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Gunmen attack the offices of the US oil company ABB Lummus Global Inc. in the port of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. Six Westerners and a Saudi are killed. All four gunmen are killed in a subsequent shootout. Al-Qaeda is blamed for the attack. [BBC, 12/6/2004] Three of the gunmen apparently worked at the company and used their entry passes to gain access for the attack. [BBC, 5/31/2004]
Following an attack on an oil company’s office in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, in which six Westerners were killed (see May 1, 2004), Saudi officials say Israel played a role in the attacks. Crown Prince Abdullah, who will become king in 2005 (see August 1, 2005), says he is 95 percent sure “that Zionism is behind everything.” Foreign Minister Prince Saud says it is “well known” that Saudi dissidents based in London “have contacts and are financed by parties that are linked to Israel.” Although such allegations have been made before, this is the first time a figure as senior as Crown Prince Abdullah has repeated them. The suspected mastermind behind the attacks, Mustafa al-Ansari, was a member of the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) in the mid-1990s. However, prominent Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Massari, who founded the CDLR, dismisses the accusations of Israeli support. Newsweek notes that, “No evidence of such links has ever been made public,” and another prominent dissident, Saad al-Fagih, comments, “This is like saying George Bush is sponsoring bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2004; Newsweek, 5/4/2004]
Riggs Bank agrees to pay $25 million in civil penalties for failing to report hundreds of millions of dollars in suspicious financial transactions by foreign customers in violation of US anti-money-laundering laws. Most of the transactions concerned the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea. [Washington Post, 5/14/2004]
The Oasis compound, where hostages were held. Bullet holes from the siege can be seen around some windows. [Source: Wikipedia/ Public domain]Gunmen attack oil company compounds in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and then take hostages. The Khobar headquarters of APICORP (Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation) is attacked and six people are killed. About 30 minutes later, gunmen storm the Petroleum Center headquarters about two miles away and kill at least four people. Then the gunmen move less than a mile away to the Oasis compound, a residential building full of Westerners, and take hostages. After a 24-hour siege, all but one of attackers manage to escape even though the building is surrounded by a cordon of hundreds of police. At least 30 people are killed in total, including nine hostages. Al-Qaeda reportedly takes credit for the attacks. [CNN, 5/30/2004; BBC, 12/6/2004] There is widespread speculation that the gunmen were allowed to walk free as part of a deal to ensure the safe release of other hostages. The BBC reports that counterterrorism experts say “they were surprised at the ease with which three of the four attackers were able to escape… despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the security forces and the tactical and logistical advantages which they enjoyed. If true, the existence of collusion between attackers and the people meant to catch them would be most disturbing.” [BBC, 5/31/2004] The Scotsman adds, “Eyewitnesses said they were highly skeptical of official accounts that there were only four kidnappers, insisting others were seen during the earlier attacks on two oil industry office buildings and entering the sprawling compound. It was also reported that they arrived in three vehicles.” Further, the fact that “the Khobar attackers wore military uniforms has raised fears of collusion between militants and the security forces.” [Scotsman, 6/1/2004]
It is reported that the Swiss government is investigate an unnamed Saudi businessman who is the former president of the Muwafaq Foundation, which is now defunct. Swiss investigators will say he is suspected of transferring tens of millions of dollars to “close al-Qaeda associates” from Swiss bank accounts. The Swiss will freeze $20 million of his bank accounts. This businessman denies any connection with terrorism (see September 19, 2005). [New York Times, 6/25/2004] The have been repeated allegations that Muwafaq funded radical militants in the Bosnian war (see 1991-1995) and had ties to bin Laden (see 1995-1998).
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) claims that Saudi leaders and members of the Saudi royal family continue to fund Islamic militant schools and groups in the US. He calls on the Bush administration to cut US ties with Saudi Arabia, and says, “There’s been much too close a relationship between Saudi royal family, the White House, and big oil. We have to be much tougher with the Saudis.” [Associated Press, 7/11/2004]
The Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, issues a press release highlighting portions of the 9/11 Commission Report favorable to Saudi Arabia. It quotes Prince Bandar as saying: “The 9/11 Commission has confirmed what we have been saying all along. The clear statements by this independent, bipartisan commission have debunked the myths that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia.” The press release quotes sections of the report saying that there was no evidence the Saudi government or top officials funded al-Qaeda, that flights for Saudis who left the US soon after 9/11 were handled professionally (see September 14-19, 2001), and that the Saudi government was opposed to al-Qaeda. [Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, DC, 7/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 416-417] Sections of the draft report unfavorable to the Saudi government were deleted from the main text shortly before publication of the final report (see June 2004).
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) alleges that the White House has covered up possible Saudi Arabian government connections to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. In an interview to promote his new book entitled Intelligence Matters, he contends that evidence relating to these two hijackers, who lived in San Diego, “present[s] a compelling case that there was Saudi assistance” to the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004] In the words of author Philip Shenon, Graham is “convinced that a number of sympathetic Saudi officials, possibly within the sprawling Islamic Affairs Ministry, had known that al-Qaeda terrorists were entering the United States beginning in 2000 in preparation for some sort of attack,” and that “Saudi officials had directed spies operating in the United States to assist them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 51] Graham also concludes that President Bush directed the FBI “to restrain and obfuscate” investigations into these ties, possibly to protect US-Saudi relations. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “Graham co-chaired the exhaustive Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and is privy to still-classified information about the probe.” Graham claims that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are Saudi intelligence agents. He also claims that the FBI deliberately blocked his inquiry’s attempts to interview Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI informant who was a landlord to the above-mentioned hijackers (see November 18, 2002). The questions the inquiry wanted to ask Shaikh went unanswered because of FBI maneuvering. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004]
Riggs Bank is added to the list of defendants in a 9/11 lawsuit filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives (see August 15, 2002). The amended lawsuit alleges, “Riggs’ constant failure to comply with banking oversight laws resulted in funds being forwarded from high risk Saudi Embassy accounts at Riggs Bank to at least two September 11 hijackers.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/13/2004] Riggs Bank is under investigation at the time and will later plead guilty to violating banking laws (see March 29, 2005). The bank also appears to have a long standing but murky relationship with the CIA (see July 2003 and December 31, 2004).
Accused terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi returns to Saudi Arabia aboard a US military jet. Earlier in 2004, the US Supreme Court ruled that the US government could not continue to hold Hamdi, a US citizen, as an enemy combatant without allowing him to challenge that status (see June 28, 2004). The US government was still free to bring charges against him but instead chose to negotiate with his attorneys about a release. In exchange for his release, Hamdi agrees to renounce his US citizenship and pledge never to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Syria, the Palestinian West Bank, or Gaza. He must also report any intent to travel outside Saudi Arabia. [CNN, 10/14/2004]
'Shocking Admission' of Lack of Criminal Case against Hamdi - Andrew Cohen comments in the Los Angeles Times, “If Hamdi is such a minor threat today that he can go back to the Middle East without a trial or any other proceeding, it’s hard not to wonder whether the government has been crying wolf all these years.” He calls the release “a shocking admission from the government that there is not now, and probably never has been, a viable criminal case against Hamdi.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/16/2004]
Hamdi Case Used to Set Favorable Precedent? - Author and reporter Charlie Savage will agree with Cohen. “Hamdi’s release meant that a prisoner who the White House had once sworn was too dangerous to be allowed access to a lawyer was now going free—just like hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo who were held without trial for years and then quietly released,” Savage will write. He will note that many administration critics believe Hamdi’s case had been used as a tool by the administration to get a favorable judicial precedent and, once that precedent had been put in place, the administration had no more use for Hamdi and threw him out of the country rather than actually continue with a problematic trial or legal proceeding. [Savage, 2007, pp. 199-200]
Security forces at the gate where attackers entered the US Consulate compound. [Source: Associated Press]Armed militants attack the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Five workers at the consulate, none of them US citizens, are killed, and another thirteen are wounded. Four of the attackers die in a shootout as well after taking hostages. A group called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility for the attack in an Internet posting [Washington Post, 12/7/2004; CNN, 12/7/2004]
An extremist arrested and interrogated in Saudi Arabia appears to disclose details of an operation that is strikingly similar to the 7/7 London bombings that will occur in mid-2005 (see July 7, 2005). However, the intelligence does not yield any results before the attacks, even though it is shared with the US and Britain. It will later be unclear whether the arrested man, known as Adel, provided a truthful account or was a fabricator who just happened to predict some details of the plot. Adel is arrested in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, in late 2004 for using a fraudulent passport, and a memo on his interrogation dated December 14 of that year, which is sent to the CIA and British intelligence, seems to reveal details of a multifaceted operation. Some details match those of the actual attack: it is to be carried out by four people in London in the middle of 2005, some of them British citizens, and will include a location around “Edgewood Road” (one of the bombs will explode at Edgeware Road tube station). The target is said to be a subway station or a nightclub. However, Adel, who is said to know Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also says the explosives will come from Bosnia and the plot will be coordinated by a Libyan businessman in London, who will help with safe houses and transport. In addition, one of the bombers is said to have tattoos on his fingers. The Saudis send Britain and the US a second report in February 2005, providing more details about the alleged bombers, who are supposed to be from different countries, although there are also apparently Caucasian British and Germans involved. The CIA checks a Syrian phone number mentioned in one of the memos, but finds nothing. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 400-2; Observer, 2/5/2006] After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to London Prince Turki will say in a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is unclear whether this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see April 2005 or Shortly Before), or both. [New Statesman, 11/1/2007] Interest in the detainee will be revived after the attack and even President Bush will become involved, but veteran reporter Bob Woodward, who examines the story in a 2006 book, will conclude that Adel is a fabricator. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 400-2] However, a Saudi security adviser will later say that he is “convinced” the information passed on was “directly linked” to the 7/7 bombings. [Observer, 2/5/2006]
The US Treasury Department and UN designate Adel Batterjee a global terrorist. Batterjee is connected to the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The Treasury Department says that Batterjee “has ranked as one of the world’s foremost terrorist financiers” by helping to fund al-Qaeda. It is not explained why the US waited until this time to list him, but counterterrorism expert Rita Katz suggests that the Saudi government may have changed their stance due to increased al-Qaeda activity in Saudi Arabia. “I think they needed Saudi support, and now it seems to be in place.” However, there is no report of Batterjee being arrested or having his funds frozen in Saudi Arabia. [US Department of the Treasury, 12/21/2004; Chicago Tribune, 12/22/2004]
The Wall Street Journal reports that a government investigation into activities at Riggs Bank may be hampered because of its “longstanding relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency” (see July 2003). [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2004] Yet this story attracts almost no mention or follow up in the US media. For instance, the Washington Post, which covers Riggs Bank more than other newspapers because the bank is based in Washington, mentions the CIA connection only in one paragraph near the end of article in the newspaper’s business section two months after the Wall Street Journal article: “Another potential cloud for any acquirer is the bank’s long-standing relationship with the CIA. Sources familiar with the bank’s operations and sources in the intelligence community say that since the 1960s Riggs at least held funds related to CIA operations or agents, and several officers of Riggs had high-level security clearances. However, law enforcement authorities say Riggs’s CIA connections had nothing to do with the bank’s violations of anti-money-laundering laws. And the subject did not arise in the bank’s negotiations with the US attorney for the District over Riggs’s guilty plea, the sources said.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005] Only Slate appears interested, publishing two stories highlighting the Riggs-CIA connection. In one, it is noted that the connection “invites speculation that the Justice Department might abort the prosecutions lest courtroom brawls reveal more about Riggs and the CIA than the government wants made public.” [Slate, 1/10/2005] The other Slate article will lament, “Where is the rest of the press on the Riggs-CIA connection? Spooks, sheiks, dictators, millions in laundered money, and a $766 million merger in the balance! What does it take to entice an assignment editor these days, a tsunami or something?” [Slate, 1/7/2005]
Ariel Cohen, who co-authored a September 2002 paper (see September 25, 2002) recommending the privatization of Iraq’s oil industry, explains to reporter Greg Palast how his privatization plan would have ended OPEC’s control over oil prices. He says that if Iraq’s fields had been sold off, competing companies would have quickly increased the production of their individual patches, resulting in over production which would have flooded world oil markets, thrown OPEC into panic, and destabilized the Saudi monarchy. [BBC Newsnight, 3/17/2005; Democracy Now!, 3/21/2005; Harper's, 4/2005, pp. 75]
After the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), an official at the Saudi Arabian embassy will tell a British journalist that before the attack Saudi Arabia provided intelligence to Britain that was sufficient to dismantle the plot, but British authorities failed to act on it. The information is quite detailed, containing names of senior al-Qaeda members said to be involved in the plot, including Kareem al-Majati, whose calls the Saudis have been intercepting and who may have been in contact with lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan. Al-Majati is said to have been involved in attacks in Morocco (see May 16, 2003) and Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), before being killed in a shoot-out in Saudi Arabia in April 2005. Calls from Younes al-Hayari, an al-Qaeda logistics expert and al-Majati’s lieutenant, are also traced to Britain. Al-Hayari will die in a shootout in Saudi Arabia four days before the 7/7 bombings. Details of calls, e-mails, and text messages between an al-Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia and a group in Britain are passed on to the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal issues a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is not clear if this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see December 14, 2004-February 2005), or both. The public response by British authorities when asked about this alleged warning changes over time; initially they deny having received it at all, but after the issue is reignited by King Abdullah in 2007 (see October 29, 2007), they will say that the warning was not specific enough to act on. [Observer, 8/7/2005; New Statesman, 11/1/2007]
King Abdullah. [Source: White House]King Fahd of Saudi Arabia dies of old age. As expected, Fahd’s half-brother Crown Prince Abdullah replaces him as king. Abdullah had been de facto ruler of the country since 1995, when King Fahd suffered a stroke (see Late 1995). Fahd had ruled the country since 1982. [BBC, 8/1/2005; CNN, 8/3/2005]
The outgoing Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, criticizes the Blair government over its lack of response to terrorism and says that MI5 is hampering efforts to clamp down. Prince Turki describes his experience: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it is the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution service, they say, no, it is MI5. So we have been in this runaround…” Turki particularly criticizes the government’s failure to act against Saad al-Fagih of the movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia and Mohammed al-Massari. Al-Fagih is accused of being involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and a plot to assassinate King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. [London Times, 8/10/2005]
Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]
The United States signs more than $21 billion in arms sales agreements with foreign countries—twice as much as the previous year. Between September 2001 and and September 2005, annual foreign military sales was typically between $10 billion and $13 billion. The 100 percent increase in sales in attributed to several factors, including the Bush administration’s practice of rewarding loyal allies and client-states with arms; the increased purchasing power of Middle Eastern countries flush with oil revenue; and the decision to drop bans against selling weapons to countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Serbia and Montenegro, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In 2005 Pakistan placed a $5 billion order for Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-16 jets. Next year’s arms sales is expected to be high also. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey B. Kohler, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, tells the New York Times, “We’ve got a good start on 2007.” India is hoping to purchase as many as 126 new fighter jets, while Saudi Arabia has plans to spend $5.8 billion on US weapons for its National Guard and an additional $3 billion for Black Hawk helicopters, Abrams and Bradley armored land vehicles, new radio systems, and other weapons. Christopher E. Kubasik, chief financial officer of Lockheed, tells the Times its foreign buyers are “valued customers,” adding that the company plans “to continue to grow in that area.” [New York Times, 11/1/2006]
The US freezes the assets of Abdul Latif Saleh, who is a citizen of both Jordan and Albania. Bin Laden allegedly gave Saleh $600,000 to create “extremist groups” in Albania, and Saleh is also said to be tied to the Islamic Jihad (which merged into al-Qaeda before 9/11). Saleh is also said to be associated with Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi (see October 12, 2001). The Treasury Department claims, “Saleh and Qadi had entered into several business partnerships with one another, including a sugar importing business, a medical enterprise and a construction business. Saleh served as the general manager of all of Qadi’s businesses in Albania and reportedly holds 10 percent of the Qadi Group’s investments in Albania.” [Associated Press, 9/19/2005; US Department of the Treasury, 9/19/2005] In the middle of 2004, the Swiss government also froze bank accounts worth $20 million of an unnamed Saudi businessman who is the former president of the Muwafaq Foundation over alleged al-Qaeda ties (see June 25, 2004). Al-Qadi was the founder and main investor of Muwafaq (see 1995-1998). [New York Times, 6/25/2004]
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006]
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want… the FBI running over their case.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 20]
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).
It had been widely reported that the Saudi government began to crack down seriously on al-Qaeda and other radical militants after a 2003 al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). However, the Los Angeles Times reports that US officials now claim that is not true. While Saudis have been very aggressive and cooperative in cracking down on militants within Saudi Arabia since that attack, they have done little outside the country. Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through charity fronts to al-Qaeda and other suspected groups, and the Saudi government is doing next to nothing about it. In 2004, the Saudis promised to set up a government commission to police such groups, but they have yet to do so. The Saudi government has also done little to rein in influential radical religious leaders who openly encourage their followers to attack US interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. US officials claim that at least five organizations, including the Muslim World League (MWL), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WML), “are headquartered in Saudi Arabia but continue to engage in highly suspect activity overseas.” A senior US counterterrorism official says that some known terrorist financiers continue to “operate and live comfortably in Saudi Arabia” despite US objections. [Los Angeles Times, 1/15/2006]
New York Times journalist James Risen writes in his new book, State of War: “[B]oth before and after 9/11, President Bush and his administration have displayed a remarkable lack of interest in aggressively examining the connections between Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Saudi power elite. Even as the Bush administration spent enormous time and energy trying in vain to prove connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in order to help justify the war in Iraq, the administration was ignoring the far more conclusive ties with Saudi Arabia. Those links are much stronger and far more troubling than has ever been previously disclosed, and until they are thoroughly investigated, the roots of al-Qaeda’s power, and the full story of 9/11, will never be known.” [Risen, 2006]
Ghaith Pharon’s yacht, photographed in 2005. [Source: Yachtmati]The FBI and Italian paramilitary police raid a luxury yacht owned by Saudi multimillionaire Ghaith Pharaon, but do not find him. Since 1991, there has been an international arrest warrant for Pharaon due to his prominent role in the criminal BCCI bank. Shortly after 9/11, a French intelligence report linked him to Osama bin Laden (see October 10, 2001). Pharaon’s yacht was raided off the coast of Sicily. The yacht was not seized. Despite being wanted for 15 years, Pharaon has managed to continue to run a large business empire. The FBI describes Pharaon as extremely wealthy with “numerous contacts within governments around the world.” [ndependent, 8/16/2006] On August 10, 2006, the FBI puts out an all points bulletin for Pharaon. [ABC News, 8/10/2006] A Middle Eastern newspaper notes that, “In the past few years, Pharoan’s super yacht—which he named Le Pharaon after himself—has repeatedly been seen moored alongside luxury yachts of the rich and famous.” In June 2005, it was seen moored next to the personal yacht of Saudi King Abdullah in a Greek port. Two years earlier, it was seen parked next to another Saudi royal family super yacht near Beirut. [Khaleej Times, 6/13/2006] But there has been no reported word on him since, and the FBI has taken the webpage about him off their website.
The US and UN finally officially designates the Philippines and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as a financier of terrorism. Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, executive director of the IRRO’s far east division, is similarly designated as well. The IIRO is a major charity connected to the Saudi government that has long been suspected of financing Islamic militant groups (see January 1996). It was reported shortly after 9/11 that the US left the IIRO off a list of designated terrorism financiers so as to not embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). The Philippine IIRO branch in particular has been publicly accused of funding al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, due to the activities of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who headed that branch when he funded the Bojinka plot in the early 1990s (see 1987-1991). [Associated Press, 8/3/2006; Manila Times, 12/12/2006] A US Treasury Department press release says Al-Mujil has been nicknamed the “million dollar man” for his “long history of providing support to terrorist organizations.” He is accused of funding the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. He is said to have had relationships with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The press release also calls “a senior al-Qaeda member” and accuses the current director of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, “a trusted associate of Khalifa.” But curiously, Khalifa himself is still not officially listed, nor is Daguit. He will die in mysterious circumstances several months later. [Treasury Department, 8/3/2006]
Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze minority in Lebanon and a strong supporter of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, meets with Vice President Cheney in Washington to discuss, among other issues, the possibility of undermining Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are looking for a way to cut off Iranian support for Hezbollah. “We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria—and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition,” Jumblatt later recalls. Jumblatt also tells Cheney that the US should consider working with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).
Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with King Abdullah and Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The king reportedly warns Cheney that the Saudis will consider providing financial support to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the US pulls out of Iraq. An unnamed Arab diplomat tells the New York Times, “If things become so bad in Iraq, like an ethnic cleansing, we will feel we are pulled into the war.” But according to a European intelligence official interviewed by reported Seymour Hersh, the real concern—one shared by both the Saudis and the Bush administration—is that the conflict in Iraq is resulting in a tilt of power in the Middle East that favors Shiite-dominated Iran. [New York Times, 12/13/2007]
Concerned that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in favor of Shiite-dominated Iran, the Bush administration implements a major shift in its policy toward the region. According to a number of current and former high-level government officials interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, the focus of the new policy is to roll back Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. The administration’s top concern is that the failure of its policy in Iraq has empowered Iran. To undermine Iranian influence, the Bush administration begins supporting clandestine operations in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The administration avoids disclosing these operations to Congress by skirting congressional reporting requirements and by running them through the Saudis. The White House is also turning a blind eye to Saudi support for religious schools and charities linked to Islamic extremists. “A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda,” Hersh notes. One former senior intelligence official explains to Hersh, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can.” The official adds that the money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like.” Much of the money used to finance these activities became available as a result of the budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for. A Pentagon consultant tells Hersh, “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions.” Hersh reports that according to his sources, the US is providing large sums of cash to the Sunni government of Lebanon, which in turn is being funneled to emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. “These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda,” Hersh writes. Another group receiving support is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni group that is an avowed enemy of the US and Israel. The “Redirection” is reportedly being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Saudi Arabia National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The clandestine activities are said to be guided by Cheney. Critics of the White House’s new policy compare it to other times Western state-powers have backed Islamic militants, such as when the CIA supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s (see 1986-1992). The “blowback” from that policy included the creation of al-Qaeda. Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, notes another instance: “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.” [Democracy Now!, 2/28/2007; New Yorker, 3/5/2007; New York Times, 12/13/2007]
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and now King Abdullah’s national security adviser, makes several trips to Washington and holds meetings with Elliott Abrams, the senior Middle East official on the National Security Council. It has been suggested that the visits relate to the White House’s new Mideast policy “redirection,” aimed at undercutting Iranian influence in the region (see Late 2006). Bandar’s actions reportedly upsets Prince Turki bin Faisal, the current Saudi ambassador to the US, prompting him to quit his post (see December 11, 2006). [Daily Telegraph, 1/10/2007]
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal, abruptly resigns and flies back to Saudi Arabia. His staff is reportedly shocked by his sudden departure. The explanation provided to the public is that he wants to spend more time with his family. [Washington Post, 12/10/2006] But insiders say Turki left because he was angry about dealings taking place behind his back between the previous Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, and top White House officials (see Late November 2006 and Late 2006). [Daily Telegraph, 1/10/2007; New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Ahmed Shayea. [Source: BBC]In an attempt to persuade Islamist militants to abandon violence, the Saudi government opens an unusual prison for militants designed to rehabilitate them. The small compound near Riyadh is called a “care center” and its inmates “beneficiaries.” It is run by the Interior Ministry’s newly-created Ideological Security Unit (ISU). The compound offers recreational facilities, including swimming pools, video games, and table tennis, even art therapy classes. Inmates are required to follow religious classes designed to modify their views. Since its opening, the center has processed former militants from Iraq as well as former Guantanamo prisoners. In a July 2008 report, the BBC interviews one of the inmates, Ahmed Shayea, who drove a truck bomb into the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in August 2003, killing nine. He says he was tricked by Iraqi recruiters and the authorities have chosen to believe him. “I am now an enemy of al-Qaeda,” declares the former militant. According to the BBC, some former inmates have also received financial support after their release. [Terrorism Monitor, 8/15/2007; Christian Science Monitor, 10/9/2007; Strategic Comments, 5/2008; Sunday Times (London), 7/6/2008; BBC, 7/9/2008] Juma al-Dosari, who recruited people to join al-Qaeda in the US, is a beneficiary of this program after being mysteriously released from the Guantanamo prison in 2007 (see July 16, 2007).
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, brother-in-law and former best friend of Osama bin Laden, is killed in Madagascar. Khalifa’s family claims that a large group of armed men broke into his house and killed him as he slept. His computer and laptop is stolen. Khalifa was living in Saudi Arabia but traded precious stones and was staying at a mine that he owns. His family says they do not believe he had been killed by locals. There is considerable evidence Khalifa was involved in funding al-Qaeda-connected plots in the Philippines and Yemen in the 1990s (see December 16, 1994-February 1995, December 16, 1994-May 1995, and 1996-1997 and After). Since that time, Khalifa has steadfastly denied any involvement in terrorism and has criticized bin Laden. CNN reporter Nic Robertson asks, “Was he killed by bin Laden’s associates for speaking out against the al-Qaeda leader or, equally feasibly, by an international intelligence agency settling an old score?” Just one week earlier, a Philippine newspaper published a posthumous 2006 interview with Khaddafy Janjalani, former leader of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group in the southern Philippines. In the interview, Janjalani claimed Abu Sayyaf received $122,000 from Khalifa and bomber Ramzi Yousef in the mid-1990s (see Early 1991). [CNN, 1/31/2007; Reuters, 2/1/2007] And four days before his murder, Interpol put out a bulletin about him, notifying a number of US intelligence agencies (see January 26, 2007). [Guardian, 3/2/2007] His murderers have not been found or charged.
Admiral Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence. [Source: Salon]Saudi Arabia is funding the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, according to Congressional testimony by the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. The Sunni insurgency is considered far more dangerous, at this point, to US troops than are the Shi’ite insurgents of the Mahdi Army and other groups, some of whom are funded by Iran. McConnell’s testimony highlights government worries that Iraq’s civil war could turn into a direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, by Iraqi proxies, with US troops caught in the middle. Brian Jenkins, a military expert with the Rand Corporation, says, "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia." While Iran has been considered, in recent years, an opponent of the US in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has had a long and close relationship with both the US government and the Bush family. In his testimony before Congress, McConnell is reluctant to identify the Saudis as the source of funding for the Sunni insurgents and only does so after tough questioning from Carl Levin (D-MI). McConnell and his deputy, Thomas Fingar, later qualify McConnell’s Senate testimony by saying that they cannot be sure whether the Saudi money is actually coming from the Saudi government. They also refuse to clarify whether the Saudis are supporting al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq (al-Qaeda being a Sunni organization) or homegrown Iraqi Sunni insurgents. A largely ignored section of the December 2006 report by the Iraq Study Group noted, "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States even as those governments help facilitate US military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues." Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, says Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name." He continues, "There is a renewed desire to protect the US-Saudi bilateral relationship. So you don’t want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests." [Hearst News, 3/4/2007]
Addressing interior ministers of the six US-allied Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz says that Iraq has become a security threat for the whole Middle East. “The security situation in Iraq is deteriorating and terrorism is growing there. Iraq has become fertile ground for creating a new generation of terrorists learning and practicing all forms of murder and destruction,” he says. “The lax security situation in Iraq bears great dangers for our region and stability in our countries.” [Daily Times (Lahore), 5/22/2007]
Juma al-Dosari in Saudi Arabia after his release. [Source: Nancy Durham / CBC]The Defense Department releases 16 Saudis being held in Guantanamo prison and returns them to Saudi Arabia. One of them is Juma al-Dosari, a dual Bahraini/Saudi citizen, and apparently a long-time al-Qaeda operative. [Gulf Daily News, 7/17/2007]
Extensive Al-Qaeda Links - Al-Dosari was known as “the closer” for recruiting new al-Qaeda operatives, and he recruited the “Lackawanna Six” in New York State while he lived in the US from 1999 to 2001. According to his 2006 Guantanamo Administrative Review Board evidence review, there is a long list of evidence tying him to al-Qaeda since he was 16-years old in 1989, just one year after al-Qaeda was founded. He fought with militants in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Tajikistan. He was arrested in Kuwait and then again in Saudi Arabia for suspected involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996), but released without charge both times. An unnamed source claims he was involved in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He was arrested during the battle of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001, and then sent to Guantanamo. US intelligence intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 2001-May 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; US Department of Defense, 9/13/2006 ]
Release Unnoticed, Unexplained - Al-Dosari’s 2007 release goes almost entirely unnoticed by the US media, despite previous articles and books discussing his recruitment of the “Lackawanna Six.” In June 2008, retired FBI agent Peter Ahearn will comment to the Buffalo News that he is baffled that the US government never criminally prosecuted al-Dosari, and then released him. “We felt strongly that we could try him in Buffalo on criminal charges, but the Justice Department declined.” Ahearn is upset that al-Dosari “is walking around as a free man in Saudi Arabia.” [Buffalo News, 6/22/2008]
"Rehabilitated" in Saudi Arabia - Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, al-Dosari is admitted into a “soft approach” government rehabilitation program designed to prevent militants from relapsing back into violent extremism (see 2007 and After). He is given a car, psychological therapy, a monthly allowance, help to find a job, and help to get married. He had attempted to commit suicide over a dozen times while in Guantanamo. In 2008, it will be reported that he is doing well in Saudi Arabia, with a new wife and a new job. He now says Osama bin Laden “used my religion and destroyed its reputation.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2007; Gulf News, 2/22/2008]
On the eve of a visit to London, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia says that his intelligence service warned Britain of an impending plot before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), but that British authorities failed to act on the warning. King Abdullah says, “We sent information to [Britain] before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.” He also says that Britain did not take terrorism seriously for a while. However, British authorities deny all this. [BBC, 10/29/2007] Details of the warning are not specified. However, this may be a reference to one or two discussions between Saudi Arabia and Britain in early 2005 about information indicating there was to be an attack in London (see December 14, 2004-February 2005 and April 2005 or Shortly Before).
Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan says that before 9/11 the Saudi government was “actively following” most of the 19 hijackers “with precision.” Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi ambassador to the US, also says that the information Saudi Arabia had may have been sufficient to prevent 9/11: “If US security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner, in my opinion, we would have avoided what happened.” A US official says that the statement made by Prince Bandar should be taken with a grain of salt. [CNN, 11/2/2007] Saudi officials had previously said that they watchlisted two of the Saudi hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the late 1990s (see 1997 and Late 1999) and their interest in Nawaf Alhazmi may have led them to his brother, Salem. All three of these hijackers were also tracked by the US before 9/11 (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001 and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
Saudi Tracking - Almost a year after Prince Bandar makes this claim, author James Bamford will offer information corroborating it. Bamford will write that Saudi officials placed an indicator in some of the hijackers’ passports and then used the indicator to track them. The Saudis did this because they thought the hijackers were Islamist radicals and wanted to keep an eye on their movements. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Details of the tracking by the Saudis are sketchy and there is no full list of the hijackers tracked in this manner. According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar and the Alhazmi brothers had indicators of Islamist extremism in their passports. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 33 ] Two other hijackers may also have had the same indicator. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 564]
The three who had the indicator are: -
Nawaf Alhazmi, who obtained a passport containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 (see March 21, 1999), and then left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999).
Khalid Almihdhar, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 6, 1999 and June 1, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, Late 2000-February 2001, May 26, 2001, and July 4, 2001).
Salem Alhazmi, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 4, 1999 and June 16, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, November 2000, June 13, 2001, and (Between June 20 and June 29, 2001)).
The two who may also have had the indicator are: -
Ahmed Alhaznawi, who obtained a passport possibly containing an indicator before mid-November 2000 (see Before November 12, 2000) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After November 12, 2000, (Between May 7 and June 1, 2001), and June 1, 2001).
Ahmed Alnami, who obtained passports possibly containing an indicator in late 2000 and spring 2001 (see November 6, 1999 and April 21, 2001) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see Mid-November, 2000 and May 13, 2001).
What the indicator actually looks like in the passports is not known.
Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the Middle East, meets with Saudi King Abdullah on Abdullah’s horse farm for about four hours. Cheney also meets with his long-time friend, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi. The conversations between the men are not reported in any depth; a senior US official says the discussions are “confidential and private.” Cheney will then leave for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. [Agence France-Presse, 3/22/2008] Interestingly, after Cheney’s meeting with the Saudi leaders, the Saudi Shura Council, the governmental group that implements the decisions of the Saudi leadership, plans to secretly meet to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors,” according to the Saudi newspaper Okaz. A leading Saudi agency, the King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology, has prepared a plan to deal with the probability of radiation hazards in case of any unexpected nuclear attacks on Iran. [Deutche Presse-Agentur, 3/22/2008] Certainly a swift and massively destructive US strike against Iran is possible. Author and military expert William Arkin wrote in 2005 that the US could strike Iranian targets within about 12 hours from the time President Bush gave the final order (see January 25, 2005). Arkin quoted Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, as saying that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers were on, essentially, perpetual alert: “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes,” Carlson said. He added that his forces were the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” and could execute an attack “in half a day or less.” [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] And in 2006, reporter Seymour Hersh noted that US Air Force planning groups had drawn up detailed lists of Iranian targets as part of the military’s plan to launch major air attacks against Iran. Teams of US combat troops had clandestinely entered Iran to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic minority groups; US warplanes were making repeated practice “nuclear delivery” runs near the Iranian border in preparation for air strikes. [New Yorker, 4/17/2006]
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Said Ali al-Shihri. [Source: Interpol]A former Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently resurfaces as a deputy leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, prompting concerns that closing the detention facility might lead to the release of potentially dangerous terrorists. Said Ali al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and given over to Saudi custody, where he went through what the New York Times calls a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists.” He is suspected of helping carry out a bombing attack near the American Embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Al-Qaeda in Yemen identifies its new deputy leader as “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri”; “Abu Sayyaf” is a commonly used nom de guerre used by jihadists to conceal their real identities. Almost half of the 245 remaining detainees in Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals like al-Shihri; the US is helping Yemen implement a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi program. The Saudis claim that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism. The Pentagon claims that dozens of released Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” but has provided no documentation of the claim, and many critics disbelieve it (see January 13-14, 2009). Yemeni journalist Abdulela Shaya and terrorism analyst Gregory Johnson both say that the Guantanamo detainee and the Yemeni al-Qaeda deputy are the same person. [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
Secret negotiations backed by the British government are under way to bring warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into Afghanistan’s political process, according to Al Jazeera. The talks between Taliban-linked mediators, Western officials, and the Afghan government are believed to involve a proposal for the return to Afghanistan of Hekmatyar, granting him immunity from prosecution there. Hekmatyar would first be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia under the proposal. The meetings recall earlier Afghan negotiations involving Hekmatyar and a Saudi role (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Ghairat Baheer, a Hektmatyar son-in-law released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is reported to be involved in the negotiations. Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to London by British authorities last month. Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and another son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said to have been involved. This is consistent with a report published late last year of Hekmatyar family members being engaged in negotiations with the Afghan government in coordination with Britain (see November 13, 2008). James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, adds that the plan is to widen these talks and bring in elements of the Taliban. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Al Jazeera, 2/27/2009]
Mullah Agha Jan Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, tells al-Samoud magazine that the Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace. “We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mutassim is quoted as saying in an interview translated by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi web sites. Mutassim, thought to be close to Mullah Omar, stresses that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved only if foreign troops withdraw from the country. “If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he says. Despite harsh words for the West, Mutassim praises the government of Saudi Arabia, according to the report. Saudi Arabia, which has allegedly been a source of funding for the Taliban (see 1996) and was one of only three states to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 (see May 26, 1997), has hosted talks between former Taliban, Afghan government officials, and others (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Mutassim adds that the Taliban are not seeking to share power in an “agent government,” but want the institution of an Islamic Emirate in which “educating women is as necessary as educating men.” [Site Intelligence Group, 2/25/2009; Reuters, 2/26/2009]
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, tells editors and reporters from the Washington Times that Pakistan can survive the Taliban threat provided the military remains intact. He asserts that the army does not want to intervene in politics, but suggests a military coup is possible if the civilian government does not improve its performance. Criticizing the Pakistani government, he charges that it has not found a proper way of dealing with the Taliban. Prince Turki, who oversaw Saudi funding and support of the mujaheddin two decades ago during the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (see Early 1980), downplays concerns about Pakistan’s stability in the face of mounting security threats. “As long as the armed forces are intact, the state is not going to be at risk,” he says. [Washington Times, 4/28/2009]
Author Jerome Corsi, who has made a number of disproven and debunked claims concerning President Obama’s citizenship (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, and October 9, 2008), now claims that he has “proof” Obama’s attendance and exemplary performance at Harvard Law School were engineered by a Saudi prince through the auspices of an African-American Muslim radical. He points to Obama’s decision not to release his college transcripts as circumstantial evidence (see September 11, 2008), saying that decision “prevents resolution of a continuing controversy over whether radical Islamic influences promoted his admission and financed his legal education there.” The “continuing controversy” centers on a lawyer named Percy Sutton, who claims that Islamic radical Khalid Abdullah Tariq al-Mansour, “one of the world’s wealthiest men,” asked him to write a letter of recommendation to Harvard Law School for then relatively unknown Barack Obama. Sutton says al-Mansour, a Saudi citizen, introduced him to Obama, and says al-Mansour was raising money for Obama to attend Harvard. Sutton says al-Mansour was a “principal adviser” to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who, Sutton says, actually engineered Obama’s acceptance to Harvard. According to Sutton, he was told in a letter from al-Mansour: “There’s a young man that has applied to Harvard. I know that you have a few friends left there because you used to go up there to speak. Would you please write a letter in support of him?” Sutton says he did write the letter, and told friends at Harvard, “I thought there was going to be a genius that was going to be available and I certainly hoped they would treat him kindly.” The Obama campaign denied the story during the 2008 presidential campaign. Sutton, who is in his 80s and apparently suffers from some sort of senile dementia or memory loss that precludes him being contacted by Corsi or other members of the press, has made his allegations in a YouTube video that Corsi cites as his “proof.” In 2008, Politico reporter Ben Smith contacted al-Mansour, who confirmed Sutton was “a dear friend, his health is not good” and said he’s sure Sutton wrote a letter for someone else, “and he got it confused.” Corsi has requested that the White House release all of Obama’s law school records to “resolve the issue.” Al-Mansour, Corsi claims, was originally Don Warden, a member of the 1960s Black Panthers. [WorldNetDaily, 7/21/2009]
On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. [CNN, 8/17/2009] In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” [Sky News, 8/17/2009] Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).
The tasks before the forthcoming Group of 20 (G-20) summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are rolled out in the media. The number one agenda item for global leaders will be restraining financial institutions’ compensation and forcing them to clean their balance sheets to avert a duplicate of the near-meltdown of global financial systems. They will also attempt to find new methods for controlling over-the-counter derivatives markets, which are said to have augmented the global crash. The leaders are also scheduled to “increase oversight of hedge funds, credit rating agencies, and debt securitization.” Most leaders agree that it is essential to find a resolution for the huge financial imbalances in trade, savings, and consumption, all of which played a role in the global financial crisis, and ultimately may leave global economies vulnerable to future financial shocks. Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, says that signs of economic recovery should not act as an excuse to avoid economic reforms. Officials of France and Germany are recommending stringent financial sector regulations, which incorporate limits on executive pay. The mandate of the G-20 is to “promote open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability.” The G-20 is comprised of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, which is represented by the rotating council presidency and the European Central Bank. [Reuters, 9/22/2009; New York Times, 9/22/2009; Voice of America, 9/22/2009; G-20.org, 9/22/2009]
A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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