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Profile: Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Movenpick hotel in Aden, Yemen. [Source: Al Bab]Bombs explode at two hotels, the Movenpick and the Gold Mohur, in Aden, Yemen, killing a tourist and a hotel worker. US soldiers involved in an operation in Somalia are sometimes billeted nearby, but none are killed or injured in the blasts. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; Scheuer, 2006, pp. 147] US intelligence will conclude in April 1993 that “[Osama bin Laden] almost certainly played a role” in this attack. However, there will be little chance of a successful prosecution due to lack of evidence. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Other operatives involved in the bombing are reputedly “point man” Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli, a leading Afghan veteran and tribal leader who will later live on a Yemeni government stipend, and Jamal al-Nahdi, who reportedly loses a hand in the Movenpick blast. [New York Times, 11/26/2000] The Yemen government will send an armored brigade to arrest al-Fadhli and he will eventually surrender, but soon be set free. Author Peter Bergen will comment, “[T]he Yemeni government seems to have developed amnesia: al-Fadhli became a member of the president’s personally selected consultative council and his sister is married to General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a member of President Saleh’s family; al-Nahdi is a businessman in Sana’a and a member of the permanent committee of Yemen’s ruling party.” [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176] The US will announce that it is withdrawing from Yemen shortly after the bombings (see Shortly After December 29, 1992).
The card containing Abdul-Rahman’s message. [Source: Peter Bergen]Pakistani journalist Ismail Khan is given a copy of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman’s purported will by one of his sons, while attending bin Laden’s first and only press conference in May 1998 (see May 26, 1998). Abdul-Rahman is serving life in prison in the US but his will anticipates that he will die soon from mistreatment. He says, “Extract the most violent revenge… Cut off all relations with [the Americans, Christians, and Jews], tear them to pieces, destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, and kill them on air, sea, and land. And kill them wherever you may find them, ambush them, take them hostage, and destroy their observatories. Kill these infidels.” Whether this will really was smuggled out of a US prison or not, the words will have a big impact for bin Laden’s followers and mark a dramatic increase in the violent rhetoric used by al-Qaeda. Ahmed Ressam, who will later be arrested for trying to bomb the Los Angeles airport, trains at the Khaldan training camp in mid-1998. He will later testify that this statement from Abdul-Rahman was widely distributed at the training camp. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 204-205] US intelligence is presumably aware of the purported will, since CNN will report about it later in 1998. [CNN, 11/8/1998] Journalist Peter Bergen, who is given a copy of the message around this time, will later comment that the message to “attack the US economy and American aviation was an important factor in the 9/11 attacks.… [His] fatwas are the nearest equivalent al-Qaeda has to an ex cathedra statement by the Pope.… [He] was able for the first time in al-Qaeda’s history to rule that it was legally permissible, and even desirable, to carry out attacks against American planes and corporations, exactly the type of attacks that took place on 9/11.” Bergen notes that while one cannot be certain if Abdul-Rahman actually wrote the message, in other cases his imprisonment did not prevent him from getting messages out through his family or lawyers. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 208-209]
Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11. [Source: Corbis]In early May 1998, Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviews bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During the interview, bin Laden tells Mir that he will be holding a press conference soon and invites Mir to attend. Mir will later recall that bin Laden showed him a list of journalists invited. More than 22 names are on the list, including CNN reporters Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett, and an unnamed reporter from the BBC. Mir says he will not attend, explaining that he is worried the press conference will be bombed. “I think that you are inviting a lot of Pakistani journalists. No doubt I have contacts with the intelligence guys, but I am not their informer. They will go back; they will help the intelligence agencies to bomb your compound.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 200-202] The press conference will take place later in the month and while al-Qaeda’s three top leaders bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef attend, only three journalists show up (see May 26, 1998). Presumably the press conference presents a rare opportunity to take out al-Qaeda’s top leadership in one fell swoop, perhaps as they are coming or going to it, but there is no known debate by US officials or officials in other countries about ways to take advantage of this gathering. The 9/11 Commission’s final report will not mention the press conference at all.
The book Study of Revenge. [Source: Public domain]Laurie Mylroie, a researcher who held faculty positions at Harvard and the US Naval War College, publishes the book Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America. She argues that the Iraqi government was behind the 1993 WTC bombing. The book is published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prominent neoconservative think tank, and her book has strong support from many important neoconservatives.
Lauded by Neoconservatives - Richard Perle calls the book “splendid and wholly convincing,” while Paul Wolfowitz calls it a “provocative and disturbing book.” Former CIA Director James Woolsey says, “Anyone who wishes to continue to deal with Saddam [Hussein] by ignoring his role in international terrorism…and by giving only office furniture to the Iraqi resistance now has the staggering task of trying to refute this superb work.” In her acknowledgements, she thanks John Bolton, I. Lewis Libby, and Wolfowitz for their support and help in writing the book. All of them will go on to take prominent positions in the Bush administration.
Mylroie's Theories Discredited - But war correspondent and terrorism expert Peter Bergen will later comment, “Mylroie became enamored of her theory that Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-US terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary. In what amounts to the discovery of a unified field theory of terrorism, Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the ‘93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade…” Bergen will continue, “[B]y the mid-‘90s, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, the FBI, the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, the CIA, the NSC, and the State Department had all found no evidence implicating the Iraqi government in the first Trade Center attack.” Bergen will comment that normally a book like this would not have mattered, except that the neoconservatives “believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
No Credible Evidence of Iraqi Involvement in WTC Bombing - The book will be used as a lodestar of neoconservative thought when terrorists launch the 9/11 attacks, when neoconservatives inside and outside the Bush administration will pin the blame for the attacks on Iraq (see September 13, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 216] In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will conclude, “We have found no credible evidence to support theories of Iraqi government involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559]
Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Peter Bergen, Richard Perle, Saddam Hussein, Laurie Mylroie, John R. Bolton, American Enterprise Institute, 9/11 Commission, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, James Woolsey
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
Neoconservative academic and author Laurie Mylroie, who has argued that Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000), publishes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming Hussein for the 9/11 bombings. Though Mylroie has been thoroughly discredited (one former journalist, Peter Bergen, will call her a “crackpot”—see December 2003), and though US intelligence analysts are already telling journalists and White House officials that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings, Mylroie’s assertions receive major coverage from many US and British media outlets. In a follow-up interview on CBS News, she says, “In my view, yesterday’s events were the latest in Saddam’s war against the United States.” Author Craig Unger later notes that Mylroie’s baseless charges may be considered harmless eccentricity except for two things:
Her claims perfectly parallel the policy aims of her neoconservative colleagues and associates in the White House; and
while few Americans have ever heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and few find it credible that such devastation could be wrought by a small group of cave-dwelling fanatics, Saddam Hussein is a familiar name to most Americans, “a villain,” Unger will write, “straight out of central casting.” Mylroie’s specious claims will help fix the blame for 9/11 in Americans’ minds directly on Hussein and Iraq, Unger will claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215-216]
Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region. [Source: CNN]Only about three dozen US soldiers take part in the Tora Bora ground offensive (see December 5-17, 2001). Author Peter Bergen will later comment, “If Fox and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops.” [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004]
Authors Laurie Mylroie and Peter Bergen appear on a Canadian news broadcast to discuss the impending war with Iraq, and Iraq’s supposed connections to 9/11. Mylroie has long argued that Saddam Hussein was behind every terrorist attack on the US (see 1990) from the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000) to 9/11 (see September 12, 2001); Bergen, like many in the journalistic and intelligence communities, believes Mylroie is a “crackpot” (see December 2003). According to Bergen, Mylroie opens the interview by “lecturing in a hectoring tone: ‘Listen, we’re going to war because President Bush believes Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Al-Qaeda is a front for Iraqi intelligence… [the US] bureaucracy made a tremendous blunder that refused to acknowledge these links… the people responsible for gathering this information, say in the CIA, are also the same people who contributed to the blunder on 9/11 and the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and so whenever this information emerges they move to discredit it.’” Bergen counters by noting that her theories defy all intelligence and “common sense, as they [imply] a conspiracy by literally thousands of American officials to suppress the truth of the links between Iraq and 9/11.” Mylroie does not like this. Bergen will later write that by “the end of the interview, Mylroie, who exudes a slightly frazzled, batty air, started getting visibly agitated, her finger jabbing at the camera and her voice rising to a yell as she outlined the following apocalyptic scenario: ‘Now I’m going to tell you something, OK, and I want all Canada to understand, I want you to understand the consequences of the cynicism of people like Peter. There is a very acute chance as we go to war that Saddam will use biological agents as revenge against Americans, that there will be anthrax in the United States and there will be smallpox in the United States. Are you in Canada prepared for Americans who have smallpox and do not know it crossing the border and bringing that into Canada?’” Bergen calls Mylroie’s outburst typical of her “hysterical hyperbole” and “emblematic of Mylroie’s method, which is to never let the facts get in the way of her monomaniacal certainties.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
The cover of ‘Bush Vs. the Beltway.’ [Source: Oferton de Libros]Neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie, who believes that Saddam Hussein was behind every terrorist attack on the US from 1993 through 2001 (see 1990 and October 2000), publishes her latest book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror. Mylroie accuses those agencies of suppressing information about Iraq’s role in 9/11, names 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) as an Iraqi agent (whose identity as such is being hidden by shadowy forces within the Bush administration), and calls President Bush “an actual hero… who could not be rolled, spun, or otherwise diverted from his most solemn obligation” to overthrow Saddam Hussein. However, like Mylroie’s other theories, her belief that KSM was an Iraqi agent is not popularly accepted. Author and war correspondent Peter Bergen is contemptuous of her theorizing, noting that Mylroie claims “a senior administration official told me in specific that the question of the identities of the terrorist masterminds could not be pursued because of bureaucratic obstructionism.” Bergen will write: “So we are expected to believe that the senior Bush administration officials whom Mylroie knows so well could not find anyone in intelligence or law enforcement to investigate the supposed Iraqi intelligence background of the mastermind of 9/11, at the same time that 150,000 American soldiers had been sent to fight a war in Iraq under the rubric of the war on terrorism. Please.” Bergen also notes that repeated interrogations of KSM—sometimes verging on torture (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003)—have failed to produce a shred of evidence connecting him with Iraq. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
Peter Bergen. [Source: Peter Bergen]Author and former war correspondent Peter Bergen writes that in the run-up to the Iraq war, most Americans believed wholeheartedly that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were behind the 9/11 attacks. Bergen writes: “[T]he belief that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the United States amounted to a theological conviction within the administration, a conviction successfully sold to the American public. So it’s fair to ask: Where did this faith come from?” One source is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neoconservative think tank who has placed many of its fellows in the Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and John Bolton. But, Bergen notes, none of the AEI analysts and writers are experts on either Iraq or the Middle East. None have ever served in the region. And most actual Middle East experts both in and out of government don’t believe that Iraq had any connection to the 9/11 attacks. The impetus for the belief in a 9/11-Iraq connection in part comes from neoconservative academic Laurie Mylroie.
Mylroie Supplies Neoconservatives with Desired Rationale - A noted author with an impressive academic resume, Mylroie, Bergen writes, “was an apologist for Saddam’s regime, but reversed her position upon his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and, with the zeal of the academic spurned, became rabidly anti-Saddam.” In 1993, Mylroie decided that Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center bombings, and made her case in a 2000 AEI-published book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America (see October 2000). Mylroie’s message was evidently quite popular with AEI’s neoconservatives. In her book, Mylroie blamed every terrorist event of the decade on Hussein, from the 1993 WTC bombings (a theory Bergen calls “risible”) to the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 into Long Island Sound (see July 17, 1996-September 1996), the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the 2000 attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and even the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Bergen calls her a “crackpot,” and notes that it “would not be significant if she were merely advising say, [conservative conspiracy theorist] Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.”
Complete Discrediting - Bergen, after detailing how Mylroie ignored conclusive evidence that both the 1993 and 9/11 attacks were planned by al-Qaeda terrorists and not Saddam Hussein, quotes former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro, who says Mylroie “has an obsession with Iraq and trying to link Saddam to global terrorism.” Cannistraro is joined by author and former CIA analyst Ken Pollack; Mary Jo White, the US attorney who prosecuted the 1993 WTC bombings and 1998 embassy attacks; and Neil Herman, the FBI official who headed the 1993 WTC investigation, who all dismiss Mylroie’s theories as absolutely baseless and thoroughly disproven by the evidence.
Belief or Convenience? - Apparently such thorough debunking did not matter to the AEI neoconservatives. Bergen writes that they were “formulating an alternative vision of US foreign policy to challenge what they saw as the feckless and weak policies of the Clinton administration. Mylroie’s research and expertise on Iraq complemented the big-think strategizing of the neocons, and a symbiotic relationship developed between them.” Whether the neoconservatives actually believed Mylroie’s work, or if “her findings simply fit conveniently into their own desire to overthrow Saddam,” Bergen isn’t sure. Perle later backed off of supporting Mylroie’s theories, calling them less than convincing and downplaying her role in developing arguments for overthrowing Hussein even as he suggests she should be placed in a position of power at the CIA. It is known that after 9/11, former CIA Director James Woolsey, a prominent neoconservative, went to Britain to investigate some of Mylroie’s claims (see Mid-September-October 2001). And in September 2003, Vice President Cheney called Iraq “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11,” an echoing of Mylroie’s own theories. Mylroie’s latest book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, accuses those agencies of suppressing information about Iraq’s role in 9/11, again contradicting all known intelligence and plain common sense (see July 2003).
Zeitgeist - Bergen concludes that in part because of Mylroie’s theories and their promulgation by Bush, Cheney, and prominent neoconservatives in and out of the administration, the US has been led into a disastrous war while 70 percent of Americans believe that Hussein had a role in the 9/11 attacks. “[H]er specious theories of Iraq’s involvement in anti-American terrorism have now become part of the American zeitgeist.” Perhaps the most telling statement from Mylroie comes from a recent interview in Newsweek, where she said: “I take satisfaction that we went to war with Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. The rest is details.” Bergen retorts sourly, “Now she tells us.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Pollack, John R. Bolton, Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), American Enterprise Institute, Al-Qaeda, Vincent Cannistraro, Saddam Hussein, Neil Herman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Woolsey, Mary Jo White, Lyndon LaRouche, Peter Bergen, Laurie Mylroie, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections
Following the release of a new video and a new audio message from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see September 7, 2007 and September 11, 2007), terrorism analyst Peter Bergen says it may be a good idea to allow As-Sahab, a clandestine institute that makes videos for al-Qaeda, to continue to operate. Bergen says it would be difficult to shut the operation down, “You’d have to capture or kill everyone involved, and if you knew who they were, you might want to follow them instead,” says Bergen, adding, “Understanding the inner workings of As-Sahab is probably as good a way as any I can think of to get close to bin Laden and [al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-]Zawahiri.” However, former director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center John Brennan says of a possible attempt at penetrating As-Sahab, “Don’t presume that’s not happening.” CIA Director General Michael Hayden says of As-Sahab’s ability to continue putting out videos, “It might be disappointing, but it shouldn’t be surprising.” [United Press International, 9/19/2007]
Pentagon press spokesman Geoff Morrell tells journalists that the Defense Department has new numbers documenting the “recidivism” of former Guantanamo detainees now engaged in terror activities. “The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight,” Morrell says. “So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” [US Department of Defense, 1/13/2009]
No Details on Numbers - The Pentagon figure would represent around 11 percent of the roughly 520 detainees released from the facility. National security expert Peter Bergen notes that the recidivism rate for prisoners in the US civilian judicial system is about 65 percent. Morrell defends the report, but refuses to say exactly where the information comes from. Instead, he says: “We don’t make these figures up. They’re not done willy-nilly.” Other Pentagon officials say they will not discuss how the figures were derived because of national security concerns. Morrell says the figures come from the Defense Intelligence Agency, “and they go over this with great care.” [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Law Professor: Pentagon Figures 'Egregiously' Wrong - In an exhaustive study of the Pentagon’s records of detainees, Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux disputes the Pentagon claim, calling it “egregiously” wrong (see January 16, 2009). “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies,” Denbeaux writes. “Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD [Defense Department] has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as ‘returning to the fight’ for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men. Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that ‘they do not track’ former detainees. Rather than making up numbers ‘willy-nilly’ about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.” [Seton Hall University, 1/15/2009] It is difficult to know exactly how many former Guantanamo detainees have returned to fighting, Denbeaux’s study finds, because of the incredibly poor record-keeping kept on detainees by the Pentagon (see January 20, 2009 ). Some of the detainees identified as recidivists never appeared on the detainee rolls. Some detainees were misidentified by the Pentagon, or identified as more than one person—and subsequently counted as more than one recidivist. Some have been dead for years, or are in the custody of other nations’ judicial systems. The Pentagon counts the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001) as “returning to the fight,” even though their only “terrorist activity” has been their participation in a documentary about unjust imprisonment in Guantanamo. The Pentagon also lists the recently released Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who were found to have no ties whatsoever to Islamic terrorism. One of the released Uighurs wrote a 2006 op-ed column for the New York Times protesting his imprisonment (see September 17, 2006), the extent of his documented “terrorist” actions. [New American, 1/27/2009]
Defense Secretary Downplays Report's Significance - Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen notes that many of the Guantanamo detainees were never terrorists at all, but were singled out as terrorists by Afghani villagers who told US authorities that they were members of al-Qaeda, either for personal revenge or for bounty money. Quoting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bergen says, “We know that a lot of people who were in Guantanamo don’t qualify as being the ‘worst of the worst.’” Bergen says that many of the “suspected” terrorists have done nothing more than publicly make anti-American statements, “something that’s not surprising if you’ve been locked up in a US prison camp for several years.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the Bush administration currently serving in President Obama’s cabinet and an advocate for closing the Guantanamo facility, downplays the number of detainees supposedly engaged in terrorism. “It’s not as big a number if you’re talking about 700 or a thousand or however many have been through Guantanamo,” he says. [CNN, 1/22/2009]
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
US-operated drones kill 708 civilians in 44 Predator attacks targeting Pakistan’s tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009, according to statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities. Dawn reports that for each key al-Qaeda and Taliban militant killed by US drones, 140 Pakistani civilians also die. On average, 58 civilians are reportedly killed in drone attacks every month—about two people per day. [Dawn (Karachi), 1/2/2010] Other estimates of civilian-to-militant deaths over a longer time span vary greatly. Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution, citing analysis by journalist Peter Bergen and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that since 2004, drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen cites even more alarming statistics, acknowledging earlier Pakistani estimates that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009; New York Times, 5/16/2009] Bergen and Katherine Tiedmann will later report that new analyses of drone strike deaths in Pakistan from 2004 to March 2010 indicate that the civilian fatality rate is only 32 percent. Their study estimates that of the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the early months of 2010, between 834 and 1,216 people are killed, of whom around 549 to 849 are described as militants in press accounts. [Bergen and Tiedemann, 2/24/2010 ] Apart from the statistics, the controversial weapons are regarded by human rights and legal experts as legally-dubious instruments of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009]
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