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Alexandre de Marenches. [Source: Thierry Orban/ Corbis Sygma]Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence from 1979, will say in a 2002 speech in the US, “In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here, your intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything. It could not send spies, it could not write reports, and it could not pay money. In order to compensate for that, a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting Communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran.” [Scott, 2007, pp. 62] An Egyptian reporter digging through Iranian government archives will later discover that the Safari Club was officially founded on September 1, 1976. Alexandre de Marenches, head of the French external intelligence service SDECE, was the chief instigator of the group. Millions are spent to create staff, offices, communications, and operational capability. Periodic secret conferences are held in Saudi Arabia, France, and Egypt. This group plays a secret role in political intrigues in many countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. For instance, a rebellion in Zaire is put down by Moroccan and Egyptian troops, using French air support. It also plays a role in the US-Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 15-17] Author Joe Trento will later allege that the Safari Club, and especially the Saudi intelligence agency led by Kamal Adham and then his nephew Prince Turki from 1979 onwards, fund off-the-books covert operations for the CIA. But rather than working with the CIA as it is being reformed during the Carter administration, this group prefers to work with a private CIA made up of fired agents close to ex-CIA Director George Bush Sr. and Theodore Shackley, who Trento alleges is at the center of a “private, shadow spy organization within” the CIA until he is fired in 1979. The Safari Club and rogue CIA will play a major role in supporting the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. [Scott, 2007, pp. 63-64, 111] It is not clear when the Safari Club disbands, but it existence was exposed not long after the shah was deposed in Iran in 1979, and it seems to have disappeared by the time de Marenches stepped down from being head of French intelligence in 1982. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 15-17]
The United Nations passes Resolution 678. The resolution gives Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw entirely from Kuwait (see July 25, 1990) and restore its national sovereignty. The US uses UN authority to build a “coalition” of nations to support its upcoming “Desert Storm” operation designed to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait (see January 16, 1991 and After). 34 countries contribute personnel: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. West Germany and Japan do not contribute forces, but they do contribute $6.6 billion and $10 billion, respectively, to the cause. While some countries join out of a sincere belief that Iraq must not be allowed to dominate the region and control Middle Eastern oil reserves (see August 7, 1990), others are more reluctant, believing that the affair is an internal matter best resolved by other Arab countries, and some fear increased US influence in Kuwait and the region. Some of these nations are persuaded by Iraq’s belligerence towards other Arab nations as well as by US offers of economic aid and/or debt forgiveness. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007] As with all such UN resolutions, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein rejects this resolution. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]
Omar Nasiri, an operative of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) and informer for French intelligence, smuggles explosives into North Africa before a massacre by the GIA in Algeria. Nasiri takes the explosives hidden in a car for a GIA cell in Belgium, for which he works as an ammunition and weapons purchaser (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995). Nasiri tells his contact at the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about the trip beforehand, but refuses to provide the French with updates about his progress while on route to Tangiers, Morocco, where he passes the car and explosives on to another operative. A short while after this, there is a car bombing in Algiers, in neighboring Algeria, killing over 40 people. Nasiri later comments: “I don’t know if the explosives I carried were used in that blast. I will never know. The GIA had lots of suppliers, of course. And yet I kept thinking about the urgency of the trip. The way [an operative] yelled at me, and the frustration in [another operative]‘s voice when I threatened to keep the car. The speed with which the mechanic replaced the engine in Brussels. Was everything timed for this attack? I will never know the truth, but the question still haunts me.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 63-81]
Mohamed Daki. [Source: Cageprisoners]Records indicate that would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh lives at the same Hamburg, Germany, address as a Moroccan named Mohamed Daki during this time. Daki will be arrested in April 2003, and will admit to knowing bin al-Shibh and some others in the Hamburg cell. In April 1999 Daki will obtain a visa to travel to the US, but it is not known if he goes there. It is generally assumed by the press that the Hamburg cell keep themselves separate from other al-Qaeda cells in Europe. However, Daki is an expert document forger and a member of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. There is considerable evidence that the Milan cell has foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. The cell is under heavy surveillance by Italian intelligence before 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and January 24, 2001), but apparently the connection between the Milan and Hamburg cells through Daki is not made. German authorities will interview him after 9/11, and he will admit ties to bin al-Shibh, but he will be let go, not investigated further, and not put on any watch lists. He will later come under investigation in Italy for recruiting fighters to combat the US in Iraq. He will finally be arrested and charged for that, but not for his 9/11 connections. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2004; New York Times, 3/22/2004]
The British intelligence service MI6 and Moroccan intelligence approach al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou in an attempt to recruit him. Kherchtou is disillusioned with al-Qaeda and has been under surveillance by the Moroccans for some time. The results of the first meeting are not known, but after it Kherchtou returns to Nairobi, Kenya, where he had helped with a plot to bomb the US embassy and provided his apartment to other conspirators (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and makes contact with other cell members again in early August. He apparently does not know the precise details of the operation, but when the attack happens (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), he realizes who did it. MI6 is aware that he is in Kenya and he is detained at the airport by local authorities and turned over to them. MI6 debriefs him about the embassy bombings, but this information is not immediately shared with the FBI (see Shortly After August 7, 1998), which later takes him into custody (see Summer 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
In 2008, Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant heading an Islamist militant group in Morocco, will be arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa will claim that in 2001 Belliraj and several of his followers travel to Afghanistan to meet al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri gives Belliraj specific instructions to carry out. Belliraj’s followers then train in al-Qaeda camps alongside militants belonging to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, another al-Qaeda linked Moroccan militant group. That group will later carry out a series of attacks in Casablanca in 2003 (see May 16, 2003) and play a role in the Madrid train bombings in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It is not known if Belliraj meets al-Zawahiri before or after the 9/11 attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Belliraj’s group maintains al-Qaeda links after this. For instance, in 2005 Belliraj visits training camps run by the Algerian militant group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. One year later, that group will change its name to be Al-Qaeda in the Magreb. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/2/2008]
Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi flies from the US to Casablanca, Morocco, and back, for reasons unknown. He is able to reenter the US without trouble, despite having overstayed his previous visa by about five weeks (see January 18, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002] Mohamed Atta’s cell phone is used on January 2 to call the Moroccan embassy in Washington, DC. Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Hamburg associate, is also in Morocco at the same time as Alshehhi, but there is no documentation of them meeting there. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17]
A Moroccan militant in a prison in Brazil apparently makes an unheeded warning about the 9/11 attacks. Gueddan Abdel Fatah was imprisoned in January 2001 after a hold-up attempt. On September 5, 2001, he hands a letter to a lawyer named Edith Espinosa, and asks her to take copies to head of the Brazilian prison system and the US embassy. [BBC, 9/15/2001] Espinosa forgets to deliver the letter. On September 10, he sees her again and says that any warning now would be too late. [United Press International, 10/1/2001] In the letter, Fatah says, “I need to talk urgently about very important issues.” He says he intends to reveal information about militant groups that are planning attacks, and he makes reference to “two explosions” that could take place in the US. Shortly after 9/11, he will be questioned and says he was working with a group of Muslim militants in the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay that is a known haven for many Muslim extremist groups. One member of the group had a contact in New York City and “was constantly phoning the United States and holding coded conversations.” This member allegedly told him, “We are waiting for the United States to explode.” [BBC, 9/15/2001] Fatah claims that he visited the US consulates in Argentina and Brazil before his arrest eight months earlier and tried to pass on the warning, but no one paid attention to him. [United Press International, 10/1/2001] Both Osama bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed visited the tri-border area in previous years (see December 1995 and June 1998).
After the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is questioned and monitored by German intelligence. The US government pressures the German government to arrest him, but he is not arrested. [New York Times, 1/18/2003] Zammar is a dual German and Syrian citizen. When he plans to travel to Morocco in October, he lacks a passport. So, on October 25, the German government gives him a passport good for one year, allowing him to leave the country. He goes to Morocco two days later. While in Morocco, he is captured and renditioned by US forces and sent to prison in Syria (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). Time magazine will report in 2002 that US officials are “angry at Germany for allowing several al-Qaeda suspects to flee in the weeks after 9/11. And some German officials concede they should have arrested Zammar last October.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Time, 7/1/2002]
After the September 11 attacks, there is a dramatic increase in the frequency of US-requested “renditions.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 2/1/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] Officially, the original purpose of renditions was to bring suspected foreign criminals, such as drug kingpins, to justice (see 1993). But after September 11, it is used predominantly to arrest and detain foreign nationals designated as suspected terrorists and bring them to foreign countries that are willing to hold them indefinitely for further questioning and without public proceedings. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01; Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] According to one CIA officer interviewed by the Washington Post, after September 11, “The whole idea [becomes] a corruption of renditions—It’s not rendering to justice, it’s kidnapping.” [Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] “There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear,” a former intelligence official will tell the New York Times in May 2004. [New York Times, 5/13/2004] By the end of 2002, the number of terrorism suspects sent to foreign countries is in the thousands. Many of the renditions involve captives from the US operation in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 2/1/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] The countries receiving the rendered suspects are often known human rights violators like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, all of which have histories of using torture and other methods of interrogation that are not legal in the US. The rendition program often ignores local and international extradition laws. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01] In fact, US officials have admitted that the justification for rendition is sometimes fabricated—the US requests that a suspect be rendered, and then the allied foreign government charges the person “with a crime of some sort.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 2/1/2003] After a suspect is relocated to another country, US intelligence agents may “remain closely involved” in the interrogations, sometimes even “doing [them] together” with the foreign government’s intelligence service. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] The level of cooperation with Saudi interrogators is allegedly high. “In some cases,” according to one official, “we’re able to observe through one-way mirrors the live investigations. In others, we usually get summaries. We will feed questions to their investigators.” He adds, however, “They’re still very much in control.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Joint intelligence task forces, which consist of members from the CIA, FBI, and some other US law enforcement agencies, allegedly control to a large extent the approximately 800 terrorism suspects detained in Saudi Arabia. [Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01]
Countries involved in the practice of rendition -
Egypt - Amnesty International’s 2003 annual report says that in Egypt, “Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be systematic” during 2002. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Amnesty International, 2003]
Jordan - The State Department’s 2001 annual human rights report states, “The most frequently alleged methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions, and extended solitary confinement.” US officials are quoted in the Washington Post in 2002 calling Jordan’s interrogators “highly professional.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002]
Morocco - Morocco “has a documented history of torture, as well as longstanding ties to the CIA.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002]
Syria - Amnesty International’s 2003 annual report notes: “Hundreds of political prisoners remained in prolonged detention without trial or following sentences imposed after unfair trials. Some were ill but were still held in harsh conditions. Ten prisoners of conscience were sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment after unfair trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) or the Criminal Court. There were fewer reports of torture and ill-treatment, but cases from previous years were not investigated. At least two people died in custody.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Amnesty International, 2003]
Mohammed Fazazi. [Source: Luis de Vega]German intelligence investigates Mohammed Fazazi, the imam at the Al-Quds mosque attended by most members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, including three of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001 and Early 1996). Fazazi is monitored, and he is seen meeting with an unnamed hijacker associate. However, no charges are brought against him and he leaves Germany for the last time in late 2001. Fazazi is a Moroccan citizen, his wife and children live in Morocco, and in recent years he has been preaching on and off at a mosque in Morocco at the same time he preached at Al-Quds in Hamburg, so he goes to Morocco and stays there. He will later be convicted for a role in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (see May 16, 2003).
Private Meetings with Hijackers - In 2005, it will be reported that two regular attendees of the Al-Quds mosque say Fazazi sometimes had private meetings with key members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. One witness will say there was frequent contact between Fazazi and the three 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. It is not known what he discussed with them. However, he preached an extremely radical and militant version of Islam. For instance, in early 2001, he was recorded preaching that all non-Muslims in the world should be killed (see Early 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 7/6/2005]
Kamar Eddine Kherbane. [Source: Marco Hebdo]A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. [BBC, 9/21/2001] Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [CNN, 12/8/2002] Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 183] In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. [BBC, 9/26/2001] It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” [London Times, 9/23/2001] A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. [BBC, 2/24/2005]
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar travels from Germany to Morocco. Not long after, perhaps in November, he is arrested by Moroccan police with US assistance. Although he is a German citizen and under investigation by Germany, German intelligence remain unaware of his arrest, and only learn about it from the newspapers in June 2002. He is sent to Syria, where there are formal charges against him (see December 2001). Zammar reportedly now claims he recruited Mohamed Atta and others into the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. [Washington Post, 6/19/2002] It is widely suspected that the US arranged for Zammar to be sent to Syria so that he could be more thoroughly interrogated using torture. The Germans are angry that the US has been submitting questions for Zammar and learning answers from Syria, but have not informed Germany of what they have learned [Daily Telegraph, 6/20/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 7/26/2002]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
With help from the US, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a German and Syrian citizen believed to be a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell with three of the 9/11 hijackers, is taken in secret to Syria. He had been arrested while visiting Morocco (see October 27-November 2001). When the German government learns of the arrest and transfer, it strongly protests the move. After his arrival in Syria, according to a former fellow prisoner, Zammar is tortured in the Far’ Falastin, or “Palestine Branch,” detention center in Damascus. [Daily Telegraph, 6/20/2002; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 6/2004] The center is run by military intelligence and reportedly is a place “where many prisoners remain held incommunicado.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2003] His Syrian interrogators are reportedly provided with questions from their US counterparts. [Human Rights Watch, 6/2004] This is alleged by Murhaf Jouejati, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University, who tells the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that, “Although US officials have not been able to interrogate Zammar, Americans have submitted questions to the Syrians.” [911 Commission, 7/9/2003] In the “Palestine Branch” prison, Zammar is locked up in cell number thirteen. According to Amnesty International, the cell measures 185 cm long, 90 cm wide and less than two meters high. Zammar is said to be about six feet tall and now “skeletal” in appearance. [Amnesty International, 10/8/2004]
Three of the men convicted for the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993)—Mohammed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Nidal Ayyad—are allowed to write about 90 letters from inside the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, encouraging fellow extremists around the world. Some of the letters are sent to Morocco and some to a militant cell in Spain. In one, addressed to cell leader Mohamed Achraf, who will be arrested in late 2004 for attempting to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid (see July-October 18, 2004), Salameh writes, “Oh, God, make us live with happiness. Make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment.” Other recipients have links to the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One of Salameh’s letters, in which he calls Osama bin Laden “the hero of my generation,” is published in a newspaper in July 2002, but this does not result in any new security attempts to stop other letters. The letters urge readers to “terminate the infidels” because “Muslims don’t have any option other than jihad.” Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wonders, “He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists for the jihad from inside an American prison.” Terrorism specialist Hedieth Mirahmadi says the letters would have been especially useful for recruitment because the convicted bombers have “a power that the average person or the average imam in a mosque doesn’t have.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later comment, “I was surprised. Didn’t seem to make any sense to me and I’m sure the average American would have to wonder, ‘How could this happen?’” Staff at the prison noticed the letters were unmonitored and complained in 2003, but it apparently took management several months to impose a tighter regime. [MSNBC, 3/1/2005; MSNBC, 3/9/2005]
An al-Qaeda trainer named Abu Zubair al-Haili is captured in Morocco. A Saudi known as “the Bear” since he weighs over 300 pounds, he is said to have run training camps in Afghanistan and is believed to be head of al-Qaeda’s operations in North Africa. He is also thought to be one of al-Qaeda’s top 25 leaders. He had allegedly been working on a plot to bomb US and British naval ships in the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain. Seven other Saudis are arrested in Morocco in connection with the plot. One US official says al-Haili has “a wealth of information,” including details about al-Qaeda cells around the world. A senior Moroccan official says he was found based on a CIA tip that allegedly came from a detainee being held at the Guantanamo prison. [CNN, 6/18/2002; MSNBC, 6/22/2005] What happens to him after his arrest remains unknown. ABC News soon reports that the US is in no hurry to take custody of him because the Moroccans “can use much more persuasive methods in questioning a suspect”—presumably a reference to torture. [BBC, 6/19/2002] On September 9, 2002, USA Today will report that he is still being held in Morocco. [USA Today, 9/9/2002] On September 15, 2002, The Independent will report that he is in US custody. [Independent, 9/15/2002]
Terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown from Pakistan to Morocco as part of a joint British-American attempt to force him to divulge information about possible nuclear devices owned by Islamist militants (see May 17 - July 21, 2002). He is flown—trussed, gagged, blindfolded, and diapered (see October 4, 2001)—to Rabat, Morocco, a flight later confirmed by the CIA’s own flight logs. He remains in Moroccan custody for 15 months.
Beaten, Slashed with Scalpels - As he will later recall, he is introduced to Moroccan detention practices by an interrogator named Marwan, who gives him thorough and repeated beatings. When Mohamed has been softened up: “[T]hey cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was totally naked.… They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Maybe an inch. Then they cut my left chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. I remember Marwan seemed to smoke half a cigarette, throw it down, and start another. They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.” This happens time and again over the next 15 months.
British Complicity in CIA, Moroccan Interrogations - Documents disclosed for Mohamed’s later lawsuit against the US (see February 4, 2009) show that British MI5 agents are aware of the entirety of Mohamed’s treatment, and are in collusion with the Moroccans and the US in Mohamed’s treatment; on September 30, MI5 and CIA officials hold a conference where Mohamed’s treatment and interrogation are discussed. During much of Mohamed’s detention in Morocco, MI5 passes questions and photographs to the CIA for use in Mohamed’s interrogations (see February 24, 2009). Mohamed will later recall: “They started bringing British files to the interrogations—thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. It was when they started asking the questions supplied by the British that my situation worsened. They sold me out.”
Elaborate Confessions - By this time, as Mohamed will recall, he is willing to confess to anything to make the torture stop. “They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,” he will recall. “I confessed to it all. There was the plot to build a dirty nuclear bomb, and another to blow up apartments in New York with their gas pipes.” The “gas pipe” plot connects Mohamed to 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who supposedly conceived of the idea. “I said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had given me a false passport after I was stopped the first time in Karachi and that I had met Osama bin Laden 30 times,” Mohamed will recall. “None of it was true. The British could have stopped the torture because they knew I had tried to use the same passport at Karachi both times (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). That should have told them that what I was saying under torture wasn’t true. But so far as I know, they did nothing.”
'Rendered' to Afghanistan - Fifteen months after being “rendered” to Morocco, Mohamed is “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA (see January-September 2004). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Spanish police arrest 16 alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Barcelona, Girona, and other cities in northeastern Spain. Officials say the men may have links to the recent alleged ricin plot in Britain (see January 5, 2003). [CBC News, 1/24/2003] Police allegedly discover large quantities of bomb-making material, manuals on chemical warfare, and equipment to manufacture false credit cards and identity documents, as well as a cache of timers, fuses and remote-control devices. [Time, 1/26/2003] Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar says the people arrested “were preparing to commit attacks”; other officials say that a major attack has been foiled. Since the 9/ 11 attacks, 35 suspected Islamic terrorists have been arrested in Spain. [CBC News, 1/24/2003] The British media quickly identifies chemicals confiscated by Spanish police as ricin. However, it soon emerges that the Spanish police report refers to “resina” (resin). Other “evidence” gathered in the raid soon proves to be equally useless. The chemicals discovered by police are comprised of “two drums with liquids which in the first analysis contain aliphatic hydrocarbons, and a bottle, also with liquid, in which appear substances present in resins and synthetic rubber.” Subsequent tests prove that the liquids are harmless. Tests by US experts on the alleged ricin powder reveal it to be detergent. The electronic equipment proves to be equally innocuous (mobile phones, wires, etc.). It is also revealed that the raid was instigated by a French examining magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, dubbed Europe’s leading al-Qaeda investigator. Bruguiere had claimed that four of the Algerians arrested by French police in December in connection with the planned bombing of Strasburg cathedral had been in contact with the suspects. But when Guillermo Ruiz Polanco—the Spanish examining magistrate in charge of the case—asks to see the French court’s evidence, he is met with bureaucratic delay. Then, a month after the arrests, Bruguiere communicates he will not be asking for the extradition of any of the 16. Even Mohamed Amine Benaboura, who allegedly lived with one of the French al-Qaeda suspects, or Mohamed Tahraoui, who was found with a false French passport, arouse no interest from Paris. By April, all the suspects will be released, the court citing lack of evidence. “Very weak,” is Polanco’s view of the evidence the police have presented so far against the Algerians and Moroccans accused of plotting mass murder. [New Statesman, 4/14/2003]
[Source: Public domain]Abdelghani Mzoudi is charged in Germany for an alleged role in the 9/11 plot. The 30-year-old electrical engineering student from Morocco is accused of accessory to murder and membership of a terrorist organization. He was arrested in October 2002 (see October 10, 2002). He is alleged to have trained in Afghanistan, transferred money, and provided other logistical support to his fellow cell members involved in the 9/11 attacks. Mzoudi had known hijacker Mohamed Atta since 1996 and had roomed with Mounir El Motassadeq, another Moroccan who was convicted of the same charges (see February 18, 2003). Mzoudi denies any involvement in the hijacking plans. [Associated Press, 5/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/10/2003; Washington Post, 8/15/2003] In Mzoudi’s trial, which begins in August 2003, his lawyers say they may explore theories during the trial about how the 9/11 attacks suspiciously served the foreign policy goals of US conservatives. One defense attorney says, “As I take a close look at the results of the investigations through my glasses, I find anomalies that are immediately apparent. They begin with passenger lists that include the Arabic names of people who are still very much alive today.” (see September 16-23, 2001]) [Washington Post, 8/15/2003; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/8/2003]
The Casa de Spain was one of the bombed buildings in Casablanca. [Source: Associated Press]Twelve suicide bombers attack five targets in Casablanca, Morocco, including a Jewish cultural center. Forty-five people are killed, including most of the bombers. Moroccan authorities link the bombers to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG), which is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. After the attacks, Moroccan officials sentence two surviving bombers to death and round up thousands of people suspected of having ties to terrorism. [PBS Frontline, 1/25/2005] The suspected mastermind, Saad al-Houssaini, has extensive al-Qaeda ties and lived in Afghanistan for four years before 9/11. He will be captured in 2007. [Washington Post, 7/7/2007] The leader of the MICG is said to be Amer el-Azizi, who has links to the 9/11 attacks and the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Before July 8, 2001 and Before March 11, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Some of the other leaders of the bombings are also said to be linked to the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Also, Mohammed Fazazi, a radical imam who preached at the Hamburg mosque attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers, will be convicted for a role in the bombings (see 1993-Late 2001). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 241-242]
On May 13, 2003, 45 people are killed in a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (see May 16, 2003). Later that month, Mustapha Maymouni is arrested in Morocco for a role in the bombings. He will be sentenced to 18 years in prison. In early June, Abdelaziz Benyaich is arrested in Cadiz, Spain for a role in the bombings. He will later be sentenced to eight years in prison in Spain, then acquitted, and has since been fighting extradition to Morocco. On June 19, Hicham Temsamani is also arrested in the Basque region of Spain for a role in the bombings. He will be extradited to Morocco in March 2004 but acquitted in 2005. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004; Arabic News, 4/21/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006] All three men had been under surveillance by Spanish police for months before the Casablanca bombings. Maymouni is the brother-in-law to Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who will later be considered one of about three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Spanish police have been monitoring Fakhet’s apartment while Maymouni slept there for several months (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police have also noticed that Benyaich is part of the group of militants around Fakhet. This group has also been in contact with Temsamani, who is a former imam of a mosque in Toledo, Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] As a result, Spanish authorities focus more attention and surveillance on Fakhet’s militant group. Court approvals for more surveillance usually make reference to links to the Casablanca bombings. For instance, in February 2004, the court order to approve more surveillance of Madrid bombers Fakhet and Jamal Zougam will say that they have been linked “with al-Qaeda operatives” who were “directly implicated in the events” in Casablanca (see February 3, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004]
After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Mzoudi in an airport in Hanover, Germany, on June 21, 2005 as he returns to Morocco. [Source: Associated Press]Abdelghani Mzoudi is acquitted of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Mzoudi is known to have been a friend and housemate of some of the 9/11 hijackers. A German judge tells Mzoudi, “You were acquitted not because the court is convinced of your innocence but because the evidence was not enough to convict you.” Mzoudi’s acquittal became likely after Germany received secret testimony from the US government that asserted Mzoudi was not part of the plot (see December 11, 2003). But the information apparently came from the interrogation of US prisoner Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and since the US would not allow Mzoudi’s defense to cross-examine bin al-Shibh, Mzoudi was released. [Daily Telegraph, 2/6/2004] Later in the year, Mzoudi acquittal is appealed to a higher court. Kay Nehm, Germany’s top federal prosecutor, again appeals to the US State Department to release interrogation records of bin al-Shibh to the court. However, the US still refuses to release the evidence, and a list of questions the court gives to the US for bin al-Shibh to answer are never answered. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 7/30/2004] On June 8, 2005, Mzoudi’s acquittal is upheld. Nehm calls the US’s government’s behavior “incomprehensible.” [Reuters, 6/9/2005] After the verdict, German authorities maintain that he is still a threat and give him two weeks to leave the country. He quickly moves back to his home country of Morocco, where he now lives. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 6/26/2005]
Mohamed Haddad. [Source: Public domain]Days after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), multiple witnesses identify a Moroccan named Mohamed Haddad as one of the bombers. For instance, two witnesses claim to have seen him carrying a backpack on the day of the bombing near one of the bomb sites while in the company of two of the other bombers. Further, Haddad has many links to the other arrested bombers. For instance, he was arrested with two of the other bombers in Turkey in 2000 and then let go (see October 10, 2000). Haddad is arrested in Morocco on March 18, but then is soon released. Strangely, the Moroccan government allows him to continue to live in the Moroccan town of Tetouan, but do not allow him to travel or speak to any journalists. Also, Spanish authorities are not allowed to question him. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report on this unusual arrangement in September 2004. In August 2005, El Mundo will report that the situation is essentially unchanged. They will comment, “It has not been explained how the Moroccan police, who had arrested thousands of people for militant ties after the 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003), sometimes on scant evidence, leave a suspect at large who could not even prove where he was on the day of the train bombings.” The newspaper will also note that the Spanish government has not indicted Haddad. The article will conclude by asking, “How can it be a man like Haddad has not yet been charged?” [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/14/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/1/2005] El Mundo will conclude that this “would mean that Haddad was an informer of [Moroccan intelligence] in Spain or that he knows things that the Moroccans do not want the Spaniards to know.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/19/2005]
Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant leading a Moroccan militant group, allegedly helps foil an attack in Britain. Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Belgian intelligence gives the British government “very precise” information from Belliraj about a planned follow-up attack. Arrests are made and material is seized in Liverpool, but the incident is not reported in the media at the time. (Apparently this is a different plot to a largely unsuccessful copycat bomb plot two weeks after the 7/7 bombings (see July 21, 2005)). A Belgian newspaper will say the attacks could have killed dozens of people. Belliraj had developed links to al-Qaeda in 2001 while being paid by Belgian’s internal security service (see 2001). He will be arrested in Morocco in 2008 (see February 18, 2008). [Agence France-Presse, 3/15/2008]
The US charges British citizen Binyam Ahmed Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who has allegedly used the aliases Talha al-Kini, Foaud Zouaoui, Taha al-Nigeri, and John Samuel, with conspiracy to foment and carry out terrorist attacks against US targets. Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, is charged with “attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; murder by an unprivileged belligerent; destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent; and terrorism,” though the charge sheet is unclear whether Mohamed carried out any of these actions himself, or whether he was part of a larger conspiracy by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The charges allege links between Mohamed and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), radical Islamist Abu Zubaida, 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. Mohamed is alleged to have been part of the Padilla bomb plot. [US Defense Department, 11/4/2005 ] Much of the evidence against Mohamed comes from confessions he allegedly made while in US custody at the detention camp at Bagram Air Force Base (see January-September 2004), and in Guantanamo Bay (see September 2004 and After). He was also held in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), and “rendered” to a secret prison in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). Through his lawyers, Mohamed has claimed that he was tortured in all four detention sites. The British judiciary will later establish that British officials facilitated Mohamed’s interrogation in Pakistan, and had “full knowledge of the reported conditions of his detention and treatment” (see February 24, 2009). [Guardian, 2/5/2009] As with Padilla, the charges relating to the “dirty bomb” plot will later be dropped due to lack of evidence, and all charges against Mohamed will eventually be dropped (see October-December 2008 and February 4, 2009).
Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
Abdelkader Belliraj. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Belgian media reports that Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen arrested in Morocco earlier in the month, is actually a long-time informant for Belgium’s internal security service, State Security. [Agence France-Presse, 2/29/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2008] The Belgian government initially denies the charges but soon tacitly admits them when the head of State Security, Alain Winants, complains about the leak of the “highly classified” status of Belliraj several days later. Agence France-Presse reports that although the “accusations were at first met with scepticism in Belgium, authorities now consider them credible.” Belliraj has been personally involved in armed robberies and murders dating back to the 1980s, and has links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamist militant groups. It remains unclear if Belliraj was committing all his crimes with the approval of Belgian officials or if he may have been duping them to some degree. One anonymous Belgian police official speculates: “How could he travel freely since the 1980s from Belgium to various terrorist hot-beds around the world? There are two possibilities: either he worked for a secret service or else the State Security is full of idiots.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/11/2008] On Belgian newspaper claims that at the same time he was a paid Belgian informant since 2000, “It’s almost certain that at the same time he worked for another foreign secret service, possibly the French DGSE or American CIA.” [Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Another major Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, claims that Belliraj had both French and US intelligence links while working with Belgium too. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/4/2008]
Mark Denbeaux. [Source: Seton Hall University]Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, and the lawyer for two detainees at Guantanamo, describes how his research disproved the Pentagon’s recent claim that 61 former detainees have returned to terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009). Denbeaux, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, says that his analysis of the information released by the government shows that the claim has changed over and over again, and has never been supported by evidence. “Our model is simply to look at what the government’s reports show and analyze them,” he says. “The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time. And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few—25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name, or an incident to support their claim.” In June 2007, Denbeaux says, the Pentagon identified 15 detainees as having “returned to the battlefield.” Denbeaux analyzed the information about the 15 so-called “recidivist terrorists.” Three of the 15, the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001), were considered as having “returned to the battlefield” because of their appearance in a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo. Five others are Chinese Uighurs who were listed as having “returned to terrorism” because one of their number wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies (see September 17, 2006). Two others were never at Guantanamo. Two were Russians who were arrested in Russia but never prosecuted. Two were arrested in their home country of Morocco, and the last was arrested in his home country of Turkey. So of the 15 so-called “recidivists,” a maximum of three could even be considered as possibly “returning to the battlefield.” Denbeaux says that the current listing of 61 so-called “recidivists” includes the 15 on the 2007 list, and the remaining 46 names have similar issues with documenting actual acts of terrorism. [MSNBC, 1/16/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Mohammed Fazazi, the imam to some of the 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg, Germany, is freed in Morocco as part of a larger pardon of prisoners. Fazazi was the imam at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1990s up until not long before the 9/11 attacks (see 1993-Late 2001). Most of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, including 9/11 hijackers like Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, frequently attended that mosque. Later, Fazazi was convicted in Morocco for a role in the 2003 Casablanca bombings and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see May 16, 2003). In April 2011, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI pardons or reduces the sentences of 190 prisoners, most of them allegedly linked to Islamist militancy. The move is believed to be in response to increased pressure for political reform and openness. After his release, Fazazi says he used to preach jihad, but he no longer supports violent attacks. He claims he never knew any of the 9/11 hijackers or their plans, and he denies having any connection to the Casablanca bombings. [New York Times, 4/27/2011]
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