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British intelligence concludes that “at present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack” inside Britain. The assessment is made by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Center, which is made up of about 100 top intelligence and law enforcement officials from Britain’s main intelligence agencies, as well as its Customs and police forces. The secret report is sent to various British government agencies, foreign governments, and corporations. As a result of the report, the British government lowers its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe defined” to “substantial.” “Substantial” is the fourth most serious threat level on a scale of one to seven. The report also states, “Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in [Britain].” After the 7/7 bombings about three weeks later (see July 7, 2005), British officials will deny that British involvement in the Iraq war served as a motivation for the 7/7 bombings. Senior British officials will not deny the report after its contents are leaked to the New York Times shortly after the 7/7 bombings, but will refuse to comment on it. One senior official will say that there was a sharp disagreement about lowering the threat level. [New York Times, 7/19/2005; London Times, 7/19/2005] In March 2005, senior officials from Scotland Yard came to opposite conclusions, and one official even predicted that Britons with bombs in backpacks would blow themselves up on the London subway (see March 2005).
A new video tape said to show al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is broadcast on Al Jazeera. In the video, the first said to be from al-Zawahiri since February, he attacks the US and its influence in the Middle East, saying, “The removal of the Crusader and Jewish invaders won’t occur by peaceful demonstrations,” and, “Reform and expelling the invaders from the countries of Islam won’t happen except through fighting for God’s sake.” The video shows the man thought to be al-Zawahiri sitting before a plain backdrop with an automatic weapon leaned next to him. He wears a white turban and black and white robes. It is unclear how Al Jazeera obtains the tape. [Associated Press, 6/17/2005]
US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad criticizes Pakistan’s failure to act against Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, recently gave an interview on Pakistani television in which he said Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban (see June 15, 2005). Khalilzad further points out that Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi frequently gives interviews from the Pakistani city of Quetta, and asks, “If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country, which has nuclear bombs and a lot of security and military forces, not find them?” [Reuters, 6/18/2005]
Asked if he has a good idea where Osama bin Laden is hiding, CIA Director Porter Goss replies: “I have an excellent idea of where he is. What’s the next question?” Although he doesn’t mention the country, Goss implies he is referring to Pakistan. He mentions the “very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states,” which appears to be a diplomatic way of referring to the tribal region of Pakistan, where many believe bin Laden is located. [BBC, 6/20/2005] Vice President Dick Cheney will make a similar comment several days later (see June 23, 2005).
In the years since the US declared Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi a terrorism financier (see October 12, 2001), no criminal charges have been brought against him anywhere in the world. But on June 22, 2005, it is announced that Swiss prosecutors are pursuing a formal criminal case against him. The case focuses on a series of transactions made between February and August 1998 that were sent from one of al-Qadi’s companies to a firm owned by Saudi businessman Wael Hamza Julaidan. Julaidan reputedly associated with bin Laden in the 1980s. He was placed on US and UN terrorism financier lists in 2002. Over $1 million of the money in these transactions was sent to a Yemeni charity, but allegedly wound up funding al-Qaeda instead. Al-Qadi denies knowing that the money would go to al-Qaeda. [Newsweek, 6/22/2005] It is claimed that some of this money goes to support the 9/11 attacks. However, in December 2005, the Swiss apparently close the case. The Swiss court issues a statement, “Nothing in the file allows one to conclude with sufficient likelihood that Yassin al-Qadi knew or was able to know that the payments he made and for which he is implicated in the Swiss proceedings, could serve to specifically finance the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” [Arab News, 12/25/2005]
Vice President Dick Cheney says about Osama bin Laden, “We’ve got a pretty good idea of a general area that he’s in, but I—I don’t have the street address.” [CNN, 6/23/2005] His comments come shortly after CIA Director Porter Goss’s comment that he has an “excellent idea” where bin Laden is (see June 19, 2005).
Asked on NBC’s Meet the Press if the US is “capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day” than are being created, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld replies, “Tough to know. I don’t know the answer to the question.” [Meet the Press, 6/26/2005] Rumsfeld asked essentially the same question to his aides in a 2003 memo (see October 16, 2003). A US National Intelligence Estimate in 2006 will comment, “Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists… are increasing in both number and geographic distribution” (see April 2006). [Salon, 3/27/2008]
The French government secretly warns that Britain could be attacked by al-Qaeda. The Renseignements Généraux, or DCRG, France’s equivalent of Britain’s Special Branch, concludes in a report on the Pakistani community in France that Britain “remains threatened by plans decided at the highest level of al-Qaeda.… They will be put into action by operatives drawing on pro-jihad sympathies within the large Pakistani community in [Britain].” Three of the four suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings less than one month later (see July 7, 2005) will be Britons of Pakistani origin. The report is shared within the French government, but British and French officials will later refuse to confirm or deny if it is passed to the British government as well. This report comes about one week after the British government concluded that “at present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack” inside Britain, and lowered the general threat level (see Mid-June 2005). [Guardian, 8/9/2005]
Haroon Rashid Aswat. [Source: John Cobb]According to an article in the London Times, Haroon Rashid Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings. Aswat’s family comes from India, but he was born in the same West Yorkshire town as one of the 7/7 suicide bombers and has British citizenship. He is said to be a long-time al-Qaeda operative and also the right-hand man of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. He arrives in Britain about two weeks before the bombings from South Africa, where he was being monitored by British and US intelligence. He orchestrates the final planning for the bombing, visiting the towns of all the bombers as well as the bomb targets. “Intelligence sources” also will later claim that there are records of up to twenty calls between Aswat and two of the bombers, lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and his friend Shehzad Tanweer, in the days before the bombings. A senior Pakistani security source will tell the Times, “We believe this man had a crucial part to play in what happened in London.” Khan telephones Aswat on the morning of the bombings. He flies out of Britain just hours before the bombings take place. Pakistani officials will also say that a total of eight men in Pakistan were in telephone contact with Khan and Tanweer, and that Khan, Tanweer, and Aswat were all at the same madrassa (religious boarding school) at the same time when Khan and Tanweer went to Pakistan for training in late 2004. [London Times, 7/21/2005] A later Sunday Times article will confirm that Aswat and some of the bombers talked on the phone. Some of the cell phones used by the bombers will be found and some data will be recovered from them, even though they are badly damaged. This will confirm that at least several calls were made from Aswat’s phone to the bombers in the days before the bombing. British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” There is speculation that US intelligence may have been monitoring the calls (see Shortly Before July 7, 2005). [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] It will later be alleged that Aswat is an informant for British intelligence. Furthermore, the imam he has worked for, Abu Hazma, is also a British informant (see Early 1997).
It will later be reported that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the possible mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), talks on the phone about 20 times with two of the suicide bombers involved in the attack in the days before the bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). The Sunday Times will later note, “It is likely that the American National Security Agency—which has a powerful eavesdropping network—was monitoring the calls.” British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] A book about the Mossad by Gordon Thomas will later claim that the Mossad learns by the early afternoon of the day of the 7/7 bombings that the CIA has a “strong supposition” Aswat made a number of calls to the bombers in the days before the bombings. [Thomas, 2007, pp. 519] This would support the theory that the NSA was tracking the calls. US intelligence had discovered Aswat’s location several weeks before the bombings, but then supposedly lost track of him again (see Early June 2005). If these calls were tracked, it is not clear why action was not taken against the bombers.
Several hours after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), the Associated Press reports: “British police told the Israeli Embassy in London minutes before Thursday’s explosions that they had received warnings of possible terror attacks in the city, a senior Israeli official said.… [Israeli Finance Minister and former Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to attend an economic conference in a hotel over the subway stop where one of the blasts occurred, and the warning prompted him to stay in his hotel room instead, government officials said.… Just before the blasts, Scotland Yard called the security officer at the Israeli Embassy to say they had received warnings of possible attacks, the official said. He did not say whether British police made any link to the economic conference.” [Associated Press, 7/7/2005] Israeli Army radio also reports that “Scotland Yard had intelligence warnings of the attacks a short time before they occurred,” and “The Israeli Embassy in London was notified in advance, resulting in Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remaining in his hotel room rather than make his way to the hotel adjacent to the site of the first explosion.” [IsraelNationalNews, 7/7/2005]
Israel Denies Reports - Several hours after that, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom officially denies reports that Scotland Yard passed any advanced warning to Israel about the bombings, and British authorities deny they had any advanced warning at all. The Associated Press withdraws its earlier report and replaces it with one containing denials from Shalom and others about any warning. It states that Netanyahu was warned to stay in his hotel room, but the warning came shortly after the first bombing. [Stratfor, 7/7/2005; Associated Press, 7/7/2005]
Stratfor: Other Way Round - Later that same day, Stratfor, a respected private intelligence agency, notes the denials, but reports “Contrary to original claims that Israel was warned ‘minutes before’ the first attack, unconfirmed rumors in intelligence circles indicate that the Israeli government actually warned London of the attacks ‘a couple of days’ previous. Israel has apparently given other warnings about possible attacks that turned out to be aborted operations. The British government did not want to disrupt the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, or call off visits by foreign dignitaries to London, hoping this would be another false alarm. The British government sat on this information for days and failed to respond.” [Stratfor, 7/7/2005]
Denial from Netanyahu - The next day, Netanyahu will call the report of his advanced warning “entirely false.” He says: “When the first bomb went off, we were departing our hotel. While we were on our way out, the security people said there was an explosion near the area I was scheduled to speak. They asked us to go back and stay put in our hotel.” [WorldNetDaily, 7/8/2005]
Call from Sharon - An Israeli newspaper also reports that “Shortly after the first explosion in London yesterday morning, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was scheduled to give a speech in the British capital, to inquire about his well-being and that of his entourage.” [Ha'aretz, 7/8/2005]
Warning Too Late - On July 11, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag will report that the Mossad office in London received advance notice about 7/7 bombings, but only about six minutes before the first bombing. As a result, it was impossible to take any action to prevent the bombings. One Mossad source says, “They reached us too late for us to do something about it.” [Israel Insider, 7/11/2005]
Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant leading a Moroccan militant group, allegedly helps foil an attack in Britain. Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Belgian intelligence gives the British government “very precise” information from Belliraj about a planned follow-up attack. Arrests are made and material is seized in Liverpool, but the incident is not reported in the media at the time. (Apparently this is a different plot to a largely unsuccessful copycat bomb plot two weeks after the 7/7 bombings (see July 21, 2005)). A Belgian newspaper will say the attacks could have killed dozens of people. Belliraj had developed links to al-Qaeda in 2001 while being paid by Belgian’s internal security service (see 2001). He will be arrested in Morocco in 2008 (see February 18, 2008). [Agence France-Presse, 3/15/2008]
The New York Times reports that since 9/11, Britain has arrested nearly 800 people under the Terrorism Act of 2000. But only 121 of them were charged with terrorism related crimes, and only 21 have been convicted. The Times comments, “critics have charged that [Britain’s] deep tradition of civil liberties and protection of political activists have made the country a haven for terrorists.” [New York Times, 7/10/2005]
Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, June 4, 1998, and May 26, 2004) has said that he believes his co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), was involved with a white supremacist compound in eastern Oklahoma, Elohim City (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). Nichols’s statements to the FBI, a US congressman, and his family are now being reported by The Oklahoman. Representative Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), who met with Nichols on June 27, 2005 at the federal prison in Florence, Colorado, says: “He said he was driving past it one time and Tim McVeigh knew everything about Elohim City, just told him all about it. And he said on a number of occasions… Tim McVeigh mentioned his friend, Andy the German, who lives at Elohim City.… So there was a strong indication that Tim McVeigh had much more than just a minor association with some of the people at Elohim City.” “Andy the German” is Andreas Strassmeir, a former German soldier who helped coordinate security at Elohim City (see 1973 and After). Strassmeir has admitted meeting McVeigh at a 1993 Tulsa gun show (see April 1993), but has said he never saw or spoke with him again. Strassmeir has denied any role in the bombing (see November 1994), as has Elohim City leader Robert Millar (see May 24, 1995). The FBI investigated Elohim City after discovering McVeigh called there two weeks before the bombing (see April 5, 1995), and ruled out the residents as suspects (see February 1995). The bureau never found conclusive proof that McVeigh ever visited there, though other sources found that McVeigh and Nichols had visited there in late 1993 (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994) and learned that McVeigh took part in paramilitary exercises there in late 1994 (see September 12, 1994 and After). For years, many have speculated that Strassmeir and other Elohim City residents may have played a part in the bombing; Rohrbacher says he is considering holding Congressional hearings on the possibility, and says he asked Nichols specifically about those theories. Former federal informant Carole Howe has claimed she saw McVeigh and Strassmeir together at Elohim City in July 1994, and has said Strassmeir talked about blowing up federal buildings in Oklahoma (see August 1994 - March 1995 and November 1994). Federal prosecutors did not believe Howe’s claims. [The Oklahoman, 7/10/2005] A precursor of the McVeigh-Nichols bomb plot was hatched in 1983 by Elohim City residents (see 1983). Some believe that Strassmeir may have been McVeigh’s alleged co-conspirator identified only as “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995), even though federal authorities have said that person was not involved with Nichols or McVeigh (see January 29, 1997). McVeigh told his friend Michael Fortier that he planned the Oklahoma City bombing with input from people at Elohim City (see December 1994). Less than two weeks before the bombing, McVeigh went to a strip club with people from Elohim City, including Strassmeir (see April 8, 1995).
Several weeks before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), a Sunday Times reporter went undercover, posing as a new recruit in radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed’s militant group Al-Muhajiroun. (Technically, the group disbanded the year before, but the Times reporter discovers the two new offshoots, the Saviour Sect and Al-Ghuraaba, are “Al-Muhajiroun in all but name” (see October 2004).) The reporter was accepted into the group, and for two months he attends private meetings of about 50 core followers usually led by Bakri. Shortly after the 7/7 bombings, Bakri publicly denounces the bombings, saying he is against the killing of innocents. But on July 9, the Times reporter hears Bakri tell his followers: “So, London under attack. Between us, for the past 48 hours I’m very happy.” He draws an analogy, saying: “The mosquito makes the lion suffer and makes him kill himself. If the mosquito goes up a lion’s nose then he will make him go mad. So don’t underestimate the power of the mosquito.” Several weeks later, in another private meeting, he praises the four 7/7 suicide bombers as the “fantastic four.” He tells his followers to “cover the land with our blood through martyrdom, martyrdom, martyrdom.” He reiterates that while he is against the killing of “innocents,” the victims of the 7/7 bombings were not innocent because they were not good Muslims. “They’re kuffar [non-believers]. They’re not people who are innocent. The people who are innocent are the people who are with us or those who are living under the Islamic state.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/7/2005]
The Bagram escapees, clockwise from top left: Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, Omar al-Faruq, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. [Source: Ahmad Masood / Reuters]Four al-Qaeda operatives escape the high-security US-controlled prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. The four men—Omar al-Faruq, Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi (a.k.a. Mahmoud Ahmad Muhammad)—were all being held in a remote cell for troublesome prisoners. They allegedly pick the lock on their cell, take off their bright orange uniforms, walk through the prison under the cover of darkness, and then crawl over a faulty wall to where a getaway car is waiting for them. One US official later says: “It is embarrassing and amazing at the same time. It was a disaster.” [New York Times, 12/4/2005] The Independent will later comment: “The escape was so remarkable that serious doubts have been raised over whether it can possibly have happened the way it is described. At the very least, analysts have suggested, the four escapees must have had help on the inside, in order to know about the gap in the fence, and to find their way there so easily through a maze of buildings.” [Independent, 9/27/2006] Al-Faruq is considered an important al-Qaeda leader who served as a link between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia until he was captured in 2002 (see June 5, 2002). Al-Kahtani is also considered an important al-Qaeda operative, but not on the same level as al-Faruq. Both of them were scheduled to be transported to Guantanamo.
Deliberately Let Go? - In late 2005, former Bagram prisoner Moazzam Begg will claim that he heard in Bagram that US intelligence officers had proposed staging an escape to release a detainee who would act as a double agent against al-Qaeda. US officials strongly deny that that happened with this escape.
US Hides Identities of Some Escapees - The US soon releases pictures of the four escapees, but strangely does not identify which escapees match which prisoners. Furthermore, as the New York Times will later note, “For reasons they have not explained, the military authorities gave different names for [al-Faruq and al-Kahtani] in announcing the escape.” [New York Times, 12/4/2005] The fact that al-Faruq was one of the escapees only comes out during a November 2005 US military trial of a sergeant who had been accused of mistreating him in 2002.
Fates of Escapees - Al-Faruq will later release a video on the Internet boasting of his role in the escape. He will be killed in Iraq in 2006 (see September 25, 2006). [New York Times, 9/26/2006] Al-Kahtani will be recaptured by US forces in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2006. He is a Saudi and will be extradited to Saudi Arabia in May 2007. [Agence France-Presse, 5/7/2007] Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi will have what the New York Times later will call a “meteoric ascent within the leadership of al-Qaeda” in the three years after his escape. He will become very popular within Islamist militant circles for his propaganda videos. In 2008, Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst, will say of him: “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within [al-Qaeda], and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.” As of 2008, he and Abdullah Hashimi apparently remain free. [New York Times, 4/4/2008]
Haroon Rashid Aswat, the alleged mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (seee July 7, 2005), is reportedly arrested in Pakistan, but accounts conflict. For instance, on July 21, The Guardian reports that Aswat was arrested in the small town of Sargodha, near Lahore, on July 17. He is said to be found carrying a belt packed with explosives, a British passport, and lots of money. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed deny that the arrest took place. However, The Guardian reports, “Intelligence sources insisted, however, that Mr Aswat had been detained.” [Guardian, 7/21/2005] It is soon reported that Aswat has been arrested in the African country Zambia (see (July 21, 2005)), and news of his arrest in Pakistan fades away. Officials claim that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity and the person
“arrested was in fact a ceramics salesman from London with a similar name.” However, it is not explained how or why a ceramics salesman had a suicide vest, what his name was, or what happened to him. [Los Angeles Times, 7/28/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005] Yet as late as July 24, a “US law-enforcement official with knowledge of the case” continues to insist that Aswat had been arrested in Pakistan. [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will later claim that Aswat in fact has been an informant for the British intelligence agency MI6. He will point to Aswat’s arrest and then quick release in Pakistan as an example of how MI6 was attempting to protect Aswat even as other branches of the British government were trying to find him (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005]
One day after the failed 21/7 London bombings that attempted to duplicate the 7/7 bombings two weeks earlier (see July 21, 2005 and July 7, 2005), it is reported that Scotland Yard was tipped off about the bombings, but failed to stop them. An unnamed informant told police that there would be another round of bombings during the week, but could not name exactly where or when. Police chiefs correctly deduced it would probably take place on a Thursday, exactly two weeks after the 7/7 bombings. As a result, starting this morning, the London subway system is flooded with undercover armed police, as well as openly armed police. In some stations, such as Westminster, passengers are asked to take off backpacks and then line them up against walls, where sniffer dogs smell for possible explosives. One eyewitness will say: “I have never seen anything like that in London before, even after the July 7 bombings. There were at least eight officers, including several with machine guns, just at one underground station.” At 9:29 a.m., an armed unit races to Farringdon station and closes in on one suspected bomber, but apparently narrowly misses him. (The bombers will not attempt to detonate their bombs until about noon, and none of them will be at Farringdon station at the time.) Around the same time, about two hours before the bombers strike, Home Secretary Charles Clarke gives a confidential briefing to senior cabinet ministers, saying that another attack, possibly a copycat attack, is likely. However, no public warning is given. [Mirror, 7/22/2005] Although the bombers fail to cause mass death, it will later be determined that this was only because the explosives had not been prepared properly. It will not be explained how the bombers were able to get their bombs past the heightened security to stations in central London.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) releases a “Statement of Administrative Policy” regarding the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, the massive appropriations bill for the year. The document is given little attention in the media, but it wields great influence inside the government. Unknown to most OMB staffers, Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer David Addington has gone through OMB deputy director Nancy Dorn—herself a former Cheney staffer—to add a key paragraph to the document at the very last minute, without staff review. The paragraph says, in part, “The administration strongly opposes” any amendment to “regulate the detention, treatment, or trial of terrorists captured in the war on terror.” Addington’s paragraph is a pre-emptive strike at any such legislative attempt to modify or ease the polices towards detainees, especially in a following statement that reads, “[T]he president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto” any such bill. The insertion is part of Cheney’s attempt to head off any possible legislation restricting the administration’s claimed power to hold anyone it chooses in indefinite detention (see Summer 2005). [Office of Management and Budget, 7/21/2005 ; Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
On July 28, the Los Angeles Times is the first to report that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the alleged mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), was arrested in the African country of Zambia about a week earlier. He is said to have been arrested while trying to enter Zambia from the neighboring country of Zimbabwe. Aswat is a British citizen but is wanted in the US on charges of setting up a training camp there. US and British officials vie to extradite him; Zambia soon announces they will extradite him to Britain. [Los Angeles Times, 7/28/2005; London Times, 7/29/2005]
Damage from one of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombs. [Source: National Geographic]The Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh is hit by three simultaneous suicide bombings. At least 88 are killed and over 150 are wounded. The town, located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, is popular with Westerners and many of the victims are from various European countries. The four star Ghazala Gardens hotel is directly hit, while the other two bombers are stopped at security checkpoints and forced to detonate themselves in areas without many tourists. [BBC, 7/23/2005; Scotsman, 7/26/2005] A previously unknown Egyptian group called Tawhid and Jihad takes credit for the attacks, saying they were done on orders from al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. The Egyptian government received a warning about an imminent terror attack in the town several days in advance, but apparently mistakenly believed it would target casinos instead of hotels. [Scotsman, 7/27/2005]
The Telegraph reports that Pakistani officials believe Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), spent much of his time during his trips to Pakistan with an al-Qaeda operative named Mohammed Yasin, a.k.a. Ustad Osama. Yasin is said to be an explosives specialist also linked to the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (which in turn is related to the Harkat ul-Mujahedeen group). He is based in the training camps near the Afghan-Pakistani frontier and is reputed to be an expert at manufacturing “suicide jackets.” Yasin was included on a Pakistani government list of 70 “most wanted” terrorists in December 2003. [Dawn (Karachi), 12/31/2003; Sunday Telegraph, 7/23/2005]
The Los Angeles Times reports that Taliban forces are being trained in Pakistan’s tribal border region with support from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. It is believed that the Pakistani ISI has made more sophisticated technology available to the Taliban in recent months, including the ability to construct and detonate bombs at long distance using cordless phones to transmit the detonation signals. Pakistan officially denies these charges. However, Lt. Sayed Anwar, acting head of Afghanistan’s counter-terrorism department, says: “Pakistan is lying. We have very correct reports from their areas. We have our intelligence agents inside Pakistan’s border as well.… They say they are friends of Americans, and yet they order these people to kill Americans.” Anwar said that intelligence agents operating in Pakistan and captured prisoners describe an extensive network of militant training camps in areas of the North Waziristan tribal region. He alleges there are at least seven camps there which are closed to outsiders and guarded by Pakistani troops. Zulfiqar Ali, a Pakistani journalist working for the Los Angeles Times, was able to sneak into one of the camps and saw armed militants, some as young as 13, undergoing ideological orientation and weapons training. Sources say at least 13 militant camps had been reactivated in the month of May. The camps are allegedly funded and supplied by the ISI. Lt. Naqibullah Nooristani, an operations commander for Afghan troops fighting with US soldiers, says the Taliban have been resurgent recently because they are receiving improved training and equipment in Pakistan. [Los Angeles Times, 7/28/2005]
John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. [Source: Fox News]In an interview on Fox News, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claims that Haroon Rashid Aswat, named in recent reports as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), is actually an agent of the British intelligence agency MI6. Loftus says: “[W]hat’s really embarrassing is that the entire British police are out chasing [Aswat], and one wing of the British government, MI6 or the British Secret Service, has been hiding him. And this has been a real source of contention between the CIA, the Justice Department, and Britain.… He’s a double agent.” The interviewer clarifies, “So he’s working for the Brits to try to give them information about al-Qaeda, but in reality he’s still an al-Qaeda operative.” Loftus replies: “Yeah. The CIA and the Israelis all accused MI6 of letting all these terrorists live in London not because they’re getting al-Qaeda information, but for appeasement. It was one of those you leave us alone, we leave you alone kind of things.” Loftus then explains that Aswat has been wanted by US prosecutors in Seattle since 2002 for attempting to help set up a training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). “[W]e’ve just learned that the headquarters of the US Justice Department ordered the Seattle prosecutors not to touch Aswat [because] apparently Aswat was working for British intelligence. Now Aswat’s boss, the one-armed [London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri], he gets indicted two years later. So the guy above him and below him get indicted, but not Aswat. Now there’s a split of opinion within US intelligence. Some people say that the British intelligence fibbed to us. They told us that Aswat was dead, and that’s why the New York group dropped the case. That’s not what most of the Justice Department thinks. They think that it was just again covering up for this very publicly affiliated guy with [the British militant group] Al-Muhajiroun. He was a British intelligence plant. So all of a sudden he disappears. He’s in South Africa. We think he’s dead; we don’t know he’s down there. Last month the South African Secret Service come across the guy. He’s alive.” The host asks: “Yeah, now the CIA says, oh he’s alive. Our CIA says OK let’s arrest him. But the Brits say no again?” Loftus replies: “The Brits say no. Now at this point, two weeks ago, the Brits know that the CIA wants to get a hold of Haroon. So what happens? He takes off again, goes right to London. He isn’t arrested when he lands, he isn’t arrested when he leaves. [Even though] he’s on the watch list. The only reason he could get away with that was if he was working for British intelligence. He was a wanted man.” Loftus finally explains that Aswat’s relationship with British intelligence began in the late 1990s with the war in Kosovo. The US, Britain, and radical Muslims were all on the same side, helping the Muslims in Kosovo fight the Serbians. Loftus says that Al-Muhajiroun was involved in recruiting British Muslims to fight in Kosovo, and Aswat was part of that effort. [Fox News, 7/29/2005] Two days after Loftus’s comments, the Sunday Times reports that senior British officials “deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]
Luai Sakra detained in Turkey. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra is arrested in Turkey. He is found with false travel documents and $120,000 in cash. He had about one ton of explosives (hydrogen peroxide) stored in an apartment and fled when some of the explosives blew out the apartment’s windows. Arrested at a nearby airport, a number of passports are found revealing his true identity despite the fact that he had extensive plastic surgery. He soon confesses to planning to load the explosives onto speed boats and crash them into Israeli cruise ships docking in Turkish ports. The attack would have taken place in just a few days, possibly on August 5, 2005. [BBC, 8/13/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/15/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005; Washington Post, 2/20/2006] Apparently, Turkish intelligence had learned something about the planned attacks and warned the Israeli government. The Israeli government then issued a public warning, which seems to have tipped off the plotters, and Sakra is one of the few who gets caught. A Turkish security official complains that the Israeli warning may have “spoiled all the operation and all the militants might escape.” [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/15/2005] Sakra, who has been alleged to be an informant for the CIA, Syria, and Turkey (see 2000), will then reportedly make a remarkable series of confessions to Turkish interrogators (see Early August 2005).
Around July 21, 2005, Haroon Rashid Aswat was arrested in Zambia, and the British government soon arranged to have him quickly extradited back to Britain, since he is a British citizen. Numerous press accounts have described Aswat at the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). However, British authorities, who apparently have yet to question him, appear mysteriously uninterested in him. On July 31, the Sunday Times reports: “Scotland Yard sources say [Aswat] is not considered a priority in their criminal investigation into the July 7 and July 21 attacks. But senior [British] officials do not rule out the possibility there my be links to one or more of the bombers.” One unnamed official says, “I don’t think the evidence is conclusive either way.” Senior officials “also deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] The Times does not explain why officials would deny he worked for British intelligence, but on July 29, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claimed on Fox News that Aswat has had a long relationship with MI6 and they have tried to protect him from arrest (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005] On August 1, the Financial Times reports that British officials are seeking “to play down the role of Haroon Rashid Aswat… Zambian officials have agreed to extradite [him]… but British officials said they were no longer interested in interrogating him.” [Financial Times, 8/1/2005] It is not explained why officials are not at least interested in interrogating Aswat over his other suspected criminal activities. According to one article, by 2003, British officials had collected a large dossier on him and deemed him a “major terrorist threat” to Britain (see Early 2003), and in 2004 he was linked to a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain (see February 2004). Furthermore, while in custody in Zambia, he allegedly confessed to serving as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]
Luai Sakra shouting to passers-by while imprisoned in Turkey. [Source: Reuters]Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra, recently arrested in Turkey (see July 30, 2005), is interrogated for four days by police in Istanbul. He apparently freely confesses to involvement in a number of attacks and even shouts out confessions to reporters and passers-by from the window of his prison cell. [BBC, 8/13/2005]
He says, “I was one of the people who knew the perpetrators of September 11, and knew the time and plan before the attacks. I also participated in the preparations for the attacks to WTC and Pentagon. I provided money and passports.” He claims to know 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Sakra lived in Germany for about a year before the 9/11 attacks (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] He also makes the claim that he helped some of the 9/11 hijackers near Bursa, Turkey, and will provide further details on this in 2007 (see Late 1999-2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
Sakra claims to have co-masterminded a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2003 that killed 58 people (see November 15-20, 2003). “I gave the orders, but as far as the targets, Habib Aktas made the decisions.” [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005]
He claims to have fought for militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. In 1999, Sakra worked with al-Zarqawi to start a new Afghan training camp for Syrians and Jordanians and the two of them became friends. Sakra boasts of participating in the execution of a kidnapped Turkish truck driver in August 2004. The driver was abducted from the laundry facility on a US base in Iraq and at one point Sakra worked in the laundry service there. [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005; BBC, 8/13/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] A US official says “We are taking very seriously reports that he was in Fallujah, and is linked with al-Zarqawi.” [United Press International, 8/17/2005] A captured aide to al-Zarqawi later confirms that Sakra was a key aide to al-Zarqawi in Fallujah beginning in March 2004 and that Sakra “provided coordinates for mortar attacks on US bases in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Anbar province.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
Sakra’s lawyer also claims Sakra was a member of a gang that held Kenneth Bigley, a British contractor in Iraq, for three weeks and then murdered him in October 2004. [Guardian, 4/20/2006]
He claims to have had foreknowledge of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). He says he sent details about the attacks and who exactly took part in it to bin Laden via messenger some weeks afterwards. He also claims that he frequently communicated with bin Laden in person and by messenger. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
He claims to have sent many operatives to the US, Britain, Egypt, Syria, and Algeria to take part in various operations. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
He claims that the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence all wanted to employ him as an informant. The Turkish newspaper Zaman will conclude that Sakra likely did work for all three governments. “Sakra eventually became a triple agent for the secret services. Turkish security officials, interrogating a senior al-Qaeda figure for the first time, were thoroughly confused about what they discovered about al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] A Turkish security official will comment, “If during his trial, Sakra tells half of the information we heard from him, al-Qaeda’s real face will emerge. But what he has said so far has more to do about a formation permeated by secret services rather than the terror organization of al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
When offered a chance to pray, he surprisingly replies, “I don’t pray and I like alcohol. Especially whiskey and wine.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005]
Der Spiegel reports, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts.” After talking to Sakra, Turkish officials suggest he may be one of the top five most important members of al-Qaeda. One security official says, “He had an intellect of a genius.” However, he also was found with medicine to treat manic-depression and exhibits manic-depressive behavior. [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] Sakra will later be sentenced to life in prison (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007) for his self-confessed role in the 2003 Istanbul bombings (see November 15-20, 2003).
Shehzad Tanweer. [Source: Public domain]The Christian Science Monitor reports that police in Pakistan are carefully analyzing the cell phone records of the two 7/7 London bombers who trained there, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer. “While officials stress that it is a tedious process, it has already yielded the name of at least one significant suspect: Maulana Masood Azhar.” Azhar is leader of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), which has technically been banned twice by the Pakistani government but continues to operate (see November 2003). [Christian Science Monitor, 8/1/2005] Tanweer met a JEM leader during visits to Pakistan in 2003 and 2004, and also associated with a JEM recruiting agent (see Late 2003). Sources also say that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the alleged mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, has links to JEM as well as al-Qaeda. [Guardian, 7/21/2005] Azhar is questioned shortly after the 7/7 bombings, but then let go. [Dawn (Karachi), 7/16/2005] However, there are no apparent repercussions for Azhar or his group, despite well-documented links to al-Qaeda and other attacks. In 2006, it will be reported that Azhar is keeping a low profile, but living openly in the city of Karachi and editing a militant newspaper there. Also in 2006, it will be reported that Rashid Rauf, the leader of a failed transatlantic airplane bomb plot (see August 10, 2006), is related to Azhar through the marriage of their siblings. [New York Times, 12/17/2007]
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video mentioning the recent London bombings (see July 7, 2005) and threatening more attacks unless the West withdraws from Iraq. He calls the 9/11 attacks “initial clashes” and warns the US, “If you go on with the same policy of aggression against Muslims, you will see, with God’s will, what will make you forget the horrible things in Vietnam and Afghanistan.” Regarding the 7/7 bombings in Britain, the man thought to be al-Zawahiri does not directly take credit for them, but says, “Blair has brought to you destruction in central London, and he will bring more of that, God willing,” adding, “As to the nations of the crusader alliance, we have offered you a truce if you leave the land of Islam.” The tape, which is five minutes long, was left at an unspecified Al Jazeera office. This is reportedly the seventh video or audio tape released by al-Zawahiri since 9/11. He sits in front of a woven cloth that moves during the video, presumably with the wind, indicating the tape was made outdoors. [Fox News, 8/5/2005]
The cover of the Sun, a British tabloid, shortly before Bakri left Britain. [Source: The Sun]Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed is allowed to leave Britain, and flies to Lebanon. He is believed to hold joint Syrian and Lebanese citizenship, but had been living in Britain since gaining political asylum there in the 1980s. The BBC reports that his departure comes “amid speculation he was to be investigated for treason.” One day after his departure, the Sunday Times will publish a story quoting Bakri praising the recent 7/7 London bombings, referring to the four suicide bombers as the “fantastic four,” and encouraging his supporters to be martyrs (see July 9, 2005 and Shortly Afterwards). He also had recently said that he would not report a potential bomber to the police, adding that he would stop any potential attack himself. While the British government makes no move to stop Bakri from leaving, two days after he leaves it will be announced that authorities are considering if there is enough evidence to charge him with a crime, possibly through little-used laws against treason. Bakri says he is only going abroad for a holiday and will be glad to return to face possible criminal charges. [BBC, 8/9/2005] But Bakri will not return, even though there are no reports of charges being filed against him. One year later, the British government will announce that it is formally prohibiting Bakri from returning. [CNN, 7/21/2005] He continues to inspire his militant group Al-Muhajiroun, which continues to operate in Britain by periodically changing its name (see July 19, 2006).
Haroon Rashid Aswat, arrested in Zambia around July 21, 2005 (see (July 21, 2005)), is extradited from Zambia back to Britain. Aswat is a British citizen and spent most of his life there until disappearing several years earlier. Numerous media accounts refer to him as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005), but British authorities seem mysteriously uninterested in him (see Late July 2005 and After). Even as he arrives in Britain and has yet to be questioned about any role in the 7/7 bombings, officials make clear that they have no intention of charging him for any crime. Instead, they plan to extradite him to the US, as the US has just issued a warrant for his arrest relating to his efforts to help start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). Briefly appearing in court upon his arrival in Britain, Aswat denies any terrorism link and says he does not want to be extradited to the US. He is immediately placed in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s highest security jail. [London Times, 8/8/2005]
The outgoing Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, criticizes the Blair government over its lack of response to terrorism and says that MI5 is hampering efforts to clamp down. Prince Turki describes his experience: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it is the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution service, they say, no, it is MI5. So we have been in this runaround…” Turki particularly criticizes the government’s failure to act against Saad al-Fagih of the movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia and Mohammed al-Massari. Al-Fagih is accused of being involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and a plot to assassinate King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. [London Times, 8/10/2005]
Former leaders of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, release a statement saying that panel staff members have found no documents or other witnesses that support allegations that hijacker Mohamed Atta was identified by a secret Pentagon program, known as Able Danger, before the 9/11 attacks. The existence of Able Danger first received wide public attention a few days before by the New York Times (see August 11, 2005). According to the commissioners, “The interviewee had no documentary evidence” to back up his claims and “the Commission staff concluded that the officer’s account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ; Washington Post, 8/13/2005]
In an interview with Christopher Deliso of Antiwar.com, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds says that the US government—the State Department in particular—consistently blocks counterterrorism investigations that come too close to certain top-level people. “We go for the Attas and Hamdis—but never touch the guys on the top.… [It] would upset ‘certain foreign relations.’ But it would also expose certain of our elected officials, who have significant connections with high-level drugs- and weapons- smuggling—and thus with the criminal underground, even with the terrorists themselves.… [A]ll of these high-level criminal operations involve working with foreign people, foreign countries, the outside world—and to a certain extent these relations do depend on the continuation of criminal activities.” Edmonds says that the government’s investigation into the financing of al-Qaeda is a case in point. “You know, they are coming down on these charities as the finance of al-Qaeda.… [But] a very small percentage comes from these charity foundations. The vast majority of their financing comes from narcotics. Look, we had 4 to 6 percent of the narcotics coming from the East, coming from Pakistan, coming from Afghanistan via the Balkans to the United States. Today, three or four years after Sept. 11, that has reached over 15 percent. How is it getting here? Who are getting the proceedings from those big narcotics?… But I can tell you there are a lot of people involved, a lot of ranking officials, and a lot of illegal activities that include multi-billion-dollar drug-smuggling operations, black-market nuclear sales to terrorists and unsavory regimes, you name it. And of course a lot of people from abroad are involved.” She says that her allegations against co-worker Melek Can Dickerson and her lawsuit against the FBI are just the tip of the iceberg. She expresses frustration that the media wants to only focus on the whistleblower aspect of her case instead of looking into the substance of her allegations. She says that it was completely by chance that she stumbled over an ongoing investigation into this international criminal network. “You can start from the AIPAC angle. You can start from the [Valerie] Plame case. You can start from my case. They all end up going to the same place, and they revolve around the same nucleus of people. There may be a lot of them, but it is one group. And they are very dangerous for all of us.” [Anti-War (.com), 8/15/2005]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” [US Department of Justice, 8/15/2005; Consortium News, 2/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 199] Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. [Savage, 2007, pp. 199]
Still from Mohammad Sidique Khan’s last testament video. [Source: Reuters]The Al Jazeera satellite network broadcasts a video apparently featuring short speeches from Mohammad Sidique Khan, considered the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. The two do not appear together. The man resembling Khan praises “our beloved sheikh, Osama bin Laden.” He declares: “Until we feel security, you will be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.” The man resembling Al-Zawahiri does not explicitly take credit for the 7/7 bombings, but he speaks of “the blessed London battle, which came as a slap to the face of the tyrannical, crusader British arrogance.… Like its glorious predecessors in New York, Washington, and Madrid, this blessed battle has transferred the battle to the enemies’ land.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair has strenuously denied that the 7/7 bombings were inspired by British involvement in the Iraq war, but the man resembling al-Zawahiri refers to the “inferno of Iraq,” and says Blair is conducting a “crusader war against Islam.” There are no obvious visual signs of where the speeches were recorded. [New York Times, 9/2/2005] Remarkably, British counterterrorism officials continue to deny a direct al-Qaeda link to the 7/7 bombings and are not convinced by the video. One unnamed senior official says, “It leaves us in the same position.” A police source admits that the video “makes it a bit more likely al-Qaeda were directly involved.” The video is made by As-Sahab, the al-Qaeda media production company behind other al-Qaeda videos. [Guardian, 9/3/2005] Another 7/7 bomber will apparently appear in a similar video one year later (see July 6, 2006).
In a Guardian op-ed, British MP and former cabinet minister Michael Meacher suggests that Saeed Sheikh, known for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, may have played a role in the 7/7 London bombings despite being held in a high-security Pakistani prison since 2002. Meacher states that “reports from Pakistan suggest that Sheikh continues to be active from jail, keeping in touch with friends and followers in Britain.” He cites the India-based Observer Research Foundation, which argues that there are even “grounds to suspect that the [7/7 London bombings] were orchestrated by [Saeed] Sheikh from his jail in Pakistan.” [Guardian, 9/10/2005] While there have been no firm reports linking Sheikh to the 7/7 bombings, he did work with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar (in fact both were released in 1999 as part of a deal to end an airplane hijacking (see December 24-31, 1999)), and there are reports that two of the 7/7 bombers called Azhar and had dealings with others linked to Azhar’s militant group (see August 1, 2005).
The US freezes the assets of Abdul Latif Saleh, who is a citizen of both Jordan and Albania. Bin Laden allegedly gave Saleh $600,000 to create “extremist groups” in Albania, and Saleh is also said to be tied to the Islamic Jihad (which merged into al-Qaeda before 9/11). Saleh is also said to be associated with Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi (see October 12, 2001). The Treasury Department claims, “Saleh and Qadi had entered into several business partnerships with one another, including a sugar importing business, a medical enterprise and a construction business. Saleh served as the general manager of all of Qadi’s businesses in Albania and reportedly holds 10 percent of the Qadi Group’s investments in Albania.” [Associated Press, 9/19/2005; US Department of the Treasury, 9/19/2005] In the middle of 2004, the Swiss government also froze bank accounts worth $20 million of an unnamed Saudi businessman who is the former president of the Muwafaq Foundation over alleged al-Qaeda ties (see June 25, 2004). Al-Qadi was the founder and main investor of Muwafaq (see 1995-1998). [New York Times, 6/25/2004]
A Spanish court sentences a number of people to prison for connections to al-Qaeda. The main defendant, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, is convicted of leading an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid and conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks by hosting a meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and others (see July 8-19, 2001). He is sentenced to 27 years in prison. [New York Times, 9/27/2005] However, in 2006, Spain’s supreme court will overturn his 9/11 conspiracy conviction, after prosecutors reverse themselves and ask that the conviction be dismissed. One of the reasons for the dismissal is that the US, which possesses evidence supporting the convictions, is reluctant to provide it (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). This will leave Zacarias Moussaoui the only person in the world jailed for a role in the 9/11 attacks. Yarkas will still have to serve a 12-year sentence for leading an al-Qaeda cell. [London Times, 6/1/2006] Seventeen men besides Yarkas, mostly Syrians, are also found guilty and are given sentences of six to eleven years. One of these is Tayseer Allouni, a correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite network. He is convicted of giving $4,500 to a family of Syrian exiles in Afghanistan. The prosecutor alleged the family were al-Qaeda operatives, while Allouni argued he gave the money for humanitarian reasons. Two others, a Moroccan named Driss Chebli and a Syrian named Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, were acquitted of being involved in the 9/11 plot, but Chebli was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Ghalyoun was accused of videotaping the World Trade Center and other American landmarks in 1997 for the 9/11 plotters, but he claimed he was just a tourist (see 1998). [New York Times, 9/27/2005; Washington Post, 9/27/2005; Financial Times, 9/27/2005]
Azhari Husin. [Source: Public domain]According to the 2007 edition of a book about the Mossad entitled “Gideon’s Spies,” shortly after the 7/7 London subway bombings (see July 7, 2005), the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 gathers evidence that a senior al-Qaeda operative known only by the alias Mustafa traveled in and out of England shortly before the 7/7 bombings. For months, the real identity of Mustafa remains unknown. But in early October 2005, the Mossad tells MI5 that this person actually was Azhari Husin, a bomb making expert with Jemaah Islamiyah, the main al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia. Husin used to study in Britain and reports claim that he met the main 7/7 bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, in late 2001 in a militant training camp in the Philippines (see Late 2001). Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad, apparently also tells MI5 that Husin helped plan and recruit volunteers for the bombings. The Mossad claims that Husin may have been in London at the time of the bombings, and then fled to al-Qaeda’s main safe haven in the tribal area of Pakistan, where he sometimes hides after bombings. Husin will be killed in a shootout in Indonesia in November 2005. [Thomas, 2007, pp. 520, 522] Later official British government reports about the 7/7 bombings will not mention Husin.
In an essay for the Virginia Law Review entitled “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb,” Georgetown law professor David Luban dismantles the familiar argument that torture of a detainee might be necessary to stop the so-called “ticking bomb scenario.” Author and former White House counsel John Dean, who quotes Luban in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, will describe the scenario and its ramifications thusly: “A nuclear bomb has been planted in the heart of a major American city and authorities have in custody a person who knows where it is located. To save possibly millions of lives, would it not be justified to torture this individual to get the necessary information to stop it? Absolutely. Is not this lesser evil justified? Of course it is. And this argument is a wonderful means to comfort those who have moral problems with torture. Its beauty is that once you concede there are circumstances in which torture might be justified, morally and legally… you are on the other side of the line. You’ve joined the torture crowd. To paraphrase [George W.] Bush, you’ve joined the evildoers.” Dean calls it “a bogus argument, a rhetorical device. It is seductively simple, and compellingly logical. But it is also pure fantasy.” The likelihood of such conditions are extremely remote, Dean writes, on the order of a giant meteor striking the Earth. Dean will cite Luban’s arguments as counters to the scenario. Luban writes, “[T]here are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane… to spend time thinking what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not actually frivolous.” Luban notes that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War (see October 1, 2005 and November 21, 2005), “has said that ultimately the debate is over who we are. We will never figure that out until we stop talking about ticking bombs, and stop playing games with words.” [Dean, 2006, pp. 165]
Damage to a restaurant in Kuta, Bali, in 2005. [Source: Associated Press]Three suicide bombers blow themselves up in restaurants on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Twenty-two people are killed and over 100 are injured. No group takes credit for the bombings, but Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia, is widely blamed. Several days later, Indonesian police announce they are searching for five men linked to Imam Samudra, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). Three of the five had already served jail sentences for holding explosives linked to Samudra and were under police surveillance but somehow escaped. The Indonesian government also blames Noordin Mohammed Top and Azhari Husin for masterminding the bombing. [CNN, 10/5/2005] The two men had been members of JI and acted on direction from al-Qaeda, but JI’s leadership has largely been destroyed through arrests and killings, and it is believed they now form ad hoc groups to carry out new attacks. [New York Times, 10/7/2005] Husin is killed in a raid on his hideout in Java two months later, but Top remains at large. One year later, it will be revealed that a computer laptop and a cell phone were smuggled to Samudra in his death row prison cell several months before the bombings, and he raised funds and communicated with the bombers while remaining imprisoned. An unnamed prison warden will reportedly be detained for helping Samudra get the laptop, but no one will be tried for any involvement in the bombings. [London Times, 8/24/2006; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/24/2006]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of torture by US officials (see November 21, 2005), continues to press an amendment to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill that prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners held in US captivity (see July 24, 2005 and After). The bill also posits the US Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogations by any Defense Department personnel. The Field Manual is being revised, and Pentagon sources have claimed the revisions will include a section on the importance of following the Geneva Conventions. The amendment is facing stiff opposition from the White House, which asserts that it would encroach on the power of the president as the commander in chief, and would threaten national security by reducing the ability of military interrogators to obtain critical intelligence from prisoners. On the floor of the Senate, McCain reads a letter from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had opposed Vice President Cheney on the issue of torture. Powell writes: “Our troops need to hear from Congress. The world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers.” McCain himself calls the White House’s legal theories on torture “strange,” and warns that enemies could use America’s justifications of torture as justifications for the torture of US captives. “We are Americans and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be,” he says. Terrorists “don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.” The White House continues to oppose the amendment. President Bush threatens to veto the entire bill, and Cheney circulates pro-torture talking points to friendly Congressional Republicans. Cheney, with CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, asks McCain to exempt CIA officials from the anti-torture amendment at the discretion of the president; McCain refuses. McCain is bolstered by a letter signed by over two dozen retired generals urging Congress to pass the amendment, including Powell and former Joint Chiefs chairman General John Shalikashvili. The amendment passes the Senate 90 to nine. However, the House leadership, steered by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), refuses to allow the amendment into the House version by refusing to let the House vote on it at all. It will take a House-Senate conference committee to decide the fate of the amendment. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 195; Savage, 2007, pp. 221]
Ahmed Santos. [Source: Rolex de la Pena / EPA]Ahmed Santos, the alleged leader of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) militant group is arrested and supposedly confesses that his group assisted some of the 9/11 hijackers in the Philippines. [Zamboanga Sun Star, 10/30/2005] The “RSM was built upon Mohammed Jamal Khalifa’s NGO network, left unscathed by the Philippine authorities after 1995.” Like Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, the RSM has ties to the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, and al-Qaeda. [Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ] Santos is interrogated immediately after his arrest and according to a Philippine investigator who was one of his interrogators, Santos says that his group helped train and give shelter to the hijackers (he does not specifically mention which ones or how many). This investigator says that Santos told him, “These Arabs, after their flight training in Angeles, Pampanga, went back to their shelter in the home-base of Santos’ RSM in Pangasinan.” Both Angeles City and RSM’s base are north of Manila near Clark Air Base, which was a major US airbase in the northern Philippines until 1991. [Zamboanga Sun Star, 10/30/2005] Shortly after 9/11, many eyewitnesses were quoted in media reports claiming to recognize 9/11 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi taking flight training in the Angeles City area in the late 1990s (see December 1999). This fits with Santos’ alleged account.
The British publication New Civil Engineer reports that, despite calls from leading structural and fire engineers, WTC collapse investigators with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are refusing to show computer visualizations of the Twin Towers’ collapses. Despite having shown detailed computer generated visualizations of the plane impacts and the development of fires in the WTC at a recent conference, it showed no visualizations of the actual collapse mechanisms of the towers. Colin Bailey, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Manchester, complains, “NIST should really show the visualisations; otherwise the opportunity to correlate them back to the video evidence and identify any errors in the modelling will be lost.” A leading US structural engineer says that NIST’s “global structural model” is less sophisticated than its plane impact and fire models: “The software used has been pushed to new limits, and there have been a lot of simplifications, extrapolations and judgement calls.” [New Civil Engineer, 10/6/2005]
In a speech, President Bush lists ten terrorist plots the US has supposedly foiled since 9/11, as well as five “casings and infiltrations.” Here are the plots, exactly as they are described in a White House press release, rearranged into a rough chronological order:
West Coast Airliner Plot - In mid-2002 the US disrupted a plot to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes. The plotters included at least one major operational planner involved in planning the events of 9/11.
Jose Padilla Plot - In May 2002 the US disrupted a plot that involved blowing up apartment buildings in the United States. One of the plotters, Jose Padilla, also discussed the possibility of using a “dirty bomb” in the US.
2002 Straits of Hormuz Plot - In 2002 the US and partners disrupted a plot to attack ships transiting the Straits of Hormuz.
2002 Arabian Gulf Shipping Plot - In late 2002 and 2003 the US and a partner nation disrupted a plot by al-Qaeda operatives to attack ships in the Arabian Gulf.
2003 Karachi Plot - In the spring of 2003 the US and a partner disrupted a plot to attack Westerners at several targets in Karachi, Pakistan.
East Coast Airliner Plot - In mid-2003 the US and a partner disrupted a plot to attack targets on the East Coast of the United States using hijacked commercial airplanes.
2003 Tourist Site Plot - In 2003 the US and a partner nation disrupted a plot to attack a tourist site outside the United States.
Heathrow Airport Plot - In 2003 the US and several partners disrupted a plot to attack Heathrow Airport using hijacked commercial airliners. The planning for this attack was undertaken by a major 9/11 operational figure.
2004 UK Plot - In the spring of 2004 the US and partners, using a combination of law enforcement and intelligence resources, disrupted a plot to conduct large-scale bombings in [Britain].
2004 [British] Urban Targets Plot - In mid-2004 the US and partners disrupted a plot that involved urban targets in [Britain]. These plots involved using explosives against a variety of sites.
Here are the five additional “casings and infiltrations”:
2001 Tasking - In 2001, al-Qaeda sent an individual to facilitate post-September 11 attacks in the US. US law enforcement authorities arrested the individual.
2003 Tasking - In 2003, an individual was tasked by an al-Qaeda leader to conduct reconnaissance on populated areas in the US.
Gas Station Tasking - In approximately 2003, an individual was tasked to collect targeting information on US gas stations and their support mechanisms on behalf of a senior al-Qaeda planner.
Iyman Faris and the Brooklyn Bridge - In 2003, and in conjunction with a partner nation, the US government arrested and prosecuted Iyman Faris, who was exploring the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Faris ultimately pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaeda and is now in a federal correctional institution.
US Government & Tourist Sites Tasking - In 2003 and 2004, an individual was tasked by al-Qaeda to case important US Government and tourist targets within the United States. [White House, 10/6/2005]
However, later in the month the Washington Post publishes a story questioning the importance of most of these plots. The article states that the plot list “has confused counterterrorism experts and officials, who say they cannot distinguish between the importance of some incidents on the list and others that were left off. Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed. Others noted that the nation’s color-coded threat index was not raised from yellow, or ‘elevated’ risk of attack, to orange, or ‘high’ risk, for most of the time covered by the incidents on the list.” An anonymous former CIA counterterrorism official tells the Post that Bush made it “sound like well-hatched plans… I don’t think they fall into that category.” Another anonymous counterterrorism official says, “We don’t know how they came to the conclusions they came to… It’s safe to say that most of the [intelligence] community doesn’t think [the list is] worth very much.” [Washington Post, 10/23/2005]
Dulmatin. [Source: Rewards for Justice]The US announces a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Dulmatin, a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia. A $1 million reward is also offered for Umar Patek, who apparently is a little-known aide to Dulmatin. The reward for Dulmatin is as large as any other cash reward the US has offered for any al-Qaeda linked figure, except for $25 million rewards for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Dulmatin is believed to have been one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). Since then, it is believed that he is hiding out in the Philippines and has not been linked to any other bombings. [Associated Press, 10/7/2005] The announcement is met with puzzlement in Indonesia, because it comes just six days after a second set of bombings in Bali (see October 1, 2005), and Dulmatin has no known role in those bombings. However, Azhari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top were quickly found to be the masterminds of the bombings. Furthermore, Husin and Top have been named as masterminds to the 2002 Bali bombings and every major bombing in Indonesia since then, including the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing (see August 5, 2003) and the 2004 Australian embassy bombing (see September 9, 2004). Later in the month, Hank Crumpton, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, is asked by an Indonesian journalist why cash rewards have been given for Dulmatin and even Patek but not Husin or Top. Crumpton replies, “We believe [Dulmatin] is a threat to the region,” but he declines to be more specific or to explain why there were no rewards for Husin or Top. [New York Times, 10/19/2005] Husin is killed in a shootout in Indonesia one month later (see October 1, 2005). Dulmatin is listed on the US Rewards for Justice website, but he is one of only two out of the 37 suspects listed without actual rewards given for them. The other is Zulkarnaen, who is also said to be involved in the 2002 Bali bombings and 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing. [Rewards for Justice, 8/10/2007; Rewards for Justice, 8/10/2007; Rewards for Justice, 8/11/2007]
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). [Savage, 2007, pp. 200]
CIA Director Porter Goss announces that the agency will not pursue disciplinary action against any current or former CIA officials who have been severely criticized in an internal report produced by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black (see June 2005). Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11. However, he and others who are singled out strongly object to the report’s conclusions, and have prepared lengthy rebuttals. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, of which Goss was ironically the co-chairman, had formally requested the report in November 2002, as it was finishing its investigation. The 400-page document was completed in June 2004, but its release was delayed (see June-November 2004). John Helgerson finally delivered it to Congress in August 2005, and had urged Goss to convene “accountability boards” to assess the performance of officers it criticized. However, Goss says he has decided not to do this. He says the report in no way suggests “that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11,” and that “[o]f the officers named in [Helgerson’s] report, about half have retired from the Agency, and those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.” Goss also claims the report “unveiled no mysteries,” and states that it will remain classified. [New York Times, 10/5/2005; Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 10/6/2005] In response to Goss’s statement, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asks, “What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?” 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser comments, “No one has been held accountable for the failures on 9/11.” [Reuters, 10/5/2005]
The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases a 12-page appendix to its final reports on the WTC collapses (see October 26, 2005) detailing tests it conducted on samples of the type of fireproofing used in the WTC. An earlier NIST report had concluded that loss of fireproofing was a major factor in the collapses (see April 5, 2005). The appendix was not included in earlier drafts of the report (see June 23, 2005) [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 6/23/2005 ; National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 263-274 ; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 149] NIST conducted a series of fifteen tests. In the tests projectiles were fired at fireproofing mounted on 12 inch x 12 inch plates, and steel bars with a one inch diameter. The fireproofing used in the tests was Blazeshield DC/F, one of the two grades of fireproofing used on the impact floors. In thirteen of the tests the projectiles were buckshot, which was fired at the steel samples from a modified shotgun at a distance of 29.5 ft. The other two tests used steel bolts and hexagon nuts, fired with less velocity and at closer range. According to NIST, “The test results support the assumption that, within the debris field created by the aircraft impact into WTC 1 and WTC 2, the SFRM [i.e., fireproofing] used for thermal insulation of structural members was damaged and dislodged.” [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 83, 263-274 ]
Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Around this date, al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, is arrested in a raid in Quetta, Pakistan. The US posted a $5 million reward for his capture in 2004. A red-haired, light-skinned Syrian citizen, he also is a citizen of Spain and long-time resident there. The raid takes place in a Quetta shop used as an office for the Madina Trust, a Pakistani charity that is linked to the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. A man arrested with Nasar is believed to be a Jaish-e-Mohammed member; another man is killed in the raid. [CNN, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 5/2/2006] He is believed to have taught the use of poisons and chemicals at Afghanistan training camps and he is suspected of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But he is best known for his strategic writings. The Washington Post calls him “one of the jihad movement’s prime theorists.” He long advocated a decentralized militant movement, and was often critical of bin Laden’s and al-Qaeda’s mistakes. He says, “Al-Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be. It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He is soon flown out of Pakistan and into US custody. In 2006, US intelligence sources will claim that he is now in the secret custody of another unnamed country. [Washington Post, 5/23/2006; New Yorker, 9/4/2006] In 2006, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge involved in many al-Qaeda related cases, will complain that the US has not shared any information about Nasar since his secret arrest. He adds, “I don’t know where he is. Nobody knows where he is. Can you tell me how this helps the struggle against terrorism?” [New York Times, 6/4/2006]
Wolfgang Bohringer. [Source: TVNZ]A German citizen suspected by the FBI of having had links with alleged 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta arrives in the remote South Pacific archipelago of Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest nations. Wolfgang Bohringer wants to set up a tourist resort and flight school on the isolated outpost of Fanning Island, which is only 13 square miles in size, has no phones or a functioning airstrip, and is home to just 600 people. Its only advantage is that it is among the closest of the islands to Hawaii, which is 1,200 miles to the north. Bohringer meets Kiribati President Anote Tong to discuss his proposal. Bill Paupe, who runs an aviation business in Honolulu and is Kiribati’s consul in the US, comments that the flight school plan makes no sense: “It would be very expensive. You would have to [transport] all the people there… and all your instructors and your staff would have to be housed and fed and everything.” However, he adds, “A rationale for setting up a private training school in such a remote location would be to get beyond the reach of regulatory agencies.” The FBI will later brief President Tong on its suspicions of Bohringer and warn him that small countries like Kiribati could be vulnerable to terrorists. In November 2006, when the whole incident comes to light, the FBI will confirm that Bohringer is considered a “person of interest,” and had close ties with a US flight school attended by Mohamed Atta. (This is presumably Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida (see July 6-December 19, 2000).) But by this time, Bohringer will have fled Kiribati, with his whereabouts unknown. [Associated Press, 11/15/2006; Australian Associated Press, 11/15/2006; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/15/2006; Daily Telegraph, 11/16/2006]
Vice President Cheney appears at the weekly Republican senatorial luncheon in the Capitol and speaks against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005 and October 20, 2005). He argues that CIA interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda prisoners have produced valuable information, and the president needs the power and flexibility to use torture against prisoners in order to fight terrorism and protect the nation. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, counters Cheney’s arguments during the same luncheon, arguing that the idea of the US torturing prisoners damages its standing with its international allies. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220] The next day, the Washington Post will publish an expose of the CIA’s secret prison network (see November 2-18, 2005), causing a firestorm of criticism and sparking a former Bush administration official to say that the “philosophical guidance” behind the torture of prisoners comes directly from Cheney’s office (see November 3, 2005).
The White House continues to battle a Senate-approved amendment against torture (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney, the administration’s strongest voice in favor of torture, gathers a group of Republican senators and gives what is later described as an impassioned plea to let the CIA torture when necessary. President Bush needs that option, Cheney argues, and a prohibition against torture may eventually cost the nation “thousands of lives.” He cites alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as one of torture’s success stories (see February 29 or March 1, 2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, and June 16, 2004). Cheney fails to tell the gathering that the US has overseen the torture of Mohammed’s wife and children, and that Mohammed was told that if he didn’t cooperate, his children would be subjected to further abuse (see After September 11, 2002). He also fails to tell them that the information elicited from Mohammed was considered unreliable (see Summer 2003), and that many of Mohammed’s interrogators felt that torture merely hardened his resistance. During the meeting, John McCain (R-AZ), the author of the anti-torture amendment, tells Cheney, “This is killing us around the world.” On November 4, the Republican House leadership postpones a vote on the amendment when it realizes the amendment will pass overwhelmingly. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 196]
The US charges British citizen Binyam Ahmed Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who has allegedly used the aliases Talha al-Kini, Foaud Zouaoui, Taha al-Nigeri, and John Samuel, with conspiracy to foment and carry out terrorist attacks against US targets. Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, is charged with “attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; murder by an unprivileged belligerent; destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent; and terrorism,” though the charge sheet is unclear whether Mohamed carried out any of these actions himself, or whether he was part of a larger conspiracy by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The charges allege links between Mohamed and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), radical Islamist Abu Zubaida, 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. Mohamed is alleged to have been part of the Padilla bomb plot. [US Defense Department, 11/4/2005 ] Much of the evidence against Mohamed comes from confessions he allegedly made while in US custody at the detention camp at Bagram Air Force Base (see January-September 2004), and in Guantanamo Bay (see September 2004 and After). He was also held in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), and “rendered” to a secret prison in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). Through his lawyers, Mohamed has claimed that he was tortured in all four detention sites. The British judiciary will later establish that British officials facilitated Mohamed’s interrogation in Pakistan, and had “full knowledge of the reported conditions of his detention and treatment” (see February 24, 2009). [Guardian, 2/5/2009] As with Padilla, the charges relating to the “dirty bomb” plot will later be dropped due to lack of evidence, and all charges against Mohamed will eventually be dropped (see October-December 2008 and February 4, 2009).
Saijida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi confesses on Jordanian television to attempting to be one of the suicide bombers. Her bomb belt is also shown. [Source: BBC / Jordanian Televison]Three hotels in Amman, Jordan are simultaneously bombed. Sixty people, including three bombers, are killed and 115 others are injured. The explosions take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn, which are hotels often frequented by Western military contractors and diplomats. The bomb at the Radisson explodes in a ballroom where a wedding reception is taking place. The Jordanian government soon announces that the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is supposedly led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took credit for the attack in an Internet statement. [CNN, 11/12/2005] Within days, an Iraqi woman accused of being a failed fourth suicide bomber confesses to participating in the attack on Jordanian television. CNN notes that “Many people were expressing doubt [whether the woman] really was involved…” [CNN, 11/14/2005] Two leading Palestinian security officials - West Bank military intelligence chief Maj Gen. Bashir Nafeh and his aide Col. Abel Allun - are among those killed. [BBC, 11/10/2005] The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, “The Radisson is known to be popular with Israeli tourists,” yet no Israelis were killed in the bombings. “Hours before the bombings, many Israelis were evacuated from the Radisson… apparently due to a specific security alert.” (The Haaretz report about this is retracted and then later reinstated.) [Ha'aretz, 10/11/2005] The Los Angeles Times also notes that Haaretz report and adds that Amos N. Guiora, a former leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Times that “sources in Israel had also told him about the pre-attack evacuations. “It means there was excellent intelligence that this thing was going to happen.… The question that needs to be answered is why weren’t the Jordanians working at the hotel similarly removed?” [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2005] The deaths of the Palestinian intelligence officials and warning to Israeli tourists cause some, especially in the Muslim world, to claim that the attacks were an Israeli false flag operation. [Washington Post, 11/15/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) claims in a press conference that Bob Johnson, an employee of the defense contractor Raytheon, claims to have independently identified Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11. The second version of Able Danger in late 2000 was associated with Raytheon while the first version was not, so presumably Johnson’s identification of Atta would have taken place then. If true, that would mean that both versions of Able Danger identified Atta independently of each other in early 2000 and late 2000, respectively. Weldon claims that this is the sixth person to corroborate the claim that Atta was identified prior to the 9/11 attacks. [Times Herald (Norristown), 11/11/2005]
The Defense Department admits to having detained over 80,000 people in facilities from Afghanistan to Guantanamo since the 9/11 attacks. At least 14,500 people are currently in US custody in connection with the war on terror; around 13,814 are being held in Iraq and some 500 detainees are at the Guantanamo detention facility. An unknown number are being held in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Bush administration has defended its incarceration of so many detainees, many without charge or legal representation, from criticism by human rights organizations, civil liberties groups, and political opponents. What many find indefensible is the CIA’s practice of “rendering” terror suspects to foreign countries for interrogation and torture, as well as making some prisoners “disappear” into secret prisons in foreign countries. Currently, the Bush administration is attempting to counter reports that the CIA has used private jets to transport suspects to at least six countries, either in Europe or through European countries’ airspace. “If these allegations turn out to be true, the crucial thing is whether these flights landed in the member states with or without the knowledge and approval of the authorities,” says Terry Davis, the Council of Europe’s secretary general. The CIA has refused to comment on this or other reports. [Guardian, 11/18/2005]
McCain speaking against torture on Fox News. [Source: Daily Gadfly (.com)]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and a victim of torture, writes an impassioned op-ed for Newsweek exhorting the US not to resort to torture in its interrogations of terror suspects. He writes: “I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.… We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort.”
Produces False Information - He gives numerous reasons: abusing prisoners does not produce reliable information, but instead “often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering.” McCain recounts his own example of providing false information under torture, giving his captors the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line instead of the names of his flight squadron. “It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.”
Betrays America's 'Commitment to Basic Humanitarian Values' - Moreover, McCain writes, America’s “commitment to basic humanitarian values affects—in part—the willingness of other nations to do the same. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive.” We cannot expect al-Qaeda and other such enemies to be “bound by the principle of reciprocity,” but “we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.” Global public criticism of North Vietnam’s brutality towards US prisoners resulted in a substantial decrease in their abuse of POWs. The war against terrorism is “a war of ideas,” he writes, “a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes.” To defeat the idea of terrorism, “we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.”
'We Are Different and Better than Our Enemies' - McCain writes that while he does not “mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life… [w]hat I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength—that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.”
Waterboarding Is Torture - McCain states flatly that any interrogation technique that simulates an execution, including waterboarding, is torture. “[I]f you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.”
Exceptions Do Not Require New Laws - There is always the extreme circumstance bandied about in discussions: what should be done with a terror suspect who holds critical information about an imminent terrorist attack? While such an extreme circumstance may well require extreme interrogation methods, McCain writes, “I don’t believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America’s purposes and practices.” [Newsweek, 11/21/2005]
The Justice Department files in US District Court in Alexandria a list of 89 questions for potential jurors in the forthcoming death penalty trial of al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Months earlier Moussaoui pleaded guilty to all terrorism charges against him, but promised to fight the death penalty (See April 22, 2005). The Justice Department’s questions include requests for very specific biographical information, and queries about whether the individual socializes with people of Arab descent. They also cover such things as their religious beliefs and practices, and their views about Islam, the US government, and the death penalty. According to legal experts, the level of detail is extraordinary and indicates the high stakes of the prosecution. [Associated Press, 11/28/2005; Washington Post, 11/29/2005] Two days later, lawyers representing Moussaoui submit an even more extensive list to the trial judge, with 306 questions. These include asking potential jurors about their personal response to the 9/11 attacks, and their opinions of other high-profile FBI investigations such as Waco and Ruby Ridge. A sixth of the questions probe their attitudes to the death penalty. There are also questions about their work history over the previous 15 years, and whether they have ever worked for the government or a government contractor. [Associated Press, 11/30/2005; CNN, 12/1/2005] The jury selection process will involve 500 potential jurors being summoned to the Alexandria courthouse on February 6, 2006 to fill in questionnaires, then returning starting a week later to be questioned by the judge. The process is expected to take a month, which is far longer than most cases at the Alexandria courthouse. [Associated Press, 12/29/2005; Washington Post, 12/29/2005] Moussaoui’s trial will commence on March 6, 2006, and two months later he will be sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 9/11 attacks. [Guardian, 3/7/2006; BBC, 5/4/2006]
The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]
By late 2005, many inside CIA headquarters has concluded that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has made little progress in recent years. Jose Rodriguez Jr., head of the CIA’s clandestine operations branch, implements some changes. Robert Grenier, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center since late 2004, is replaced by someone whose name has yet to be made public. Grenier had just closed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as part of a reorganization (see Late 2005), and Rodriguez and Grenier had barely spoken to each other for months. Dozens of new CIA operatives are sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden called Operation Cannonball. But most of the operatives assigned to the task have been newly hired and have little experience. One former senior CIA official says: “We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience. But there wasn’t much to choose from.” Two other former officials say this is because the experienced personnel have generally been assigned to the Iraq war. One of them says, “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.” The New York Times will later comment, “The increase had little impact in Pakistan, where militants only continued to gain strength.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
US officials will later claim that Osama bin Laden begins living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2006. However, one of bin Laden’s wives will later be more specific and say that bin Laden and his family move to the Abbottabad compound near the end of 2005. (She also will claim they lived in a nearby town for two and a half years prior to that (see 2003-Late 2005).) Bin Laden and members of his family will hide inside the Abbottabad compound for five years until he is killed there in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011; New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Members of the 9/11 Commission, issuing their final report on progress made in meeting the commission’s earlier recommendations, give the Bush administration a grade of “D” in its nonproliferation efforts. The administration has wholly failed to help Russia secure loose nuclear materials and actual weapons, the commission finds (see January 10, 2001 and After and June 2005). President Bush needs to make nonproliferation a priority, to “ride herd on the bureaucracy” and engage in “a maximum effort” to ensure the US’s nuclear security. “Given the potential for catastrophic destruction,” the commission members find, “our current efforts fall far short of what we need to do.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
Pakistanis hold up a piece of the missile that allegedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia. [Source: Marib Press / Associated Press]The US kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia with a missile fired from a Predator drone. Rabia is killed with four others in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region. Apparently, a Predator missile strike in the same region missed Radia on November 5, 2005, but killed eight others. Anonymous US officials say Rabia, an Egyptian, was head of al-Qaeda’s foreign operations. It is speculated that he recently replaced Abu Faraj al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s number three leader after Faraj was captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/4/2005; Fox News, 12/5/2005] However, very little had been reported on Rabia’s supposed importance prior to his death, although an FBI official said in 2004, “If there is an attack on the US… Hamza Rabia will be responsible. He’s head of external operations for al-Qaeda—an arrogant, nasty guy.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] But there was no reward for him, there are no known public photos of him, and he had not been on any most wanted lists. Some experts dispute Rabia’s importance. For instance, counterterrorism expert Christopher Brown says Rabia was probably a local senior member of al-Qaeda, but was far from being its number three leader. He points out that Saif al-Adel is clearly more important, and probably just behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The global intelligence firm Stratfor contends that neither Rabia nor his supposed number three predecessor Faraj were very high ranking. Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann says that the whole practice of assigning numeric rankings “doesn’t make any sense.” He adds, “This isn’t a Fortune 500 company with clearly defined roles,” and says assigning numbers is just “a way to sell a story to media.” [CNS News, 12/16/2005]
Kevin Brock, the new deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says that the US has not detected a significant al-Qaeda operational capability in the US since the 2003 arrest of a truck driver plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. But he says that al-Qaeda’s capabilities remain unclear and the group is still dangerous. [Associated Press, 12/2/2005]
Sami al-Arian being led from a courthouse in handcuffs. [Source: Chris O'Meara/ Associated Press]Former Florida professor Sami al-Arian and three co-defendants are found not guilty of various counts of terrorist support, perjury, and immigration violations. The jury acquitted al-Arian of eight of the 17 federal charges against him and deadlocked on the rest. The New York Times calls the verdict “a major defeat for [US] law enforcement officials.” Al-Arian was indicted and imprisoned in 2003. He had been heavily investigated since 1995 and most of the charges related to events from 1995 or earlier (see 1995 and 1995-1998). Law professor Peter Margulies says, “I think the government’s case was somewhat stale because a lot of these events dated back ten years and the case was so complex that it was all over the board.” [New York Times, 12/6/2005] Six months later, a federal judge will sentence al-Arian to an additional 19 months in jail in addition to the 38 months he has already served before being deported. Al-Arian will plead guilty to a lesser charge of aiding members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and agree to be deported and in return the US will not retry him on the more serious charges. As part of the plea deal, al-Arian admits he raised money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and conspired to hide the identities of other members of the group. He denies committing any act of violence himself, but admits knowing “that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence.” [Tampa Tribune, 4/18/2006] The New York Times will note that the “outcome of the case against Mr. al-Arian did little to resolve the conflicting portraits of his life” as either a terrorism supporter or political scapegoat. [New York Times, 5/2/2006]
Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager in US custody at Guantanamo for nearly three years (see December 17, 2002 and October 19, 2004), is found by a US Administrative Review Board (ARB) to pose a continuing danger to the national security of the United States, and is denied release. The decision is based on US claims that Jawad belongs to a group with ties to al-Qaeda, and on a signed “confession” obtained from Jawad. The boy claims that Afghan police tortured and beat him until he signed the confession. The ARB decision will be reaffirmed in late 2006. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Jawad “signed” his confession with a fingerprint, as he cannot write his name. The confession was written in a language he cannot speak or read, and, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will later note, “was given to him after several days of beatings, druggings, and threats—all while he was likely 15 or 16 years old.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approves the Senate’s amendment to a defense appropriations bill that outlaws torture (see October 1, 2005 and November 1-4, 2005), 308-122, after the Republican House leadership stops blocking a vote on the amendment (see October 1, 2005). The next day, President Bush meets privately with the author of the amendment, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). In a surprising reversal of the White House’s opposition to the bill, Bush now says he supports the amendment—or will if McCain makes some changes. Bush asks McCain to alter the language of the amendment so that US intelligence officers, if charged with war crimes due to their abuse of a prisoner, can offer a defense that a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain agrees. Bush and McCain hold a joint press conference to announce the White House’s support for the amendment (see December 15, 2005). The press bills the agreement between Bush and McCain as a serious setback for Vice President Cheney, the leader of the White House’s opposition to the bill, with the New York Times calling the vote a “stinging defeat” for Bush and a “particularly significant setback for Vice President Dick Cheney, who since July has led the administration’s fight to defeat the amendment or at least exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from its provisions” (see October 20, 2005). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 196; Savage, 2007, pp. 223]
In an interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” Vice President Cheney takes exception to recent press reports that he was defeated in his opposition to a Congressional anti-torture bill (see December 15-16, 2005). The line on torture is, he says, whether or not a particular act “shocks the conscience.” Cheney says: “Now you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhumane. And to some extent, I suppose, that’s in the eye of the beholder.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write that Cheney is using the most primitive form of solipsism to say that torture is not really torture. And Cheney is once again evoking fears of terrorist attacks: “There he was, Dick Cheney, nakedly amoral and driven by fear,” Dubose and Bernstein will write. Cheney continues, “We think it’s important to remember that we are in a war against a group of individuals, a terrorist organization that in fact did slaughter three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11; that it’s important for us to be able to have effective interrogations of those people when we capture them.” The implication, Dubose and Bernstein will write, is that further attacks are inevitable—a matter of when and not if—and an evocation of what author Ron Suskind calls “the one percent doctrine… [i]f there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapons of mass destruction… the United States must now act as if it was a certainty.” Dubose and Bernstein illustrate how keeping torture as a viable interrogation option plays into this mindset: “The end justified any means necessary. It didn’t matter how effective torture was as long as it provided even a remote chance that it might save American lives.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 197]
Federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, widely considered to be such a reliably conservative supporter of the Bush administration that he is a potential Supreme Court nominee and the author of a highly favorable ruling in the Jose Padilla detention case (see October 9, 2005), is infuriated by the administration’s decision not to charge Padilla with the lurid array of terrorism-related charges it had alleged in Luttig’s courtroom (see November 22, 2005). Luttig believes that he and the rest of the appeals court judges were misled into making a ruling favorable to the administration. Luttig issues a supplementary opinion accusing the White House of manipulating the judicial process to ensure the Supreme Court could not review the precedent his opinion set. The Padilla indictment raises serious questions about the credibility of the government’s accusations against Padilla, and, Luttig writes, leaves “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even justifiably, by mistake.” Luttig and his colleagues take the unusual step of blocking Padilla’s transfer from military custody into the hands of the Justice Department. The move is aimed at attempting to keep the possibility open of a Supreme Court hearing on the Padilla matter, and giving the Court the chance to reverse Luttig’s precedent. The Court will quickly overrule Luttig’s attempt to keep Padilla in military custody and will dismiss Padilla’s appeal because he is no longer classified as an enemy combatant. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write: “Just as Luttig had feared, the maneuver ensured that his precedent—written on the assumption that the administration was telling the truth when it said it had good evidence that Padilla was plotting attacks on US soil—was left intact.” Luttig’s move sours his relations with the White House and dooms whatever chance he may have had to be nominated for the high court. He will soon resign from his life-tenured position on the appeals court and take the position of general counsel for Boeing. [Savage, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Without the knowledge of many in Congress, Vice President Cheney and his allies in Congress manage to insert language into the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005) that renders much of the bill nearly worthless. Some of the widest exceptions are inserted without the knowledge of all but a very few Congressmen. One is the exemption for the CIA, which instead of being bound by the interrogation techniques described in the US Army Field Manual, is only forbidden in general to employ “cruel” or “inhuman” methods. Those terms will be defined in light of US constitutional law. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision that cruelty is an act that “shocks the conscience,” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has argued that harsh interrogations would be much less shocking if performed on detainees suspected of planning or taking part in mass casualty terrorist attacks. What “shocks the conscience” is to an extent “in the eye of the beholder,” Cheney has already said. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
After President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), his office issues a “signing statement” concerning how he believes the government should enforce the new law. His advisers have spent days composing a statement that declares the administration’s support for the bill. But that statement is never issued. Just before Bush signs the bill, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, intercepts the statement “and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it,” a White House official will later recall. Instead, Addington substitutes a single sentence. Bush, writes Addington, would interpret the law “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president to supervise the unitary executive branch and as commander in chief.” Neither Addington nor Cheney have any qualms about ignoring or superseding what Addington calls “interagency treaties” or language “agreed between cabinet secretaries.” Top officials from the CIA, the Justice Department, State Department, and Defense Department oppose the substitution. The White House’s senior national security lawyer, John Bellinger, says that Congress will view the statement as a “stick in the eye.” Nevertheless, with Cheney’s backing, White House counsel Harriet Miers sends the revised statement to Bush for his signature. Bush signs the statement. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Former CIA Director George Tenet will write in 2007, “It is my understanding that in 2006, new intelligence was obtained that proved beyond any doubt that the man seen meeting with [a] member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague in 2001 was not Mohamed Atta.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 355]
Over the course of 2006, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are able to increase their control over the Pakistani tribal regions where both groups are based. More than 120 tribal elders who oppose them are executed during the year. Al-Qaeda feels so secure that its media production arm, As-Sahab, greatly increases its output, releasing 58 audio and videotapes, which is three times as many as in 2005. Militant groups are particularly secure in the region of Waziristan. The Pakistani government made a deal with militants in South Waziristan in 2005 (see February 7, 2005), which still holds, and makes a similar deal with militants in North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 278]
After 9/11 and, in particular, after the 7/7 bombings in London (see July 7, 2005), British security officials are asked about the wide latitude granted to radical Islamists in Britain in the 1990s and after (see Before 1998). Off-the-record statements by officials emphasize that they were wrong in their assessment of Islamist radicalism, and that they should have paid more attention. For example, in a 2006 book by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, an anonymous official says: “The French would periodically bombard us with warnings and get very worked up and we decided they were over-exaggerating on Islamic extremists colonizing London. Fact is, they were right and we were wrong, and we have not stopped apologizing since. Frankly, we were not equipped to deal with this menace. For 30 years everything was geared to combating terrorists from Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in Ireland. That danger was still with us when the French were screaming about Islamic terror cells. We did not know how to monitor these people or how to combat the threat of suicide attacks. We did not have the techniques. We missed our chance to deal with this a lot sooner than we did, but a lot of countries made the same mistake.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 109-110] Most or all of the leading radicals worked with the British security services, were informers for them (see June 1996-February 1997, Early 1997, Spring 2005-Early 2007), and were also monitored by other informers (see Summer 1996-August 1998 and (November 11, 1998)). Several attacks in countries other than Britain were assisted by radicals based in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998, 1994, Summer 1998 and After, and November 13, 2001 or Shortly Before).
Sometime in 2006, the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) at Guantanamo tells the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) that CITF “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations [SERE training—see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002 ] would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006]
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want… the FBI running over their case.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 20]
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).
The CIA misses a chance to kill al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. In 2006, the CIA hears from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, that Habib is staying at a compound in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. An involved CIA officer will later tell the Los Angeles Times that he spends weeks at a nearby military outpost, monitoring live images from a Predator drone. He says, “We had a Predator up there for hours at a stretch, just watching, watching.” The CIA closely studies the layout of the compound in preparation for a drone strike. “They took a shot at the compound a week after I left. We got some bodyguards, but he was not there.” Under US policy at this time, the CIA needs permission from the Pakistani government before any drone strike, and getting the approval can take a day or more. Apparently, such delays contribute to the failure to successfully kill Habib. Habib will finally be killed in a Predator strike in 2008. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009] There are no contemporary media accounts of any Predator strike at Miram Shah in 2006, so the date of the strike remains unknown.
At some point in 2006, an unnamed senior ISI (Pakistani intelligence) official admits that militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani is a Pakistani asset. The official makes the comment after being asked by a New York Times reporter why the Pakistani military has not moved against Haqqani. Haqqani is head of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan, that is launching attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 6/17/2008] In 2008, US intelligence will similarly overhear the head of Pakistan’s military call Haqqani a “strategic asset” (see May 2008).
John Maguire, former deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, says the Bush administration made a huge mistake alleging that Saddam Hussein’s government had supported al-Qaeda. According to Maguire, US intelligence “never had anything that said that.” He says that while there had been an occasional meeting between Iraqis and Osama bin Laden’s organization, it was nothing significant because that’s what intelligence agencies do. But “the way this was cast [by the White House] created a picture that was different than reality.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 418]
US intelligence is able to learn the last name of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier. The courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but so far, US analysts have only known him by his alias “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] Also in late 2005, dozens of new CIA operatives were sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden, called Operation Cannonball (see Late 2005). Although most of the new operatives are inexperienced, the effort does appear to have an impact. The New York Times will later report, “With more agents in the field, the CIA finally got the courier’s family name”—Ahmed. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] Exactly how it gets the family name is unclear. But in 2007, US analysts will learn Ahmed’s first name as well (see 2007).
For “much of 2006,” US intelligence has been tracking high-ranking al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a. Sheik Saiid al-Masri) in the mountains of Pakistan. US commanders have been pressing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for an operation to capture al-Yazid. However, Rumsfeld is reluctant to approve the mission. He is reportedly worried about US military casualties and a popular backlash in Pakistan. Finally, in early November 2006, Rumsfeld approves a plan for Navy Seals and Delta Force commandos to capture al-Yazid in Pakistan. But several days later, on November 8, Rumsfeld resigns one day after Republican losses in the US congressional mid-term elections (see November 6-December 18, 2006). The operation is put on hold again. The New York Times will reveal this in 2008 but will not explain why the operation was not tried later, or why the US did not at least attempt to fire a missile from a Predator drone at al-Yazid. It is also not explained if, when, and/or how US intelligence ever loses track of him. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Al-Yazid has been a member of al-Qaeda’s shura (ruling council) since the group was formed in 1988. In May 2007, al-Qaeda will release a video naming him as the group’s commander of operations in Afghanistan. He allegedly has played a major role in managing al-Qaeda’s finances since at least the early 1990s, and continues to do so. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007]
Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, a former Justice Department official under both the Bush and Clinton administrations, notes the recent signing statement from the White House that essentially states President Bush will ignore the newly authorized Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005). “So much for the president’s assent to the McCain Amendment” (see December 15, 2005), Lederman writes. Of Bush’s signing statement itself, he writes: “Translation: I reserve the constitutional right to waterboard when it will ‘assist’ in protecting the American people from terrorist attacks.… You didn’t think [Vice President] Cheney and [Cheney’s chief of staff David] Addington (see December 30, 2005) were going to go down quietly, did you?” [Marty Lederman, 1/2/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225]
The three Republican senators who co-sponsored the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act prohibiting torture (see December 15, 2005) criticize President Bush for his signing statement indicating that he would not follow the law if he sees fit (see December 30, 2005). Senators John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the bill, and John Warner (R-VA) issue a statement rejecting Bush’s signing statement. “We believe the president understands Congress’s intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees,” the senators write. “The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration’s implementation of the new law.” The third co-sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), says he agrees with the letter, “and would go a little bit further.” Graham says: “I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any… law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified. If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations’ leaders from doing the same.” The White House refuses to respond to the senators’ comments. Law professor David Golove, a specialist in executive power issues, says the senators’ statements “mean that the battle lines are drawn” for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government. “The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he’s conducting war,” Golove says. “The senators are saying: ‘Wait a minute, we’ve gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.’” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says the senators’ statements should warn military and CIA interrogators that they could be subject to prosecution if they torture or abuse a detainee, regardless of Bush’s signing statement. “That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress,” she says. “And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is illegal.” Golove notes that it is highly unlikely that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would prosecute anyone for performing actions Bush had authorized. [Boston Globe, 1/5/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225-226]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is put on trial in Britain. Before the jury was sworn in, the defense had tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Abu Hamza’s notoriety was such that no jury could possibly approach the evidently impartially. However, these arguments were dismissed by the judge, Sir Anthony Hughes.
Charges of Murder, Racial Incitement - The charges include nine counts of soliciting to murder; three for encouraging followers to murder Jews, and six for encouraging them to murder “a person or persons that did not believe in the Islamic faith.” Four other counts are for using “threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior with intent to stir up racial hatred.” These charges are based on videos confiscated from Abu Hamza in which, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he rages “against the decadent West, the treacherousness of Jews, the waywardness of women, the accursedness of homosexuals, the corruption of Muslim rulers, and the idleness of ordinary Muslims who had not yet gone to wage war for Allah.” The other two charges deal with his possession of the tapes themselves, and of an 11-volume encyclopedia of jihad.
Encyclopaedia of Jihad - The charge sheet describes the encyclopedia as “a document which contained information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” and the prosecutor describes it as “a manual, a blueprint for terrorism.… It contains anything anyone would ever need to know if they wanted to make home-made bombs or explosives.”
Disapproval of Court - Abu Hamza demonstrates his disapproval of the court in two ways: when he takes the witness stand he swears a secular oath, refusing to use the Koran in an infidel court; and he also refuses to stand at the end of each day as the judge departs. Even if he were to be acquitted, he would probably not be released, as deportation proceedings to the US have only been suspended because of the trial. An acquittal would also lead to renewed attempts by the British government to strip him of his British citizenship.
Koran Defense - Abu Hamza’s defense is that he was merely interpreting certain verses from the Koran, which, according to his lawyer, contains “the language of blood and retribution.” He alleges that simply reminding his listeners of these verses cannot be incitement to murder, and that his statements should be viewed against the context of events in the 1990s, when Muslim were under pressure in Kosovo, Kashmir, and Palestine.
Hamza's Testimony - Abu Hamza himself is put on the witness stand for five days from January 19, but, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he treats it “as if it were a pulpit,” reciting Koranic verses and trying to dictate the direction of the discussion. Some of the things he says are damaging to him, for example he thinks the Jews control the media and banks, as well as having a hold over Western political leaders. He admits running a newsletter for Algerian radicals and being in constant telephone contact with their leaders (see Before October 1997), but claims he never actually read the encyclopedia of jihad because he is not a military man. He also says he had no idea that tapes of his sermons were being sold around Britain, nor can he recall the places he has preached up and down the country. He was an informer for MI5 and Special Branch (see Early 1997) and told them about his preaching. They said it was okay, so he simply carried on with it.
Hamza Convicted - He is convicted on 11 counts and acquitted on four, three of soliciting to murder, and one of inciting racial hatred. He gets seven years’ imprisonment for each of the six counts of soliciting murder, 21 months each for the three charges of inciting racial hatred, three years for possessing the tapes, and three and a half years for possessing the encyclopaedia. However, these sentences will run concurrently, meaning he will only be in jail for seven years. US authorities say that after he is released they may request his extradition to the US for crimes he is wanted for there (see May 27, 2004). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168-169, 296-313]
The American Civil Liberties Union releases documents detailing prisoner abuse at US facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. The documents prove the existence of a “Special Access Program,” involving a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, that has been implicated in numerous abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation. ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials. Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high-level official has thus far been brought to justice.”
Fake Names, Computer Malfunctions Avoid Accountability - An Army memorandum shows that a prisoner was captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, and subsequently beaten into unconsciousness. The task force members used “fake names,” according to the Army memo, and the claim of a computer malfunction to avoid accountability.
SERE Techniques Used - A heavily redacted memo refers to the use of “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape” procedures at Guantanamo (see December 10, 2002). Sworn statements from military interrogators and a written “Chronology of Guard/Detainee Issues” show that the Army began receiving reports of prisoner abuse from Afghanistan as early as January 2002. The abuse continued, the documents show, through 2004 and perhaps beyond (see February 12-16, 2004, March 28, 2004, and May 6, 2004). Documents detail incidents where US soldiers poured peroxide and water over an Iraqi prisoner’s open wounds, and fired slingshot missiles at Iraqi children attempting to steal food from the base. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a Pakistani village named Damadola, in the tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Apparently, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is targeted but not killed. Thirteen civilians, including women and children, are killed. Pakistani officials say four al-Qaeda operatives may have been killed as well, including bomb maker Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri), who has a $5 million bountry on his head. After the attack, villagers insist no members of al-Qaeda were anywhere near the village when it was hit. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] US and Pakistani officials later say that no al-Qaeda leaders were killed in the strike, only local villagers. It appears that the intelligence tip that led to the strike was bad, and al-Zawahiri and the others were never there in the first place. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] The attack leads to a surge in support for al-Qaeda in Pakistan, including many marches of support near the targeted area. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemns the attack as a violation of sovereignty and says it “was definitely not coordinated with [Pakistan].” [Washington Post, 1/31/2006] Al-Zawahiri appears in a video later in the month, taunting the US for failing to kill him in the raid. [BBC, 1/30/2006]
It had been widely reported that the Saudi government began to crack down seriously on al-Qaeda and other radical militants after a 2003 al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). However, the Los Angeles Times reports that US officials now claim that is not true. While Saudis have been very aggressive and cooperative in cracking down on militants within Saudi Arabia since that attack, they have done little outside the country. Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through charity fronts to al-Qaeda and other suspected groups, and the Saudi government is doing next to nothing about it. In 2004, the Saudis promised to set up a government commission to police such groups, but they have yet to do so. The Saudi government has also done little to rein in influential radical religious leaders who openly encourage their followers to attack US interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. US officials claim that at least five organizations, including the Muslim World League (MWL), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WML), “are headquartered in Saudi Arabia but continue to engage in highly suspect activity overseas.” A senior US counterterrorism official says that some known terrorist financiers continue to “operate and live comfortably in Saudi Arabia” despite US objections. [Los Angeles Times, 1/15/2006]
Dr. Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, claims he has seen evidence indicating that Osama bin Laden is either dead or seriously ill. The evidence was provided by an Indian colleague and indicated bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April 2005. “It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I’ve been provided with that he’s certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage,” Williams comments, adding that bin Laden has not released a statement for some time. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/16/2006] Bin Laden releases a new audio statement three days later (see January 19, 2006), but the origin of this tape will be questioned (see January 19, 2006). [Christian Science Monitor, 1/20/2006]
A new audio tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden surfaces. In the tape, the US is offered a truce by al-Qaeda. The voice on the tape criticizes President Bush, and discusses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are said to be going badly for the US. The tape is also critical of the Pentagon’s efforts to manage the war news, and references an alleged US plan to attack the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Qatar. After comparing the US to Saddam Hussein and saying that US soldiers are raping women and taking them hostage, the voice says the US is torturing detainees, and that “Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.” The voice also threatens further attacks in the US, “Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing.” The US is offered a truce: “We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect… In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.” He also recommends the book Rogue State by William Blum. [BBC, 1/19/2006] The US rejects the proposed truce, and Vice President Dick Cheney calls it a “ploy”. [BBC, 1/20/2006] However, a bin Laden expert is skeptical about the tape (see January 19, 2006).
Professor Bruce Lawrence. [Source: Duke University]Duke University professor Bruce Lawrence questions a tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden released on this day. In it, bin Laden comments on the progress of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and offers the US a truce (see January 19, 2006). The CIA says the voice on the tape is bin Laden’s, but Lawrence, who edited a collection of bin Laden’s speeches, is skeptical, saying that “[i]t was like a voice from the grave” and that the message is missing several key elements: “There’s nothing in this from the Koran. He’s, by his own standards, a faithful Muslim. He [usually] quotes scripture in defense of his actions. There’s no quotation from the Koran in the excerpts we got.” Lawrence also points out that, at 10 minutes, it is the shortest message ever issued by bin Laden. Lawrence questions when the tape was recorded, arguing that the timing of its release could be to divert attention from a recent strike in Pakistan during which civilians were killed (see January 13, 2006) and that bin Laden may actually be dead. [WTDV-TV, 1/19/2006; BBC, 1/20/2006]
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. [Rocky Mountain News, 1/17/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/19/2006; Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, testifying in his own defense on charges of murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), says that he was unsure of what interrogation techniques were acceptable and what were not. He also says that he was under orders to treat prisoners very harshly. He testifies: “Basically [an August 30, 2003 memo] said that as far as they [senior commanders] knew there were no ROE [Rules of Engagement] for interrogations. They were still struggling with the definition for a detainee. It also said that commanders were tired of us taking casualties and they [told interrogators they] wanted the gloves to come off.… Other than a memo saying that they were to be considered ‘unprivileged combatants’ we received no guidance from them [on the status of detainees].” [Human Rights First, 2/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Speaking to a cheering crowd of military families in Kansas, President Bush declares that he has no intention of following the laws requiring warrants for wiretaps (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) because Congress authorized the use of military force against terrorists (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), and because he has the power to bypass laws at his own discretion in the interest of national security. The Kansas appearance is part of an election-style “blitz” of appearances around the country designed to build support for the warrantless wiretapping program, and to bolster support for Republicans in the midterm elections (see January 20, 2006). “I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you what [the AUMF] means,” he says. “It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people but it didn’t prescribe the tactics.… If [terrorism suspects] are making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why, to protect you.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203]
CWO Lewis Welshofer. [Source: Associated Press / Jerilee Bennett / Salon]Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer is found guilty of causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003). Welshofer, who was originally charged with murder (see October 5, 2004), is not found guilty of murder, but of far lesser charges of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. The court-martial board sentences Welshofer, who sat on Mowhoush’s chest and smothered him to death, to a reprimand, a fine of $6,000, and 60 days’ restriction. He is not sentenced to jail; neither is he discharged from the Army or even reduced in rank. Soldiers in the courtroom audience applaud the sentence. Welshofer’s attorney, Frank Spinner, says after the sentence, “The court understood our argument that this was a very difficult environment in which the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was operating in November 2003.” Army prosecutor Captain Elana Matt had argued for at least two years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge: “Chief Welshofer should have known better, with 19 years in the Army. You heard some bad things about General Mowhoush, but standards don’t apply just to good victims. They apply to everyone. The reputation of the Army has been dishonored at home and abroad.… You may be tempted to believe that this is the kind of guy the Army needs because he gets the job done. Don’t do it, because that would reduce us to the level of our enemies.” But the court was apparently swayed by Welshofer’s denials that he had done anything that could have led to Mowhoush’s death, and by the argument of Spinner and Welshofer’s military lawyer, Captain Ryan Rosauer, who said that Welshofer was confused by hazy interrogation rules (see January 19, 2006), and was merely doing his duty and trying to save lives. For his part, Welshofer begged the panel to allow him to stay out of jail and in the Army. He said that he had “tried to be a loyal soldier, putting the needs of this institution before my own.” [Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/24/2006] Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig, will call Welshofer’s sentence a “slap on the wrist,” and write that the verdict “spared the defendant, indicted the prosecutor, and found the law irrelevant” (see January 27, 2006). [Salon, 1/27/2006]
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