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Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist who has recently been made a figure of fun for predicting resolution in Iraq “within six months” for the last three years (see May 6-11, 2006), writes that Iraq will be resolved one way or another within “10 months.” Friedman expands on his new prediction, saying Iraq “is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war. There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons—religion, crime, politics—that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable.… Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police, and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war—it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle. Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shi’ite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch. Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq—and ‘self-sustaining’ is the key metric.” Friedman concludes: “This has left us with two impossible choices. If we’re not ready to do what is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq and properly rebuild it, then we need to leave—because to just keep stumbling along as we have been makes no sense. It will only mean throwing more good lives after good lives into a deeper and deeper hole filled with more and more broken pieces.” [New York Times, 11/29/2006] Four months ago, Friedman had written that the only way to resolve Iraq was to stop trying to rebuild the country and just find a way to exit gracefully (see August 4, 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]
An unnamed Pentagon consultant describes the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq and Iran as “a classic case of ‘failure forward.’” He adds: “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.” In the light of belligerent statements made by several administration officials hostile to the current regime in Iran, he also says: “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.… [T]he goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq.” (Note: al-Sadr’s closeness to Iran is a matter of dispute.) [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
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]
Thomas McInerney. [Source: New York Times]Several military analysts who serve as part of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to push the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) emphasize their willingness to cooperate with the program even as they come to believe that they are being manipulated and deceived. NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, will later say that he has discerned an ever-widening gap between what he and his fellow analysts are being told and what subsequent investigation and book analyses will later reveal. Allard will say, “Night and day, I felt we’d been hosed.” Yet Allard continues to repeat Pentagon talking points on NBC. Other analysts feel fewer qualms. Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, writes to the Pentagon regarding the talking points they have given him: “Good work. We will use it.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
National Defense Intelligence College logo. [Source: National Defense Intelligence College]A study just released by the Intelligence Science Board, a wing of the National Defense Intelligence College, suggests that after the 9/11 attacks, when US military and intelligence agency interrogators were asked to use harsher tactics on suspected terrorists to find out information about upcoming attacks, the interrogators were not sure how to implement such tactics. Therefore, they began “mak[ing] it up on the fly,” the study finds. It continues, “Th[e] shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008]
A study conducted for the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency finds that close American allies want the Bush administration to understand that “a greater US readiness to engage on nuclear disarmament issues would pay off in increased support from other third parties in pursuing US nonproliferation issues.” Many US allies, such as Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and others, are deeply unhappy with the US’s recent refusal to follow the restrictions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see Late May 2005). A similar study for Sandia National Laboratories, a US nuclear research facility, finds that while other nations are not any more likely to develop their own nuclear programs because of the US’s nuclear posture, the US has lost tremendous credibility in pursuing nonproliferation efforts among other states because of its perceived hypocrisy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 278-279]
Congress passes a law prohibiting the US from transferring nuclear technology to India if that nation violates international nonproliferation guidelines. President Bush signs the law, then issues a signing statement saying that since only he has the right to determine US foreign policy, he views the legal ban as nothing more than “advisory.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 239]
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, holds an early-morning breakfast session with senior officials of the Bush administration, including President Bush, to discuss its 79 recommendations for the future conduct of the Iraq war. The White House essentially ignores the report (see December 2006). ISG member Lawrence Eagleburger will later say of Bush, “I don’t recall, seriously, that he asked any questions” during the meeting.
Former Senator's Recollection - Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, another ISG member present at the breakfast meeting, later recalls: “It was an early-morning session, seven a.m., I think, breakfast, the day we trotted it out. And Jim and Lee said, ‘Mr. President, we will’—and Dick was there, [Vice President] Cheney was there—‘just go around the room, if you would, and all of us share with you a quick thought?’ And the president said fine. I thought at first the president seemed a little—I don’t know, just maybe impatient, like, ‘What now?’ He went around the room. Everybody stated their case. It just took a couple minutes. I know what I said. I said, ‘Mr. President, we’re not here to present this to vex or embarrass you in any way. That’s not the purpose of this. We’re in a tough, tough situation, and we think these recommendations can help the country out. We’ve agreed on every word here, and I hope you’ll give it your full attention.’ He said, ‘Oh, I will.’ And I turned to Dick, and I said, ‘Dick, old friend, I hope you’ll gnaw on this, too. This is very important that you hear this and review it.’ And he said, ‘I will, I will, and thanks.’ Then the president gave an address not too far after that. And we were called by [National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley on a conference call. He said, ‘Thank you for the work. The president’s going to mention your report, and it’ll be—there will be parts of it that he will embrace, in fact, and if he doesn’t happen to speak on certain issues, you know that they’ll be in full consideration in the weeks to come,’ or something like that. And we all listened with a wry smile. We figured that maybe five of the 79 recommendations would ever be considered, and I think we were pretty right.”
Hamilton's Recollection - Hamilton has similar recollections of the meeting and the administration’s response to the report: “Cheney was there, never said a word, not a—of course, the recommendations from his point of view were awful, but he never criticized. Bush was very gracious, said we’ve worked hard and did this great service for the country—and he ignored it so far as I can see. He fundamentally didn’t agree with it. President Bush has always sought, still seeks today, a victory, military victory. And we did not recommend that. The gist of what we had to say was a responsible exit. He didn’t like that.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Civil libertarians, both conservative and liberal, join in filing a legal brief on behalf of suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001), whose lawyers are preparing to file a suit challenging his detention as an “enemy combatant” (see February 1, 2007). Liberal and progressive law school deans Harold Koh of Yale and Laurence Tribe of Harvard are joined by conservatives such as Steven Calabresi, a former Reagan White House lawyer and co-founder of the staunchly conservative Federalist Society, in a brief that argues an immigrant or a legal resident of the US has the right to seek his freedom in the US court system. Al-Marri is a Qatari citizen who attended Bradley University in Illinois. The brief argues that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is unconstitutional. The brief “shows the phrases ‘conservative’ and ‘libertarian’ have less overlap than ever before,” says law professor Richard Epstein, a Federalist Society member who signed it, adding, “This administration has lost all libertarians on all counts.” Koh says: “This involves the executive branch changing the rules to avoid challenges to its own authority. Serious legal scholars, regardless of political bent, find what the government did inconsistent with any reasonable visions of the rule of law.” Epstein, who says Koh is “mad on many issues,” agrees, calling the al-Marri case “beyond the pale.” He says, “They figured out every constitutional protection you’d want and they removed them.” Lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, representing al-Marri, says the case brings up issues about what the framers of the Constitution intended—something libertarians and judicial conservatives often look to. [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]
After the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report is tossed aside by President Bush (see December 2006), his neoconservative advisers quickly locate a study more to their liking. Not surprisingly, it is from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. The study, written by Frederick Kagan (the brother of Robert Kagan, a signatory of the 1998 PNAC letter urging then-President Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein—see January 26, 1998), was commissioned in late September or early October by Kagan’s AEI boss, Danielle Pletka, the vice president of foreign and defense studies at the institute. Kagan later says that Plekta thought “it would be helpful to do a realistic evaluation of what would be required to secure Baghdad.” The study is released during a four-day planning exercise that coincides with the release of the ISG report, but Kagan says neither the timing nor the report itself has anything to do with the ISG. “This is not designed to be an anti-ISG report,” Kagan insists. “Any conspiracy theories beyond that are nonsense. There was no contact with the Bush administration. We put this together on our own. I did not have any contact with the vice president’s office prior to… well, I don’t want to say that. I have had periodic contact with the vice president’s office, but I can’t tell you the dates.” Kagan’s study, with the appealing title “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” says that 20,000 more US troops deployed throughout Baghdad will turn the tide and ensure success. The study becomes the centerpiece of Bush’s “surge” strategy (see January 2007). [Unger, 2007, pp. 342-343]
US troops raid the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and capture two Iranians. The two, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, are high-ranking members of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which the US accuses of supplying funding and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. After a tense nine-day diplomatic standoff, the US acquiesces to requests by the Iraqi government and its own State Department to allow the two to return to Iran, though the Pentagon wished to keep them in captivity for interrogation. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Iran calls both Chirazi and Davari “diplomats,” and says they are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, as part of an agreement to improve security between the two countries. [BBC, 12/29/2006]
Lebanese internal-security forces and militias supportive of the Lebanese government provide the Sunni militant group Asbat al-Ansar with large amounts of cash. Large sums of money are reportedly flowing to the Lebanese government as a result of the White House’s recent decision (see Late 2006) to redirect its policy in the Middle East toward efforts that will counter Iran’s growing influence in the region. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Representatives of the Lebanese government reportedly approach the newly-formed Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam (see November 2006) and offer it weapons and cash to fight against Hezbollah. Lebanon is said to be flush with cash as a result of a new US policy (see Late 2006) aimed at undercutting the growing influence of Iran and Shiite militant groups in the region. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006) holds one of his final meetings with a group of retired military officers who serve as “independent analysts” for various television news broadcasts. The analysts are integral parts of a widespread Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Vitriolic Comments - Rumsfeld, who is accompanied by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, is unrestrained in his contempt for a number of Iraqis and Americans involved in the occupation. According to Rumsfeld, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is an ineffectual “windsock.” Anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is “a 30-year-old thug” who wants “to create a Hezbollah” in Iraq; al-Sadr, in Rumsfeld’s estimation, is “not a real cleric and not well respected. [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani has, of course, all the respect… and he doesn’t like him.… He opposes what he does, but he at the present time has (a) survived (b) does not have perfect control over the Sadr elements.” He lauds former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, a fellow neoconservative who now serves as the US ambassador to Iraq, but in the next breath lambasts Khalilzad’s successor in Afghanistan, Ronald Neuman. “The guy who replaced him is just terrible—Neuman,” Rumsfeld says. “I mean he’s a career foreign service officer. He ought to be running a museum somewhere. That’s also off the record. No, he ought to be assistant to the guy… I wouldn’t hire the guy to push a wheelbarrow.”
Rewriting History - When Rumsfeld is asked about former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki’s statement that he believed it would take several hundred thousand US troops to keep the peace in post-invasion Iraq (see February 25, 2003), Rumsfeld attempts to rewrite history, suggesting that he was ready to send more troops, but the commanders on the ground did not want them. He is asked: “What’s become conventional wisdom, simply Shinseki was right. If we simply had 400,000 troops or 200 or 300? What’s your thought as you looked at it?” Rumsfeld replies: “First of all, I don’t think Shinseki ever said that. I think he was pressed in a congressional hearing hard and hard and hard and over again, well, how many? And his answer was roughly the same as it would take to do the job—to defeat the regime. It would be about the right amount for post-major combat operation stabilization. And they said, ‘Well, how much is that?’ And I think he may have said then, ‘Well maybe 200,000 or 300,000.’” Both Pace and an analyst tell Rumsfeld that Shinseki’s words were “several hundred thousand,” and Rumsfeld continues, “Now it turned out he was right. The commanders—you guys ended up wanting roughly the same as you had for the major combat operation, and that’s what we have. There is no damned guidebook that says what the number ought to be. We were queued up to go up to what, 400-plus thousand.… They were in the queue. We would have gone right on if they’d wanted them, but they didn’t, so life goes on.” [Chicago Tribune, 5/7/2008] In reality, Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz publicly derided Shinseki’s estimation, and hounded him into early retirement for his remarks (see February 27, 2003). And one of the commanders in the field that Rumsfeld cites, General James “Spider” Marks, has already noted that Rumsfeld personally denied multiple requests from the field for more troops (see April 16, 2006).
Entity Tags: Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Hezbollah, Eric Shinseki, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Ronald Neuman, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Peter Pace, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
During the year, the US imposes sanctions on nine different entities in India for unsanctioned nuclear proliferation—giving, or selling, nuclear technology to nations and/or organizations prohibited from having them. Perhaps the most worrisome buyer of Indian nuclear technology is Iran. Two years before, Bush officials had reversed 30 years of US sanctions against India over its unrestricted development of nuclear technology, and entered into an agreement with India to provide it with more technology and even fissile material (see July 18, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 258]
John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel, Fox News analyst (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and lobbyist who helps defense firms win Pentagon contracts in Iraq, contacts the Pentagon just before President Bush announces the “surge” in Iraq (see January 10, 2007). Garrett tells Pentagon officials, “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Author Craig Unger asks a former State Department official if, had there been no attacks on 9/11, the Bush administration would have still invaded Iraq. “Absolutely,” the official replies. “They would have done it under any circumstances. Absolutely no doubt about it. They had the road map. They had the plan.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 213]
A State Department official reflects on the Bush administration’s expectation that Iraq would function smoothly after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the administration’s complete failure to anticipate an insurgency and the sectarian strife which together have engulfed the country in violence. The official, who chooses to remain anonymous to interviewer Craig Unger, says this all happened because the neoconservatives driving the White House foreign policy know next to nothing about Iraq’s history and culture. “In all the literature they’ve written about Iraq, you will not see anything by them that has anything about the nature of Iraqi society,” the official says. “It was as if that stuff did not exist. Likewise, they did not think about Iraq in the context of the region. They viewed those things as distractions from their larger objectives. That is what was so frustrating about [Brent] Scowcroft (see October 2004) and others who spent a lifetime developing knowledge and expertise to examine the unintended consequences of various policies.” Scowcroft and other “realists” in the administration, most prominently Colin Powell, were derided, mocked, and ultimately driven out of the administration by the neoconservatives, to the detriment of the administration’s Iraq policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 305-306]
Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes, whose involvement with a set of documents known as the “torture memos” threatens his nomination as an appellate court judge (see November 27, 2002), telephones Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor at Guantanamo, to pressure Davis to charge accused Australian terror suspect David Hicks. Haynes is apparently attempting to do a political favor for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Haynes is advised that his interference is improper, but calls Davis a second time and suggests that Davis charge other prisoners along with Hicks to avoid any impression that the charges are “a political solution to the Hicks case.” Davis will resign in part because of pressure from Washington to politicize his prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
The Pentagon-sponsored “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) have been so successful in shaping the media response and public opinion towards the war that others in the Bush administration begin making use of them as well. General David Petraeus, newly appointed to command US forces in Iraq, meets with the analysts, presumably to craft the message they will spread in the media about the benefits of Petraeus’s appointment. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006. [Source: Representational Pictures]A plan, later approved by President George Bush, to “surge” 21,500 US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) is created, largely by Frederick Kagan of the main neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with the help of retired Army general and deputy chief of staff Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane want to send seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq.
Opposed by Joint Chiefs - The AEI plan, however, has been rebuffed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who do not believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can effectively confront the Shi’ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] However, al-Maliki reportedly told Bush in recent days, “I swear to God, I’m not going to let Sadr run this country.” [ABC News, 1/10/2007]
Plan Created by Neoconservatives at AEI - Kagan is a neoconservative who, in his new book Finding the Target, has scorned Bush’s military policies as “simplistic,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “fatuous,” and Rumsfeld’s former deputy and architect of the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as “self-serving.” Along with Kagan and Keane, a number of lesser-known AEI neoconservatives contributed to the plans for the surge, including Danielle Pletka, a former aide to retired Republican senator Jesse Helms, and former Coalition Provisional Authority aide Michael Rubin. Commentator and former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal calls the collection a “rump group of neocons” hanging on to influence primarily in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, battered and demoralized by the failures of the past five years but, Blumenthal writes, “not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.” The AEI plan, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” calls for a huge escalation to fight a tide-turning battle for Baghdad which, it predicts, will lead to the dissolution of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, deliver a crushing defeat to the Sunni insurgency, and spread security and democracy from Baghdad throughout the country. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities of limited troop availability, Blumenthal observes, and perhaps worse, dismisses any notion of diplomacy, particularly the diplomatic initiatives advanced by the Iraq Study Group. The only solution to the Iraq problem, the plan asserts, is “victory.” The plan claims, “America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Marketing Slogan with Inaccurate Implications - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Recall that the surge strategy promoted by the American Enterprise Institute was titled ‘Choosing Victory,’ implying both that the only possible outcomes in Iraq were victory or defeat and that it was entirely within our power to decide which happened.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 272]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sidney Blumenthal, Paul Wolfowitz, J. Peter Scoblic, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr, Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Keane, Mahdi Army, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
Mullah Bakht Mohammed. [Source: Al-Jazeera]Britain spends more than £1.5 million (approximately $2.4 million) in Afghanistan in a scheme to bribe members of the Taliban to stop fighting and abandon their ranks. Yet the operation fails to persuade any significant Taliban members to defect, attracts mostly lower-level foot soldiers, and results in no decrease in fighting in Helmand Province. “It hasn’t had the results we’d hoped,” admits a senior British Foreign Office official, “though not for want of effort on our part.” The money is allocated in January and May through intelligence agencies and the UN-backed peace strengthening commission after the killings of two top Taliban commanders and ruling shura members, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani and Mullah Dadullah Akhund (see December 19, 2006 and May 13, 2007). The funds are disbursed with the intention of capitalizing on a dip in Taliban morale and anticipated defections referred to as the “Dadullah effect.” The money is used to “spread this message” and pay for housing and transport for any Taliban who decide to defect. The Sunday Times reports that efforts to use Dadullah’s death to warn others were likely undermined by the Afghan government’s release of five Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Dadullah’s brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, in return for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Mullah Bakht Mohammed is now believed to be commanding Taliban operations in Helmand. The Sunday Times report does not mention if or how the bribe money is accounted for, or if any of the money is diverted to Taliban structures. [Sunday Times (London), 7/22/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases FBI documents detailing 26 eyewitness accounts of prisoners abused by US personnel at Guantanamo. The FBI chose not to follow up 17 of the accounts. “These documents contain eyewitness FBI accounts of prisoner abuse which cannot be dismissed by the administration, and only underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US controlled detention facilities,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “The documents also call into question the FBI’s apparent decision to not follow up on prisoner abuses by Defense Department personnel. The fact that Defense Department policy allowed this treatment does not mean that it was legal, humane, or ethical.” The documents, compiled by FBI investigators after the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, contain eyewitness accounts by guards and interrogators of “aggressive mistreatment, interrogations, or interview techniques of GTMO detainees by representatives of any law enforcement, military, or bureau personnel which were not consistent with bureau guidelines.” Many of the eyewitness accounts focus on insulting the detainees’ religion:
Interrogators wrapped one detainee’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran.”
An interrogator bragged about forcing a detainee to listen to “satanic black metal music for hours and hours.” That same interrogator later “dressed as a Catholic priest and baptized the detainee in order to save him.”
A Marine captain was observed enraging a detainee by squatting over a Koran in a fashion that the prisoner found extremely offensive.
After compiling these accounts, the FBI apparently chose not to pursue them further, citing the fact that what it observed was authorized by Defense Department policies. Only nine of the 26 accounts were slated for follow-up investigations. One incident marked “no further interview necessary” involved draping an Israeli flag around a detainee, shackling detainees to the floor, and subjecting them to excruciatingly loud music and strobe lights. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer says: “The FBI appears to have turned a blind eye to the very abuses that most need investigating—those abuses that were expressly authorized by Defense Department policy. The FBI documents only remind us that a thorough and independent investigation is long overdue.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/3/2007]
Ryan Crocker [Source: CBC]In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. [USA Today, 1/5/2007; CBS News, 1/5/2007]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Unocal, United Nations, William Fallon, Ryan C. Crocker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Casey, David Petraeus, John Negroponte, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush, Mike McConnell, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Details of ‘surge’ troop deployments . [Source: Jordan Times] (click image to enlarge)In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” [New York Times, 1/10/2007; ABC News, 1/10/2007; White House, 1/10/2007] While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. [Marketwatch, 1/5/2005]
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” [CBS News, 1/5/2007; USA Today, 1/5/2007]
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, George W. Bush, American Enterprise Institute, Carl Levin, Frederick Kagan, Harry Reid, Iraq Study Group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Peter Pace, Robert M. Gates, John P. Abizaid, John McCain, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld, Nouri al-Maliki, Nancy Pelosi, Ole Holsti
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
According to some administration insiders, President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) may actually be a behind-the-scenes rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (ISG). In December 2006 the ISG reported that the US should withdraw almost all of its combat troops by early 2008 and instead open diplomatic dialogs with Iran and Syria in an attempt to regain political stability in the region (see December 2006). Bush ignored almost all of the ISG’s recommendations, and indeed began reshaping his policy in a more aggressive manner, going directly against the ISG’s recommendations. Some members of the National Security Council began pushing the idea of a new troop escalation in part because it went against the ISG’s findings, though administration officials say that the NSC staffers support a surge in order to shore up Iraq security. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] When Bush received the report in late December 2006, a White House spokesman told the press, “Jim Baker can go back to his day job.” The only remnant of the ISG’s findings in the new Bush policy is the remade ISG slogan, “the way forward,” which Bush now calls his “new way forward.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/10/2007]
Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office. [Source: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press]US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. [Alalam News, 1/11/2007; Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Newswire, 1/12/2007] US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” [Reuters, 1/11/2007] Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007] The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/25/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007]
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).
Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, US Department of Defense, Peter Pace, US Department of State, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Mohsen Chirazi, Human Rights Watch, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Abu Amad Davari, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, John Sifton, Iranian Liaison Office, Hoshyar Zebari, United Nations
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells the military to minimize its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002), which forces US soldiers to remain on active duty long after their terms of service have expired. While US Army spokespersons have defended the policy as essential for keeping units intact, critics say it hurts morale and has strong, adverse effects on recruiting and retention (see September 15, 2004). Gates gives each branch of the military until February 28, 2007, to suggest how it intends to minimize stop-loss deployments for both active and reserve troops. [National Guard, 2/2007] Gates’s order will have little real impact (see May 2008).
Two unnamed US Special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in the March 2003 deaths of Afghan soldier Jamal Naseer and Afghan peasant Wakil Mohammed are given administrative reprimands by the US Army. Naseer was reportedly tortured to death by Special Forces soldiers (see March 16, 2003) and the unarmed Mohammed was shot after a firefight near the Special Forces base of Gardez (see March 1, 2003).
But a statement released by the Special Forces Command indicates that the reprimands only fault the soldiers for assault relating to the “slapping of detainees.” It states that the soldier who shot Wakil Muhammed was acting in self-defense. As for Naseer, “all other allegations, to include voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault of detainee Jamal Naseer, were found to be unsubstantiated.” A reprimand is not a formal punishment, rather it has the effect of reducing the recipient’s prospects for a promotion and can end a military career. A military investigation began in 2004 after media reports about their deaths (see September 21, 2004). [Crimes of War Project, 1/31/2007]
In a press briefing, President Bush says of Iran, “As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And we’ve convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that that’s unacceptable behavior.” [White House, 1/26/2007]
General George Casey, the outgoing commander of US forces in Iraq, faces criticism from both Republican and Democratic Senators during his testimony before the Armed Services Committee. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tells Casey that “things have gotten markedly and progressively worse” during Casey’s 2 1/2-year tenure, “and the situation in Iraq can now best be described as dire and deteriorating. I regret that our window of opportunity to reverse momentum may be closing.” Casey is slated to become the Army Chief of Staff. McCain, a strong supporter of the “surge” of US forces into Iraq, has proposed a Senate resolution including stringent benchmarks to gauge the progress of the Iraqi government and military. McCain’s resolution and other nonbinding, bipartisan proposals that would express varying degrees of disapproval of Bush’s plan will soon be debated on the Senate floor. [Washington Post, 2/2/2007]
Senate Democrats are wary of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), recalling the highly inaccurate intelligence reports in the October 2002 NIE that concluded Iraq was rife with WMDs and Saddam Hussein was allied with al-Qaeda. That NIE became one of the foundations of the Bush administration’s case for war with Iraq, and one of the prime reasons many Congress members voted to authorize the use of military force in that country. During Senate confirmation hearings for Admiral John McConnell, the nominee to replace John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “One of the sort of deeply held rumors around here is that the intelligence community gives an administration or a president what he wants by way of intelligence.” Sen. Christopher Bond (D-MO), adds, “[W]e are not going to accept national security issue judgment[s] without examining the intelligence underlying the judgments, and I believe this committee has an obligation to perform due diligence on such important documents.” He adds that previous attempts to obtain intelligence material to back up a 2005 NIE on Iran had “run into resistance.” [Washington Post, 2/2/2007]
Flynt Leverett, a former Bush administration National Security Council official, tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the administration’s new policy to support Sunni extremists (see Late 2006). “The administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett explains. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the administration will have an open door to strike at them.” [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Admiral William Fallon. [Source: US Navy]Admiral William Fallon, named to replace General John Abizaid as head of the US Central Command (Centcom) for the Middle East and Southwest Asia (see March 16, 2007), reportedly privately opposes the proposed addition of a third US aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf, and vows that there will be no war against Iran as long as he is chief of Centcom. Fallon’s opposition to a military strike against Iran results in a shift in the Bush administration away from its aggressive, threatening posture towards Iran, and instead moves the administration’s rhetoric incrementally towards diplomatic engagement with that nation. Historian and author Gareth Porter writes, “That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon’s resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran.” Fallon’s resistance to further naval buildups in the Gulf apparently surprises Bush officials; in January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly suggested that Fallon’s appointment gives greater emphasis on the military option for Iran. Gates said in January, “As you look at the range of options available to the United States, the use of naval and air power, potentially, it made sense to me for all those reasons for Fallon to have the job.” A third carrier group deployment would have pushed the US naval presence in the region to the same level as it was during the last months of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Apparently, the deployment of a third carrier group was envisioned as a means of pressuring the Iranian government, in a plan to engage in a series of operations that would appear to Tehran to be war preparations much like those that presaged the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). But Fallon’s opposition scotched those plans. Fallon recently told an informed source that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.… You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” And Fallon indicated he is not alone: “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” Fallon’s position weakens the belligerent posture adopted by Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides, and strengthens that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is now preparing to make high-level diplomatic contacts with Iranian officials. [Inter Press Service, 5/15/2007]
Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]
In his new book America at Night, author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb writes: “[O]ur government has spent trillions turning Iraq into the world’s largest terrorist training camp, while pursuing policies guaranteed to keep at least a billion people around the workd intensely pissed at us. Our military forces are so overstretched that, if any real threat emerges, we will risk being seen as a paper tiger. And in spite of all the blue ribbon panels and commissions, and the new layer of bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to make us safe at home, America is less safe now from terrorism and cataclysm than it ever was.” [Kolb, 2007, pp. 225-226]
Hillary Mann, the Bush administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs, tells Newsweek that some advisers in the administration are looking for an excuse to attack Iraq. “They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” he says. Newsweek notes, “With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident’s spiraling into a crisis are higher than they’ve been in years.” [Newsweek, 2/17/2007]
The Bush administration is opposed to a bill in Congress that would link military aid for Pakistan to tackling the Taliban. The bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, calls for an end to military assistance to Pakistan unless it stops the Taliban from operating out of Pakistan. Administration officials say the bill would undermine the fostering of a closer relationship with Pakistan. [Reuters, 2/1/2007]
The National Intelligence Council (NIE) releases a “National Intelligence Estimate ” that warns Iraq may be heading into a civil war. The NIE, compiled from reports produced by the 16 US intelligence agencies, says that the US has little control over events in Iraq, and that the situation there will continue to deteriorate. The NIE avoids the use of the term “civil war, ” noting, “The Intelligence Community judges that the term &slquo;civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. ” The report emphasizes that although al-Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to US goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not considered responsible for much of the violence. “Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events in Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is lot likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining” sectarian strife, says the report. [Washington Post, 2/2/2007]
Attorneys for accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) challenge his detention as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003). The attorneys, appearing before a three-judge panel in Richmond’s Fourth US Court of Appeals, say that al-Marri is being held unconstitutionally and should be allowed to challenge his imprisonment in court under his right to habeas corpus. Al-Marri, a Qatari national, is the only person being held as an enemy combatant on US soil. His lawyers argue that he has inalienable rights as a legal resident of the US, including the right to due process and to challenge his accusers in court. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, tells the court: “The basic question is whether criminal or military law governs this case. [The president] cannot militarize the case of a man in Peoria with the stroke of a pen.” The government says that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) gives the government the right to hold al-Marri and any other designated enemy combatant indefinitely, without recourse to the courts. Hafetz contends that the MCA doesn’t repeal defendants’ right to challenge their detention. He also says al-Marri was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. Justice Department lawyers argue that the court has no jurisdiction to hear such cases, and that the government has classified evidence proving that al-Marri is indeed an al-Qaeda agent. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons what would stop Bush from declaring anyone he chose an enemy combatant, even if that person was a citizen of a nation not at war with the US. “What I don’t understand is how you make one an enemy combatant,” she says. “What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?” Salmons says that Congress and the Supreme Court have granted Bush the authority to fight terrorism, (see September 14-18, 2001) and that authorization grants Bush the right to designate people with suspected al-Qaeda links as enemy combatants. Motz disagrees: “If the US can do this, it’s contrary to the Constitution. It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Salmons says the 9/11 attacks make the situation different. Al-Marri is supported in the court by, among others, former Attorney General Janet Reno, seven former Justice Department officials, and 29 US law school professors, who all contend that the government’s treatment of al-Marri is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent in depriving US residents of basic legal rights. The case is al-Marri v. Wright, 06-7427. [Associated Press, 2/1/2007]
The US has unwittingly strengthened the Mahdi Army of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr by working hard to train and equip Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army is fighting to take over much of Baghdad as US forces try to secure it. US Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad - home to more than half the city’s population and the front line of al-Sadr’s campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods - say al-Sadr’s militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that the US has trained and armed. Platoon leader Lieutenant Dan Quinn says, “Half of them are JAM. They’ll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night.” JAM is the acronym for the Arabic name of the Mahdi Army, Jaish al Mahdi. He adds, “People [in America] think it’s bad, but that we control the city. That’s not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It’s hostile territory.” The soldiers worry that Bush’s “surge” of approximately 17,000 combat troops allocated for Baghdad will, like previous escalations, merely strengthen the Mahdi Army. The new US soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so that American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city. Instead, Mahdi fighters are themselves withdrawing from the city, in effect ducking the American push until it is over. Lieutenant Alain Etienne says, “All the Shi’ites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they’ll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It’ll be called the &slquo;Day of Death’ or something like that. They say, &slquo;Wait, and we will be victorious.’ That’s what they preach. And it will be their victory.” Quinn agrees, saying, “Honestly, within six months of us leaving, the way Iranian clerics run the country behind the scenes, it’ll be the same way here with Sadr. He already runs our side of the river.” Many US officers say that, in hindsight, it is obvious that too much pressure was brought to bear on giving Iraqi army units their own areas of operation, a process that left Iraqi soldiers outmanned, outgunned, and easy targets for infiltration and coercion. “There was a decision…that was probably made prematurely,” says Lieutenant Colonel Eric Schacht. “I think we jumped the gun a little bit.” An Iraqi Sunni says, “[I]f the Mahdi Army comes in here, they will come with the support of the Iraqi army.” [McClatchy News, 2/2/2007]
The Bush escalation plan will involve up to 50,000 troops being sent to Iraq, not the 21,500 as touted by Bush and his officials. The 21,500 are actual combat troops, but logistical and support troops will also need to accompany the combat troops into Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says, “Over the past few years, [the Defense Department’s] practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops. [This] puts the cost of the president’s decision in even starker terms. If the president proceeds with his plan, thousands more US troops will be at risk, billions more dollars will be required, and there will be a much more severe impact on our military’s readiness.” House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt (D-SC) adds,“These additional troop deployments will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion this year alone—$4 billion to $7 billion more than the administration’s estimate.” Spratt says such an increase in troop levels will be difficult for the US military to maintain; the abnormally high deployment levels for the past four years have “taken a toll” on the military. House Armed Services committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) says the report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “appears to conflict with the estimate given by the chief of staff of the Army in his testimony. We will want to carefully investigate just how big the president’s troop increase really is. Is it 21,500 troops, or is it really closer to 33,000 or 43,000?” Martin Meehan (D-MA), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations that has launched a review of Iraq-related costs, says he also is concerned: “I am disturbed that the administration’s figures may not be fully accounting for what a true force increase will entail; if combat troops are deployed, their support needs must not be shortchanged.” [Army Times, 2/2/2007]
The British government admits it should have credited a postgraduate student’s article as being part of its so-called “Dodgy Dossier” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 3, 2003). “In retrospect we should have acknowledged” that sections of the document were based on an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, says a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, says the incident is “the intelligence equivalent of being caught stealing the spoons.… The dossier may not amount to much but this is a considerable embarrassment for a government trying still to make a case for war.” Labour leader Glenda Jackson, an outspoken opponent of war with Iraq, calls the dossier “another example of how the government is attempting to mislead the country and Parliament on the issue of a possible war with Iraq. And of course to mislead is a Parliamentary euphemism for lying.” Blair’s spokesman disputes the allegation that the government lied; instead, he says, “We all have lessons to learn.” The Blair administration insists the dossier is “solid,” no matter what its sources. “The report was put together by a range of government officials,” says a Downing Street spokesman. “As the report itself makes clear, it was drawn from a number of sources, including intelligence material. It does not identify or credit any sources, but nor does it claim any exclusivity of authorship.” Conservative Party shadow defense secretary Bernard Jenkin says his party is deeply concerned about the dossier. “The government’s reaction utterly fails to explain, deny, or excuse the allegations made in it,” he says. “This document has been cited by the prime minister and Colin Powell as the basis for a possible war. Who is responsible for such an incredible failure of judgment?” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003; BBC, 2/7/2003; Office of the Prime Minister, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/8/2003]
The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 261]
The International Committee of the Red Cross sends its report on the detention and torture of 14 detainees formerly in CIA custody (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo. The report is never intended to be made public, but it is documented in an article and subsequent book by Mark Danner (see March 15, 2009). [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University, commenting on the build-up of US naval power in the Middle East, tells the New York Times that there is a “danger of accidental war.” He notes, “If anything goes wrong, if something happens, there’s an unexplained explosion and we kidnap an Iranian, and the Iranians respond to that somehow, this could get out of control.” [New York Times, 2/15/2007]
The BBC reports that US plans for air strikes on Iran extend well beyond that country’s nuclear power plants and nuclear development sites, and include most of Iran’s military infrastructure. If ordered, US air strikes would target Iran’s air bases, naval bases, missile facilities, and command centers. The US insists it has no plans for any strikes against Iran, but evidence suggests otherwise (see September 2004). However, diplomatic sources say that US military planners have already selected their target sets inside Iran. The BBC claims that such a strike would be triggered by US confirmation that Iran is indeed building a nuclear weapon, which the US has asserted is the case but Iran denies. Another trigger could be if the US learns that Iran is behind any high-casualty attack on US forces inside Iraq. The US air strike plans include B2 stealth bombers delivering “bunker-buster” bombs on the nuclear facility at Natanz, which is deep underground. US officials insisted in January that they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents, but those reports were soon debunked by US military officials. [BBC, 2/20/2007]
Mike McConnell. [Source: US Defense Department]Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), replacing John Negroponte. [White House, 2/20/2007] Negroponte will become the Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, a position that has been vacant since July 2006, when the previous deputy, Robert Zoellick, left to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Negroponte is felt to be a voice of experience in the State Department, and one that will help the oft-faltering Rice in her duties. [Associated Press, 1/5/2007]
Cheney, Negroponte, and the Iran NIE - One of the major factors in the White House’s decision to replace Negroponte is Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the administration release a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that supports Cheney’s aggressive policy towards Iran, and does not include any dissenting views. Cheney, who has for months suppressed the draft NIE on Iran because he does not want any views other than his own to be included in the NIE (see November 10, 2007), was displeased with Negroponte; Negroponte angered Cheney and other neoconservatives when, in April 2006, he told reporters that the US intelligence community believes Iran is “a number of years off” from being “likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade.” Though Negroponte was merely echoing the position of the 2005 NIE on Iran, he came under fierce attack from Cheney allies inside and outside the administration. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph publicly contradicted Negroponte, calling Iran’s nuclear program near the “point of no return,’ an Israeli concept referring to the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment. And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a protege of former defense adviser Richard Perle, called Negroponte’s position on Iran’s nuclear program “absurd.” Cheney himself approached McConnell about accepting the position. McConnell is far more amenable to White House influence than Negroponte. On February 27, he will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “comfortable saying it’s probable” that the alleged export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq was linked to the highest leadership in Iran. Negroponte, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have refused to go that far. And the 2005 NIE on Iran estimated that it would take Iran five to ten years to produce a nuclear weapon, another position that Cheney opposes. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggests that President Bush will defy any Congressional legislation to mandate troop withdrawals from Iraq, and urges the Democratically-controlled Congress not to interfere with the conduct of the war. Rice calls proposals drafted by Senate Democrats to limit the war “the worst of micromanagement of military affairs,” saying that instead more troops need to be sent as part of Bush’s “surge.” Rice adds, “I can’t imagine a circumstance in which it’s a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress.” Asked whether Bush will feel bound by legislation seeking to withdraw combat troops within 120 days, she replies, “The president is going to, as commander in chief, need to do what the country needs done.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says lawmakers will step up efforts to force Bush to change course. “The president needs a check and a balance,” he says. The Senate Democrats’ legislation would try to limit the mission of US troops in Iraq by revoking Congress’ 2002 vote authorizing Bush’s use of force against Saddam Hussein; one draft version supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would pull out combat forces by March of next year and restrict US troops to fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, training the Iraqi security forces, and maintaining Iraq’s borders. “This is not a surge so much as it is a plunge into Baghdad and into the middle of a civil war,” says Levin. “We’re trying to change the policy, and if someone wants to call that tying the hands instead of changing the policy, yeah the president needs a check and a balance.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2007]
President Bush signs a “nonlethal presidential finding” authorizing a CIA plan that will use propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions to destabilize the country’s government. According to unnamed officials interviewed by ABC, the covert “black” operation is designed to force Iran into abandoning its nuclear enrichment program and aid to insurgents in Iraq. The plan is reported to have the fingerprints of both National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams. Current and former intelligence officials tell ABC that Bush’s approval of the plan is an indication that the White House, for the time being, has decided not to take military action against Iran. “Presidential finding” are reported to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and other key congressional leaders. Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the operation could potentially provoke a larger confrontation. “And this covert action is now being escalated by the new US directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow,” he says. [ABC News, 5/23/2007]
Norman Podhoretz, one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism, meets with President Bush to urge a military strike against Iran. Podhoretz meets privately with Bush at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, with Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove taking notes. The meeting is not logged in Bush’s schedule. Podhoretz will become senior foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY) (see October 28, 2007). The London Times characterizes the meeting as evidence of “the enduring influence of the neoconservatives at the highest reaches of the White House, despite some high-profile casualties in the past year.”
Iran Discussed - Podhoretz will say of his meeting with Bush: “I urged Bush to take action against the Iranian nuclear facilities and explained why I thought there was no alternative.… I laid out the worst-case scenario—bombing Iran—versus the worst-case consequences of allowing the Iranians to get the bomb.” Podhoretz recalls telling Bush: “You have the awesome responsibility to prevent another holocaust. You’re the only one with the guts to do it.” Podhoretz recalls Bush looking “very solemn.” Primarily, Bush listens without responding, though Podhoretz will recall both Bush and Rove laughing when he mentions giving “futility its chance,” a phrase used by fellow neoconservative Robert Kagan about the usefulness of pursuing United Nations sanctions against Iran.
No Sign of Agreement - “He gave not the slightest indication of whether he agreed with me, but he listened very intently,” Podhoretz will recall. Podhoretz is convinced that “George Bush will not leave office with Iran having acquired a nuclear weapon or having passed the point of no return”—a reference to the Iranians’ acquisition of sufficient technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon. “The president has said several times that he will be in the historical dock if he allows Iran to get the bomb. He believes that if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we’ll have waited too long—something I agree with 100 percent.”
No Need to Use Nukes - Podhoretz tells Bush that the US could neutralize Iran’s nuclear program without using its own nuclear weapons: “I’m against using nuclear weapons and I don’t think they are necessary.” Podhoretz is preparing a book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, which echoes the points he makes with Bush. According to Podhoretz, World War IV is the global struggle against terrorism (World War III was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union). “The key to understanding what is happening is to see it as a successor to the previous totalitarian challenge to our civilization,” he says. Podhoretz asserts that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran are merely different fronts of the same long war. [London Times, 9/30/2007] Podhoretz says that “the debate [over Iran] is secretly over and the people who are against military action are now preparing to make the case that we can live with an Iranian bomb.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2007]
Sam Gardiner. [Source: CNN]Retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, who specializes in staging war games on the Middle East, believes President Bush has already made the decision to invade Iran. “Bush’s ‘redline’ for going to war is Iran having the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons—which is probably what they already have now,” says Gardiner. “The president first said [that was his redline] in December 2005, and he has repeated it four times since then.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Grover Norquist, the influential conservative who heads Americans for Tax Reform, says that President Bush’s neoconservative advisers have been consistently wrong about their predictions for success in Iraq, and warns that Bush is now receiving similar advice about striking at Iran. “Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn’t happened,” says Norquist, who initially supported the invasion of Iraq. “And all the things the critics said would happen have happened. [The president’s neoconservative advisers] are effectively saying, ‘Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are.’ But after you’ve lost x number of times at the roulette wheel, do you double-down?” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Meyrav Wurmser. [Source: Publicity photo via the Hudson Institute]Neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy and the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior aide David Wurmser, says the failures in Iraq stem from the failure of America to think big. “My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don’t give it a regional context,” she says. Author and journalist Craig Unger explains Wurmser’s comment by noting that she is saying that the only reason the invasion and occupation of Iraq makes sense if it is the first step in a post-millenial version of the “domino theory”—lining up one Arab regime after another, starting with Iran, and knocking them down. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Craig Unger. [Source: David Shankbone/Public Domain]Author and journalist Craig Unger writes that the 1996 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies policy paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” (see July 8, 1996), was “the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the US could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.” Unger’s thoughts are echoed by neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mrs. Wurmser (see March 2007) calls the policy paper “the seeds of a new vision.” While many of the paper’s authors eventually became powerful advisers and officials within the Bush administration, and implemented the policies advocated in the paper in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the paper’s focus on Iran has been somewhat less noticed. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom the paper was written, has observed, “The most dangerous of these regimes [Iran, Syria, and Iraq] is Iran.” Unger writes, “Ten years later, ‘A Clean Break’ looks like nothing less than a playbook for US-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented—removing Saddam [Hussein] from power, setting aside the ‘land for peace’ formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon—all with disastrous results.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Wurmser, Craig Unger, Saddam Hussein, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Meyrav Wurmser, Benjamin Netanyahu, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
In hindsight, most observers believe that the break-in of the Nigerien embassy in Iraq that began the entire Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see January 2, 2001) was nothing more than it seemed—a crime of opportunity by individuals seeking to make money through fraud (see June or July 1999). They note that the burglary took place before President Bush took office. But Colonel Patrick Lang is not so sure. Lang, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, thinks that the entire affair may have been orchestrated to provoke an invasion of Iraq. He notes that he has no proof to back up his speculation. That being said, he goes on to note his belief that the US neoconservatives, who were so intensely interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would not have hesitated to reach out to their friends in Italian intelligence (SISMI) even before Bush entered the White House. Lang tells author Craig Unger: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq. This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.” SISMI would have cooperated, Lang says, if for no other reason than to ingratiate itself with the new US administration. Lang says: “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire IOUs is a powerful incentive by itself.… It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian embassy, talk to them.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206-207]
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: New York Times]Military and national security experts outside of the neoconservative orbit view the US occupation of Iraq as a calamity that actually increases the threat towards both Israel and the US. “[Bush’s wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the State Department. “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s No. 2 enemy.” The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk adds, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” The Israeli hawks have decided that because of the disaster in Iraq, the only course left to protect itself against Iran is a military strike. “Attacking Iraq when it had no WMD may have been the wrong step,” says Uzi Arad, who advised former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign affairs. “But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
A report by the Center on Law and Security (CLS) finds that the “Iraq effect” is costing lives around the world. The report finds that the Iraq occupation is directly to blame for an upsurge in fundamentalist violence worldwide. It finds that the number killed in jihadist attacks around the world has risen dramatically since the Iraq war began in March 2003, comparing the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq with the period since the invasion. The count—excluding the Arab-Israel conflict—shows the number of deaths due to terrorism rose from 729 to 5,420. Iraq has served as the catalyst for a ferocious fundamentalist backlash, according to the study, which says that the number of those killed by Islamists within Iraq rose from 7 to 3,122. A similar rise in attacks has occurred in Afghanistan, Chechnya, in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, and throughout Europe. Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair insist that the opposite is true. Bush has said, “If we were not fighting and destroying the enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.” Blair insists that the Iraq war was not been responsible for Muslim fundamentalist attacks such as the 7/7 London bombings which killed 52 people (see July 7, 2005). “Iraq, the region and the wider world is a safer place without Saddam,” Blair said in July 2004. [Independent, 3/1/2007]
Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism, publishes an article by investigative journalist Craig Pyes describing how the US Army attempted to undermine a Los Angeles Times investigation looking into the March 2003 deaths of two Afghan detainees (see March 16, 2003). It is believed that members of a Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan murdered the two men, identified as Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed, and then covered up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. An official investigation into the two deaths by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths. As a result of the CID investigation, two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand (see January 26, 2007) for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Naseer. In his article, Pyes recounts the resistance he and his colleague Kevin Sack encountered from the military as they sought information about the two deaths. The military refused to disclose basic information about the circumstances surrounding the two deaths, including the two men’s identities, the circumstances of their detention, the charges against them, court papers, and investigative findings. The journalists also learned that soldiers had been told by their superiors that it was important that everyone be “on the same page in case there was an investigation.” During their investigation, they also discovered that “military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents.” [Nieman Watchdog, 3/2/2007]
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]
A report by a nonpartisan British think tank, the Oxford Research Group, warns that military strikes against Iran could actually accelerate Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The report says military action could lead Iran to change the nature of its program and quickly build a few nuclear arms. Frank Barnaby, the nuclear scientist and arms expert who authored the report, says, "If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capacity it is doing so relatively slowly, most estimates put it at least five years away." But an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities "would almost certainly lead to a fast-track program to develop a small number of nuclear devices as quickly as possible." It "would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory." Western powers have threatened to expand sanctions on Iran; the US has not ruled out using force against Iran, but says it wants to give diplomacy a chance. [BBC, 3/5/2007]
Judge Marcia Cooke. [Source: Daily Business Review]Federal prosecutors in the Jose Padilla case (see May 8, 2002) say that a video of Padilla’s final interrogation, on March 2, 2004, is inexplicably missing. The video was not part of a packet of DVDs containing classified material turned over to the court handling the Padilla case. Padilla’s lawyers believe that the missing videotape may show Padilla being subjected to “harsh” interrogation techniques that may qualify as torture, and wonder if other potentially exculpatory recordings and documentation of Padilla’s interrogations have also been lost. Padilla’s lawyers say something happened during that last interrogation session on March 2, 2004, at the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, that led Padilla to believe that the lawyers are actually government agents. Padilla no longer trusts them, the lawyers say, and they want to know what happened. Prosecutors say that they cannot find the tape despite an intensive search. “I don’t know what happened to it,” Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing. US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke finds the government’s claim hard to believe. “Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?” Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month. Padilla, a US citizen, is scheduled to stand trial in April. Padilla’s lawyers want the brig tapes, medical records, and other documentation to prove their claims that Padilla suffers intense post-traumatic stress syndrome from his long isolation and repeated interrogations, though Cooke has ruled that Padilla is competent to stand trial. They believe that he was mistreated and possibly tortured in the Naval brig before being transferred to civilian custody. This missing DVD may not be the only one because brig logs indicate that there were approximately 72 hours of interrogations that either were not recorded, or whose recordings were never disclosed. Prosecutors claim some interrogations were not recorded, but defense lawyers question that, pointing out that there are even videos of Padilla taking showers. [Newsweek, 2/28/2007; Associated Press, 3/9/2007] Statements by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey in June 2004 indirectly support the defense’s claim that Padilla was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics (see June 2004). Other videotapes that may pertain to the Padilla case have been destroyed by the CIA (see November 22, 2005). Former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald writes, “[I]f the administration’s patently unbelievable claim were true—namely, that it did ‘lose’ the video of its interrogation of this Extremely Dangerous International Terrorist—that would, by itself, evidence a reckless ineptitude with American national security so grave that it ought to be a scandal by itself. But the likelihood that the key interrogation video with regard to Padilla’s torture claims was simply ‘lost’ is virtually non-existent. Destruction of relevant evidence in any litigation is grounds for dismissal of the case (or defense) of the party engaged in that behavior. But where, as here, the issues extend far beyond the singular proceeding itself—we are talking about claims by a US citizen that he was tortured by his own government—destruction of evidence of this sort would be obstruction of justice of the most serious magnitude.” [Salon, 3/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Anthony Natale, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Marcia Cooke, Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Glenn Greenwald, James B. Comey Jr., James Schmidli
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
The US Army is ordering soldiers already wounded in Iraq and certified as medically unfit for combat to return to Iraq anyway, regardless of their fitness for duty. "This is not right," says Master Sergeant Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. "This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers. If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight." Some of Jenkins’s fellow soldiers also being sent back are too injured to wear their body armor, according to their medical records, but Jenkins and others had their "physical profiles" summarily downgraded by Army medical officials, without even a medical exam, so they could be returned to Iraq. Jenkins thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he says. Steve Robinson of Veterans for America says, "You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit. It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield." Brigade commander Colonel Wayne Grigsby says he doesn’t know how many wounded and injured soldiers are returning to Iraq, but "They can be productive and safe in Iraq," he says. Other soldiers slated to leave for Iraq with injuries say they wonder whether the same thing is happening in other units in the Army. "You have to ask where else this might be happening and who is dictating it," one soldier says. "How high does it go?" [Salon, 3/11/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney says that Congressional Democrats’ efforts to bring the Iraqi war to a close do nothing except undermine the troops and "embolden" Islamic terrorists. He tells American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out. When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that’s been called ‘slow bleed,’ they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responds that Cheney’s remarks prove "the administration’s answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adds that America is less safe today because of the war. Bush "must change course, and it’s time for the Senate to demand he do it," he says. Both Pelosi and Reid are crafting legislation that will continue to fund the troops in Iraq, but will set a deadline for those troops to begin withdrawing. Meanwhile, Cheney says he wants Congress to begin discussing how to win in Iraq. As he has done many times before, he predicts "disaster" and "chaos" in the Middle East, with either al-Qaeda or Iran emerging dominant from a bloody sectarian battle and compromising regional security, if US troops withdrew from Iraq. Former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland responds tartly to Dick Cheney’s veiled accusations that Democrats who want a timetable for ending the Iraq occupation are traitors. Cleland rhetorically asks Cheney, "Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war. You can’t keep troops on the ground forever. You gotta have a mission. You gotta have a purpose. You can’t keep sending ‘em back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is al-Qaeda, it’s al-Qaeda, stupid, it’s not in Iraq." [Associated Press, 3/12/2007]
The British government embellished intelligence used to justify the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, according to Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector. Blix, who led the UN search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003, says a later discredited dossier on Iraq’s weapons programs had deliberately embellished the case for war. Tony Blair’s government published a dossier before the invasion that claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could deploy some within 45 minutes, but the dossier turned out to be riddled with errors and deliberate falsehoods. Blix says, "I do think they exercised spin. They put exclamation marks instead of question marks." Blix says that as a result, Blair and Bush had "lost a lot of confidence" once failures in intelligence were exposed. Britain’s dossier on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction was criticized by a 2004 official British inquiry into intelligence on Iraq. Though the inquiry’s head, Lord Butler, did not fault Blair’s government, he criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on “seriously flawed” or "unreliable" sources. Butler’s review concluded that the dossier, which helped Blair win the support of Parliament to join the US in the conflict, had pushed the government’s case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats. Blix says that if UN inspectors had been allowed to carry out inspections "a couple of months more," intelligence officials would likely have drawn the eventual conclusion that Iraq had no weapons stockpiles and that their sources were providing poor quality information. [Associated Press, 3/12/2007]
Admiral William J. Fallon takes over the United States Central Command (Centcom), replacing the retiring General John P. Abizaid. Fallon, a decorated Vietnam veteran pilot, formerly led the US Pacific Command (Pacom). Fallon now commands the US forces throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa, and is in charge of strategic and tactical operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon is the first naval officer to command Centcom. Fallon was nominated for the position by President Bush in January, and was easily confirmed by the Senate in February. [US Central Command, 3/16/2007]
Fallon In Place to Oversee Strike on Iran? - Many observers see Fallon’s new command as a sign that the Bush administration is preparing for war with Iran. Fallon’s position is not a promotion, but a lateral transfer—as commander of Pacom, he actually commanded more forces than he does at Centcom, and Fallon will not have the direct control of the forces in Iraq, which remain under the day-to-day command of General David Petraeus. Fallon is a naval officer, with no real experience in commanding large numbers of ground troops, but a great deal of experience in commanding and deploying carrier groups. Centcom’s primary responsibility is on the ground, battling insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Nation’s Michael Klare observes, “If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you’d want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that’s not on the agenda, if you’re thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you’d want at Centcom.” Fallon’s experience is in air and naval operations, the kind of operations that would lead any US strikes against Iran. [Nation, 1/10/2007] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang says of Fallon’s appointment, “It makes very little sense that a person with [Fallon’s naval] background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially ‘ground’ wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character. The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Fallon Won't Countenance Attack on Iran - However, other events indicate Fallon may not be as gung-ho for a war with Iran as some now perceive. In February, Fallon privately expressed his opposition to the proposed increase of US carrier groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three, and told administration officials an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch” (see February 2007).
Entity Tags: Patrick Lang, George W. Bush, George Casey, Defense Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, Iraq Study Group, Michael Klare, William Fallon, John P. Abizaid, Robert M. Gates, US Pacific Command, US Central Command
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
A Senate panel finds that billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted in reconstruction efforts throughout Iraq through fraud, corruption, incompetence, and outright theft. The panel, led by independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman and moderate Republican Susan Collins, say they are considering legislation to create a commission to help fix problems after investigators found confusion and disarray in the four-year-old Iraq reconstruction effort. Lieberman observes, "Where we’ve seen failure is when the US government failed to plan projects carefully and then failed to keep a close watch over contractors and now we’ve seen billions of dollars wasted—a cost measured not just in dollars but in the undermining of the overall US mission in these war-torn countries." Inspector General Stuart Bowen’s latest report on the occupation’s reconstruction efforts found that nearly $400 billion had either been wasted or simply disappeared, though Bowen’s report was careful not to make allegations of outright criminality. Bowen’s report primarily blames confusion, disarray, and incompetence in joint efforts between the rival Defense and State Departments. "Anyone who has spent appreciative time in the Iraq reconstructive effort understands the tension that exists between the two," Bowen says. Bowen’s latest report finds, among other things, that a Defense Department agency charged with running the reconstruction effort never developed a fully coordinated plan upon members’ arrival in 2003, leading to confusion and duplication of effort. "We were bumping into one another as we tried to solve the same problem,” a former agency official is quoted as saying. Money flowed to reconstruction projects before procedures, training and staffing were fully in place, resulting in a "lack of clearly defined authorities" and little accountability in terms of how dollars were being spent. There was little oversight to ensure that Iraqi companies hired to do reconstruction work operated according to international standards. Earlier this year, federal investigators determined that the Bush administration had squandered as much as $10 billion in reconstruction aid in part because of poor planning and contract oversight, resulting in contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses. [Associated Press, 3/22/2007]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirms at a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing that there are currently about 126,000 private contractors doing business in Iraq. Of those, only 20 percent are US citizens, Gates says. The rest are Iraqis and third-country nationals. [US Congress, 3/29/2007; United Press International, 4/2/2007] In July 2007, it will be reported that there are about 180,000 private contractors in Iraq (see April 4, 2007).
In a press briefing, President Bush says that Iran is actively working on a nuclear weapon: “Our position is that we would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon.… [We] are deeply concerned about an Iranian government that is in violation of international accords in their attempt to develop a nuclear weapon.” [White House, 3/31/2007]
Kurdish government officials in Iraq say that the US raids in Irbil that captured five Iranian diplomats and government officials (see January 11, 2007) were actually an attempt to capture two leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mohammed Jafari, the deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Both were visiting Kurdish officials at the time. British journalist Patrick Cockburn writes, “The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighboring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.” [Independent, 4/3/2007]
Iranians Welcomed, Says Kurdish Leader - Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, says that the Iranian commanders visited Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, and then visited Barzani, most likely in Irbil. The five Iranians are still in US custody. “It [the house raided by US forces] was not a secret Iranian office,” Barzani says. “It is impossible for us to accept that an Iranian office in Irbil was doing things against coalition forces or against us. That office was doing its work in a normal way and had they been doing anything hostile, we would have known that.” Barzani continues, “They [the US troops] did not come to detain the people in that office. There was an Iranian delegation, including Revolutionary Guards commanders, and they came as guests of the president. He was in Sulaimaniyah. They came to Sulaimaniyah and then I received a call from the president’s office telling me that they wanted to meet me as well.” [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Iranians 'Disappeared' - The location of the captured Iranians is unknown; they are said to have “disappeared” into the controversial and allegedly illegal US “coalition detention” system. International law expert Scott Horton says that under the UN resolutions, the US detention of the Iranians is illegal, and they should be detained under Iraqi law. “The Iranians who are being held as ‘security detainees’ are not being charged with anything, and so are being held unlawfully,” he says. Iraqi law mandates that detainees identified as insurgents “actively engaged in hostilities” are supposed to be charged in civilian courts. They may be held up to 14 days before being brought before a magistrate and either charged with a crime or released. To hold detainees longer without charging them, detention authorities must provide justification for doing so, Horton says. “It’s an exercise of raw power by the US that’s not backed by any legal justification.” [Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Observers say the US rationale for the capture and continued detention of the Iranians is hard to fathom, as no US soldiers have ever been killed in Irbil and there are no Sunni nor Shi’ite militias operating in that region. [Independent, 4/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Scott Horton, Patrick Cockburn, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Minojahar Frouzanda, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Jalal Talabani, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mohammed Jafari, International Committee of the Red Cross, Masud Barzani, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, who falsely told reporters that captured Private Jessica Lynch “fired her weapon” at her captors “until she had no more ammunition” in initial military press briefings (see April 3, 2003), discusses his misleading statements with staffers of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the possibility that the US military used the Lynch story as propaganda (see April 24, 2007). Thorp, who was later promoted and became the chief public relations officer for then-Joint Chief Chairman Richard Myers, writes: “As I recall, this was a short interview and media desperately wanted me to confirm the story that was running in the States.… I never said that I had seen any intel or even intimated the same.… I may have said I am familiar with ‘the reports’ meaning the press reports, but as you can see I did not confirm them.… We did have reports of a battle and that a firefight had occurred.… That is what I stated.” Thorp says he does not recall ever seeing any classified battlefield intelligence reports concerning Lynch, and says he does not now remember if his remarks were based on such reports. When asked if he knew at the time that Lynch had, in fact, not gotten off a shot at her attackers, Thorp replies, “I would absolutely never, ever, ever, ever say anything that I knew to not be true.” At the time of the Lynch rescue, the chief public affairs official for CENTCOM briefings was Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications for CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks. Wilkinson tells the committee that he was not a source for the media reporting concerning Lynch, and that he didn’t know any details of her capture and rescue: “I still, to this day, don’t know if those details are right or wrong. I just don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any operational report.” Thorp and Wilkinson claim not to know who provided such misleading information to reporters. And neither can explain why initial reports were relatively accurate (see March 23, 2003) but subsequent reports were so suddenly, and so luridly, inaccurate. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Private contractors paid by US firms outnumber US troops in Iraq, according to newly released figures from the State and Defense departments. Over 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreign citizens, and Iraqis, are working under US contracts in Iraq, compared to about 160,000 soldiers and several thousand civilian government employees stationed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq—a mission criticized as being undermanned.” The Brookings Institute’s Peter Singer says, “These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.” The numbers of contractors include:
43,000 foreign contractors;
about 118,000 Iraqis.
These numbers are not complete; private security contractors, hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey. According to some firms’ figures, about 30,000 security personnel work in Iraq, sometimes fighting alongside—or independent of—military forces. All these employees working for private contractors are paid with US tax dollars. Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks. “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter,” says Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.” But some are critical, noting that the US government has relied far more heavily on contractors in the Iraq war than in any other conflict in American history. Critics note that troops and their missions can be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire. Just such an occurrence happened in 2004, when US forces were forced to endure food rationing after delivery drivers refused to ferry supplies into a combat zone. And the government does not keep centralized track of the number or location of contractors operating in Iraq, though the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has recently bowed to pressure from Congress and begun a census of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water, and shelter is needed. The corporation with the single largest presence in Iraq is KBR, which was the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root until early 2007. KBR provides logistical support to US and Iraqi troops, and holds the single biggest contract in Iraq, employing nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include L-3 Corporation, which provides translators to troops, and engineering firm ITT. The companies that have drawn the most attention are the private security firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Erinys. Military policy experts say these contractors’ jobs should be done by servicemen, and point out the number of times security forces have engaged in firefights with Iraqi insurgents. “We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” says William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.” Others point to the almost-complete lack of governmental accountability; the Times notes that “[a]lthough scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2004] (See July 3, 2007 and July 5, 2007.)
Entity Tags: USAID, US Department of Labor, William Nash, Triple Canopy, ITT Corporation, Halliburton, Inc., Gary Motsek, Erinys, Blackwater USA, Kellogg, Brown and Root, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, L-3, Peter Singer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Former CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who ran the agency’s “rendition” program that sent suspected terrorists to foreign nations to be interrogated for information in the late 1990s (see Summer 1995 and 1997), says during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the assurances of Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria that a suspect will not be tortured are not “worth a bucket of warm spit.” Scheuer tells the assembled lawmakers that he knows of at least three mistakes that the CIA has made in its overseas rendition program, including the capture and subsequent torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002 and October 10, 2002-October 20, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 149-150; US Congress, 4/17/2007 ]
Jessica Lynch testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing focusing on misleading and false information provided to the press following the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq (see March 23, 2003, April 1, 2003, and June 17, 2003).The committee focuses on how and why misinformation on the two incidents was disseminated, by whom, and if anyone in the Bush administration has been, or will be, held accountable. Lynch testifies that she is there to address “misinformation from the battlefield,” and notes, “Quite frankly, it is something that I have been doing since I returned from Iraq.” Lynch says that while she was being transported out of Iraq to a hospital in Germany: “tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harms way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.” She concludes: “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and I told the truth. Many other soldiers, like Pat Tillman, do not have the opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy to hear but it is always more heroic than the hype.” [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007 ]
Tim Russert. [Source: Huffington Post]NBC political analyst and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert is interviewed by PBS’s Bill Moyers about the apparent self-censorship and cooperation of the news media with the Bush administration after 9/11 (see February 25, 2003, September 10, 2003, April 25, 2007, and April 25, 2007). Russert says that he realizes top-level government officials are usually not the best sources of objective information (see April 25, 2007). “Look, I’m a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work ‘em very hard. It’s the mid-level people that tell you the truth.… [T]hey’re working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and political officials.” Moyers responds, “But they don’t get on the Sunday talk shows” (such as Russert’s “Meet the Press”). Russert answers, “No. I mean, they don’t want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.” Moyers asks, “What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?” Russert’s answer is much less direct: “It’s important that you have an opposition party. That’s our system of government.” Moyers presses, “So, it’s not news unless there’s somebody…” and Russert interjects, “No, no, no. I didn’t say that. But it’s important to have an opposition party, your opposing views.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Peter Beinert. [Source: ViewImages.com]New Republic editor Peter Beinert, described by PBS host Bill Moyers as a “liberal hawk,” recalls his experience as one of the television news shows’ “hottest young pundits” in the months before the war. Beinert accused opponents of the war of being “intellectually incoherent,” and echoed administration talking points about Iraqi nuclear weapons. In an interview, Moyers asks Beinert, “Had you been to Iraq?” Beinert answers, “No,” and Moyers asks, “So what made you present yourself, if you did, as a Middle East expert?” Beinert responds: “I don’t think that I presented myself as a Middle East expert per se. I was a political journalist. I was a columnist writing about all kinds of things. Someone in my position is not a Middle East expert in the way that somebody who studies this at a university is, or even at a think tank. But I consumed that stuff. I was relying on people who did that kind of reporting and people who had been in the government who had access to classified material for their assessment.” Beinert confirms that most of his information came from government and government-associated sources, and from other reporters and columnists, and almost by necessity, his commentary was much more reflective of government and pro-war viewpoints than it should have been: “Where I think I was tragically wrong was not to see in February, March 2003 after we got the inspectors back in on the ground and we began to learn much more about what had been going on in Iraq than we had known in 2002 when we had no one on the ground that that assumption was being proven wrong.… I think the war has been a tragic disaster. I mean, the Americans killed, the Iraqis killed. It’s true, life under Saddam was hell. But can one really say that life for Iraqis is better today?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Bob Simon. [Source: CBS News]Veteran CBS war correspondent Bob Simon discusses the media’s enthusiasm for a war with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion, and its credulity, with PBS host Bill Moyers. [PBS, 4/25/2007] CBS News describes Simon as “the most honored journalist in international reporting.” A regular contributor to CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes, Simon has won 18 Emmy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in September 2003. [CBS News, 6/8/2007] He did one of the first broadcast news examinations of the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts to sell the war with Iraq to the American public. [CBS News, 12/6/2002] Simon says that foreign journalists had a perspective that Washington-based journalists did not. “From overseas we had a clearer view,” he explains. “I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” Moyers asks: “Absurdity. The Washington press corps cannot question an absurdity?” Simon replies: “Well, maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn’t as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washington press corps travels, it travels with the president or with the secretary of state… [i]n a bubble. Where as we who’ve spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situations in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not.” Simon and his camera crew had been captured and brutalized by Hussein’s forces for 40 days during the 1991 Gulf War, and, Moyers notes, Simon “was under no illusions about Saddam Hussein.… It didn’t make sense to Simon that the dictator would trust Islamic terrorists.” Simon explains his reasoning: “Saddam as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al-Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
CNN’s Walter Isaacson recalls the mindset in much of the media during the months preceding the Iraq invasion. In an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers, Isaacson notes that there was a great deal of censorship in the media, both self-imposed and from corporate executives reaching down into the newsrooms. Stories critical of the Bush administration or the war were not well tolerated, Isaacson recalls. “[T]here was even almost a patriotism police… sort of picking anything a [CNN international reporter] Christiane Amanpour (see September 10, 2003) or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in wartime… big people in corporations were calling us saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” The compliant Isaacson sent his staff a memo reminding them not to focus on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, saying it seemed “perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He also ordered his reporters to “balance” stories on civilian casualties with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. Isaacson recalls, “I felt if we put into context, we could alleviate the pressure of people saying, ‘Don’t even show what’s happening in Afghanistan.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 254; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. [Source: PBS]John Walcott, the bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers (now McClatchy), recalls that he and his colleagues did not believe the Bush administration’s assertions of the connections between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. “It was not clear to us why anyone was asking questions about Iraq in the wake of an attack that had al-Qaeda written all over it,” he recalls. He assigned his two top foreign affairs and national security reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, veterans with more than 40 years’ experience between them, to investigate the claims. Strobel recalls, “We were basically, I think, hearing two different messages from—there’s a message, the public message the administration was giving out about Iraq—it’s WMD, the fact there was an immediate threat, grave threat, gathering threat—but that was so different from what we were hearing from people on the inside, people we had known in many cases for years and trusted.” Strobel and Landay learned from reliable sources inside the US intelligence community that few outside the White House believed the assertions of an Iraq-9/11 connection. “When you’re talking to the working grunts, you know, uniform military officers, intelligence professionals, professional diplomats, those people are more likely than not—not always, of course, but more likely than not—to tell you some version of the truth, and to be knowledgeable about what they’re talking about when it comes to terrorism or the Middle East, things like that,” says Strobel. He and Landay wrote numerous articles detailing the skepticism about the administration’s claims, but, in many cases, editors chose not to use their work. “There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting and some of our papers frankly, just didn’t run the stories,” Strobel says. “They had access to the New York Times wire and the Washington Post wire and they chose those stories instead.” Walcott explains his own rationale: “A decision to go to war, even against an eighth-rate power such as Iraq, is the most serious decision that a government can ever make. And it deserves the most serious kind of scrutiny that we in the media can give it. Is this really necessary? Is it necessary to send our young men and women to go kill somebody else’s young men and women?”
Outside the Beltway - Knight Ridder did not have newspapers in either Washington or New York City, and therefore was viewed by many insiders as “out of the loop.” Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus says: “The administration can withstand the Knight Ridder critique because it wasn’t reverberating inside Washington. And therefore people weren’t picking it up.” Walcott describes Knight Ridder as “under the radar most of the time.… We were not a company that, I think, Karl Rove and others cared deeply about, even though in terms of readers, we’re much bigger than the New York Times and the Washington Post. We’re less influential. There’s no way around that.” Strobel half-humorously asks: “How many times did I get invited on the talk show? How many times did you [Landay] get invited on a talk show?” Landay replies: “You know what? I’ll tell you who invited me on a talk show. C-SPAN.”
Self-Doubts - Strobel says of that time period: “But there was a period when we were sittin’ out there and I had a lot of late night gut checks where I was just like, ‘Are we totally off on some loop here?‘… ‘Are we wrong? Are we gonna be embarrassed?’” Landay adds, “Everyday we would look at each other and say—literally one of us would find something out—and I’d look at him and say, ‘What’s going on here?’” Media analyst Eric Boehlert says: “But I think it’s telling that they didn’t really operate by that beltway game the way the networks, the cable channels, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post. They seem to sort of operate outside that bubble. And look at what the benefits were when they operated outside that bubble. They actually got the story right. What’s important is it’s proof positive that that story was there. And it could have been gotten. And some people did get it. But the vast majority chose to ignore or not even try.” Former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson confirms the solid reporting of Strobel and Landay: “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, ya know, that intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Walter Isaacson, Warren Strobel, Newsweek, Eric Boehlert, John Walcott, C-SPAN, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Karl C. Rove, New York Times, Time magazine, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Congress passes a $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill that would provide funds for the continued occupation of Iraq, but require that a majority of the troops be withdrawn by the end of the year. The bill, if signed into law by President Bush, will set a number of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, including the creation of a program to disarm militias, the reduction of sectarian violence, the easement of rules (see May 16, 2003) that purged the government of former Baath Party members, and the implementation of a law that would govern the development of the country’s oil sector (see February 15, 2007). If the Iraqi government fails to meet these requirements, the US would begin pulling out its troops on July 1. If it does meet the benchmarks, the withdrawal would be delayed until October 1, with the pull-out being completed no later than April 1, 2008. Some troops would remain in Iraq to protect US facilities and diplomats, fight US-designated terrorist groups, and train Iraqi security forces. [Washington Post, 4/26/2007; US Congress, 4/26/2007 ] President Bush will veto the bill on May 1. [Washington Post, 4/26/2007]
Michael DeLong. [Source: PBS]Retired Marine Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, the author of A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes of his involvement with the Jessica Lynch case (see March 23, 2003), and his decision not to award her the Medal of Honor. DeLong was the deputy commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar from 2001 through 2003. In his words, “I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya[h] in 2003 and she was taken prisoner.” DeLong writes to refute allegations that the military deliberately distorted the story of Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003, April 1, 2003, and April 3, 2003) for its own purposes. Instead, he says, the story became distorted because of what he calls “overzealous politicians and a frenzied press.” According to DeLong, CENTCOM told the press exactly what it had learned of Lynch’s capture within hours of the incident. He writes, “The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic.” Shortly after her rescue, when the media was still telling stories of her heroism under fire and her wounding by gunfire (see April 7, 2003), politicians from her home state of West Virginia began calling for the military to award Lynch the Medal of Honor. DeLong writes that he halted that process, aware that “initial combat reports are often wrong” and that all such stories must be “thoroughly investigate[d].” Lynch herself was still suffering from “combat shock and loss of memory,” forcing the military to look to “other sources” for all the facts. DeLong recalls “many heated discussions” with the politicians’ Congressional liaison, who pressured DeLong to give Lynch the medal before all the evidence had been collected. He writes, “The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.” Indeed, he writes, the initial reports were wrong (see June 17, 2003). “Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic. (It’s important to make clear, too, that Private Lynch has never claimed to be a hero. As she told Congress earlier this week (see April 24, 2007), the ‘story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting’ was not true.)” DeLong writes: “None of us were in it for the publicity: we did it to save a comrade. Period.” He claims that Task Force 20, who executed the rescue mission, “decided to film it on their own.” He is glad they made the film of the rescue “not for publicity purposes, but because that film can now be used to train soldiers.” DeLong concludes: “A nation needs heroes. Hero-making in itself os not a bad thing. But hero-making without grounds is. In the case of Ms. Lynch, overzealous politicians and a frenzied press distorted facts.” [New York Times, 4/27/2007]
Soldiers salute their fallen comrades at a Fort Lewis memorial service. [Source: New York Times]Families of slain US soldiers based at Fort Lewis, Washington, are pleading with base commanders to reconsider their recent decision to only honor the base’s war dead once a month instead of individually. The decision comes after twenty soldiers deployed from the base were reported killed in action; base officials then announced that Fort Lewis would only hold memorial services for once a month to collectively honor its fallen soldiers. Since then, veterans and the families of the slain have protested the change as, in reporter William Yardley’s words, “cold and logistics-driven.” Web-based critics have charged that the military is trying to minimize the bad news from Iraq. In June, the base will place the decision on hold; base commander Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby will decide whether or not to carry out the policy. “If I lost my husband at the beginning of the month, what do you do, wait until the end of the month?” demands Toni Shanyfelt, whose husband is serving one of multiple tours in Iraq. “I don’t know if it’s more convenient for them, or what, but that’s insane.” Military historians note that during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, base memorial services were rare, but since the advent of the all-volunteer military, the base is a center for the community, and memorial services for the fallen are among the most important base functions. Former interim base commander Brigadier General William Troy, who originally announced the policy, wrote in explanation, “As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm’s way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies.” Some other Army bases already hold monthly services; some hold them even less frequently. Major Cheryl Phillips, an Army spokeswoman, notes that the decision on memorial services is up to the base commanders, saying, “Several installations have conducted services for each individual soldier and now have begun to roll them into a quarterly service because, alas, the casualty numbers are rising.” [New York Times, 7/25/2007]
Russell Feingold. [Source: Flickr.com]Four senators—Russell Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)—send letters objecting to the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation against terrorism suspects after receiving a briefing from CIA Director Michael Hayden on the subject. Though lawmakers are bound by secrecy oaths from revealing the nature of the classified briefings on secret interrogation subjects, in November 2007, Feingold will breach that oath, complaining that the Bush administration is mischaracterizing the level of Congressional support for what administration officials call “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see November 7, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Two British men are found guilty of leaking a secret memo about talks between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. David Keogh, a communications officer at the Cabinet Office, is found guilty of two offenses under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and Leo O’Connor, a researcher for then-member of parliament Anthony Clarke, is found guilty of one offense under the same law. [BBC, 5/9/2007] The memo recorded talks held in the Oval Office between Bush and Blair on April 16, 2004 about the Iraq occupation. Prosecutors claimed during the trial that publication of the document could cost British lives because it contained details about troop movements within Iraq. Few details of the “highly sensitive” memo have been disclosed. However it is known that during his talk with Blair, Bush suggested that allied forces bomb the offices of Arab television network Al Jazeera, a suggestion that many experts and observers have found, in the words of reporter Sarah Lyall, “shocking.” At the time, the White House dismissed reports suggesting this as “outlandish” and a Blair spokesman said, “I’m not aware of any suggestion of bombing any Al Jazeera television station.” [New York Times, 7/12/2006] The jury for the trial is instructed to remain quiet about what they have learned in the courtroom. Keogh originally passed a copy of the classified memo to O’Connor, who passed it along to his boss, Clarke, who is strongly against the war. After receiving the memo, Clarke called the police. O’Connor calls some of the statements in the four-page memo “embarrassing [and] outlandish,” and says he never intended to send copies of the memo to newspapers or other members of parliament. Keogh’s lawyer, Rex Tedd, tells the court that his client “acted out of conscience” and not for any political motivation. “No doubt, he did so misguidedly and he did so in a way which was likely to cause damage.” [BBC, 5/9/2007]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Russia strenuously objects to US plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors and an advanced radar system in Eastern Europe—in essence creating a missile defense system in several former Soviet satellite states. Russia says that those installations will be targeted by Russian nuclear weapons, and hints that it will accelerate its development of new ICBMs and new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, threatening a new, post-Cold War arms race. The US protests that the weapons systems are not intended for use against Russian targets, but the Russian government is not mollified. “In questions of military-strategic stability there are… immutable laws, actions, counteractions, defense, offensive systems,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “These laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation. The military has its own duty, to figure out threats and take countermeasures.” Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the US missile defense system plans are “destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world,” and adds, “In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system, we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, and that is what we are doing now.” If the US continues with its planned deployment, Russia says it will stop observing the limits on conventional arms in Europe, an agreement negotiated by George H. W. Bush, and will consider withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (see December 7-8, 1987). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 190-191]
Columnist Georgia Anne Geyer claims in an op-ed piece that friends of President Bush “from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated ‘I am the president!’ He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of ‘our country’s destiny.’” Geyer does not identify her sources. [Dallas Morning News, 5/31/2007]
Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]
Brigadier General Lawrence Stutzriem. [Source: US Air Force]The US Air Force sets up a secret strategic planning group, nicknamed “Project Checkmate,” tasked with “fighting the next war” against Iran. Project Checkmate, a successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf War’s air campaign, reports directly to the Air Force’s commander, General Michael Moseley, and consists of twenty to thirty senior USAF officials as well as defense and cyberspace experts with strong access to the White House, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies. While planning for war with Iran began two years ago in Washington, the strategic planning group represents a serious escalation of planning and perhaps intent by the Bush administration and the US military. Checkmate is envisioned to modernize the stratified strategic thinking that often results in the US military “fighting the last war” over again, and intends to provide innovative strategies for tactical battles using air, space, and even cyberwarfare. The leader of Checkmate is Brigadier General Lawrence “Stutz” Stutzriem, and is assisted by former Israeli military officer Dr. Lani Kass, an expert on cyberwarfare. George W. Bush has said repeatedly that he prefers diplomacy with Iran over military action, but if Iran continues to work towards developing a nuclear weapon, as he and his top advisers believe, then he will consider aggressive, pre-emptive military action. However, Bush faces strong opposition from his own Joint Chiefs of Staff: “None of them think it is a good idea, but they will do it if they are told to,” says one senior defense source.
Aftermath the Biggest Problem - Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney warns that the administration must seriously consider the aftermath of such a military offensive against Iran. “There is no question that we can take out Iran,” he says. “The problem is the follow-on, the velvet revolution that needs to be created so the Iranian people know it’s not aimed at them, but at the Iranian regime.” Checkmate, which is also looking at military contingencies against China and North Korea, was originally formed in the 1970s to counter threats from the then-Soviet Union, but fell into disuse in the 1980s when the Soviet Union began showing signs of internal collapse. Checkmate was revived under Colonel John Warden in 1990 to draw up plans for air strikes against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. “When Saddam [Hussein] invaded Kuwait, we had access to unlimited numbers of people with expertise, including all the intelligence agencies, and were able to be significantly more agile than Centcom,” Warden says, referring to the US Central Command in Florida. Warden says Checkmate’s primary role is to develop the necessary expertise so that “if somebody says Iran, it says: ‘here is what you need to think about.’ Here are the objectives, here are the risks, here is what it will cost, here are the numbers of planes we will lose, here is how the war is going to end and here is what the peace will look like.” [London Times, 9/27/2007]
Entity Tags: US Central Command, US Department of the Air Force, Saddam Hussein, Thomas G. McInerney, Michael Moseley, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Warden, Project Checkmate, Lani Kass, Lawrence Stutzriem, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports that US agents were intercepted by German police trying to enter the highly secure enclosure surrounding the G8 summit taking place in Heilingendamm, Germany, with explosive material. “[S]ources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that US security men tested German security by trying to smuggle C4 plastic explosive past a checkpoint at Heiligendamm. German surveillance machinery detected the tiny stash in a suitcase in a car and the Americans in plainclothes then identified themselves. German police declined comment.” [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 6/7/2007]
A federal appeals court rules that “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007) must be released from military custody. “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians,” writes Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution—and the country.” She adds, “We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007] Motz continues, “The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention.”
Military Commissons Act Does Not Apply - The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) does not apply to al-Marri, the court rules. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007] Motz writes that the MCA does not apply to al-Marri and the court also rules that the government failed to prove its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), gives President Bush the power to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] Motz also notes that even though the government says the MCA applies to al-Marri’s case, it did not follow its own guidelines under that law. The MCA requires all such detainees to be granted a Combat Status Review Tribunal (CRST) determination; all Guantanamo-based detainees have been given such a procedure. Al-Marri has not. The government did not suggest the procedure for al-Marri until the day it filed its motion to dismiss al-Marri’s case. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007] The case, al-Marri v. Wright, was filed against Navy Commander S.L. Wright, who oversees the Charleston military prison that houses al-Marri. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Government Arguments Repudiated - The 2-1 decision of the US Court of Appeals in Richmond was written for the majority by Motz. Al-Marri is the only person held on the US mainland as an enemy combatant, and has been held in isolation for four years (see August 8, 2005). The government has alleged since 2002 that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent sent to the US to commit mass murder and disrupt the US banking system (see June 23, 2003). Motz writes that while al-Marri may well be guilty of serious crimes, the government cannot sidestep the US criminal justice system through military detention. The al-Marri ruling apparently does not apply to enemy combatants and other detainees held without charges or legal access at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The dissenting judge, Henry Hudson, writes that President Bush “had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent” because “he is the type of stealth warrior used by al-Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.” Hudson is a Bush appointee. Motz and Judge Roger Gregory, the concurring judge, were appointed by former president Bill Clinton. Motz orders the Pentagon to issue a writ of habeas corpus for al-Marri “within a reasonable period of time.” The Pentagon may release him, hold him as a material witness, or charge him in the civilian court system. Al-Marri “can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely,” she writes, “But military detention of al-Marri must cease.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007; Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Democracy Vs. 'Police State' - Hafetz says: “We’re pleased the court saw through the government’s stunning position in this case. Had it not, the executive could effectively disappear people by picking up any immigrant in this country, locking them in a military jail, and holding the keys to the courthouse.… This is exactly what separates a country that is democratic and committed to the rule of law from a country that is a police state.” [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007]
Justice Department to Challenge Decision - The Justice Department intends to challenge the decision (see June 11, 2007 and Late October-Early November, 2007). The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court, and may help define what authority the government has to indefinitely detain terror suspects and to strip detainees of their right to challenge the legality and conditions of their detention. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] For the time being, al-Marri will remain in military custody in the Charleston naval brig. [Cincinnati Post, 6/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Diana Gribbon Motz, Combat Status Review Tribunal, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, US Department of Justice, Henry Hudson, US Supreme Court, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Defense, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, S.L. Wright
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Amnesty International logo. [Source: Amnesty International]The human rights group Amnesty International hails an appeal court decision to release alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 11, 2007) from military detention. Executive director Larry Cox says in a statement: “Today’s decision strikes down a fundamental premise of the Bush administration’s ill-advised and immoral detention regime: the president’s assertion that he can decide who to detain, and how to detain them, without any judicial review. The Fourth Circuit has affirmed al-Marri’s fundamental human right to challenge his detention. This and other recent developments are an indictment of the Bush administration’s detention regime. It’s now up to Congress to act. They should seize this opportunity to reverse their ill-considered decision last year to strip habeas rights from non-citizens in US custody. This decision restores constitutional habeas rights to those arrested on US soil. However, that is only a tiny subset of the many individuals whose rights have been trampled in the name of the war on terror. Today’s ruling is plain common sense: the president can’t seize civilians in the United States, hold them in military custody, and deny them habeas rights. It’s a sign of how bad things have gotten that the decision comes as such a welcome glimmer of hope.” [US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the administration is “disappointed” in the decision to void Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s “enemy combatant” status (see June 11, 2007), and will ask that the full appellate court re-hear the case (see Late October-Early November, 2007). “The president has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al-Qaeda attack, including the capture and detention of al-Qaeda agents who enter our borders,” Boyd says. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007; US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
The Al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest of Shi’ite shrines, is attacked for a second time, apparently by Sunni insurgents. The mosque was partially destroyed in a massive bombing attack over a year ago (see February 22, 2006), sparking a calamitous increase in sectarian violence that claimed at least 10,000 lives. Both US and Iraqi officials fear a similar outbreak of violence following this bombing. President Bush says the attack is “clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions.” Additional US forces are sent to Samarra to enforce security. US and Iraqi officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group with loose ties to the larger al-Qaeda network, but as with the February 2006 bombings, that assertion cannot be proven. In what are apparently retaliatory strikes, Shi’ite members of the Mahdi Army destroy the Sunni Grand Mosque in Iskandariyah, and attack another Sunni mosque in the same city. Mahdi leader Moqtada al-Sadr blames the Golden Mosque attack on “the hidden hands of the occupiers,” his term for the US military, but calls for peaceful protests instead of violent responses to the attacks. Al-Maliki says that Sunni security forces responsible for guarding the mosque may have been involved in the attack; until very recently, Sunni forces were the only ones delegated to guard the Shi’ite mosque. Iraqi authorities believe those forces may have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda operatives. One day prior, a Shi’ite force from Baghdad was deployed to the mosque. According to a resident, the Sunni and Shi’ite forces engaged in “some disagreement and fighting…because the previous force did not want to leave their position, but later they had to.” It is possible that the conflict between the two Iraqi forces precipitated the attack. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] Many Iraqis feel that the latest attacks could carry Iraq to the brink of an all-out civil war. A Shi’ite graduate student says, “The problem is that ignorant people carry out the orders of those who want to arm Iraq. We have some of those, and some of the Sunnis also have some among them. We are on the edge of a catastrophe.” A Sunni housewife says, “We feel that the gap is getting bigger and bigger between us and the Shiites.” [New York Times, 6/13/2007]
Former Reagan Justice Department official and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald applaud the recent ruling requiring the government to overturn alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s military detention status (see June 11, 2007). Fein writes that the decision “rebuked President Bush’s frightening claim that the Constitution crowned him with power to pluck every American citizen from his home for indefinite detention without trial on suspicion of preparing for acts of international terrorism.” Other terrorist acts, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993), “were tried and punished in civilian courts,” Fein notes, adding that Bush bypassed the USA Patriot Act to classify al-Marri as an enemy combatant, although the Patriot Act “provides a specific method for the government to detain aliens affiliated with terrorist organizations who are believed likely to engage in terrorist activity.” Al-Marri was denied that procedure due to his classification as an enemy combatant. [Washington Times, 6/19/2007] Greenwald writes, “How extraordinary it is—how extraordinarily disturbing it is—that we are even debating these issues at all. Although its ultimate resolution is complicated, the question raised by al-Marri is a clear and simple one: Does the president have the power—and/or should he have it—to arrest individuals on US soil and keep them imprisoned for years and years, indefinitely, without charging them with a crime, allowing them access to lawyers or the outside world, and/or providing a meaningful opportunity to contest the validity of the charges? How can that question not answer itself?… Who would possibly believe that an American president has such powers, and more to the point, what kind of a person would want a president to have such powers? That is one of a handful of powers that this country was founded to prevent.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17/2007]
George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. [Source: White House]During a press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush accuses Iran of actively developing nuclear weapons, and warns of the ramifications of that activity. He warns of the “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions.… Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we’ll see.” [White House, 6/19/2007]
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