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Taliban was a participant or observer in the following events:
US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Banded Artists Productions] (click image to enlarge)Around December 5, 2001, about three-dozen US special forces position themselves at strategic spots in the Tora Bora region to observe the fighting. Using hand-held laser target designators, they “paint” targets to bomb. Immediately the US bombing becomes more accurate. With this improved system in place, the ground battle for Tora Bora begins in earnest. However, as the Christian Science Monitor later notes, “The battle was joined, but anything approaching a ‘siege’ of Tora Bora never materialized.” No other US troops take part, and US-allied afghans fight unenthusiastically and sometimes even fight for the other side (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Tora Bora battle will end with a victory for the US-allied forces by December 17, 2001 (see December 17, 2001). However, the Daily Telegraph will later report, “In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade.” Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan’s new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002]
US soldiers enter the school building in Mazar-i-Sharif where “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is being held (see December 2-5, 2001, blindfold him, and take photographs of Lindh and themselves posing next to him. One soldier scrawls “sh_thead” across Lindh’s blindfold and poses with him. Another soldier makes fun of his Islamic religion. Someone says Lindh is “going to hang” and another one that he wants to shoot him on the spot. They then put Lindh in a van and tie his hands with plastic handcuffs so tight they severely cut off the blood circulation. The scars and numbness that result from this treatment are still present months later. He is then put on a plane and flown to the US marine base Camp Rhino, seventy miles south of Kandahar. During the flight, Lindh screams because the pain in his hands have become unbearable, but his guards refuse to loosen the cuffs. Immediately upon arrival at Camp Rhino, when the winter night has already fallen, US soldiers cut off all of Lindh’s clothing. Wearing only his blindfold and shaking violently from the cold, Lindh is bound to a stretcher with heavy duct tape wrapped tightly around his chest, upper arms and ankles. In this position military personnel again take photographs of him. One photograph is later released by his attorneys and corroborates the described treatment. He is then placed, stretcher and all, in a metal shipping container. Twenty minutes later, a US Marine begins to question him. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
Yunus Qanooni, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new government, accuses elements of Pakistan’s ISI of helping bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He further asserts that the ISI are still “probably protecting” both bin Laden and Mullah Omar and “concealing their movements and sheltering leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” [BBC, 12/30/2001; New York Times, 2/13/2002] In addition, New Yorker magazine will report in early 2002, “Some CIA analysts believe that bin Laden eluded American capture inside Afghanistan with help from elements of the [ISI].” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Another report suggests that Hamid Gul, former director of the ISI, is behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in remote parts of Pakistan just across the Afghanistan border. Gul was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, but has remained close to Afghan groups in subsequent years and has been nicknamed the “godfather of the Taliban.” One report will later suggest that he was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). The US is said to be interested in interrogating Gul, but “because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen…” Yet, at the same time that the ISI is reportedly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape, the Pakistan army is deployed to the Afghanistan border in large numbers to prevent them from escaping. [Asia Times, 12/13/2001] In November 2001, it was reported that the US was continuing to rely on the ISI for intelligence about Afghanistan, a move none other than Gul publicly derided as “foolish.”(see November 3, 2001).
Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001. [Source: Getty Images]US-allied forces declare that the battle of Tora Bora has been won. A ten-day ground offensive that began on December 5 has cleared out the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora. The Afghan war is now widely considered to be over. However, many will later consider the battle a failure because most of the enemy escapes (see December 5-17, 2001), and because the Taliban will later regroup. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Christian Science Monitor later reports that up to 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda were in the area when the battle began. The vast majority successfully fled, and only 21 al-Qaeda fighters were finally captured. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] US intelligence analysts later estimate that around 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaeda fighters and an unknown number of leaders escaped Tora Bora, while Pakistani officials estimate 4,000 fighters plus 50 to 80 leaders escaped (see October 2004). [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Ron Suskind will suggest in 2006 that there were just over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area, and of those, 250 were killed or captured. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 75 Sources: Ron Suskind] Bin Laden left the area by December 15, if not earlier (see December 15, 2001 and Mid-December 2001). It is believed that al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escaped the area around the same time. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002]
President Bush says he has not ruled out bringing treason charges against John Walker Lindh, a US citizen (see Late morning, November 25, 2001). While he at first called him a “poor boy” who was “misled,” Bush now says Lindh is a member of al-Qaeda. “Walker’s unique,” Bush says, “in that he’s the first American al-Qaeda fighter that we have captured.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]
[Source: United States Agency for International Development]Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and his transitional government assume power in Afghanistan. The press reported a few weeks before that Karzai had been a paid consultant for Unocal at one time (Karzai and Unocal both deny this), as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister for the Taliban. [Le Monde (Paris), 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/22/2001]
The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; Guardian, 12/24/2001] However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).
The media reports that Osama bin Laden died of lung problems in the mountains of Tora Bora in mid-December. The report, which quotes a Taliban leader who allegedly attended bin Laden’s funeral, is originally published in the Pakistan Observer, and then picked up by Fox News. According to the Taliban leader, bin Laden was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease. He also claims bin Laden was laid to rest honorably near where he died and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief. About 30 close associates of bin Laden, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members, and some “Taliban friends,” attended the funeral. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to him. The Taliban leader claims to have seen bin Laden’s face before the burial and says, “he looked pale… but calm, relaxed, and confident.” When asked where bin Laden was buried, the leader says, “I am sure that like other places in Tora Bora, that particular place too must have vanished.” [Fox News, 12/26/2001] A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to issue media statements after his alleged death (see, for example, November 12, 2002). At the time this report becomes public, other accounts suggest bin Laden is alive, has just escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, and is fleeing pursuers (see December 8-14, 2001).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a public announcement that he is planning to move Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. The number of people in US custody and destined for Guantanamo is allegedly small. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, they number eight individuals aboard the USS Peleliu and 37 at a US base near Kandahar airport. [Dawn (Karachi), 12/28/2001] Troops, earlier stationed at nearby Camp Rhino, where John Walker Lindh was detained, are being transferred to Guantanamo. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/15/2005] The reason for choosing Guantanamo for detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members is unclear. Rumsfeld says: “I would characterize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the least worst place we could have selected. Its disadvantages seem to be modest relative to the alternatives.” [Dawn (Karachi), 12/28/2001] Rumsfeld does not inform reporters of the legal opinion about to be released by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that he feels makes Guantanamo uniquely qualified to serve as a prisoner for terror suspects
(see December 28, 2001). According to the OLC opinion, Guantanamo is outside the US itself, so US courts have no jurisdiction to oversee conditions or activities there. It is also not on soil controlled by any other court system. And, unlike other facilities considered for housing terror suspects (see January 11, 2002), Guantanamo is not on the soil of a friendly government with which the US has lease and status of force agreements, but rather on the soil of a hostile Communist government whose predecessor had signed a perpetual lease with the US. The base, therefore, is, according to the OLC, under the sole jurisdiction of the US military and its commander in chief, and not subject to any judicial or legislative review. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Guantanamo was chosen because it was the best place to set up a law-free zone.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 145]
James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, later will say that three decisions in late 2001 “really shaped” the future of Afghanistan. “One was that US forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so.” The main reason for this is because it is felt this would tie up more US resources as well, for instance US airlifts to drop supplies. The third decision is that US forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. The Atlantic Monthly will later note, “One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new [Hamid] Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.”
[Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
In the 1990s, Afghan drug kingpin Haji Bashir Noorzai developed close ties to Taliban top leader Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani ISI. He becomes the top drug kingpin in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He is also reputedly the richest person in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s banker. For instance, according to US sources, as the Taliban began their military defeat after 9/11, they entrusted Noorzai with as much as $20 million in Taliban money for safekeeping. But he then surrenders to the US military in Afghanistan. Noorzai later says of this time, “I spent my days and nights comfortably. There was special room for me. I was like a guest, not a prisoner.” [CBS News, 2/7/2002; Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] He spends several days in custody at the Kandahar airport. He speaks to US military and intelligence officials, but is released before Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents arrive in the country to question him. [National Public Radio, 4/26/2002] The other top drug kingpin for the Taliban is also arrested then let go by the US at this time (see December 2001 and After). Noorzai then lives in Pakistan, where he has been given a Pakistani passport by the ISI. He operates drug-processing laboratories there and has little trouble traveling to other countries. [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] In 2004 it will be reported, “According to House International Relations Committee testimony this year, Noorzai smuggles 4,400 pounds of heroin out of the Kandahar region to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan every eight weeks.” [USA Today, 10/26/2004]
Twice in 2002, the US passes requests to Iran to deliver al-Qaeda suspects to the the Afghan government. Iran transfers two of the suspects and seeks more information about others. Iran, in turn, asks the US to question four Taliban prisoners held at the US-run Guantanamo prison. The four men are suspects in the 1998 killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan. But in late 2001, the Bush administration decided on a policy of accepting help with counterterrorism efforts from officially declared state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, but not giving any help back (see Late December 2001). As a result, the Iranian request is denied. Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne Downing will later comment, “I sided with the [CIA] guys on that. I was willing to make a deal with the devil if we could clip somebody important off or stop an attack.” The Washington Post will report, “Some believe important opportunities were lost.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007] For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/2007] Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).
In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 359]
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
[Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well
(see May 2002).
Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Thomas Franks, George W. Bush, Flynt Leverett, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Reportedly, the US is improving bases in “13 locations in nine countries in the Central Asian region.”
[Christian Science Monitor, 1/17/2002] US military personnel strength in bases surrounding Afghanistan has increased to 60,000. [Los Angeles Times, 1/6/2002]
“Of the five ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, Turkmenistan alone is resisting pressure to allow the deployment of US or other Western forces on its soil…”
[Guardian, 1/10/2002] On January 9, the speaker of the Russian parliament states, “Russia would not approve of the appearance of permanent US bases in Central Asia,” but Russia seems helpless to stop what a Russian newspaper calls “the inexorable growth” of the US military presence in Central Asia. [Guardian, 1/10/2002] Commenting on the bases, one columnist writes in the Guardian: “The task of the encircling US bases now shooting up on Afghanistan’s periphery is only partly to contain the threat of political regression or Taliban resurgence in Kabul. Their bigger, longer-term role is to project US power and US interests into countries previously beyond its reach.… The potential benefits for the US are enormous: growing military hegemony in one of the few parts of the world not already under Washington’s sway, expanded strategic influence at Russia and China’s expense, pivotal political clout and—grail of holy grails—access to the fabulous, non-OPEC oil and gas wealth of central Asia.”
Tim Reid, a journalist from the London Times, visits the Kandahar city jail and meets with Jamal Udeen (see October 2001), formerly a prisoner of the Taliban, four times in one week. Udeen is still trying to find a way back to Britain. His four fellow inmates are a Russian from Tartarstan, two Saudi Arabians and a Syrian Kurd; all free to go, but waiting for an opportunity. Udeen tells Reid resolutely that he was not in Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban or al-Qaeda. “If I came here to fight, I wouldn’t have been thrown in prison,” he argues. “I travel all the time. That is all I was doing.” Reid later says: “I felt sure he was no terrorist. I even tried to get him released.” [London Times, 3/11/2004]
Zalmay Khalilzad, already Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues, and a prominent neoconversative (see May 23, 2001), is appointed by President Bush as a special envoy to Afghanistan. [BBC, 1/1/2002] In his former role as Unocal adviser, Khalilzad participated in negotiations with the Taliban to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. He also wrote op-eds in the Washington Post in 1997 (see October 7, 1996) supporting the Taliban regime, back when Unocal was hoping to work with the Taliban. [Independent, 1/10/2002] He will be appointed US ambassador to Afghanistan in 2003 (see November 2003).
Mullah Mohammed Omar. [Source: CBC]The US allegedly locates former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and 1,500 of his soldiers in the remote village of Baghran, Afghanistan. After a six-day siege, and surrounded by US helicopters and troops, Omar and four bodyguards supposedly escape the dragnet in a daring chase on motorcycles over dirt roads. His soldiers are set free in return for giving up their weapons, in a deal brokered by local leaders. Yet it remains unclear if Omar was ever in the village in the first place. [Observer, 1/6/2002]
Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). [Reuters, 1/8/2002]
John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 ; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).
Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004]
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Richard B. Myers, US Department of State, Taliban, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bellinger, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. [Alberto R. Gonzales, 1/25/2002 ; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Timothy E. Flanigan, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington, David Bowker, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Taliban, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of State, Office of the Vice President, Washington Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales completes a draft memorandum to the president advising him not to reconsider his decision (see January 18-25, 2002) declaring Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status as Colin Powell has apparently recommended. [US Department of Justice, 1/25/2004 ; Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo recommends that President Bush accept a recent Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo saying that the president has the authority to set aside the Geneva Conventions as the basis of his policy (see January 9, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 146]
Geneva No Longer Applies, Says Gonzales - Gonzales writes to Bush that Powell “has asked that you conclude that GPW [Third Geneva Convention] does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I understand, however, that he would agree that al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters could be determined not to be prisoners of war (POWs) but only on a case-by-case basis following individual hearings before a military board.” Powell believes that US troops will be put at risk if the US renounces the Geneva Conventions in relation to the Taliban. Rumsfeld and his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, allegedly agree with Powell’s argument. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] But Gonzales says that he agrees with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which has determined that the president had the authority to make this declaration on the premise that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war].” Gonzales thus states, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] Gonzales also says that by declaring the war in Afghanistan exempt from the Geneva Conventions, the president would “[s]ubstantially [reduce] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act [of 1996]” (see August 21, 1996). The president and other officials in the administration would then be protected from any future “prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Memo Actually Written by Cheney's Lawyer - Though the memo is released under Gonzales’s signature, many inside the White House do not believe the memo was written by him; it has an unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that does not go with Gonzales’s usual style. A White House lawyer with direct knowledge of the memo later says it was written by Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington. Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, who signed it as “my judgment” and sent it to Bush. Addington’s memo quotes Bush’s own words: “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Powell 'Hits the Roof' over Memo - When Powell reads the memo (see January 26, 2002), he reportedly “hit[s] the roof” and immediately arranges for a meeting with the president (see January 25, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
In a memo concurrent with the presidential declaration that the Geneva Convention does not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters (see February 7, 2002), Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, sends a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Bybee concludes that President Bush has the legal authority to conclude that Taliban fighters have no rights to prisoner of war status as defined under the Geneva Conventions, because the Taliban lack an organized command structure, do not wear uniforms, and do not consider themselves bound by Geneva. It also concludes that there is no need for the US to convene Article 5 tribunals under Geneva to determine the status of the Taliban, as Bush’s presidential determination of their status eliminates any doubt under domestic law. [US Department of Justice, 2/7/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
In the wake of the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl and suspected ISI ties to the kidnapping plot, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is said to begin a “quiet and massive overhaul” of the ISI. However, one senior military source who once served in the ISI warns, “The biggest problem we have here are the rogue elements in the intelligence agencies, especially those who at some time became involved with the CIA.” The ISI is so used to operating independently that even honest agents may be difficult to control. Many may willfully disobey orders. “Among the more dangerous, sources say, are those who acted as Pakistan’s official liaison between the Pakistan Army and militant groups, such as the Kashmiri-oriented Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and Lashkar-e-Toiba, both of which are on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations. The ISI was also a crucial link between Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” [Christian Science Monitor, 2/22/2002] By early 2003, the Financial Times will note that Musharraf’s attempts at reforms have largely been abandoned. An expert on the region comments, “It is no longer a question of whether Pakistan is going backwards or forwards. It’s a question of how rapidly it’s going backwards.” [Financial Times, 2/8/2003]
Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Time magazine reports the CIA is still not interested in talking to Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, easily the highest ranking Taliban defector. Khaksar was the Taliban’s deputy interior minister, which put him in charge of vital security matters. He was secretly giving the Northern Alliance intelligence on the Taliban since 1997, and he had sporadic and mostly unsuccessful efforts trying to give information to the US while he still worked for the Taliban (see April 1999 and Between September 12 and Late November 2001). In late November 2001, he defected to the Northern Alliance and was given an amnesty due to his secret collaboration with them. He continues to live in his house in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, but is unable to get in contact with US intelligence. In February 2002, Time magazine informs US officials that Khaksar wants to talk, but two weeks later the magazine will report that he still has not been properly interviewed. [Time, 2/25/2002] The US may be reluctant to speak to him because much of what he has to say seems to be about al-Qaeda’s links with the Pakistani ISI, and the US is now closely working with Pakistan. Time magazine reports, “The little that Khaksar has divulged to an American general and his intelligence aide—is tantalizing.… He says that the ISI agents are still mixed up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” and that the three groups have formed a new political group to get the US out of Afghanistan. He also says that “the ISI recently assassinated an Afghan in the Paktika province who knew the full extent of ISI’s collaboration with al-Qaeda.” [Time, 2/19/2002] He will similarly comment to journalist Kathy Gannon that bin Laden’s foreign fighters in Afghanistan “were all protected by the Taliban leadership, but their money and instructions came direction from Pakistan’s ISI.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 161] Khaksar will continue to live in Afghanistan until early 2006, when he is apparently assassinated by the Taliban. [Washington Post, 1/15/2006]
A sign on top of the Al Haramains Islamic Foundation’s four-story office building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in June 2004. [Source: Rafiqur Rahman / Reuters / Corbis]The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation was founded in 1988 as a branch of the Muslim World League charity, and just like the Muslim World League it is closely linked to the Saudi government. It develops branches in about 50 countries, including a US branch based in Oregon. It has an annual budget of $40 million to $60 million, paid by the Saudi government, and about 3,000 employees. It gives considerable aid to religious causes such as building mosques. But by the early 1990s evidence began to grow that it was funding Islamist militants in Somalia and Bosnia, and a 1996 CIA report detailed its Bosnian militant ties (see January 1996). In 1998, several links were discovered between the charity and the African embassy bombings that year (see Autumn 1997 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
In March 2002, the US and Saudi governments jointly announce the closing of Al Haramain’s branches in Somalia and Bosnia, but Al Haramain defiantly keeps its Bosnian branch open and it is shut down again after police raids in December 2003. [Washington Post, 8/19/2004; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41] In December 2002, it is reported that the Somali branch is still open as well. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/18/2002]
In late 2002, Al Haramain is linked to the October 2002 Bali bombing and al-Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia in general (see September-October 2002).
In May 2003, Al Haramain announces the closing of its branches in Albania, Croatia, and Ethiopia, soon followed by branches in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Indonesia. But this is because of pressure due to suspected militant links, and at least the Indonesian branch secretly changes locations and stays open. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41]
In late 2003, Al Haramain Director-General Aqeel al-Aqeel indiscreetly mentions that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah recently donated money to his charity. Al-Aqeel, Deputy General Mansour al-Kadi, and two other senior officials are fired from the charity by the Saudi minister of religious affairs in January 2004. Interestingly, the Saudi minister is also the chairman of Al-Haramain’s board. In 1997, US intelligence found al-Kadi’s business card in the possession of Wadih el-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Netherlands Interior Ministry, 1/6/2005 ; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41]
In February 2004, the US Treasury Department freezes the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation.
In June 2004, The charity is disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.
In September 2004, the US designates Al-Haramain a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004; Washington Post, 3/2/2006] The United Nations also bans the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. [United Nations, 7/27/2007]
Entity Tags: United Nations, US Department of the Treasury, Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, Muslim World League, Al-Qaeda, Aqeel al-Aqeel, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Taliban, Mansour al-Kadi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close. [Source: Joe Raedle/ Reuters]The US launches Operation Anaconda, a major offensive in Shah-i-Kot valley, near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan. About 2,000 US and allied soldiers attack a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold in the valley. The goal is to surround and cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda from being able to retreat into Pakistan. Officially, the operation is hailed as an easy victory. For instance, Gen. Tommy Franks calls the operation “an unqualified and absolute success.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002] A Pentagon spokesperson calls the operation “a great success,” and says that of the hundreds or even thousands of enemy fighters trapped in the valley,“less than 100 escaped.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] Up to 800 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are reported killed. [New York Times, 3/14/2002]
Unexpected Resistance - However, other accounts paint a different picture. The operation runs into unexpected resistance from the start, and eight US soldiers and a small number of allied Afghan fighters are killed in the first few days. The London Times later notes, “what was to have been a two-day operation stretched to 12.” Australian special forces troops who took part later say the operation was botched. “They blamed much of the problem on inadequate US air power, poor intelligence, and faulty technology.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002; London Times, 6/18/2002]
Militants Able to Escape - It appears that, as in Tora Bora, Afghan warlord armies supervised by a small number of US special forces, were given the key task of cutting off escape routes. At least one of the warlords involved had tricked the US military earlier in the war. “Although [Afghan] commanders insisted from the start of the campaign that the slopes were surrounded, [one Afghan commander] admitted that there had been at least one escape route” left open. The Guardian notes that “US troops spent weeks planning the attack on Shah-i-Kot, training and arming Afghan soldiers to prevent a repeat of the battle at Tora Bora,” but nonetheless, “nearly all the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters appeared to have fled the area.” [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; Guardian, 3/15/2002] Most flee across the border into Pakistan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The New York Times even reported that “some participants… said the Taliban had more or less come and gone as they pleased, visiting villagers in nearby towns.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] One captured Taliban soldier who fought in the battle later claims that bin Laden made a brief personal appearance to rally his troops. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Only about 20 prisoners are captured and fewer than 20 bodies are found. [New York Times, 3/14/2002; New York Times, 3/18/2002] After retreating, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will change strategies and no longer attempt to congregate in Afghanistan in large numbers.
US troops raid a compound in Sangesar, a village close to Kandahar, and arrest more than thirty anti-Taliban fighters, presumably by mistake. Taken to Kandahar, they are “thrown down,” face first, onto the ground, by US soldiers. One detainee later recalls: “They picked me up and threw me down on the rocks. It was painful. I couldn’t rest on my chest. When I moved they kicked me.” Another says he is held by the feet and head and kicked in the back repeatedly. [Associated Press, 3/23/2002]
US and Pakistani forces search for Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, but are unable to find him. A mosque owned by Haqqani is raided at night by about 200 Pakistani soldiers and 25 US Special Forces, who arrive by helicopter. Haqqani had been a CIA asset in the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviets (see (1987)). While his link to the CIA apparently ended at some point, he has continued to be an asset of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency (see May 2008). He was a minister in the Taliban government in the 1990s. This apparently is the last time the US or Pakistan will target Haqqani for many years. In the years after this raid, he will build up his own semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, known as the Haqqani network, and will launch many attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 4/28/2002; New York Times, 6/17/2008]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “How ought security to evolve in [Afghanistan] depends on really two things; one is what the interim government decides they think ought to happen, [the other is] what the warlord forces in the country decide they think ought to happen, and the interaction between the two.” Rumsfeld’s suggestion that the warlords should share power with the government in Afghanistan outrages many leaders in the US and Afghanistan. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment that this “gave the Taliban just the propaganda excuse they needed to reorganize themselves. [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai considered Rumsfeld’s comment an insult to all Afghans, and from that time on, he saw [Rumsfeld] as being completely out of touch with reality.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says a few days later: “America has replaced the Taliban with the warlords. Warlords are still on the US payroll but that hasn’t brought a cessation of violence. Not only is the US failing to reign in the warlords, we are actually making them the centerpiece of our strategy.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 134-135]
[Source: British Ministry of Defence]Brigadier Roger Lane, the commander of British forces in Afghanistan, says the war there against al-Qaeda and the Taliban is “all but won.” He claims that military operations will end in a matter of weeks rather than months. [BBC, 5/8/2002] In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will announce that the Afghanistan war is over.(see May 1, 2003). But his pronouncement will be just as inaccurate as Lane’s. Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces will begin regrouping in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2002 (see Autumn 2002).
A US filmmaker is able to penetrate al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan. John Christopher Turner is a US citizen from Missouri, but he lived in Pashtun tribal areas and fought with the mujaheddin against the Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s, speaks fluent Pashto, converted to Islam, and has a long beard. As a result, traveling under the protection of a clan chief, he is able to penetrate the province of Baluchistan in the far west of Pakistan. Turner will later tell the Washington Post that Baluchistan “is where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are comfortably living right now. There’s nobody trying to run them off. In fact, they’re honored guests.… I probably went to ten hornets’ nests, and there were always two or three al-Qaeda in supervisory positions—overseeing, I’d say; the last thing you can do is boss a Pashtun. But obviously they were conduits for money.” He claims to have seen hundreds of Taliban living openly in Baluchistan, with a smaller number of al-Qaeda who are using posing as charity workers. He also runs into al-Qaeda operatives elsewhere. “There are madrassas [Islamic schools] right outside Karachi that are full of al-Qaeda. You go to any madrassa and the al-Qaeda are out there.” He claims to have long philosophical discussions with al-Qaeda figures, and shoots extensive video footage of the militants he meets. US officials say they find Turner’s account credible. ISI agents followed Turner to the vicinity of al-Qaeda safe houses in north Karachi. Turner is extensively interrogated by the FBI after returning from Baluchistan, and they also watch the video footage from his trip. He is put on a plane back to the US. The documentary Turner is planning about his Pakistan trip apparently is never made, as there are no subsequent references to it. [Washington Post, 8/4/2002]
In September 2002, the Washington Post reports that European, US, and Pakistani investigators believe that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have secretly shipped large quantities of gold from Pakistan to Sudan in recent weeks and months. Disguised boxes of gold are taken by small boat from Karachi, Pakistan, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, or Iran, and then flown to Khartoum, Sudan. European officials claim that some of the chartered planes used to fly the gold and other commodities are linked to Victor Bout, the world’s largest illegal arms dealer. [Washington Post, 9/3/2002] Bout worked extensively with the Taliban before 9/11 (see October 1996-Late 2001), but reportedly began working with the US after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). So if these various allegations against Bout are true, it means he would be working with the US and the Taliban and al-Qaeda at the same time. European and US intelligence sources say Sudan may have been chosen because Osama bin Laden used to live there and still retains business contacts there. The Taliban kept most of their money in gold when they ruled Afghanistan. Large amounts of gold were also apparently shipped out of Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban were driven from power there in late 2001. [Washington Post, 9/3/2002] The US learned of bin Laden’s extensive financial network in Sudan several years before 9/11, but apparently never shut it down, even after 9/11 (see December 1996-January 1997 and March 16, 2000).
The US secretly indicts Rajaa Gulum Abbas and Abdul Malik for attempting to buy $32 million in Stinger missiles and other military weaponry in an undercover arms-dealing investigation. However, a US official states that Abbas is an alleged member of the ISI, and is thought to have ties to Middle Eastern militant groups and arms-trafficking operations. He also appears to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Abdul Malik is said to be Abbas’s money man. Abdul Malik is not related to Mohammed Malik, another Pakistani targeted by the undercover operation. The chief US informant in the case, Randy Glass, says that both men also have clear ties to al-Qaeda, and the arms were going to be funneled to al-Qaeda and used against American targets. [Palm Beach Post, 3/20/2003; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/20/2003] The indictment is not revealed until March 2003; both men still remain missing and are presumed to be in Pakistan. The US says it is still working on capturing and extraditing Abbas and Malik. [NBC, 3/18/2003] NBC seems to have no trouble reaching Abbas in Pakistan by telephone. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002; NBC, 3/18/2003] The indictment “makes no mention of Pakistan, any ties to Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime or the ultimate destination of the weapons.” [Palm Beach Post, 3/20/2003]
General James L. Jones, the four-star commander of the Marine Corps who will be taking over as NATO’s supreme allied commander, tells The Washington Times that toppling Iraq’s government and defeating its army will be much more difficult than it was to remove the Taliban. “Afghanistan was Afghanistan; Iraq is Iraq,” he explains. “It would be foolish, if you were ever committed to going into Iraq, to think that the principles that were successful in Afghanistan would necessarily be successful in Iraq. In my opinion, they would not.” The general suggests that a large force will be needed to successfully invade the country. [Daily Telegraph, 8/23/2002]
This unnamed Pakistani intelligence agent was captured on undercover video in January 2001 as part of Operation Diamondback. [Source: Dateline NBC]MSNBC airs recordings informant Randy Glass made of arms dealers and Pakistani ISI agents attempting to buy nuclear material and other illegal weapons for bin Laden. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Meanwhile, it is reported that federal investigators are re-examining the arms smuggling case involving Glass “to determine whether agents of the Pakistani government tried to buy missiles and nuclear weapons components in the United States last year for use by terrorists or Pakistan’s military.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Two such ISI agents, Rajaa Gulum Abbas and Abdul Malik, are already secretly indicted by this time. But Glass still says, “The government knows about those involved in my case who were never charged, never deported, who actively took part in bringing terrorists into our country to meet with me and undercover agents.” [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002] One such person may be a former Egyptian judge named Shireen Shawky, who was interested in buying weapons for the Taliban and attended a meeting in July 1999 in which ISI agent Rajaa Gulum Abbas said the WTC would be destroyed. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002; WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] Others not charged may include Mohamed el Amir and Dr. Magdy el Amir.
Entity Tags: Randy Glass, Taliban, World Trade Center, Rajaa Gulum Abbas, Shireen Shawky, Pakistan, Mohamed el Amir, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Magdy el Amir, Abdul Malik
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Deena Burnett, wife of Flight 93 passenger Tom Burnett, speaks on behalf of the victims’ relatives suing the Saudis. [Source: Associated Press]More than 600 relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuse of financing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. The number of plaintiffs will quickly increase to 2,500 after the suit is widely publicized. Up to 10,000 were eligible to join this suit. The lawsuit does not allege that Saudi defendants directly participated in the 9/11 attacks, or approved them. Instead, it is alleged they helped fund and sustain al-Qaeda, which enabled the attacks to occur. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002; Newsweek, 9/13/2002] Defendants named include:
The Saudi Binladin Group, the conglomerate owned by the bin Laden family. [CNN, 8/15/2002]
The National Commercial Bank, one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia. [Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
The government of Sudan, for letting bin Laden live in that country until 1996. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The SAAR Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which the plaintiffs contend is the primary bank for a number of charities that funnel money to terrorists. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The Benevolence International Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and its parent organization, the Muslim World League (MWL). The suit claims that the IIRO gave more than $60 million to the Taliban. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Khalid bin Mahfouz, one-time prominent investor in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) who had to pay a $225 million fine following the collapse of that bank. It is claimed he later operated a bank that funneled millions of dollars to charities controlled by al-Qaeda. (Mahfouz denies supporting terrorism and has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, a Saudi prince. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002] “The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia.” [CNN, 8/15/2002] The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. [BBC, 8/15/2002] Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. [BBC, 8/15/2002] A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward (see August 20, 2002). More defendants will be added to the suit later in the year (see November 22, 2002). [Daily Telegraph, 8/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Saudi Binladin Group, Sudan, Taliban, SAAR Foundation, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Ron Motley, International Islamic Relief Organization, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Al-Qaeda, National Commercial Bank, Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., Turki al-Faisal, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Benevolence International Foundation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
With the US having diverted much of their best troops and equipment to Iraq, the Taliban and al-Qaeda begin regrouping inside Afghanistan. In August 2002, it is reported that former Taliban head Mullah Omar has secretly returned to Afghanistan and is living in remote hideouts near Kandahar. [Guardian, 8/30/2002] In September, US intelligence officials say “al-Qaeda operatives who found refuge in Pakistan are starting to regroup and move back into Afghanistan… The movement back into Afghanistan is still relatively small and involves al-Qaeda members traveling in small groups, the officials say.… American officials say the world’s largest concentrations of al-Qaeda operatives are now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the recent influx into Afghanistan is creating new dangers.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002] In December, a United Nations report claims that al-Qaeda training camps have recently been reactivated in Afghanistan, and new volunteers are making their way to the camps. While the new camps are basic, they are said to be “increasing the long-term capabilities of the al-Qaeda network.” [Associated Press, 12/17/2002]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. Karzai makes the comments in a CNN interview on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” Karzai says. “But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere.” However, Mullah Omar is alive. “We know of that,” he says. “And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he’s been able to escape.” Karzai adds: “I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders.” [CNN, 10/6/2002]
Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. [US President, 10/14/2002] Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Guardian, 10/9/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Albright, 10/9/2003] Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Independent, 9/22/2002] Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright]
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” [United Nations Special Commission, 4/16/1998; New Yorker, 5/12/2003]
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” [US President, 10/14/2002] But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” [US President, 10/14/2002] On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. [US President, 10/14/2002] But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” [US President, 10/14/2002] The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005; New York Times, 11/6/2005] And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. [CNN, 9/26/2002; Newsday, 10/10/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003]
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).
Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Anthony Cordesman, David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, George W. Bush, Hussein Kamel, Houston G. Wood III, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Department of State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, US Department of Energy, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Taliban, Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, Khidir Hamza
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Camp X-Ray prisoners. They wear sensory deprivation masks.
[Source: US Navy]Four detainees are freed from Guantanamo Bay, the first of the 600 or so detainees there to be released. The four, mostly elderly Afghan men, are released because they were determined not to be involved in al-Qaeda and posed no security threat. [BBC, 10/29/2002] 19 more will be released in March 2003. [BBC, 3/24/2003] The detainees are supposedly being kept there to be interrogated about what they know of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But it is reported that virtually none of the prisoners in Guantanamo have any useful information. One US official says, “[Guantanamo] is a dead end” for fresh intelligence information. According to the Washington Post, “Officials realize many of them had little intelligence value to begin with.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2002] US officials privately concede that “perhaps as many as 100 other captives” are innocent of any connections to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but most of these still have not been released. Furthermore, not a single detainee has been brought before a US military tribunal. Apparently this is to hide “a sorry fact: the US mostly netted Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters of only low to middling importance, bagging few of the real bad guys.” [Time, 10/27/2002] At least 59 were deemed to have no intelligence even before being sent to Cuba, but were nonetheless sent there, apparently because of bureaucratic inertia. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002]
Habibullah. [Source: CBS]Mullah Habibullah, a 30-year-old Afghan from the southern province of Oruzgan, dies of complications related to “blunt force trauma” while in detention at the US base at Bagram. [Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Habibullah was captured by an Afghan warlord on November 28, 2002, and delivered to Bagram by the CIA on November 30. Habibullah is identified as the brother of a former Taliban commander, and later described as portly, well-groomed, and, in the words of American military police officer Major Bobby Atwell, “very confident.” [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Injured When Delivered into US Custody - When Habibullah arrived at the US air base, he was reportedly already severely hurt. Despite his condition, according to one account, he was isolated “in a ‘safety’ position [stress position], with his arms shackled and tied to a beam in the ceiling.” He was left in that position for days, but regularly checked on. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]
Targeted for Abuse - Though battered and ill, Habibullah’s defiance makes him a target for physical abuse, with the MPs and guards repeatedly attacking his legs. (Some guards will later claim Habibullah’s injuries were received when he tried to escape.) Most of the Americans will later describe Habibullah as insubordinate; one will recall being kneed in the groin by Habibullah after subjecting the prisoner to a rectal examination. Habibullah’s interrogations produce little of worth, in part because the MPs who interrogate him usually have no interpreters available. Sometimes the MPs demand that another prisoner translate for them; usually the interrogation sessions contain no more than physical restraints or beatings. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] At some point, Sgt. James P. Boland, a guard from the Army Reserve’s 377th MP Company from Cincinnati, allegedly watches as a subordinate beats Habibullah. [New York Times, 9/17/2004] The beating of Habibullah was likely witnessed by British detainee Moazzam Begg, who will later say he witnessed the death of “two fellow detainees at the hands of US military personnel” while at Bagram (see July 12, 2004). [Guardian, 10/1/2004; New York Times, 10/15/2004]
Complaints of Chest Pains Mocked - During his last interrogation session, on December 2, Habibullah spends the entirety of the session coughing and complaining of chest pains. His right leg is stiff and his right leg swollen. The interpreter for the session, Ebrahim Baerde, later recalls the interrogators “laughing and making fun of” Habibullah “because he was spitting up a lot of phlegm.” Habibullah is still defiant; when one interrogator asks if he wants to spend the rest of his life in handcuffs, Baerde will recall the prisoner retorting, “Yes, don’t they look good on me?” [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Found Dead, Hanging from Shackles - On December 3, Habibullah is found dead, still hanging in his shackles. [Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Boland sees Habibullah hanging from the ceiling of his cell, suspended by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body is slumped forward and his tongue is protruding. Boland, along with Specialists Anthony Morden and Brian Cammack, enters the cell. Cammack puts a piece of bread in Habibullah’s mouth; another soldier puts an apple in Habibullah’s hand, and it falls to the floor. According to Cammack, Habibullah’s spit gets on Cammack’s chest. Later, Cammack will acknowledge, “I’m not sure he spit at me,” but now he screams, “Don’t ever spit on me again!” and knees Habibullah in the thigh “maybe a couple” of times. Habibullah makes no response; his body swings limply from the chains. Twenty minutes later, the guards unchain Habibullah and lay him on the floor. He has no pulse. Cammack, according to another guard, “appeared very distraught” and “was running about the room hysterically.” An MP is sent to wake a medic, who refuses to respond, telling the MP to call an ambulance instead. By the time a second medic arrives at the cell, Habibullah is laid spreadeagled on the floor, eyes and mouth open. “It looked like he had been dead for a while, and it looked like nobody cared,” the medic, Staff Sergeant Rodney Glass, will later recall. Atwell will later recall that Habibullah’s death “did not cause an enormous amount of concern ‘cause it appeared natural.” The autopsy, completed five days later, will show bruises and abrasions on Habibullah’s chest, arms, and head. The body has severe contusions on the calves, knees, and thighs, and the sole print of a boot is on his left calf. The death will be attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which traveled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] His legs have been struck so forcefully, according to one death certificate, it complicated his coronary artery disease. Another certificate will say the beating led to a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lungs, often caused by a blood clot. [USA Today, 5/31/2004]
Commanding Officer Able to Hear Screams, Moans of Detainees - In charge of the military intelligence interrogators at Bagram at this time is Capt. Carolyn A. Wood. According to an anonymous intelligence officer, Wood should be aware of what is happening to prisoners at Bagram since interrogations take place close to her office. The intelligence officer will recall hearing screams and moans coming out from the interrogation and isolation rooms. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]
Entity Tags: Carolyn A. Wood, Anthony Morden, Bobby Atwell, Brian Cammack, James P. Boland, Rodney Glass, Ebrahim Baerde, Mullah Habibullah, Moazzam Begg, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s tribal region, shown in various colors, while the rest of Pakistan is in green. FATA stands for Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the bureaucratic name for the area. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been regrouping in the Pakistan tribal region of South Waziristan (see Late May 2002 and June 2002). By late 2002, these forces begin regularly attacking US outposts, also known as firebases, just across the border in Afghanistan. In December 2002, the US is forced to abandon the Lawara firebase after phosphorus rockets fired on the base burn US Special Forces vehicles. US military officials begin to complain that the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps is not only turning a blind eye to these attacks, but is actually helping al-Qaeda forces cross the border and providing covering fire for their attacks. US forces are not allowed to pursue al-Qaeda forces across the Pakistan border (see Early 2002 and After). In January 2003, US commander Lieutenant General Dan McNeill publicly speaks out about the situation despite orders from his superiors not to. He says, “US forces acknowledge the internationally recognized boundaries of Afghanistan, but may pursue attackers who attempted to escape into Pakistan to evade capture or retaliation.” Around the same time, the US media begins to report that the Pakistani government is allowing militants to attack US positions across the border (see December 2002-February 2003). Pakistan comes under increasing pressure to do something, but takes no action. Confident of their position, militants begin killing tribal elders who they suspect are not loyal to them, further cementing their control and causing many to flee. Some fleeing locals claim that the Pakistani ISI is frequently meeting with al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders there, such as Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and apparently supporting them. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 440] The Pakistani army commander in the region, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, is considered a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It is believed he intensely hates the US and NATO, and has sympathy for the Taliban. He will later call them a “national liberation movement.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277, 384] The Pakistani army will finally launch its first limited attack against al-Qaeda in October 2003 (see October 2, 2003).
The Associated Press reports that suicide squads are being trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda operatives to hit targets in Afghanistan. The bombers’ families are being promised $50,000. The Pakistani government denies the presence of any such camps. “But privately, some officials in Pakistan’s intelligence community and Interior Ministry say they believe there is such bomb training and that it is protected by Pakistani militants and Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistan military.” [Associated Press, 12/12/2002] Al-Qaeda is mostly based in the tribal region of South Waziristan, launching border attacks form there with the assistance from Pakistan’s ISI and the Frontier Corps (see December 2002-February 2003). In February 2003, the Wall Street Journal claims, “Western diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, Afghan officials, and US army officers [in Afghanistan] now strongly believe that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services and its religious parties are allowing the Taliban to regroup on the Pakistani side of the border. US officers say 90 percent of attacks they face are coming from groups based in Pakistan. Simply put, Pakistan’s strategy appears to be to continue hunting down non-Afghan members of al-Qaeda hiding in Pakistan, so a level of cooperation with the US continues, while at the same time allowing the Pashtun Taliban and others to maintain their presence in Pakistan. The US has not raised this issue publicly, fearing that it would destabilize [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf’s government.… [W]hile promising support to [Afghan leader Hamid Karzai], Pakistan is undermining him and the effort to erase terrorism from Afghanistan. American silence is only encouraging Pakistan’s Islamic parties, who now govern the North West Frontier Province, to extend an even greater helping hand to Afghan and Pakistani extremists. The Pakistani army has willingly played into their hands, rigging last October’s general elections so that the Islamic parties were unprecedently successful, releasing from jail leaders of banned terrorist groups, and encouraging them to mount pro-Iraq demonstrations. All this is part of a larger power play where Gen. Musharraf can claim to the Americans that he needs greater US support because he is threatened by fundamentalists. This is a game that every Pakistani regime since the 1980s has played with Washington, and it has always worked.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/11/2003]
At the beginning of 2002, the US, Britain, and other countries around the world made large pledges of aid to Afghanistan (see November 2001-January 2002). But with a new war in Iraq taking considerable focus in the West, those pledges appear to be largely unfulfilled. In February 2003, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) says, “I think [the Bush administration has] already given up the ghost in Afghanistan. They’ve basically turned it over to the warlords.” In December 2002, President Bush signed a law authorizing close to $1 billion a year in aid to Afghanistan for the next four years. But one month later, when Bush submitted his actual budget to Congress, it authorized no money for Afghanistan aid whatsoever. Congress soon authorizes $300 million, but Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) notes that this amount “does not come near” the promise made a short time before. Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, complains to the press, “What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing…There have been no significant changes for people.… [I don’t] know what to say to people anymore.” [Salon, 4/10/2003] As of early 2003, there are only about 3,000 Afghan soldiers who have been trained for the country’s new army, and many of those have quit because they had not been paid in more than six months. By contrast, there are roughly 200,000 fighters controlled by warlords. [Salon, 4/10/2003; Observer, 5/25/2003] A study of post-conflict zones done by Care International estimates that Bosnia is receiving international aid of $326 per person, and Kosovo $288 per person, but Afghanistan is receiving only $42 per person. There is one peacekeeper per 113 people in Bosnia, one per 48 people in Kosovo, but one per 5,380 in Afghanistan (and those are not allowed outside the capital of Kabul). [Observer, 5/25/2003] Only 3 percent of all international aid spent in Afghanistan has been for reconstruction, 13 percent is for emergency aid, and the rest is spent on security. One Afghan minister complains, “We don’t even have enough money to pay [government] wages, let alone plan reconstruction.” [Guardian, 9/20/2003] The Independent reports, “Afghans have also listened with astonishment as Americans portray their country’s experience since the overthrow of the Taliban as a ‘success’. Another Western observer summed up his views more acidly. ‘If the Americans think this is success, then outright failure must be pretty horrible to behold’.” [Independent, 2/24/2003]
Jamal Naseer, an 18-year old newly recruited Afghan soldier, dies in US custody, apparently as a result of beating and torture. Naseer dies after several days in detention at a US Special Forces “firebase,” a small, outlying military base set up to support advancing troops, at Gardez, Afghanistan. [CBS News, 9/21/2004] Naseer and seven other detainees were taken into custody about a week before by Special Forces troops attempting to secure the area from the depredations of a local warlord, Pacha (or Bacha) Khan. Naseer’s brother Ahmad insists that he, his brother, and the other detainees are allies of the Americans, and never participated in Taliban- or al-Qaeda-led attacks against American forces. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] It is unclear why the men were detained in the first place, but Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti report that according to an Afghan intelligence report. “the action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Naseer’s death will be officially recorded as resulting from “natural causes,” but fellow detainees will say that Naseer’s death was caused by abuse suffered at the hands of US Army Special Forces soldiers near Gardez. Ahmad Naseer will later describe how he and his brother were beaten and abused while in custody, subjected to electric shocks, immersed in cold water, forced to assume stress positions, thrashed with cables, suffered the forcible tearing off of their toenails, and made to lie for hours in the snow. The last time he spoke with his brother, he says Jamal was “moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back” from being repeatedly beaten. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Jamal died shortly thereafter while being helped outside to relieve himself by two Afghan kitchen workers. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] After Naseer’s death, the unit holds a meeting to discuss the incident. The team is told that Naseer died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys. According to one soldier in the meeting, the point of discussion is “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper—this is what happened to the man”—in case there’s ever an investigation. Captain Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the US armed forces, says that Naseer’s death is never reported to his office (any death of a detainee is required to be reported unless the detainee is determined to have died of natural causes). Naseer’s body is transferred to a civilian hospital where no autopsy is performed. One hospital worker who prepares the body for burial will later tell the Times that Naseer’s body was “completely black” from bruising and injuries, and was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Asked about such injuries, Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, says the descriptions are inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those. It sounds very much like blunt trauma.” A local physician who examined the survivors later confirmed that all of the men were suffering from similar trauma, with extensive bruising and seeping, and unbandaged wounds. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Eventually, Ahmad Naseer and his comrades are secretly transferred to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launch an investigation into their unexplained detention. That inquiry eventually produces a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there is a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculates that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal. Fifty-eight days later, all of the prisoners are released; no charges are ever filed. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces that the 8,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan have ended major combat operations there and will now shift their focus to rebuilding the country. The US talks about reducing the number of troops in 2004 and replacing them with newly trained Afghan soldiers. Rumsfeld’s announcement comes on the same day that President Bush declares that combat operations have ended in Iraq (see May 1, 2003). Rumsfeld says that small-scale combat operations will continue to mop up pockets of Taliban and al-Qaeda resistance. [Washington Post, 5/2/2003] Over two years later, in June 2005, the New York Times will report that despite periodic predictions of the Taliban’s collapse, recent intense fighting “reveals the Taliban to be still a vibrant fighting force supplied with money, men and weapons.” While the Taliban may not be able to hold ground in the “almost forgotten war,” they have enough personnel and weapons to “continue their insurgency indefinitely” and render parts of the country ungovernable. [New York Times, 6/4/2005]
Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, who lost his position as ISI Director one month after 9/11 (see October 7, 2001), resurfaces in Pakistan as the head of a subsidiary of a prominent business consortium. The New Yorker notes that it is “a position that require[s] government backing.” Ahmed was considered close to the Taliban, and according to some media accounts, ordered money to hijacker Mohamed Atta. He still apparently has not given any media interviews or been interviewed by US intelligence since his firing. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]
Zalmay Khalilzad, a prominent neoconservative connected to top Bush administration officials, is appointed US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Ethnically Afghani, he had already been appointed special envoy to Afghanistan at the start of 2002 (see January 1, 2002). But it is increasingly obvious that the US effort in Afghanistan is not going well and Khalilzad’s appointment as ambassador reflects a new Bush administration resolve to devote more attention to Afghanistan. He had worked for the likes of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney in years past and is easily able to reach President Bush on the phone. Khalilzad agrees to take the job if the US expands resources in Afghanistan, and as he takes over the US gives $2 billion in aid to the country, double the amount of the year before. [New York Times, 8/12/2007] Khalilzad becomes so powerful that in 2005 the BBC will note that he is sometimes dubbed “the viceroy, or the real president of Afghanistan.” He is accused of “frequently overshadowing President Hamid Karzai.… No major decisions by the Afghan government [are] made without his involvement.” [BBC, 4/6/2005] Similarly, a London Times article on him will be titled: “US Envoy Accused of Being the Power Pulling Karzai’s Strings.” [London Times, 10/5/2004] A New York Times article on him will be titled: “In Afghanistan, US Envoy Sits in Seat of Power.” [New York Times, 4/17/2004] He will keep this position until April 2005, when it is announced that Khalilzad will become US Ambassador to Iraq, as the Bush administration grows more concerned about the war there. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
A United Nations report criticizes Switzerland for failing to prevent support from reaching al-Qaeda and the Taliban. UN observers claim there is weapons smuggling passing through Switzerland to Afghanistan. The report further claims that the leaders of the banned Al Taqwa Bank (see November 7, 2001) are continuing to do business with new and renamed financial entities. They continue to maintain commercial interests and properties in Italy and Switzerland, despite being on US and UN blacklists. Switzerland is also failing to enforce travel bans. For instance, Al Taqwa leader Youssef Nada was able to travel through Switzerland to Liechtenstein and back in January 2003. [Swissinfo, 12/16/2003] Salon noted in 2002 that, for many years, Al Taqwa has benefited from political connections in Switzerland. Al Taqwa directors have ties to some European far right wing politicians such as French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, and even neo-Nazi groups (see 1988). [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12/2002; Salon, 3/15/2002] Newsweek will later report that in 2004, the UN will not convince its members to plug loopholes in the sanctions against Al Taqwa related entities. Instead, the UN Security Council will abolish its own monitoring group. [Newsweek, 3/3/2004; Newsweek, 12/24/2004] In late 2004, the Washington Post will report that although Al Taqwa “was supposedly shut down, US and European officials say they still find Nada moving funds under new corporate names.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2004] Additional reports of entities connected to Al Taqwa directors continuing to do business will appear in 2005 (see June-October 2005).
Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles asks the CIA to analyze where the drug profits in Afghanistan are going. The CIA concludes that it is probable some of the drugs are going to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-related group just north of Afghanistan; the Taliban; the anti-US warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and possibly al-Qaeda. Charles says, “The linkages were there.” Author James Risen later comments, “The connections between drug trafficking and terrorism that the Pentagon didn’t want to acknowledge were real and growing, and were clearly helping to fuel a revival of guerrilla activity in Afghanistan.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] An article in the Independent this year will come to similar conclusions (see August 14, 2004). Based on this report and other evidence, Charles will push for a tough counter-narcotics policy but will end up losing his job instead (see November 2004).
Up until 2004, suicide bombings were almost unheard of in Afghanistan. But beginning that year, the Taliban launches six suicide attacks. In 2005, the number increases to 21. In 2006, the number skyrockets to 141, causing 1,166 casualties. In 2007, the number remains steady at 137, but the number of casualties increases 50 percent to 1,730. On September 8, 2006, a suicide bomber hits a US convoy just outside the US embassy in Kabul, killing two US soldiers and 16 Afghans. The resulting investigation uncovers a suicide bomb support network in Kabul that links to militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, says: “Every single bomber we arrest is linked to Pakistan in some way. The training, provisions, explosives, technical equipment, are all being manufactured in Pakistan, and the CIA knows this.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 366-367]
In early 2004, the head of the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan, known only as “Peter,” reports a revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces near the border of Pakistan. He proposes a spring intelligence push in the Pakistani tribal regions of South Waziristan and Kunar. Since 2002, al-Qaeda has mainly been regrouping in Waziristan, and many speculate that Osama bin Laden may be hiding there (see August 2002). Peter estimates that 24 field officers and five station officers would be needed for the new push. However, CIA headquarters replies that it does not have the resources to make the surge, presumably due to commitments in Iraq. Peter is rotated out of his post a short time later. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. [Foreign Affairs, 5/2004]
In late 2001, a Pakistani named Abdullah Mahsud was arrested in northern Afghanistan and transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. He apparently concealed his true identity while there, and is released in March 2004. He returns to Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where he was born, and quickly becomes an important Taliban leader. The US Defense Department belatedly realizes he has been associated with the Taliban since he was a teenager, and calls him an “al-Qaeda-linked facilitator.” He earns a fearsome reputation by orchestrating attacks and kidnappings, starting later in 2004. His forces will sign a peace deal with the Pakistani government in early 2005 that effectively gives them control over South Waziristan (see February 7, 2005). Mahsud will be killed on July 24, 2007, just days after a peace deal between the Pakistani government and Waziristan militants collapses (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He reportedly blows himself up with a grenade while surrounded by Pakistani security forces in a town in Baluchistan province about 30 miles from the Afghan border that is also near Waziristan. A Pakistani official will say: “This is a big blow to the Pakistani Taliban. He was one of the most important commanders that the Taliban had in Waziristan.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2007]
At Guantanamo, shortly before their release, Jamal Udeen, Tarek Dergoul, and the Tipton Three are asked to sign a document confessing to having links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iqbal remembers: “It was along the lines that I was a member of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, however I have since changed. In other words I had changed my mind since I was detained at Guantanamo Bay. It went on to say that if I was suspected of anything at any time by the United States, I could be picked up and returned to Guantanamo Bay.” He is told that signing the document is a precondition for going back to Britain. “I didn’t really believe him,” Iqbal later says, and so he refused to sign. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Jamal Udeen also has a confession statement presented to him by a British official. “This was given to me first by the Americans and then by a British diplomat who asked if I agreed to sign it. I just said ‘No.’ I would rather have stayed in Guantanamo than sign that paper.” [Mirror, 3/12/2004]
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). [Huffington Post(.org), 8/2/2007; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004]
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. [FromTheWilderness, 6/23/2006; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Operation Mountain Storm, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Bryan Hilferty, US Army Rangers, US Central Command, Stan Goff, Radio Free Europe, Pat Tillman, Ron Synovitz, Taliban
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. [CNN, 3/18/2004; FOX News, 3/18/2004] On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. [Interactive Investor, 3/19/2004] In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Tahir Yuldashev, Taliban, George W. Bush, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Nek Mohammed, Colin Powell, Frontier Corps, Ayman al-Zawahiri
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
Specialist Pat Tillman marching in
graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, GA. [Source: National Ledger]The Pentagon reports that Army Ranger Pat Tillman has died in combat with enemy fighters in Afghanistan. Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to fight against al-Qaeda ( seeMay 23-June 1, 2002, and was was perhaps the most well-known US soldier in the Middle East. [Rich, 2006]
White House Calls Tillman Death "Ultimate Sacrifice" - In a statement made a day after Tillman’s death, Taylor Goss, a White House spokesman, says: “Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush.” [MSNBC, 4/26/2004]
Military Spokesman Tells NBC Tillman Died at Hands of Enemy - According to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Beevers, Tillman died at the hand of enemy fighters in an ambush near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon will release more details of Tillman’s death a week later. [Rich, 2006]
The Silver Star. [Source: Pat Dollard (.com)]The Pentagon awards Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who it claims died at the hand of the Taliban a week before (see April 23, 2004), a posthumous Silver Star for conspicuous bravery under enemy fire. It also releases more details of Tillman’s death. According to an Army press release, Tillman had stormed an enemy-occupied hill trying to save fellow soldiers pinned down by enemy fire: “Through the fire, Tillman’s voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to enemy forces emplaced on the dominating high ground [even as he] personally provided suppressive fire with an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun.” Weeks later, the Pentagon’s story will prove to be completely false. Tillman actually died from friendly fire. [Rich, 2006, pp. 124]
“An unnamed senior staff member” on the 9/11 Commission tells the Los Angeles Times that, before 9/11, Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As an example, this source says of bin Laden moving to Afghanistan in 1996, “He wouldn’t go back there without Pakistan’s approval and support, and had to comply with their rules and regulations.” From “day one,” the ISI helped al-Qaeda set up an infrastructure, and jointly operated training camps. The article further notes that what the commission will publicly say on this is just the “tip of the iceberg” of the material they’ve been given on the matter. [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004] In fact, the commission’s final report released a month later will barely mention the ISI at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” [White House, 7/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Phillippe Sands, Ricardo S. Sanchez, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, US Department of Defense, William J. Haynes, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Gelles, Bush administration (43), Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Mohamed al-Khatani, Diane E. Beaver, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Geneva Conventions, Michael E. Dunlavey, John C. Yoo, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jay S. Bybee, George W. Bush, Geoffrey D. Miller, James R. Schlesinger, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling a week before (see June 28, 2004), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz signs an Order Establishing a Combatant Status Review Tribunal thereby establishing “Combatant Status Review Tribunals” to review each Guantanamo detainee and decide whether the prisoner is an unlawful enemy combatant. [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2004 ] The tribunals will use the following definition of an unlawful combatant: “Any individual who was part of supporting Taliban or al-Qaeda forces or was associated with forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed belligerent acts or directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.”
[New York Times, 8/24/2004]
Despite previous leaks to the media showing the 9/11 Commission was given information showing Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see June 20, 2004) [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/2004] , and even reports of a document given to the commission claiming the “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot]” (see July 22, 2004) [United Press International, 7/22/2004] , the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report released on this day rarely mentions the ISI at all. The only significant mention is a brief comment that the ISI was the Taliban’s “primary patron.” ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is mentioned only twice, both in the context of post-9/11 diplomacy. Saeed Sheikh is not mentioned at all. The report notes that details of the 9/11 plot were widely known by the Taliban leadership, but fails to consider if the Taliban shared that knowledge or involvement with their “primary patron.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Indeed, far from criticizing Pakistan, the commission praises the country for its support in the war on terrorism, and suggests that the US should greatly increase its foreign aid there. [Associated Press, 7/22/2004]
The Bush administration issues a terror alert in the wake of the Democratic presidential convention, which ended on July 29, 2004. New Code Orange alerts are put into effect for New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says, “Now this afternoon, we do have new and unusually specific information about where al-Qaeda would like to attack.… Compared to previous threat reporting, these intelligence reports have provided a level of detail that is very specific. The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.… As of now, this is what we know: reports indicate that al-Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.” [Department of Homeland Security, 8/1/2004; Washington Post, 8/3/2004] But Ridge fails to mention that the so-called “casing disks” are from 2000 and 2001, nor does he discuss the fact that the decision on whether to issue the alerts had been hotly debated by officials over the weekend. Within 24 hours, the age of the intelligence is leaked, causing a controversy about the merit and urgency of the orange alert. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] The next day it will be revealed that the warning was based on information from the computer of recently captured al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan (see August 2, 2004). President Bush and his top advisors learned of the arrest and subsequent “turning” of Noor Khan just the day before. They decide to publicize an alert based on data captured with Noor Khan, even though doing so could jeopardize a sting operation launched just days earlier in which Noor Khan is contacting dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world (see July 24-25, 2004). [Guardian, 8/8/2004] But even though Khan was arrested just weeks before, one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert says, “There is nothing right now that we’re hearing that is new. Why did we go to this level?… I still don’t know that.” Homeland Security officials admit that that there is no indication that any terrorist action was imminent. “What we’ve uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack,” says one. However, administration officials insist that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al-Qaeda’s plans to attack the US, justifies the security response in the three cities. President Bush says of the alerts, “It’s serious business. I mean, we wouldn’t be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real.” A senior counterterrorism official says, “Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge. You’ve got the Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections…. I think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution even if it’s not clear that anything is new.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2004] Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean says he worries “every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both.” But conservatives defend the alert and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry swiftly moves to disassociate his campaign from Dean’s remarks. [New York Observer, 8/4/2007] Author William Rivers Pitt points out that Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna make high-profile visits to the Citigroup Center in New York City on the first day of Ridge’s new orange alert. Noting this was one of the target buildings, Pitt asks, “George W. Bush sent his entire family to the very place that was supposedly about to be blown to smithereens?” Pitt concludes, “Bush and his administration officials are using terrorism—the fear of it, the fight against it—to manipulate domestic American politics. They are, as they have every day for almost three years now, using September 11 against their own people.” [Truthout (.org), 8/4/2004]
The New York Times reports that, “For months Afghan and American officials have complained that even while Pakistan cooperates in the fight against al-Qaeda, militant Islamic groups there are training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack American and Afghan forces.” One prisoner captured by the Afghan government says Pakistan is allowing militant groups to train and organize insurgents to fight in Afghanistan. Groups designated as terrorist organizations by the US and/or Pakistan have simply changed names and continue to operate freely. An anonymous Western diplomat says, “When you talk about Taliban, it’s like fish in a barrel in Pakistan. They train, they rest there. They get support.” The New York Times comments, “Western diplomats in Kabul and Pakistani political analysts have said that Pakistan has continued to allow the Taliban to operate to retain influence in Afghanistan.”
[New York Times, 8/4/2004]
Bashir Noorzai. [Source: DEA]Haji Bashir Noorzai, reputedly Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was arrested by US forces then inexplicably released in late 2001 (see Late 2001). He lives in Pakistan with the protection of the ISI, but in June 2004, the Bush administration adds his name to a US government list of wanted drug figures. Concerned that he may eventually be arrested again, he agrees to hold secret talks with a FBI team to discuss a deal. According to author James Risen, “The message the Americans delivered to Noorzai was a simple one: you can keep on running, or you can come work with us. Cooperate, and tell us what you know about the Afghan drug business, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their financiers.” Arrangements are made for Noorzai to meet the FBI team in a hotel in the United Arab Emirates to finalize a deal. But the FBI team never arrives. According to Risen, “American sources add that the local CIA station in the UAE was so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that it was unable to devote any attention to the Noorzai case.” Noorzai eventually tires of waiting and returns to Pakistan. One US official familiar with the case says, “We let one of the big drug kingpins go, someone who was a key financier for al-Qaeda, someone who could help us identify al-Qaeda’s key financiers in the Gulf. It was a real missed opportunity. If the American people knew what was going on, they would go nuts.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162; Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).
President Bush, campaigning for reelection, says in a speech, “And as a result of the United States military, Taliban no longer is in existence. And the people of Afghanistan are now free.” [White House, 9/27/2004]
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
Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Richard Falkenrath. [Source: US State Department]The Washington Post reports that President Bush remains focused on the capture of top al-Qaeda leaders and has shown little interest in other counterterrorism efforts. The Post reports, “Bush conducts the war on terrorism above all as a global hunt for a cast of evil men he knows by name and photograph. He tracks progress in daily half-hour meetings that Richard A. Falkenrath, who sometimes attended them before departing recently as deputy homeland security adviser, described as ‘extremely granular, about individual guys.’” Falkenrath says, “This is a conversation he’s been having every day, more or less, with his senior advisers since September 11th.” It covers “the same people, over and over again.”
"Decapitate the Beast" - In 2002, the CIA identified about 30 al-Qaeda leaders known as “high-value targets,” and the Bush administration believed al-Qaeda would collapse without them. White House counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend similarly says Bush’s strategy since 9/11 has been to “decapitate the beast.” She says the men on the list have “unique expertise, experience, or access.” Al-Qaeda may replace them, “but does that person have the same strength and leadership and capability? The answer is no. Maybe he acquires it on the job, but maybe not.” However, many counterterrorism experts increasingly believe that al-Qaeda has turned into more of an ideology than a hierarchical structure, and that the movement can easily survive the loss of its top leaders.
Crossing Names Off a List - Since shortly after 9/11, Bush has had a card containing a list of the names of the top al-Qaeda leaders, and he likes to personally cross them off the card whenever any are captured or killed. The Post says that Bush “mentions little else, save the Taliban’s expulsion from power, when describing progress against al-Qaeda. According to people who have briefed him, Bush still marks changes by hand” on his copy of list of leaders. He sees the issue largely in terms of a battle of wills between himself and al-Qaeda leaders, although he also focuses on removing the governments of countries he believes are state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq.
Bush Not Interested in Root Causes of Terrorism - Bush is uninterested in polls showing sharply rising anti-US sentiment overseas, particularly in Muslim countries. One high high-ranking national security official says of the increasing Muslim hostility to the US, “I don’t think it matters.” Many counterterrorism experts and officials disagree. Wayne Downing, Bush’s counterterrorism “tsar” from late 2001 until early 2004, says that Osama bin Laden has worked effectively to “convince the Islamic world the US is the common enemy.… We have done little or nothing [to combat this perception]. That is the big failure.” The Post says that “strong majorities of several dozen officers and officials who were interviewed… cite a long list of proposals to address terrorism at its roots that have not been carried out.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Classified US documents later found by reporters (see April 10, 2006) but dating from this time suggest that the Taliban is planning to attack US troops from bases inside Pakistan with the acquiescence or even support of elements within the Pakistani government. For instance, an August 2004 presentation accuses Pakistan of making “false and inaccurate reports of border incidents.” A document from early 2005 mentions that the US military is attempting to stop the flow of weapons to the Taliban from Pakistan and stop infiltration routes from Pakistan. Another document includes a US military commander commenting, “Pakistani border forces [should] cease assisting cross border insurgent activities.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006] Later in 2005, a report by Congress’ research arm will echo these concerns, stating, “Among the most serious sources of concern is the well-documented past involvement of some members of the Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the possibility that some officers retain sympathies with both groups.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006]
A close up of one of the maps showing the location of al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan. AQ stands for al-Qaeda and TB stands for Taliban. [Source: ABC News]Classified files stolen from a US army base in Afghanistan and sold in a local market that date from this time include maps marking the location of al-Qaeda training camps and leaders in Pakistan. One map shows the location of four al-Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. This map also shows the location in Pakistan of al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other maps and documents indicate 16 al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. This includes Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader. But bin Laden is not mentioned. [ABC News, 6/22/2006] One document dated October 2004 indicates two of the Taliban’s main leaders, Mullah Akhter Osmani and Mullah Obaidullah, are in Pakistan, while top leader Mullah Omar and four others are in southern Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]
Pakistan’s military commander in the tribal regions, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, says: “This impression that the Pakistani tribal areas are havens for terrorists is baseless. In my two and a half years of command I never got a single indication that [Osama] bin Laden was on our side of the border. He’s a big guy, hard to hide, and with 74,000 of my troops there it would have been very difficult for him to be hiding.” Orakzai commanded troops there from October 2001 until 2004. He adds that claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is tipping off radical militants about Pakistani military movements are baseless. He even says that not a single Arab has been seen in the tribal region. [London Times, 1/22/2005] It is believed that Orakzai intensely hates the US and is sympathetic to the Taliban. Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Pakistan at this time, will later suggest that Orakzai did not want to find the foreigners, so he conducted large, slow sweeps that allowed militants to easily get away (see Late 2002-Late 2003). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will finally fire Orakzai in 2007 for his sympathies to militant groups (see July 19, 2007).
A meeting of tribesmen in Wana, South Waziristan, May 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir]The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. [Asia Times, 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 433] Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. [New York Times, 7/25/2007] The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. [Washington Post, 1/18/2008]
Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, gives an interview on Pakistani television, and says Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban. [Reuters, 6/18/2005] Several days later, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will criticize Pakistan, pointing out that if a TV station could get in contact with a top Taliban leader, Pakistani intelligence should be able to find them too (see June 18, 2005).
The Los Angeles Times reports that Taliban forces are being trained in Pakistan’s tribal border region with support from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. It is believed that the Pakistani ISI has made more sophisticated technology available to the Taliban in recent months, including the ability to construct and detonate bombs at long distance using cordless phones to transmit the detonation signals. Pakistan officially denies these charges. However, Lt. Sayed Anwar, acting head of Afghanistan’s counter-terrorism department, says: “Pakistan is lying. We have very correct reports from their areas. We have our intelligence agents inside Pakistan’s border as well.… They say they are friends of Americans, and yet they order these people to kill Americans.” Anwar said that intelligence agents operating in Pakistan and captured prisoners describe an extensive network of militant training camps in areas of the North Waziristan tribal region. He alleges there are at least seven camps there which are closed to outsiders and guarded by Pakistani troops. Zulfiqar Ali, a Pakistani journalist working for the Los Angeles Times, was able to sneak into one of the camps and saw armed militants, some as young as 13, undergoing ideological orientation and weapons training. Sources say at least 13 militant camps had been reactivated in the month of May. The camps are allegedly funded and supplied by the ISI. Lt. Naqibullah Nooristani, an operations commander for Afghan troops fighting with US soldiers, says the Taliban have been resurgent recently because they are receiving improved training and equipment in Pakistan. [Los Angeles Times, 7/28/2005]
Knight Ridder reports, “Nearly four years after a US-led military intervention toppled them from power, the Taliban has re-emerged as a potent threat to stability in Afghanistan. Though it’s a far cry from the mass movement that overran most of the country in the 1990s, today’s Taliban is fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, according to Afghan and Western officials.… The Taliban is now a disparate assemblage of radical groups estimated to number several thousand, far fewer than when it was in power before November 2001. The fighters operate in small cells that occasionally come together for specific missions. They’re unable to hold territory or defeat coalition troops.… The Taliban insurgents have adopted some of the terrorist tactics that their Iraqi counterparts have used to stoke popular anger at the Iraqi government and the US military. They’ve stalled reconstruction and fomented sectarian tensions in a country that remains mired in poverty and corruption, illegal drugs and ethnic and political hatred.” Most of the original top leaders were never captured. Some who were briefly held and then released, such as former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund (see Early January 2002), are part of the resurgence. Forty-four US soldiers have been killed in the last six months. Afghan and Western officials claim that the Taliban continues to be supported by Pakistan’s ISI. Pakistan “seeks a weak government in [Afghanistan] that it can influence.” It is claimed that the Taliban are allowed to maintain training camps and arms depots just across the border from Pakistan. [Knight Ridder, 8/18/2005]
Over the course of 2006, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are able to increase their control over the Pakistani tribal regions where both groups are based. More than 120 tribal elders who oppose them are executed during the year. Al-Qaeda feels so secure that its media production arm, As-Sahab, greatly increases its output, releasing 58 audio and videotapes, which is three times as many as in 2005. Militant groups are particularly secure in the region of Waziristan. The Pakistani government made a deal with militants in South Waziristan in 2005 (see February 7, 2005), which still holds, and makes a similar deal with militants in North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 278]
Douglas Feith. [Source: Whodidit.org]Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. [Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. [Washington Post, 5/25/2006] Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
A New York Times investigation along the Afghan-Pakistan border finds not-so-hidden evidence of continued Pakistani support for the growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are said to be using a network of religious political parties to attract and then pressure young men into joining the jihad in Afghanistan or in Kashmir. The agencies are believed to be preparing for the day when NATO troops leave the country and hope to re-install a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. [New York Times, 1/21/2006]
In 2003, Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a list of Taliban leaders living openly in Pakistan, but Musharraf took no action in response (see April 22, 2003). In February 2006, Karzai and Musharraf meet again, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Karzai again gives Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, is also at the meeting, and will later say, “It was a target list—locations, training camps, telephone numbers, and everything.” Musharraf responds by giving Karzai a report of the Indian government funding rebels in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan through Afghanistan. Western intelligence officials say India is funding these rebels, but not through Afghanistan. Musharraf again takes no action against the Taliban leaders living in his country. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 286]
The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct Saudi Arabian charitable organization that once operated in Oregon, sues the Bush administration [Associated Press, 2/28/2006] over what it calls illegal surveillance of its telephone and e-mail communications by the National Security Agency, the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program. The lawsuit may provide the first direct evidence of US residents and citizens being spied upon by the Bush administration’s secret eavesdropping program, according to the lawsuit (see December 15, 2005). According to a source familiar with the case, the NSA monitored telephone conversations between Al Haramain’s director, then in Saudi Arabia, and two US citizens working as lawyers for the organization and operating out of Washington, DC. The lawsuit alleges that the NSA violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), the US citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, and the attorney-client privilege. FISA experts say that while they are unfamiliar with the specifics of this lawsuit, they question whether a FISA judge would have allowed surveillance of conversations between US lawyers and their client under the circumstances described in the lawsuit. Other lawsuits have been filed against the Bush administration over suspicions of illegal government wiretapping, but this is the first lawsuit to present classified government documents as evidence to support its contentions. The lawsuit alleges that the NSA illegally intercepted communications between Al Haramain officer Suliman al-Buthe in Saudi Arabia, and its lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor in Washington. One of its most effective pieces of evidence is a document accidentally turned over to the group by the Treasury Department, dated May 24, 2004, that shows the NSA did indeed monitor conversations between Al Haramain officials and lawyers. When Al Haramain officials received the document in late May, 2004, they gave a copy to the Washington Post, whose editors and lawyers decided, under threat of government prosecution, to return the document to the government rather than report on it (see Late May, 2004). [Washington Post, 3/2/2006; Washington Post, 3/3/2006] Lawyer Thomas Nelson, who represents Al Haramain and Belew, later recalls he didn’t realize what the organization had until he read the New York Times’s December 2005 story of the NSA’s secret wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). “I got up in the morning and read the story, and I thought, ‘My god, we had a log of a wiretap and it may or may not have been the NSA and on further reflection it was NSA,’” Nelson will recall. “So we decided to file a lawsuit.” Nelson and other lawyers were able to retrieve one of the remaining copies of the document, most likely from Saudi Arabia, and turned it over to the court as part of their lawsuit. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]
Al Haramain Designated a Terrorist Organization - In February 2004, the Treasury Department froze the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation, and in September 2004, designated it a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda and alleging financial ties between Al Haramain and the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The organization was disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government in June 2004 and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad (see March 2002-September 2004). In February 2005, the organization was indicted for conspiring to funnel money to Islamist fighters in Chechnya. The charges were later dropped. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004; Washington Post, 3/2/2006] The United Nations has banned the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. [United Nations, 7/27/2007]
Challenging Designation - In its lawsuit, Al Haramain is also demanding that its designation as a terrorist organization be reversed. It says it can prove that its financial support for Chechen Muslims was entirely humanitarian, with no connections to terrorism or violence, and that the Treasury Department has never provided any evidence for its claims that Al Haramain is linked to al-Qaeda or has funded terrorist activities. [Associated Press, 8/6/2007] The lawsuit also asks for $1 million in damages, and the unfreezing of Al Haramain’s US assets. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Administration Seeks to Have Lawsuit Dismissed - The Bush administration will seek to have the lawsuit thrown out on grounds of national security and executive privilege (see Late 2006-July 2007, Mid-2007).
Entity Tags: Wendell Belew, Suliman al-Buthe, Taliban, Washington Post, United Nations, Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, Thomas Nelson, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Al-Qaeda, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Asim Ghafoor, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Ronald Neumann. [Source: US State Department]The Taliban carry out their largest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001. Suicide bombings increase four-fold to 141 and roadside bombings double (see 2004-2007). 191 US and NATO soldiers die in 2006, making it nearly as statistically dangerous to fight in Afghanistan as in Iraq. But US assistance to Afghanistan drops 38 percent from $4.3 billion in 2005 to $3.1 billion in 2006. Ronald Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan, argued against the cut. He also warns in a February 2006 cable to his superiors that the Taliban is planning a strong spring offensive. Afghan president Hamid Karzai and some US military officials make similar warnings. But despite such warnings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will later say, “There was no doubt that people were surprised that the Taliban was able to regroup and come back in a large, well-organized force.” The US will boost aid to $9 billion in 2007 in response to the offensive. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, until October 2002 the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is another in a small but vocal group of current and retired generals voicing public dissent against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Newbold writes an op-ed for Time magazine, and leads off by saying that after Vietnam, he and other career military officers determined never again to “stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.” But, Newbold writes, it happened again. He takes responsibility for his own actions in planning for the invasion of Iraq, but notes that “[i]nside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots’ rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda.” Newbold retired from the military in late 2002, “in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I’ve been silent long enough.” The cost of the Bush administration’s “flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood,” he writes, and that blood debt drives him to speak out.
A Justifiable War - Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, Newbold says, to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And though invading Iraq was unnecessary and wrong, he says, the US cannot now just withdraw precipitously: “It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists’ message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.”
Outrage - Newbold writes of his deep anger at the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently said that “we” made the “right strategic decisions,” but made thousands of “tactical errors” (see March 31-April 1, 2006). Newbold calls that statement “an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.” Instead, he writes: “What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures.… My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.” Many of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking generals bear their own blame, Newbold writes, in “act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military’s effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction.” Some few actually believed the rationale for war, others were intimidated, and many believed that their sense of duty and obedience precluded their speaking out. “The consequence of the military’s quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.” Many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, “defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight.” Many media reporters, editors, and pundits ignored the warnings and instead played up the rationale for war.
New Visions, New Strategies - The first thing to do, says Newbold, is to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with “many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.” The US owes their troops, living and dead, a debt of gratitude and the responsibility to “construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it.” More generals and others in positions of leadership need to speak out, Newbold concludes, and make sure that we as a nation are not “fooled again.” [Time, 4/9/2006]
Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base. [Source: NBC]The Los Angeles Times reveals that stolen computer drives containing important classified information can be purchased cheaply at the local bazaar just outside the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shop owners at the bazaar say a variety of Afghan menial workers at the base continually sell them equipment stolen from inside the base. The drives had been sold cheaply as used equipment and only recently did a reporter discover some of them contained classified information. The drives purchased by reporters include:
Deployment rosters that identify about 700 US soldiers and their social security numbers.
Maps showing the locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan (see January 2005).
Presentations that name suspected militants targeted or “kill or capture.”
A list of officials in the Afghan government profiting from the illegal drug trade (see Early 2005).
Documents and maps suggest the Taliban are staging attacks from across the Pakistan border with Pakistani support (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
A classified briefing about capabilities of a special radar used to find where mortar rounds have been fired, including a map of where the radar was deployed in Iraq in March 2004.
A January 2005 presentation identifying a dozen Afghan governors and police chiefs as “problem makers” involved in kidnappings, support for the Taliban, and/or attacks on US troops.
Discussions of US efforts to “remove” or “marginalize” problematic Afghan officials. One governor on the list was removed from his post in December 2005 after he was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office. But President Hamid Karzai then appointed him to Afghanistan’s upper parliament. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]
Some psychological operations are detailed, including attempts to manage the Afghan media. For instance, one list contains the item, “Prepare radio news stories for local stations highlighting Afghan National Police support.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/12/2006]
“Scores of military documents marked ‘secret,’ describing intelligence-gathering methods and information.”
The names, photographs, and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some spies are described as having networks of informants working for them.
Descriptions of meetings of Taliban commanders held in Pakistan.
A file describing the layout of a US Special Forces base in Afghanistan complete with photographs of its perimeter and procedures for defending the base if attacked. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] The US immediately launches an investigation into the security breach. One US official says, “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] Several days after the first press reports, US soldiers buy up every computer drive from the bazaar that they can find, presumably to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But within two weeks, there are plenty of drives for sale again, some containing classified information. One shopkeeper says he had been selling pilfered US military computer drives for four years: “I may have sold thousands of [them] since I have come and opened this shop.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2006] A month after the security breach was first reported, shopkeepers at the bazaar say they still receive goods from inside the US base, but not at the rate they once did. [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]
The State Department’s latest annual Country Reports on Terrorism does not list the Taliban as a terrorist group. In fact, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Taliban have never been designated as a terrorist group by the US, Britain, European Union, or any other major Western powers. Governments the US accuses of being sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, are on the list, but the Taliban has never been listed despite its well-known connection to al-Qaeda. One Afghan analyst says that there is a political motive behind this double standard. The Afghan government has reached out to former members of the Taliban to broaden its support and, “You can’t call them ‘terrorists’ and at the same time reconcile with them.” [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2006]
The Christian Science Monitor reports: “Taliban leaders strut openly around Quetta, Pakistan, where they are provided with offices and government-issued weapons authorization cards; Pakistani army officers are detailed to Taliban training camps; and Pakistani border guards constantly wave self-proclaimed Taliban through checkpoints into Afghanistan.” A Monitor reporter who lives in Kandahar, Afghanistan, notes that the result is that people there “have reached an astonishing conclusion: The United States must be in league with the Taliban… In other words, in a stunning irony, much of this city, the Taliban’s former stronghold, is disgusted with the Americans not because of their Western culture, but because of their apparent complicity with Islamist extremists.” [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2006] CNN will similarly report in September 2006 that Taliban head Mullah Omar and most other top Taliban leaders are living in Quetta (see September 12, 2006).
In June 2006, the US, NATO, and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency compile a secret report on the Taliban. The report is discussed on July 9 at a private meeting of officials from Western countries and Afghanistan, chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The report goes further than any previous report in describing the Pakistani government’s involvement in supporting the Taliban. It states, “ISI operatives reportedly pay a significant number of Taliban living/ operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight.… A large number of those fighting are doing so under duress as a result of pressure from the ISI. The insurgency cannot survive without its sanctuary in Pakistan, which provides freedom of movement, communications for command and control, and a secure environment for collaboration with foreign extremist groups. The sanctuary of Pakistan provides a seemingly endless supply of potential new recruits for the insurgency.” The report also states that at least four of the Taliban’s top leaders are living in Pakistan. But despite the US involvement in creating the report, US diplomacy generally remains in denial about Pakistan’s double dealing. President Bush not only fails to successfully pressure Pakistan on the issue, but even continues to praise Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The report is not leaked to the press at the time. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 367-368] In September 2006, when Pakistan announces a deal with militants in the tribal region of Waziristan, the heart of al-Qaeda’s safe haven, Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 5, 2006 and September 7, 2006).
Harun Shirzad al-Afghani. [Source: Defense Department]Harun Shirzad al-Afghani is an alleged veteran Islamist militant held in Guanatanamo prison starting in 2007. His Guantanamo file will later be leaked to the public, and it states that he is believed to have attended an important meeting of militant groups on August 11, 2006. A letter found with al-Afghani explains that the meeting is meant to bring together senior figures in the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (a Pakistani militant group), and Hezb-i-Islami (another militant group, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). But most interestingly, the file claims that senior Pakistani military and ISI (intelligence) officials also attend the meeting. The meeting discusses coordination of attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Plans are made to “increase terrorist operations” in certain Afghanistan provinces, including suicide bombings, assassinations, and mines. Al-Afghani also allegedly tells his Guantanamo interrogators that in 2006 an unnamed ISI officer pays an Islamist militant a large sum of money to transport ammunition into Afghanistan to help al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hezb-e-Islami. Al-Afghani’s file describes him as a leader both in al-Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami, with links to important leaders in both groups predating the 9/11 attacks. He is captured in Afghanistan in February 2007 and transferred to Guantanamo several months later. [Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 8/2/2007 ; Guardian, 4/25/2011]
On September 15, 2006, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Pakistani government has recently released thousands of Islamist militants. Pakistani lawyers involved in court cases say that 2,500 foreigners who were originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban have been freed. Many are released in the wake of a peace accord was signed between the Pakistani government and militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions in early September (see September 5, 2006), but some are released in the months before that accord. A US diplomat based in Pakistan complains, “We have repeatedly warned Pakistan over arresting and then releasing suspects. We are monitoring their response with great concern.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2006]
The government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with rebels in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as Waziristan. This is the area where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have a strong influence and many believe al-Qaeda’s top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hiding there. The accord effectively puts an end to fighting between the Pakistani army and the rebels. Details of the accord are published in a Pakistani newspaper the next day. The main points include:
The Pakistani government agrees to stop attacks in Waziristan.
Militants are to cease cross-border movement into and out of Afghanistan.
Foreign jihadists will have to leave Pakistan, but “those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement.”
Area check-points and border patrols will be manned by a tribal force and the Pakistan army will withdraw from control points.
No parallel administration will be established in the area, but Pakistan law will remain in force.
Tribal leaders will ensure that no one attacks government personnel or damages state property.
The Pakistani government will release captured militants and will pay compensation for property damage and the deaths of innocent civilians. [Dawn (Karachi), 9/6/2006] The deal is negotiated and signed by Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai, who had become the governor of the nearby North-West Frontier Province some months earlier. Orakzai, a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, is known to hate the US and NATO and admire militant groups such as the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Two days later, President Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 7, 2006). The Wall Street Journal comments that Musharraf decided to approve the deal in order to take care of “an even bigger security problem: a growing rebellion in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan.” He does not have the forces to deal with widespread violence in both regions. [Wall Street Journal, 9/8/2006]
A similar deal was made with South Waziristan in February 2005 (see February 7, 2005). The agreement will soon be seen as a big success for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In July 2007, the Washington Post will report that senior US intelligence officials attribute “the resurgence of bin Laden’s organization almost entirely to its protected safe haven among tribal groups in North Waziristan…” (see July 18, 2007). The same month, the Bush administration will publicly call the accord a failure as it collapses amidst an all out fight between the government and militants in Pakistan (see July 11-Late July, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Ali Jan Orakzai. [Source: Farooq Naeem/ Agence France-Presse]On September 5, 2006, the government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with militants in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as Waziristan (see September 5, 2006). Two days later, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Lt. Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai come to the White House to meet with President Bush about the deal. Orakzai is the military commander of the region encompassing the region. He reportedly hates the US and sympathizes with the Taliban, calling them a “national liberation movement” (see Late 2002-Late 2003). In a presentation to Bush, Orakzai advocates a strategy that would rely even more heavily on cease-fires, and says striking deals with the Taliban inside Afghanistan could allow US forces to withdraw from Afghanistan within seven years. Bush supports the deal, saying in public that same day that it would not create safe havens for the Taliban and could even offer “alternatives to violence and terror.” He does add the cautionary note, “You know we are watching this very carefully, obviously.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277; New York Times, 6/30/2008] But three months later, the US State Department will publicly deem the deal a failure for US policy (see November-December 2006). Some US officials will begin to refer to Orakzai as a “snake oil salesman.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
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