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In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write, “As early as 1993, [the CIA] had declared bin Laden to be a significant financier backer of Islamic terrorist movements. We knew he was funding paramilitary training of Arab religious militants in such far-flung places as Bosnia, Egypt, Kashmir, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Yemen” (see July-August 1993). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100]
A truck bomb kills 19 people, mostly German tourists, at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. It is later claimed that al-Qaeda is behind the attack, and that the suspected bomber speaks with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) by phone about three hours before the attack. [Associated Press, 8/24/2002] In June 2002, al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith will say that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing (see June 22, 2002).
Maher Arar. [Source: Chris Wattie / Reuters]On his way home to Montreal, Maher Arar, a 34-year old IT specialist, makes a stopover at JFK International Airport in New York. He is returning alone from a family holiday with his wife and daughter in Tunisia. At the airport, Arar, who was born in Syria and has dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, is arrested by officers wearing badges from the FBI and the New York Police Department. Arar happens to be on a terrorist watch list. A US official later says Arar has the names of “a large number of known al-Qaeda operatives, affiliates or associates” on him. [Washington Post, 11/19/2003] Canadian Solicitor General Wayne Easter later admits that Canada contributed information that led to Arar’s arrest. [Washington Post, 11/20/2003] In an interrogation room Arar asks for an attorney, but, as he later publishes on his website, is told he has no right to a lawyer because he is not an American citizen. Subsequent requests for a lawyer are ignored and the interrogation continues until midnight. His interrogators are particularly interested in another Canadian by the name of Abdullah Almalki. Arar says he has worked together with his brother, Nazih Almalki, but knows Abdullah only casually. Then, with his hands and feet in shackles, he is taken to a nearby building and put in a cell around 1 a.m. “I could not sleep,” Arar later writes. “I was very, very scared and disoriented.” [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003; CounterPunch, 11/6/2003; CBS News, 1/22/2004; Washington Post, 5/11/2004; CBC News, 11/26/2004; Maher Arar, 1/15/2005]
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is readying a vote on whether to recommend that the UN Security Council impose sanctions against Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration, as part of its campaign to pressure the IAEA to vote for such a recommendation, briefs the president of Ghana, along with officials from Argentina, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Nigeria, all Security Council members, on its findings on Iran’s nuclear program derived from a laptop computer that contains evidence of Iran’s nuclear experiments (see Summer 2004). The briefing, actually a slide show, contains excerpts of the documents contained on the laptop. The US also presents a “white paper” containing summaries of the findings from the documents to another group of nations; the white paper contains no classified evidence and no mention of Iran’s purported attempts to develop a missile capable of deploying a nuclear weapon, but instead uses commercial satellite photos and economic analysis to argue that Iran has no need for nuclear power and has long hidden its nuclear ambitions. The white paper was prepared by analysts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of the State Department. The paper does contain extensive details about some of Iran’s previously hidden nuclear sites. Most foreign officials are unimpressed. “Yeah, so what?” says one European expert who heard the briefing. “How do you know what you’re shown on a slide is true given past experience?” Nevertheless, the presentation is effective; on September 24, the IAEA votes 22 to 1 to adopt a resolution against Iran, with 12 countries, including China and Russia, abstaining. The resolution cites Iran for “a long history of concealment and deception” and its repeated failure to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1970. The resolution says Iran may now be considered for sanctions by the Security Council. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, denounces the resolution as “illegal and illogical” and the result of a “planned scenario determined by the United States.” The IAEA will decide whether to send the recommendation to the Security Council in November. It is by no means certain that the Council will adopt the recommendation, as two countries rotating onto the Council, Cuba and Syria, are almost certain to refuse to bow to US pressure. And the IAEA itself is not wholly convinced of the accuracy of the documents, given the US’s refusal to allow the agency to examine the documents. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he is bound to “follow due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern.” In this case, ElBaradei says, “That has not happened.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]
The Guardian publishes a cable drafted by US Ambassador to Tunisia Robert F. Godec in July 2009 containing a description of a meal with Mohammad Sakher El Materi, the son-in-law of Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and his wife Nesrine Ben Ali El Materi. The Guardian obtained the cable through its agreement with WikiLeaks. The cable is primarily a description of El Materi’s political views, which coincide with US positions in some respects. However, there are also descriptions of the couple’s lifestyle. The dinner is called “lavish,” and the ambassador comments that El Materi is “living, however, in the midst of great wealth and excess, illustrating one reason resentment of President Ben Ali’s in-laws is increasing.” Godec also gives a desciption of El Materi’s home, which is “spacious,” “includes an infinity pool,” and has “ancient artifacts everywhere.” In addition, El Materi “hopes to move into his new (and palatial) house in Sidi Bou Said in eight to 10 months.” Further, there is a description of the meal, which included “perhaps a dozen dishes, including fish, steak, turkey, octopus, fish couscous, and much more.” Most startlingly: “After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yoghurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez, along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake. (NB. El Materi and Nesrine had just returned from Saint Tropez on their private jet after two weeks vacation…).” El Materi also has a large tiger on his compound, which reminded the ambassador “of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad.” Godec’s final comment is: “The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.” [Guardian, 12/7/2010]
The Guardian publishes a cable drafted by US Ambassador to Tunisia Robert F. Godec in July 2009 containing a very candid assessment of the current Tunisian regime. The Guardian obtained the cable through its agreement with WikiLeaks. According to the cable, Tunisia should be a US ally, but is not, because of big problems in the form of “aging” President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, his “sclerotic regime,” the lack of a successor and political freedom, First Family corruption, high unemployment, regional inequalities, and the fact that Tunisia is a “police state.” Perhaps the most startling passage in the cable refers to Ben Ali’s wife: “Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, First Lady Leila Trabelsi and her family. In private, regime opponents mock her; even those close to the government express dismay at her reported behavior.” Some portions of the cable are redacted; the context indicates they contain the names of pro-democracy leaders in contact with the embassy. [Guardian, 12/7/2010]
The government of Tunisia prevents its citizens from accessing the website of the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, which has republished US embassy cables about the current Tunisian regime. The cables were first published earlier in the day by The Guardian (see December 7, 2010 and December 7, 2010), which obtained them from WikiLeaks. The content of the cables is controversial because they contain candid assessments of Tunisia’s situation and deep-seated public anger about the ruling elite grouped around President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and its opulent lifestyle. [Guardian, 12/1/2010]
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