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Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. [Source: Confidential source via Robin Moore]According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA continues to press President Bush to send US troops to surround the caves in Tora Bora where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. It is about a 15 square-mile area. The CIA issued similar warnings a few weeks earlier (see Late November 2001). Suskind relates: “A fierce debate was raging inside the upper reaches of the US government. The White House had received a guarantee from [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf in November that the Pakistani army would cover the southern pass from the caves (see November 2001). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld felt the Pakistani leader’s assurance was sound. Classified CIA reports passed to Bush in his morning briefings of early December, however, warned that ‘the back door is open’ and that a bare few Pakistani army units were visible gathering near the Pakistani border.… Musharraf, when pressed by the White House, said troop movements were slow, but not to worry-they were on their way.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74] But again, no US troops are sent, and Pakistani troops fail to arrive in time. Bin Laden eventually will escape into Pakistan (see Mid-December 2001).
Taliban survivors who have been holding out in the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress surrender. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001] John Walker Lindh is found “with approximately 15 dead or dying persons on the floor.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Of the more than 300 prisoners who arrived with Lindh a week before, only 86 survive. “Everyone was in poor health, and most of them were traumatized, with absent looks on their faces,” Oliver Martin, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation at Mazar-i-Sharif, later recalls. “It must have been hell and horror for them.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] For around six hours, Lindh and many other wounded and dying prisoners are locked in an overcrowded dark container. He is then moved to the back of an open-air truck, from where he notices ICRC officials and members of the media. It then appears that Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum intended to suffocate the prisoners inside the container, but that the presence of the ICRC and journalists has prevented that. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Lindh and the other surviving but wounded Taliban are taken to the town of Sheberghan. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
John Walker Lindh appears on CNN television, giving the impression of an American siding with the enemy. He speaks with respect for the Taliban. “I lived in a region in the northwestern province,” he says. “The people there in general have a great love for the Taliban, so I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement. And my heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another.” Lindh says he belonged to a separate branch of the Taliban consisting only of non-Afghans, called Ansar. Only the Arab part of Ansar was funded by Osama bin Laden, he says. [CNN, 7/4/2002] At the time, Lindh is being held by the US military in a hospital in Afghanistan. He is severely injured and possibly delirious (see December 2, 2001).
Author Robert Pelton, working as a freelance CNN contributor, learns that one of the survivors of the siege of Qala-i-Janghi fortress (see Morning, December 1, 2001) is an American and is being treated at a hospital in Sheberghan. He goes to the hospital with video cameras and a few members of the US Special Forces. John Walker Lindh allegedly refuses, at least twice, permission to film him and be interviewed, but the CNN cameramen start filming anyway. Pelton asks him if he wants to deliver a message to his family through CNN, but Lindh declines, saying he prefers to send a message through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ; CNN, 7/4/2002] Pelton offers him some food; then offers to have a Special Forces medic treat his wounds. Fearing torture and death if he remains in the custody of the Northern Alliance, Lindh finally accepts Pelton’s offer and agrees to be interviewed. Lindh is then moved to another room, with Special Forces personnel present, and receives medical treatment, with CNN cameras rolling. At this point, as US government papers confirm, “John Walker Lindh comes into the custody of the United States military forces.” [CNN, 12/20/2001; New Yorker, 3/3/2003] According to the US medic, Lindh is “malnourished and in extremely poor overall condition.” He does not remove the bullet in Lindh’s leg, deciding to leave it in “for later removal as evidence.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Another Special Forces officer says Lindh is acting “delirious.” While Lindh is administered morphine through an IV, Pelton starts to interview him. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Following the CNN interview, a Special Forces officer interrogates him, even though Lindh is “delirious,” under the influence of morphine and seriously wounded. Lindh is not read his Miranda rights. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] The “Miranda” rights are what a police officer is required to inform an arrested person before questioning. It follows from the Fifth Amendment which provides civil protection against being “compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself.” If this warning is not given before the interrogation takes place, statements made by the accused are considered involuntary and become inadmissible in a trial.
The US Special Forces officer who questioned John Walker Lindh the day before ties his hands with rope and puts a hood over his head. Lindh is then driven back to Mazar-i-Sharif, where he is taken into a school building. For the next two to three days, Lindh will be kept blindfolded and bound in custody of the US military. He asks for the time of day, explaining that he needs to know for religious reasons. But he is told to shut up. US soldiers frequently call him “sh_tbag,” or “sh_thead.” He is fed military rations twice a day, which he feels is insufficient given his state of malnourishment. Requests for more food and more medical attention are refused. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Throughout the week at the school, Lindh expresses concern about his bullet wound, which appears to be festering. On the first two days, he is visited twice by a Red Cross worker, who on December 3 gives him the opportunity to dictate a letter to his parents. It is faxed eight days later. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] For the rest of his incarceration at Mazar-i-Sharif, the Red Cross workers are prevented from seeing Lindh. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
As soon as he hears the news of his son’s capture in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh’s father immediately hires James Brosnahan, a well-respected lawyer, on behalf of his son. On December 3, Brosnahan faxes a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. He introduces himself as Lindh’s lawyer, expresses his wish to see him, and states: “Because [Lindh] is wounded and, based upon press reports, went for three days without food, I would ask that any further interrogation be stopped, especially if there is any intent to use it in any subsequent legal proceedings.” When Brosnahan receives no reply, he writes again, “I would ask that no further interrogation of my client occur until I have the opportunity to speak with him. As an American citizen, he has the right to counsel and, under all applicable legal authorities, I ask for the right to speak with my client as soon as possible.” On December 5, still having received no reply, he urges that “we have a conversation today.” Again, no reply comes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/23/2002; World Socialist Web Site, 3/27/2002; New Yorker, 3/3/2003]
Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis. [Source: US Navy]About 4,000 US marines have arrived in Afghanistan by now. Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of these troops, is convinced his forces can seal the Tora Bora area to trap bin Laden there. Around this date, Mattis argues strongly to his military superiors at Centcom that his troops should fight at Tora Bora, but he is turned down. The New York Times will later report that the Bush administration will eventually secretly conclude “that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines—along with their failure to commit US ground forces to Afghanistan generally—was the gravest error of the war.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005]
Amnesty International issues a second call for an inquiry “into the large-scale killing of captured Taliban fighters and others at a fort on the outskirts of Mazar-i Sharif.” Amnesty insists that the “events at the Qala-i-Jhanghi fort must not simply be brushed under the carpet, like so many other killings before them.” [Amnesty International, 12/5/2001]
Around the third day at the school (see December 2-5, 2001), probably on December 5, accused terrorist John Walker Lindh, unaware of the fact that a lawyer has been hired for him, is interrogated by two military officers. The questioning goes on for two or three days in sessions lasting several hours at a time. Again no Miranda warnings are given (see December 2, 2001). [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] There is some discussion, however, among military personnel about whether Lindh should be advised of his right against self-incrimination. An Army intelligence officer is advised that instructions have come from “higher headquarters” for interrogators to coordinate Lindh’s interrogation with military lawyers. The intelligence officer asks to be faxed a Miranda form, but, according to the documents, “he never [gets] it.” The officer, however, adds that he is “in the business of collecting [intelligence] information, not in the business of Mirandizing.” After the first hour of interrogation, according to the documents, the interrogator provides the admiral in charge of Mazar-i-Sharif with a summary of what the interrogators have so far collected. The admiral tells him that the secretary of Defense’s counsel has authorized him to “take the gloves off” and ask whatever he wants. The unnamed counsel in question may well have been Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes. The initial responses Lindh gives to his interrogators are, according to the documents, cabled to Washington every hour. [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2004] After the interrogations are ended, Lindh is told his conditions will improve. From then on, he is given a third meal a day and no longer held at gunpoint 24 hours a day. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
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]
At the Justice Department, an attorney-adviser in the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office (PRAO) named Jesselyn Radack provides a federal prosecutor in the terrorism and violent crimes section of the Criminal Division with advice on John Walker Lindh’s case. She informs him that “The FBI wants to interview American Taliban member John Walker [Lindh] some time next week… about taking up arms against the US.” She also writes: “I consulted with a senior legal adviser here at PRAO and we don’t think you can have the FBI agent question Walker. It would be a pre-indictment, custodial overt interview, which is not authorized by law.” She also advises him to have the FBI agent inform Lindh that his parents hired attorneys for him and ask him whether he wants to be represented by them. [Newsweek, 12/7/2001] In 2009, Radack will recall: “I was called with the specific question of whether or not the FBI on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him (see December 3-5, 2001). I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, ‘Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now?’ My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, ‘Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.’ A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, ‘To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel.’ That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009] Shortly thereafter, Radack will be fired from, and investigated by, the Justice Department (see Late December 2001 - 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 ]
According to government papers, later quoted by defense lawyers for captured “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001), “A Navy physician present at Camp Rhino recounted that the lead military interrogator in charge of Mr. Lindh’s initial questioning told the physician ‘that sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger might be employed’ during Mr. Lindh’s interrogations.” This interrogator later says, “he was initially told to get whatever information he could get from the detainee. However,… once it was determined from their initial questioning of Lindh that he was an American, which was done within an hour or so, [the military interrogator] informed a superior and was told they were done questioning him.” Lindh nevertheless is subjected to “sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger.” The metal container Lindh is kept in has no light or heat source. Only two small holes in the sides of the container allow some light and air to enter, through which military guards frequently shout swearwords at Lindh and discuss spitting in his food. According to his defense attorneys, “Mr. Lindh’s hands and feet remained restrained such that his forearms were forced together and fully extended, pointing straight down towards his feet. The pain from the wrist restraints was intense. Initially, Mr. Lindh remained fully exposed within the metal container, lying on his back; after some time had passed, one blanket was placed over him and one beneath him. While in the container the first two days, Mr. Lindh was provided minimal food and little medical attention. He suffered from constant pain from the plastic cuffs on his wrists and the bullet wound in his thigh. Because the metal container was placed next to a generator, the loud noise it generated echoed within the container. According to government disclosures, Mr. Lindh repeatedly said he was cold and asked for more protection from the weather. When Mr. Lindh needed to urinate, his guards did not release him from the restraints binding him to his stretcher, but instead propped up the stretcher into a vertical position. Due to hunger, the cold temperature, the noise, and the incessant pain caused by his wounds and the position in which he was restrained, Mr. Lindh was unable to sleep. Mr. Lindh was held under these conditions continuously for two days.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
British special forces soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS) pursue Osama bin Laden as he flees the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001 and December 5-17, 2001). According to author Michael Smith, at one point they are “20 minutes” behind bin Laden, but they are “pulled off to allow US troops to go in for the kill.” However, it takes hours for the Americans to arrive, by which time bin Laden has escaped. [London Times, 2/12/2007]
After two days naked, hungry, in pain and sleepless in the cold container (see December 7-8, 2001, John Walker Lindh is dressed in hospital garb and carried, still blindfolded and handcuffed, to a nearby room or tent. As his blindfold is removed, Lindh finds himself in the presence of an FBI agent. From an “advice of rights” form, the agent begins to read Lindh his Miranda rights. Where the form refers to the right to an attorney, the FBI agent adds, “Of course, there are no lawyers here.” Lindh nevertheless asks if he can see an attorney, but the FBI agent repeats his statement that there are no attorneys present. Lindh then signs a Miranda waiver of his constitutional Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to consult an attorney, believing he would otherwise return to the conditions to which he was previously subjected, or that a worse fate may await him. The subsequent interrogation by the FBI agent lasts at least three hours. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).
John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001), is again questioned by the FBI agent who had interrogated him the previous day (see December 9, 2001). Lindh again asks for a lawyer, and again he is told no lawyers are available. Lindh is returned to the container, but now his treatment begins to improve. His leg and handcuffs are loosened and he is blindfolded less often. The duct tape is removed. He receives more food, an additional blanket and he is allowed to continue to wear the hospital garb. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had promised to seal off the Pakistani side of the border near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in return for considerable US economic aid (see November 2001). But Musharraf spent two weeks negotiating with tribal chieftains on the border before starting the deployment. Around December 10, two brigades begin to take up positions along the border. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002] However, Pakistan does not seal several important parts of the border. The regions of North and South Waziristan, Dir, Chitral, and Balochistan have no Pakistani army presence whatsoever. Bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders likely escape into Waziristan, where they begin to rebuild al-Qaeda (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The CIA intercepts communications between Pakistani officers warning not to harass any foreign fighters entering Waziristan. Several US officers will later tell Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid that they suspect Pakistan deliberately failed to guard these regions in order to allow the fighters to escape. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148] On December 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says of this border region, “It’s a long border. It’s a very complicated area to try to seal, and there’s just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] But armed gunmen storm the Indian Parliament on December 13, and a group based in Pakistan and allied with al-Qaeda is blamed (see December 13, 2001). Tensions suddenly rise between India and Pakistan, and Musharraf halts troop deployments to the Afghan border. The border near Tora Bora still is not adequately guarded by Pakistan when the battle of Tora Bora ends on December 17. Less than 100 stragglers entering Pakistan around December 19 are captured by Pakistani forces, but a number of these subsequently escape. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002]
Haji Zaman Ghamsharik speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]US-allied warlord Haji Zaman Ghamsharik makes radio contact with some al-Qaeda commanders in Tora Bora and offers a cease-fire so bin Laden can negotiate a surrender. The other US-allied warlord, Hazrat Ali, is also in secret talks with al-Qaeda and acquiesces to the deal. The US military is reportedly furious, but the fighting stops for the night. US intelligence later concludes that about 800 al-Qaeda fighters escape Tora Bora that night during the cease fire. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other rival Afghan commanders in the area later accuse Ghamsharik of accepting a large bribe from al-Qaeda so they can use the cease fire to escape. [New York Times, 9/30/2002] There are other accounts that the US-allied warlords helped instead of hindered al-Qaeda (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).
The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
“I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
“We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
“Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]
John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is moved to a Navy ship, the USS Peleliu. When he arrives, he is still unable to walk and is suffering from dehydration, frostbite on his toes and mild hypothermia. Navy physicians treat Lindh with IV fluids, and on the same day, Haynes’ deputy, Paul W. Cobb Jr., tells Lindh’s lawyers: “I can inform you that John Walker is currently in the control of United States armed forces and is being held aboard USS Peleliu in the theater of operations. Our forces have provided him with appropriate medical attention and will continue to treat him humanely, consistent with the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war.” [Business Wire, 12/17/2001; ABC News, 12/19/2001] It is the first response James Brosnahan, head of Lindh’s defense team, receives to his letters, the first of which he sent on December 3 (see December 3-5, 2001).
On December 14, 2001, it is first reported that 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah was stopped and questioned at Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000); a controversy follows on when the US was told about this and what was done about it.
Initial Account - The story of Jarrah being detained at Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), first appears in the Chicago Tribune on December 14. This initial report says that Jarrah was stopped because he was on a US watch list. US officials refuse to comment on the matter. (Note that this report and most other early accounts place the incident on January 30, 2001 (see January 31, 2000 and After), but this appears to be incorrect and later reports say it happened exactly one year earlier, on January 30, 2000.) [Associated Press, 12/14/2001]
Did the US Tell the UAE to Stop Jarrah? - Jane Corbin reports the same story for the BBC in December 2001 and then repeats it in a book. Once again, US officials refuse to comment on the story. In her account, UAE officials claim Jarrah was stopped based on a tip-off from the US. A UAE source tells Corbin: “It was at the request of the Americans and it was specifically because of Jarrah’s links with Islamic extremists, his contacts with terrorist organizations. That was the extent of what we were told.” [BBC, 12/12/2001; Corbin, 2003] One day after the BBC report, a US official carefully states that the FBI was not aware before 9/11 that another US agency thought Jarrah was linked to any terrorist group. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/13/2001]
CNN Revives the Story, Has More Sources - In August 2002, CNN also reports that Jarrah was stopped because he was on a US watch list. It claims this information comes not only from UAE sources, but from other governments in the Middle East and Europe. It also still refers to the incorrect January 31, 2001 date. For the first time, a CIA spokesperson comments on the matter and says the CIA never knew anything about Jarrah before 9/11 and had nothing to do with his questioning in Dubai. [CNN, 8/1/2002]
Denials Are Helped by Confusion over Date - Regarding the denials by US authorities, author Terry McDermott point outs: “It is worth noting, however, that when the initial reports of the Jarrah interview [came out,] the Americans publicly denied they had ever been informed of it. As it happened, Corbin had the wrong date for the event, so the American services might have been technically correct in denying any knowledge of it. They later repeated that denial several times when other reports repeated the inaccurate date.” Based on information from his UAE sources, McDermott concludes that the stop occurred and that the US was informed of it at the time. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 294-5]
FBI Memo Confirms US Was Notified - In February 2004, the Chicago Tribune claims it discovered a 2002 FBI memo that discusses the incident. The memo clearly states that the incident “was reported to the US government” at the time. This account uses the January 30, 2000 date, and all later accounts do so as well. [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004]
9/11 Commission Downplays Incident - In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission calls the incident a “minor problem” and relegates it to an endnote in its final report on the 9/11 attacks. It does not mention anything about the US being informed about Jarrah’s brief detention at the time it happened. In this account, Jarrah was not on a US watch list, but he raised suspicion because of an overlay of the Koran in his passport and because he was carrying religious tapes and books. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496]
Vanity Fair Adds New Details - A November 2004 Vanity Fair article adds some new details. In this account, UAE officials were first suspicious of Jarrah because of a page of the Koran stuck in his passport, then they searched his luggage and found it full of jihadist propaganda videos. Six months earlier, the CIA had asked immigration throughout the region to question anyone who might have been to a training camp in Afghanistan, which gave the UAE even more reason to question him. Jarrah was asked about his time in Afghanistan and revealed that he intended to go to flight school in the US, but he was let go. The UAE told the CIA about all this, but German officials say the CIA failed to pass the information on to German intelligence. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
German and More FBI Documents Also Confirm US Was Involved - McDermott has access to German intelligence files in writing his book published in 2005. He says that German documents show that the UAE did contact the US about Jarrah while he was still being held. But the US had not told the Germans what was discussed about him. Other FBI documents confirming the incident are also obtained by McDermott, but they indicate the questioning was routine. UAE officials insist to McDermott this is absolutely untrue. McDermott suggests that the CIA may not have told the FBI much about the incident. He also says that while UAE officials were holding Jarrah, US officials told them to let Jarrah go because the US would track him (see January 30-31, 2000). [McDermott, 2005, pp. 294]
Continued Denials - In September 2005, US officials continue to maintain they were not notified about the stop until after 9/11. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] Original reporting on the incident will not occur much in the years after then.
US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001. [Source: Romeo / Gacad Agence France-Presse]According to author Ron Suskind, on this date bin Laden makes a broadcast on his shortwave radio from somewhere within Tora Bora, Afghanistan. He praises his “most loyal fighters” still fighting in Tora Bora and says “forgive me” for drawing them into a defeat. He says the battle will continue “on new fronts.” Then he leads a prayer and leaves Tora Bora. Suskind says, “With a small band, he escaped on horseback toward the north. The group, according to internal CIA reports, took a northerly route to the province of Nangarhar—past the Khyber Pass, and the city of Jalalabad—and into the province of Konar. That day and the next, much of the remaining al-Qaeda force of about 800 soldiers moved to the south toward Pakistan.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74-75 Sources: Ron Suskind] A radio had been captured by US allied forces some days earlier, allowing the US to listen in to bin Laden’s communications (see Late October-Early December 2001). In another account, a professional guide and former Taliban official later claims to have led bin Laden and a group of about 30 at this time on a four day trip into Pakistan and then back into a different part of Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Still other accounts have bin Laden heading south into Pakistan at this time instead (see Mid-December 2001). An article in the British Daily Telegraph entitled “Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora” will appear the very next day, detailing some of these communications. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 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).
A videotape obtained by the CIA shows bin Laden at the end of the Tora Bora battle. He is walking on a trail either in Afghanistan and heading toward Pakistan, or already in Pakistan. Bin Laden is seen instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie undetected at night. A US bomb explodes in the distance. Referring to where the bomb was dropped, he says, “We were there last night.” The existence of this videotape will not be reported until late 2006. [Washington Post, 9/10/2006] In September 2005, the New York Times will report that, “On or about Dec. 16, 2001, according to American intelligence estimates, bin Laden left Tora Bora for the last time, accompanied by bodyguards and aides.… Bin Laden and his men are believed to have journeyed on horseback directly south toward Pakistan.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other accounts have him heading north into other parts of Afghanistan around this time instead (see December 15, 2001).
Rhuhel Ahmed. [Source: The Phoenix]Sometime in December, [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 ] Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul are handed over to US forces. The “Tipton three,” as they will be known, are taken by Northern Alliance troops to a US military base, together with 200 other prisoners. The journey by means of containers is allegedly so exhausting, that the three are among only 20 who survive. They suffer from “cold, dehydration, hunger, and uncertainty.” As they are handed over, US soldiers allegedly kick and beat them. According to Iqbal, “They kept calling us ‘motherf_ckers,’ and I think over three or four hours… I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times.” One of the soldiers says, according to Iqbal, “You killed my family in the towers [of the World Trade Center], and now it’s time to get you back.” [Guardian, 8/4/2004] The three Britons are temporarily detained at the US military base at Kandahar. Allegedly they are systematically deprived of sleep and kept on a special diet designed to weaken them. In the meanwhile they are interrogated. In one instance, according to Iqbal, US soldiers hold a gun to his head during questioning. “An American shouted at me, telling me I was al-Qaeda. I said I was not involved in al-Qaeda and did not support them. At this he started to punch me violently and then when he knocked me to the floor started to kick me around my back and in my stomach.” [Guardian, 8/4/2004]
In the middle of December, the US government discloses that some 7,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda members have been captured. While they are at that time mostly held by Afghan and Pakistani forces, they will all have to be screened so their leaders can stand trial. [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]
US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/18/2001] The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. [Associated Press, 12/17/2001]
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]
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).
Speaking in Kazakhstan, US Deputy Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones states: “We will not leave Central Asia after resolving the conflict [in Afghanistan]. We want to support the Central Asian countries in their desire to reform their societies as they supported us in the war against terrorism. These are not only new but long term relations.” [BBC, 12/19/2001]
The Asia Times reports that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in Iran and is being sheltered by members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). The report—citing Pakistani jihadi who fought in Afghanistan, journalists, and intelligence sources—says bin Laden crossed into Iran from Afghanistan around the time of the surrender of Kandahar (see November 25, 2001). [Asia Times, 12/19/2001] This report will later be shown to wildly clash with more reliable evidence placing bin Laden in Tora Bora near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at this time instead.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits interrogations of individuals, who were captured when the al-Qaeda stronghold near Tora Bora fell two days before, have not yielded timely information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “Most of what I’ve seen seems to be second-hand reports—that we’re not talking to people who are at least telling us that they met with bin Laden or they talked with bin Laden,” he says. “I think one guy claims that he saw bin Laden from several hundred yards away. It’s that quality of information.” He added: “It was a pretty confused situation.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2001]
CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 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]
After a week on the USS Peleliu (see December 14, 2001), President George Bush calls John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) an al-Qaeda fighter, who “is being well treated on a ship of ours.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001] Around the same time, it is reported that at least four other detainees are being held aboard the Peleliu [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001] and about 7,000 on the Afghan mainland. [Guardian, 12/21/2001]
[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).
Osama bin Laden making his “Nineteen Students” speech. [Source: Al Jazeera]Osama bin Laden makes a new video statement about 9/11, again denying the US has enough evidence against him to warrant an attack on Afghanistan (see September 16, 2001 and September 28, 2001), which he calls “a vicious campaign based on mere suspicion.” However, in what Professor Bruce Lawrence calls “his most extended and passionate celebration of the hijackers of 9/11,” he praises the 19 who carried out “the blessed strikes against global unbelief and its leader America.” He says of the hijackers, “It was not nineteen Arab states that did this deed. It was not Arab armies or ministries who humbled the oppressor who harms us in Palestine and elsewhere. It was nineteen post-secondary school students—I beg Allah almighty to accept them—who shook America’s throne, struck its economy right in the heart, and dealt the biggest military power a mighty blow, by the grace of Allah Almighty.” He continues by saying that the hijackers “are the people who have given up everything for the sake of ‘There is no Allah but Allah.’” He also criticizes Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and suggests that Israel is trying to expand its borders to Medina, currently in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden also attacks the sanctions against Iraq, which he notes have resulted in “the murder of over a million children.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 145-157] Bin Laden’s left arm appears to be injured in the video, fueling speculation he was wounded in the battle for Afghanistan [CNN, 7/23/2002] No new videotapes of Bin Laden speaking are released for nearly three years after this (see October 29, 2004). [BBC, 10/30/2004]
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]
Shafiq Rasul. [Source: Public domain]Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed (the “Tipton Three”), held at Sheberghan prison, are among thirty to fifty other foreign prisoners whose custody is taken over by US Special Forces from the troops of the Northern Alliance. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Abdul Razaq, a Pakistani teacher of English, says he is singled out for no other reason than that he speaks English. [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Taken to the main gate, US Special Forces personnel surround them pointing their guns at them. One by one they are stripped of all their clothes, despite the freezing temperature, and photographed. After five minutes they are allowed to put their clothes back on. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] One by one, they are taken to a shed. With their hands and feet tied with plastic cuffs, each of them is questioned by US soldiers in uniform. As one American starts the interrogation, another soldier, Rasul says, keeps a machine gun aimed at him. The interrogator, according to Rasul, says, “if you move, that guy over there will shoot you.” When it is Iqbal’s turn, a soldier, he says, is “holding a black 9mm automatic pistol to my temple. The barrel of the pistol was actually touching my temple.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Razaq’s interview takes only three or four minutes with only two questions asked: “What is your name, and why have you come to Afghanistan?” [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Immediately after the interrogations, the non-Afghan prisoners have a sandbag put over their heads. For three or four hours, they have to wait in the cold for all detainees to complete the interrogations. “I think we were all suffering from the cold, dehydration, hunger, the uncertainty as well as the pain caused by the plastic ties,” Ahmed recalls. “Added to this, periodically Special Forces soldiers would walk along a line of sitting detainees and kick us or beat us at will.” Iqbal remembers that “one of them said ‘you killed my family in the towers and now it’s time to get you back.’ They kept calling us motherf_ckers and I think over the three or four hours that I was sitting there, I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times. It came to a point that I was simply too numb from the cold and from exhaustion to respond to the pain.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] In the end, the prisoners are dragged, tied up and hooded, the skin scraping off their feet, to the backs of a number of trucks that take them to an airstrip. Loaded onto freezing cold cargo planes, they are forced to sit on the floor, still hooded, with their tied-up feet straight in front of them and their hands tied behind their backs. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Rasul testifies, “Given that I was extremely weak and that I was suffering from dysentery, dehydration, hunger, and exhaustion it was impossible to maintain this position for more than a few minutes at a time. If however I leant back or tried to move, I would be struck with a rifle butt. These blows were not designed to prevent us from falling back or to adjust our position, they were meant to hurt and punish us.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] They eventually land at a US air base at Kandahar. According to Razaq prisoners arriving at Kandahar are offloaded in a particularly violent manner. “They haul you from your neck and drop you off the plane.” Relating his experience at Kandahar, Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded sawmill owner, says: “They would just pick us up and throw us out. Some people were hurt, some quite badly.” And Pakistani detainee Shah Mohammed, who arrives at Kandahar from a prison near Mazar-i-Sharif, says: “They kicked us out of the plane and threw us on the ground.” [Guardian, 12/3/2003] At Kandahar, probably on the evening of December 28, the newly arrived prisoners are forced to walk in a circle which is “unbearably painful” because their cuffs cut into their skin. US soldiers force their foreheads into the stony ground, hit, kick, and punch them and occasionally strike them with a rifle butt. They cut off their clothes and carry out “humiliating” cavity searches. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ]
The new Afghan Interior Minister Younis Qanooni claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan: “Undoubtedly they (ISI) knew what was going on.” He claims that the ISI is still supporting bin Laden even if Pakistani President Musharraf isn’t. [BBC, 12/30/2001]
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]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).
CIA official Gary Schoen will later say, “I can remember trying to take issues about Afghanistan to the National Security Council (NSC) during 2002 and early 2003 and being told: ‘It’s off the agenda for today. Iraq is taking the whole agenda.’ Things that we desperately needed to do for Afghanistan were just simply pushed aside by concerns over in Iraq. There just wasn’t the time.” [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006] A former senior NSC official will similarly recall that the Bush administration turned its attention to Iraq and “discussions about Afghanistan were constrained. Here’s what you have now, you don’t get anything more. No additional missions, no additional forces, no additional dollars.” This official adds that “the meetings to discuss Afghanistan at the time were best described by a comment Doug Feith made in one meeting, when he said we won the war, other people need to be responsible for Afghanistan now. What he meant was that nation building or postconflict stability operations ought to be taken care of by other governments.… To raise Afghanistan was to talk about what we were leaving undone.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154]
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]
At some time in 2002, the the private military corporation Blackwater wins a classified contract to provide security for the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The circumstances and details of the contract are unknown, although this is only one of several contracts Blackwater and the CIA conclude after 9/11 (see, for example 2002 and 2004). [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
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).
Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi Arabian police officer, is captured in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo. Al-Nusairi will recall that he is interrogated for hours on end, but only after being injected with some form of drug. “I’d fall asleep” after the shots, he will tell his attorney, Anant Raut, in 2005. After he is awakened, he is interrogated in marathon questioning sessions, where, he later claims, he gives false information in order to be left alone. “I was completely gone,” he will recall. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.’” After years of captivity, al-Nusairi is eventually returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged with a crime; he never learns what kind of drugs he was subjected to while in US custody. He believes he was given drugs in order to coerce him into making statements that would implicate him in terrorist activity. Raut will later recall: “They thought he was hiding something. He was injected in the arm with something that made him tired—that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself.” Al-Nusairi will recall one interrogation session in an ice-cold room where he is so cold and desperate for sleep that he signs a confession testifying to his involvement in al-Qaeda. According to al-Nusairi, the interrogator watched him sign his name, and “then he smiled and turned off the air conditioner. And I went to sleep.” Al-Nusairi is held for three years more until he is abruptly returned to Saudi custody and released. Raut will later muse, “He signed the statement, and they declared him an enemy combatant, yet they released him anyway with no explanation.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
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]
Undated vacation photograph of Said Bahaji. From left to right: Bahaji’s sister Maryam, his German mother Annaliese, Bahaji, and his Moroccan father Abdullah. [Source: Public domain via the Wall Street Journal]Hamburg Al-Qaeda cell member Said Bahaji works with al-Qaeda and lives in the tribal region of Pakistan, but he maintains some contact with relatives in Germany. However, intelligence agencies are unable to arrest or kill him by tracing these contacts. Some captured militants later claim they saw Bahaji in training camps in Afghanistan in the months after 9/11 (see for instance September 10, 2001). They say that his leg was wounded in fighting with US forces there, and he now goes by the alias Abu Zuhair. In April 2002, Bahaji sends a letter to his mother Anneliese insisting on his innocence in the 9/11 attacks. German officials see this as a whitewash however, especially since he fled Germany to Pakistan a few days before the attacks (see September 3-5, 2001), showing foreknowledge by doing so. He continues to periodically contact family members in Germany with e-mails or phone calls. For instance, he sends his wife Neshe in Germany an e-mail in March 2004. Over time, the contacts between Bahaji and his wife grow contentious. He wants her and their young son to join him in the remote regions of Pakistan, but they are unable to work this out. In March 2006, they divorce via e-mail. Bahaji is later seen with a new wife from Spain, and new children. In 2009, Bahaji’s mother will say her last contact from her son came in a 2007 phone call (see 2007). Details of Bahaji’s other communications will not be made public until August 2011. According to Der Spiegel, Bahaji’s communications with people in Germany have been “agonizing for investigators who were chasing Bahaji, but never managed to localize him in time.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Most of Task Force 5’s members are called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq. In early 2002, there were roughly 150 Task Force 5 commandos in Afghanistan. After the massive transfer, Task Force 5’s numbers dip to as low as 30 men. Task Force 5 is a top-secret elite group that includes CIA paramilitary units and military “special mission units,” or SMUs. One of the SMUs is the former Delta Force. The name of the other unit, which specializes in human and technical intelligence operations, is not known. The Washington Post will later note, “These elite forces, along with the battlefield intelligence technology of Predator and Global Hawk drone aircraft, were the scarcest tools of the hunt for jihadists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” According to Flynt Leverett, a career CIA analyst assigned to the State Deparmtent, “There is a direct consequence for us having taken these guys out prematurely. There were people on the staff level raising questions about what that meant for getting al-Qaeda, for creating an Afghan security and intelligence service [to help combat jihadists]. Those questions didn’t get above staff level, because clearly there had been a strategic decision taken.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] In 2003, Task Force 5 will be disbanded and then merged into the new Task Force 121, which is to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. [New York Times, 11/7/2003]
Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
American al-Qaeda member Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000) and an unidentified associate approach an al-Qaeda operations chief to propose detonating a nuclear bomb in the US. The plan is considered too far-fetched, and the idea of a radioactive “dirty bomb” is floated instead. Al-Qaeda leaders consider Padilla an incompetent who has virtually no chance of pulling off such an attack (see Mid-April 2002). [Associated Press, 6/2004]
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
Al-Qaeda forces have been driven out of Afghanistan but regroup in the tribal border region of Pakistan called South Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). However, the Pakistani government is strict about preventing US forces from crossing the border in pursuit of bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda figures. According to author James Risen, “Green Berets who served in southeastern Afghanistan say that there have been a series of tense confrontations—and even firefights—between American and Pakistani forces along the border. Both sides have largely covered up the incidents.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] There is no sign later of a significant change in policy, although minor skirmishes persist. For part of 2002 and into 2003, some US special forces are allowed into the region, but only by traveling with the Pakistani army, and this arrangement does not last for long (see 2002-Early 2003).
Noor Aghah, who is detained at Gardez and Bagram in the beginning of 2002, recalls in 2004, “Every minute in Gardez they were beating us. Mostly they kick me.” [Guardian, 6/23/2004]
As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Observer, 5/16/2004]
Asif Iqbal. [Source: Public domain]The Tipton Three are still in a detention center in Kandahar. Shafiq Rasul is interrogated by a British soldier, who says he is a member of the SAS. Two US soldiers are present, one of whom puts an arm around Rasul’s neck and says: “Wait until you get back to the tent you will see what we are going to do to you.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Also this month, Rasul has the “very painful” experience of something being inserted into his anus. In other parts of the detention center, he hears soldiers intimidate prisoners with dogs. [Guardian, 8/4/2004] When Rhuhel Ahmed is questioned by the SAS man, one of the US soldiers holds a gun to his head, telling him he will be shot if he moves. When Ahmed is taken out of the tent, US soldiers force his head down and throw him on the floor, forcing his head into the broken glass and stones on the ground and pulling his arms behind him. The next day, Asif Iqbal receives the same treatment after refusing to confess to the SAS officer. All three are also threatened with being put into one of Britain’s high security prisons. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ]
More than 140 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members are transferred to an alleged US detention center in Kohat, Pakistan. According to one report, the Pakistani army is responsible for maintaining the external security of the prison, while US officials are responsible for security inside. As at Bagram, US officials interrogate prisoners in order to determine who should be transferred to Guantanamo Bay. According to Javed Ibrahim Paracha of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, prisoners at Kohat are shackled and dressed only in shorts. Detainees are transferred in military planes only under the cover of night. [First, 6/2004 ]
The US had been frustrated in their efforts to cross the Pakistan border to search for al-Qaeda figures (see Early 2002 and After). However, the CIA is now permitted to establish a number of covert bases inside Pakistan to help in the hunt for bin Laden. But the ISI and Pakistani military place strict limits on the mobility of CIA officers in Pakistan. They have to travel in the tribal border regions where bin Laden is believed to reside with Pakistani security escorts, “making it virtually impossible for the Americans to conduct effective intelligence-gathering operations among the local tribes on Pakistan’s northwest frontier.” In 2006, author James Risen will claim this arrangement begins in late 2003. [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] But in a 2008 New York Times article that quotes high-ranking US figures, it seems the arrangement begins at some point in 2002 and ends in early 2003. According to this article, a small number of US special forces are allowed to accompany the Pakistani army on raids. But the arrangement does not work. Having to move with army greatly limits what the special forces and do and where it can go. Pakistani officials publicly deny that Americans are there, but locals see the Americans and protest, causing an increasingly awkward situation for Pakistan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage will later say he supported the Bush administration’s decision to cancel the arrangement. “We were pushing [the Pakistani government] almost to the breaking point.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
At the request of CIA Director George Tenet, the White House orders the FBI to hand Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al-Qaeda operative being held in Afghanistan (see December 19, 2001), over to the CIA. One day before the transfer, a CIA officer enters al-Libi’s cell, interrupting an interrogation being conducted by FBI agent Russel Fincher, and tells al-Libi: “You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f_ck her.” Soon after, al-Libi is flown to Egypt. [Newsweek, 6/21/2004; Washington Post, 6/27/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 121] The CIA officer will later be identified as “Albert,” a former FBI translator. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 106] Presumably, this is the same former FBI translator named “Albert” who will later threaten al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later say: “He’s carried off to Egypt, who torture him. And we know that he’s going to be tortured. Anyone who’s worked on Egypt, has worked on other countries in the Middle East, knows that. Egyptians torture him, and he provides a lot of information.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Provides Mix of Valid, False Information - It is unclear whether al-Libi is interrogated solely by Egyptian officials, or by a combination of Egyptian and CIA interrogators. Al-Libi is subjected to a series of increasingly harsh techniques, including at least one, waterboarding, that is considered torture (see Mid-March 2002). Reputedly, he is finally broken after being waterboarded and then forced to stand naked in a cold cell overnight where he is repeatedly doused with cold water by his captors. Al-Libi is said to provide his Egyptian interrogators with valuable intelligence about an alleged plot to blow up the US Embassy in Yemen with a truck bomb, and the location of Abu Zubaida, who will be captured in March 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, in order to avoid harsh treatment he will also provide false information to the Egyptians, alleging that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases. Officials will later determine that al-Libi has no knowledge of such training or weapons, and fabricates the statements out of fear and a desire to avoid further torture. Sources will later confirm that al-Libi did not try to deliberately mislead his captors; rather, he told them what he thought they wanted to hear. [ABC News, 11/18/2005; New York Times, 12/9/2005]
Using Allegations in White House Statements - Both President Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003) will include these allegations in major speeches.
Shifting Responsibility for Interrogations to CIA from FBI - The FBI has thus far taken the lead in interrogations of terrorist suspects, because its agents are the ones with most experience. The CIA’s apparent success with al-Libi contributes to the shift of interrogations from the bureau to the CIA. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Such methods as making death threats, advocated by the CIA, are opposed by the FBI, which is used to limiting its questioning techniques so the results from interrogations can be used in court. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] “We don’t believe in coercion,” a senior FBI official says. [Guardian, 9/13/2004]
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.
[Source: Public domain]Seven former Taliban leaders surrender to the Northern Alliance near Kandahar, Afghanistan, but are released. Two are on a US list of twelve most wanted Taliban leaders: Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. Akhund “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Mr. bin Laden.” The US military denies reports of their release, but officials of the new Afghan government confirm the account and are unrepentant about it. They claim they are following through on an announced policy to grant amnesty to any Taliban leaders who surrender. CNN reports, “Though US forces expressed interest in the men,… they accepted the Afghan decision to let them go, and have given no indication they are pursuing them…” This follows other accounts of Taliban leaders being released in December 2001 (see December 24, 2001). A senior Pakistani official will later note, “Unbelievably, not one [Taliban cabinet minister] was killed, arrested, or defected to opposition forces during the two-month-long, nonstop bombing.” It appears that the highest ranking Taliban leader to have been killed or captured is the deputy foreign minister, who was killed in a bombing raid. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2001; Washington Post, 1/10/2002; CNN, 1/10/2002] Mullah Obaidullah Akhund will later become one of the most important leaders of the continued Taliban resistance. In 2004, it will be reported that Pakistan is allowing him and other Taliban leaders to freely come and go through Pakistan (see August 18, 2005). [Boston Globe, 7/11/2004]
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
An aerial shot of Camp X-Ray. [Source: Public domain]The US prison camp at Guantanamo receives its first 20 prisoners from the Afghan battlefield. [Reuters, 1/11/2002] The prisoners are flown on a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane, escorted during the final leg of the journey by a Navy assault helicopter and a naval patrol boat. The prisoners, hooded, shackled, wearing blackout goggles and orange jumpsuits, and possibly drugged, are escorted one by one off the plane by scores of Marines in full battle gear. They are interred in what reporter Charlie Savage will later call “kennel-like outdoor cages” in the makeshift containment facility dubbed Camp X-Ray. [Guardian, 1/11/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Leaked Photos of Transfer Cause International Outcry - Pictures of prisoners being transferred in conditions clearly in violation of international law are later leaked, prompting an outcry. But rather than investigating the inhumane transfer, the Pentagon will begin investigating how the pictures were leaked. [Associated Press, 11/9/2002]
Guantanamo Chosen to Keep Prisoners out of US Jurisdiction - The prisoners are sent to this base—leased by Cuba to the US—because it is on foreign territory and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of US law (see December 28, 2001). [Globe and Mail, 9/5/2002] It was once a coaling station used by the US Navy, and in recent years had been used by Coast Guard helicopters searching for drug runners and refugees trying to make it across the Florida Straits to US soil. In 1998, the Clinton administration had briefly considered and then rejected a plan to bring some prisoners from Kosovo to Guantanamo. Guantanamo was chosen as an interim prison for Afghanis who survived the uprising at Mazar-e Sharif prison (see 11:25 a.m. November 25, 2001) by an interagency working group (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001), who considered and rejected facilities in Germany and other European countries. Group leader Pierre-Richard Prosper will later recall: “We looked at our military bases in Europe and ruled that out because (a), we’d have to get approval from a European government, and (b), we’d have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights and we didn’t know how they’d react. We didn’t want to lose control over it and have it become a European process because it was on European soil. And so we kept looking around and around, and basically someone said, ‘What about Guantanamo?’” The base may well have not been the final choice of Prosper’s group; it was still researching a Clinton-era attempt to house Haitian and Cuban refugees there that had been challenged in court when Rumsfeld unilaterally made the decision to begin transferring prisoners to the naval base. [Savage, 2007, pp. 143-144]
No Geneva Convention Strictures Apply to 'Unlawful Combatants' - Rumsfeld, acting on the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, publicly declares the detainees “unlawful combatants” and thereby not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Conventions. “Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention,” Rumsfeld says. Though, according to Rumsfeld, the government will “for the most part treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent they are appropriate.” [Reuters, 1/11/2002] There is no reason to feel sorry for these detainees, says Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He states, “These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 to bring it down.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
British Officials: 'Scandalous' - Senior British officials privately call the treatment of prisoners “scandalous,” and one calls the refusal to follow the Geneva Convention “not benchmarks of a civilized society.” [Guardian, 6/13/2002]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United States, US Department of Defense, Pierre-Richard Prosper, Richard B. Myers, Clinton administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Charlie Savage, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
In Kandahar, American soldiers call out a number of prisoners including Shafiq Rasul (see November 28, 2001). He has a sack placed over his head and his wrists and ankles are shackled. Someone, “for no reason,” hits him on the back of his head with a handgun. During the night, he stays with about 20 other detainees in a tent with a wet floor, and “no bed or mattress or anything.” The next morning, Asif Iqbal and Rasul, both recall, have their clothes cut off and their beards and heads shaven. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Taken outside, naked, shackled, and hooded, Rasul hears dogs nearby and soldiers shouting, “Get ‘em boy.” In another tent, something is painfully forced into his anus. He and the others are then given orange uniforms, and new handcuffs are attached to a chain around their waists and cuffs around their ankles. The cuffs, according to Rasul, are “extremely tight and cut into my wrists and ankles.” Next, they are donned with mittens, ear-muffs, blacked-out goggles, and a sort of surgical mask. Rasul is then made to sit down outside in the freezing cold on the ground “for hours and hours, perhaps nine or ten altogether,” not allowed to move. At last Rasul, Iqbal, and about 40 other prisoners are led aboard a cargo plane, and chained on benches with no back. Any movement is responded to with a kick. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Later on, the passengers’ hands will be tied to hand rests and their bodies held attached by a belt to the back of a chair. [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Their destination is unknown to them. During the flight, according to Iqbal, they receive an unusual luxury: “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and orange slices.” At some point during the journey, more than halfway, the plane lands and the prisoners are transferred to another plane. As to where this is, the two Britons have no clue, but it is “obviously somewhere very hot.” Ahmed, who will come to Guantanamo one month later, makes a similar landing during the journey and is told by soldiers they have landed in Turkey. During the switch, a soldier stamps on the chain between Iqbal’s ankles, which is “extremely painful.” Two-and-a-half years later Rasul will still have scarring on his left arm from the tightness of the shackles during the flight. He also loses the feeling in his right hand for a long time because of it. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Around January 13, Iqbal and Rasul arrive at Guantanamo (see January 13, 2002).
From mid-January on, according to Rhuhel Ahmed (see November 28, 2001), the situation at Kandahar begins to deteriorate. “They kept moving us around from tent to tent. This went on all day and night so it was impossible to settle down for the night. They also shone powerful lights into the tents which made things worse.” At some point in February, Ahmed is awakened during the night every hour on the hour. He also suffers from isolation. “There were no cages in the tents but you were separated from the person next to you by barbed wire. You were not allowed to communicate with anyone in the tent. I started to feel crazy from the isolation…. My conversations with the soldiers were the only real relief I had because it was human contact.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ]
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
In January 2002, the Observer reports that Anas al-Liby, one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders, has been recently captured in Afghanistan. Al-Liby is considered one of bin Laden’s computer experts, and a long-time member of al-Qaeda’s ruling council. [Observer, 1/20/2002] In early March 2002, the London Times mentions al-Liby’s capture as an established fact. [London Times, 3/11/2002] Then, in late March 2002, the London Times and the Washington Post report that al-Liby has been recently captured in Sudan. Anonymous CIA sources and anonymous “senior administration officials” claim that al-Liby has been captured, but the Sudanese and US governments officially deny the arrest. The London Times says the arrest “has been kept a closely guarded secret.” Some senior officials who told the Post al-Liby had been arrested later change their account and say it was someone with a similar name. [London Times, 3/17/2002; Washington Post, 3/19/2002; Washington Post, 3/20/2002] Al-Liby remains on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a $25 million reward on his name. It will later be lowered to $5 million. [London Times, 5/8/2005] Al-Liby appears to have collaborated with British intelligence to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 and was allowed to openly live in Britain until 2000 (see Late 1995-May 2000; 1996). In 2003, it will be reported that al-Liby was captured in Sudan and then secretly deported to Egypt, where he is wanted for an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see (Late 1995)). [Scotland on Sunday, 10/26/2003] In 2007, human rights groups will list al-Liby as a possible ghost prisoner still held by the US (see June 7, 2007).
Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and OLC lawyer John Yoo send a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department chief counsel William Haynes. Known as the “Treaties and Laws Memorandum,” the document addresses the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan, and their eventual incarceration at Guantanamo and possible trial by military commissions. The memo asserts that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al-Qaeda detainees, and the president has the authority to deny Taliban members POW status. The document goes on to assert that the president is not bound by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions because they are neither treaties nor federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 1/22/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Jamal Udeen, still stuck in Kandahar (see October 2001), stays in touch with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and makes phone calls to the British Consulate, which assures him he will soon be put on a flight to Kabul and then sent back to Britain. [Mirror, 3/12/2004] Meanwhile, London Times reporter Tim Reid also speaks with the Red Cross, which tells him that Udeen can fly with him to Kabul. [London Times, 3/11/2004]
Two weeks after Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write a memo saying that the US should not be bound by international laws covering warfare and torture (see January 9, 2002), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concurs (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] But others inside and outside the administration strongly disagree. Many will later point to Yoo and Delahunty’s memo as providing the “spark” for the torture and prisoner abuses 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). Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth will call the memo a “maliciously ideological or deceptive” document that ignores US obligations under multiple international agreements. “You can’t pick or choose what laws you’re going to follow,” Roth will observe. “These political lawyers set the nation on a course that permitted the abusive interrogation techniques” disclosed in later months. Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, agrees. When you read the memo, Horton says, “the first thing that comes to mind is that this is not a lofty statement of policy on behalf of the United States. You get the impression very quickly that it is some very clever criminal defense lawyers trying to figure out how to weave and bob around the law and avoid its applications.” Two days later, the State Department, whose lawyers are “horrified” by the Yoo memo, vehemently disagrees with its position (see
January 11, 2002). Three weeks later, State again criticizes the memo (see February 2, 2002). State senior counsel William Howard Taft IV points out that the US depends itself on the even observations of international law, and that following Yoo’s recommendations may undermine attempts to prosecute detainees under that same body of law. Secretary of State Colin Powell “hit[s] the roof” when he reads Gonzales’s response to the Yoo memo, warning that adopting such a legal practice “will reverse over a century of US policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction” (see January 26, 2002). The Bush administration will give in a bit to Powell’s position, announcing that it will allow Geneva to apply to the Afghan war—but not to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. State Department lawyers call it a “hollow” victory for Powell, leaving the administration’s position essentially unchanged. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, Human Rights Watch, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, International League for Human Rights, John C. Yoo, Kenneth Roth, William Howard Taft IV, Scott Horton, US Department of State
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]
Two days after receiving assurances from the British Consulate that he would soon be returning home (see January 24, 2002), Jamal Udeen, who was imprisoned by the Taliban in October 2001, is taken by undercover CIA agents to the US air base at Kandahar airport. [London Times, 3/11/2004] Udeen later describes the air base as “a concentration camp,” with watchtowers and barbed wire. [Mirror, 3/12/2004] The next day, reporter Tim Reid, who was planning to accompany Udeen back to Britain, discovers he is too late. Udeen and four other foreign prisoners (see Early January, 2002) of the Taliban have been arrested and detained by US authorities. [London Times, 3/11/2004] Udeen and the other four prisoners will all end up at the Guantanamo facility in Cuba. Udeen will not be released until March 2004. [London Times, 3/11/2004]
US Secretary of State Colin Powell responds to Alberto Gonzales’ January 25 draft memo to the president (see January 25, 2002). He argues that it does not provide the president with a balanced view on the issue of whether or not to apply the Geneva Conventions to the conflict in Afghanistan. Powell lists several problems that could potentially result from exempting the conflict from the Conventions as Gonzales recommends. For example, he notes that it would “reverse over a century of US policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.” The decision will furthermore have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction.” It will “undermine public support among critical allies, making military cooperation more difficult to sustain,” and other states would “likely have legal problems with extradition or other forms of cooperation in law enforcement, including in bringing terrorists to justice.” But perhaps most ominously, Powell charges that the proposed decision “may provoke some individual foreign prosecutors to investigate and prosecute our officials and troops” and “make us more vulnerable to domestic and legal challenge.” The end of the memo consists of several rebuttals to points that Gonzales made in his memo. [US Department of State, 1/26/2004 ; New York Times, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
According to one former National Security Council official, Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith argues in a White House meeting that since counter-narcotics is not part of the war on terrorism, the Pentagon doesn’t want to get involved in it. The former official complains, “We couldn’t get [the US military] to do counter-narcotics in Afghanistan.” Author James Risen comments, “American troops were there to fight terrorists, not suppress the poppy crop, and Pentagon officials didn’t see a connection between the two. The Pentagon feared that counter-narcotics operations would force the military to turn on the very same warlords who were aiding the United States against the Taliban, and that would lead to another round of violent attacks on American troops.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154] Immediately after 9/11, the US had decided not to bomb drug-related targets in Afghanistan and continued not to do so (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
Secretary of State Colin Powell argues in a White House meeting that US troops should join the small international peacekeeping force patrolling Kabul, Afghanistan, and help Hamid Karzai extend his influence beyond just the capital of Kabul. The State Department has held initial talks with European officials indicating that a force of 20,000 to 40,000 peacekeepers could be created, half from Europe and half from the US. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld asserts that the Europeans would be unwilling to send more troops. He argues that sending more troops could provoke Afghan resistance and divert US forces from hunting terrorists. National Security Adviser Rice fails to take sides, causing Powell’s proposal to effectively die. In the end, the US only deploys 8,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2002, but all of them are there to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda, not to assist with peacekeeping or reconstruction. The 4,000 international peacekeepers do not venture beyond Kabul and the rest of the country remains under the de facto control of local warlords. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Flynt Leverett. [Source: Publicity photo]In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran is supportive of US efforts to defeat the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran have opposed each other. In 2006, Flynt Leverett, the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council in 2002 and 2003, will recall this cooperation between Iran and the US in a heavily censored New York Times editorial. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Afghan warlord with close ties to bin Laden (see 1984), had been living in Iran since the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. Leverett claims that in December 2001 Iran agrees to prevent Hekmatyar from returning to Afghanistan to help lead resistance to US-allied forces there, as long as the Bush administration does not criticize Iran for harboring terrorists. “But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech.” [New York Times, 12/22/2006] Hekmatyar apparently returns to Afghanistan around February 2002. He will go on to become one of the main leaders of the armed resistance to the US-supported Afghan government. Iranian cooperation with the US over Afghanistan will continue in a more limited manner, with Iran deporting hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan, while apparently keeping others. But the US will end this cooperation in 2003. [BBC, 2/14/2002; USA Today, 5/21/2003; New York Times, 12/22/2006]
Tarek Dergoul is transferred from Bagram to the US detention camp at Kandahar. He is still suffering from frostbite (see January 2002). For weeks he is not given medical treatment and the infection spreads, turning a big toe gangrenous. There at Kandahar he undergoes a further amputation. During the ensuing three months, Dergoul is only allowed two showers. [Observer, 5/16/2004] He will eventually be released in May 2004, never charged and never convicted.
Somewhere along the mountainous eastern border of Afghanistan, a Predator drone reportedly follows and kills three men. One of them is a tall man in robes who officials operating the drone think is Osama bin Laden. However, the victims will turn out to be innocent Afghan villagers, gathering scrap metal. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
US Central Command watches as a Predator drone captures images of a very tall man being greeted by a small group of people in the Zawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan. It is quickly agreed the man could be Osama bin Laden, who is known to be unusually tall. Within minutes, approval is given to launch a Hellfire missile from the drone. By this time, the tall man has broken off from the group with two others. The missile hones in on him and kills him and his two companions. Journalists will later report that the men were villagers who had been scavenging in the woods for scrap metal. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002; Reuters, 5/12/2011] But in trying to determine the identity of the target, US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA (see Shortly After February 4, 2002).
Shortly after a US Predator drone strike on a target that might be Osama bin Laden (see February 4, 2002), US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA with help from the Saudi government to help determine the identity of the target. The target turns out to be some innocent Afghan men instead. But now the US has DNA for any future bin Laden identity checks. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
The US negotiates “status of force” agreements with several foreign governments allowing the US to set up CIA-run interrogation facilities and granting immunity to US personnel and private contractors. The facilities were authorized by a recent secret presidential directive (see After February 7, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The CIA-run centers are kept completely under wraps. Prisoners are secretly held in custody and hidden from International Human rights organizations. In these facilities, there will be several incidents of abuse, torture, and murder. [International Committee of the Red Cross, 2/24/2004 ; Washington Post, 5/11/2004; New York Times, 5/13/2004] These secret detentions centers will be operated in several locations around the world including:
Afghanistan - Asadabad, Kabul, Jalalabad, Gardez, Khost, Bagram, Kabul (known as
“the Pit”). [First, 6/2004 ; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Pakistan - Kohat (near the border of Afghanistan), Alizai. [First, 6/2004 ; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Britain - Diego Garcia (British Possession in the Indian Ocean). [First, 6/2004 ; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Jordan - Al Jafr Prison. [First, 6/2004 ; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
United States naval ships at sea - The USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu. [First, 6/2004 ; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Thailand - Inside an unknown US military base, which is the first to become operational in March 2002 (see March 2002). [ABC News, 12/5/2005]
General Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who is on a visit to US Central Command: “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.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] (In his memoirs, Graham quotes Franks as saying that “military and intelligence personnel are being re-deployed to prepare for an action in Iraq.”) [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 125; Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] Franks will deny making the comment. [Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] The New Yorker magazine will also report on a redeployment of resources to Iraq at this time (see Early March 2002). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In 2009, Graham will tell a Vanity Fair reporter: “In February of ‘02, I had a visit at Central Command, in Tampa, and the purpose was to get a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, the commanding officer, Tommy Franks, asked me to go into his office for a private meeting, and he told me that we were no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and, among other things, that some of the key personnel, particularly some Special Operations units and some equipment, specifically the Predator unmanned drone, were being withdrawn in order to get ready for a war in Iraq. That was my first indication that war in Iraq was as serious a possibility as it was, and that it was in competition with Afghanistan for materiel. We didn’t have the resources to do both successfully and simultaneously.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
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]
The CIA develops an innovative plan to gain intelligence about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The CIA would spend $80 million to create a new Afghan intelligence service in the new Afghan government. It would be staffed by Afghans but in reality would be “a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA” with the orders being given by CIA officers. It would be much easier for Afghan operatives to slip into Pakistan and gain information about al-Qaeda operations than it would be for Americans to do so. But the plan is disrupted by the Bush administration’s focus on Iraq. Funding for the new service is repeatedly delayed and key personnel are redeployed to Iraq. [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]
The Bush administration shifts its attention from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later recalls: “They took one thing that people on the outside find hard to believe or appreciate. Management time. We’re a huge government, and we have hundreds of thousands of people involved in national security. Therefore you would think we could walk and chew gum at the same time. I’ve never found that to be true.… It just is not credible that the principals and the deputies paid as much attention to Afghanistan or the war against al-Qaeda as they should have.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Laurence Pope, an ambassador to Chad, will similarly recall that the change in focus that spring had a particularly damaging effect on operations in Afghanistan. “There was a moment of six months or so when we could have put much more pressure on the tribal areas [to get al-Qaeda], and on Pakistan, and done a better job of reconstruction in Afghanistan. In reality, the Beltway can only do one thing at a time, and because of the attention to Iraq, what should have happened in Afghanistan didn’t.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] US Intelligence agencies are also affected by the shift in priorities. The CIA’s limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle East specialists are redeployed to help meet the increasing demand for intelligence on Iraq. Michael Scheuer, a career CIA officer who was working on capturing bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time, says, “With a finite number of people who have any kind of pertinent experience there [was] unquestionably a sucking away of resources from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq, just because it was a much bigger effort.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Scheuer adds: “There really wasn’t any balance between the two threats, but clearly by 2002 in the springtime, it was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq… It was a nightmare. I know Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department, that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program, and it was just ignored.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In addition to a shift in focus, there is a considerable shift of specialized equipment and personnel (see Early 2002).
In mid-March 2002, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin informs senior members of the president’s national security team that the CIA is cutting back operations in Afghanistan. Presumably the CIA there are to be used in Iraq instead. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] Newsweek will later report that around this time, “The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out.” The CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, is replaced by a highly unpopular chief who admits to only having read one book on Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] More CIA personnel will move from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Informants spot al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a medical clinic in Gardez, Afghanistan. Green Berets are located just five minutes away, but they are ordered to stand down so Navy SEAL Team Six can raid the clinic and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. But the SEAL team is apparently located much farther away and too much time elapses while they are preparing for the raid, allowing al-Zawahiri to escape. In 2004, the Washington Post will mention this as one of a series of incidents in which Green Berets units were passed over and opportunities to get important wanted men were lost. [Washington Post, 1/5/2004]
Fifth Group Special Forces—an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari—is pulled from its mission in Afghanistan and sent to Iraq where the group is assigned the task of locating Saddam Hussein. Members of Fifth Group, who spent six months developing a network of local sources and alliances and who believe they were close to finding Osama bin Laden, are upset with the orders. “We were going nuts on the ground about that decision,” one of them will later recall. [Guardian, 3/26/2004] They are replaced by the Seventh Group Special Forces, who are Spanish speakers experienced mostly in Latin America. They have no local rapport or knowledge. [Guardian, 3/26/2004; Newsweek, 8/28/2007] They are also replaced by the Third Group Special Forces, which is trained to operate in sub-Saharan Africa. They speak French and various African languages. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003] CIA official Gary Schroen will later comment, “Well, you could see changes being made in the US military staffing in Afghanistan, that the Green Beret units, the Fifth Special Forces group, for the most of it, were being pulled out to refit and get ready for Iraq. And it was clear that the kind of guys that I think a lot of us believed were essential US military personnel with special operations capabilities were being pulled away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
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