites American counterterrorism expert David Schanzer as saying that Petraeus, more than any single figure, gave Jones more credibility than he deserved. Schanzer said, “By having the head of our entire operation in Afghanistan ask them to refrain from this action, we’ve brought much more attention to this fringe element than it deserves.” Ignoring Jones would have undercut his power, Schanzer said. Instead, White House officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and President Obama himself (see September 10, 2010), spoke out against Jones’s plans. Weaver concludes by citing the 2008 burning of a Koran by another extremist church, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. “[W]eary of the group’s gay-bashing provocations,” Weaver writes, “media organizations stayed away.” The 2008 Koran burning drew little media attention and few protests from Muslims. (Weaver 9/12/2010)
The US has been conducting airstrikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen, but denying responsibility for them, according to cables provided by the whistleblower organization Wikileaks to the British daily The Guardian. The bombings are being attributed to local forces rather than the US in an attempt not to rile Arab public opinion. The Guardian breaks the story based on a number of cables provided by Wikileaks, which contain damning quotes. In a September 2009 cable Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh told US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, “I have given you an open door on terrorism, so I am not responsible.” Following a strike that killed multiple civilians carried out by the US, but attributed to Yemenis in December 2009, US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche cabled Washington to say: “Yemen insisted it must ‘maintain the status quo’ regarding the official denial of US involvement. Saleh wanted operations to continue ‘non-stop until we eradicate this disease.’” Just over a week later, Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This prompted the deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, who was also at the meeting, to joke that he had just “lied” by telling parliament the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa (the alleged al-Qaeda strongholds) were American-made but deployed by Yemen. In addition to the secret bombings, the Yemen-related cables published by The Guardian on this day deal with Yemeni reluctance to meet some US demands, the inaccuracy of some US weapons, large payments to be made by the US to Yemen, the Saudi Arabian reaction to the strikes, poor counterterrorism training for staff at Yemeni airports, Yemen’s unwillingness to share information about Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, alleged to be an al-Qaeda bomb-maker, and poor counterterrorist infrastructure in Yemen. (Booth and Black 12/3/2010) Before the “war on terror,” the last time the US bombed a country in secret was during the Vietnam War, when the US bombed Cambodia (see March 15-17, 1969). It was a New York Times report on the bombing that was one of the spurs behind President Richard Nixon’s formation of the later-infamous “plumbers” unit (see May 9-10, 1969).
New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman profiles Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), who also serves as a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988). According to close friends and advisers to Ailes interviewed by Sherman, Ailes wants far more than the continued ratings and advertiser success of Fox News—he wants the network to steer one of its own into the White House in 2012 (see October 2008). He is tremendously influential; a Republican strategist tells Sherman: “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger. Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
Letdown? - Ailes has been keenly disappointed in the results of his network’s official and unofficial candidates so far. Former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin (see September 15-16, 2010), who has not yet announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is polling at around 12 percent among Republican voters. Official presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Rick Santorum, a former senator, who both are commentators for Fox, have even lower numbers, at 10 percent and 2 percent respectively. Ailes has asked Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is not a Fox employee, to run; until recently, Fox News was enthusiastically promoting the putative presidential run of billionaire “birther” Donald Trump (see March 17, 2011). Ailes has envisioned General David Petraeus as a potential candidate, but Petraeus has instead accepted the post of CIA director. “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” says a Republican close to Ailes. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of [President] Obama is a disaster.” None of the current crop of candidates meets Ailes’s expectations. Ailes is particularly disappointed in Palin; according to the same Republican, Ailes considers her “an idiot”: “He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” After Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011, and other media outlets focused on Palin’s use of gunsight graphics to “target” Giffords and other vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 election (see March 24, 2010), according to Sherman, “Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable.” After the Giffords shooting, Ailes told an interviewer, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” Ailes was infuriated when Palin refused his advice to remain quiet until after the memorial service, and accused her critics of committing “blood libel,” a phrase often seen as anti-Semitic. The problem with Palin was further exacerbated when she argued about the amount of work Fox expects her to do: she does not want to host special broadcasts or other tasks the network expects of her. In March 2011, Fox suspended the contracts of Gingrich and Santorum so they could run their campaigns without legal or ethical entanglements. Shortly thereafter, Huckabee chose to remain at Fox and abandon his plans for a primary challenge. The network is still waiting for Palin’s decision whether to run for president.
Creation of the Tea Party - While Ailes and Fox News did not directly create the “tea party” “grassroots” movement, Ailes was involved in its creation and promotion from its outset (see February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Ailes has always been somewhat leery of having Fox News too closely associated with the burgeoning movement (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 12, 2009, and September 12, 2010), and at one point banned Fox News host Sean Hannity from hosting a tea party rally. However, according to Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and the founder of the national Tea Party Express tour, “There would not have been a tea party without Fox.” Fox News has promoted a number of successful “tea party” candidates (see May 14, 2008 - February 2010), including former host John Kasich (see March 27, 2008 - June 1, 2009 and After), who won the Ohio gubernatorial election in 2010. Before that election, Gingrich, still a Fox News commentator at the time, said that he was confident the “tea party” would evolve into “the militant wing of the Republican Party” (see April 21, 2010). Ailes used some of the same “astroturf” tactics (see February 27, 2009 and April 14, 2009) in developing the “tea party” as he did when he represented tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, creating phony, seemingly independent “front” groups to push the “tea party” messages in the media. (Sherman 5/22/2011)
President Obama signs a controversial bill passed by Congress (see December 15, 2011), which gives the president power to order indefinite military detention for anyone deemed an enemy combatant, including US citizens arrested or captured in the United States. Obama had threatened to veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on a number of occasions, but once certain restrictions on presidential authority were removed, he became willing to sign it. For instance, the original version of the bill required that persons covered by the bill be held prisoner by the military and prosecuted by military tribunals, if at all. Obama was of the view that by requiring military detention, Congress was intruding on areas under the purview of the executive branch, and in ways that would impede the ability of the executive branch to effectively gather intelligence, fight terrorism, and protect national security. He also believed the bill was unnecessary and potentially risky in order to codify detention authority, and that the president already had authority, via the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and subsequent court rulings, to unilaterally designate persons, including US citizens, as enemy combatants and subject them to indefinite military detention without trial. (White House 12/31/2011; Greenwald 12/15/2012) For the same reasons, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, White House Advisor for Counterterrorism John Brennan, and DOJ National Security Division head Lisa Monaco were also opposed to the mandatory military detention provisions. (Anders 12/7/2011) Also, according to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), a sponsor of the NDAA, “[L]anguage which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” (Senate 11/17/2011) With the bill drafted so that military detention was optional, and an option US citizens were subject to (see December 15, 2011), Obama signaled he would sign it, despite having concerns that it was still unduly restrictive of executive authority, and it unnecessarily codified authority that had been exercised for 10 years and had been upheld by a number of lower court decisions. (White House 12/17/2011 ) However, in a non-binding signing statement attached to the bill, Obama says he is signing the bill “despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” Obama does not specify what his reservations are, but promises: “[M]y administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.” (White House 12/31/2011)
Controversy over Indefinite Detention Provisions - Though 86 percent of US senators and almost two-thirds of the House of Representatives voted to pass the NDAA (see December 15, 2011), and the bill is signed by Obama, the military detention measures are opposed by a number of constitutional experts and public interest organizations, and a significant percentage of the general public (see December 22-26, 2011).
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike