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Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the detainees at Guantanamo, releases a report on the status of 517 prisoners currently incarcerated at the detention facility. Denbeaux bases his report on documents released by the US military. Eighty-six percent of the detainees had been sold to the US by either Northern Alliance or Pakistani soldiers in Afghanistan during the height of military operations in 2001, with little hard evidence that the captives sold to the Americans were actually Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters. Military analysts concluded that only 8 percent of the Guantanamo detainees had committed attacks on US forces or its allies, and another 30 percent of the detainees were likely members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or other radical Islamist groups before their capture, though they themselves had not fought. Over 60 percent of the detainees—some 310 of the 517 detainees—had no ties to terrorist or radical groups whatsoever. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Such facts might have emerged had the detainees been given hearings before a ‘competent tribunal,’ a right guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and obeyed by the United States in every war up to and including the Gulf War.” [Denbeaux and Denbeaux, 2/7/2006 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 147-148]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that he is in contact with people who are still able to do data mining on pre-9/11 data, and, in “those data runs that are now being done today, in spite of what DOD [Department of Defense] said, I have 13 hits on Mohamed Atta.” He also says that additional Able Danger material continues to be found in Pentagon files, and that in early February, a general was present as Able Danger was recovered from filing cabinets. This came from the early 2000 version of Able Danger that supposedly had all of its data destroyed by Erik Kleinsmith. Weldon also claims, “At least one additional witness has come forward who just retired from one of the intelligence agencies, who will also testify under oath that he was well aware of and identified Mohamed Atta’s both name and photo prior to 9/11 occurring.” The Defense Department claims to have performed recent data mining on pre-9/11 data and failed to find Mohamed Atta’s name. A Defense Department official also says one day after Weldon’s claims: “It is true that in the course of this more recent review, we have indeed unearthed additional documents related to Able Danger. These documents were found, I must say, with some considerable effort, only because they were filed and misfiled and in a place where they weren’t easily gotten to, not because they were being hidden.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2006; CNS News, 2/15/2006; US Congress, 2/15/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Ronald Neumann. [Source: US State Department]The Taliban carry out their largest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001. Suicide bombings increase four-fold to 141 and roadside bombings double (see 2004-2007). 191 US and NATO soldiers die in 2006, making it nearly as statistically dangerous to fight in Afghanistan as in Iraq. But US assistance to Afghanistan drops 38 percent from $4.3 billion in 2005 to $3.1 billion in 2006. Ronald Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan, argued against the cut. He also warns in a February 2006 cable to his superiors that the Taliban is planning a strong spring offensive. Afghan president Hamid Karzai and some US military officials make similar warnings. But despite such warnings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will later say, “There was no doubt that people were surprised that the Taliban was able to regroup and come back in a large, well-organized force.” The US will boost aid to $9 billion in 2007 in response to the offensive. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Ali Mohamed, the double agent caught in 1998, still has not been sentenced. In 2000, he pled guilty to involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see October 20, 2000) and his sentencing date had originally been set for July 2001 (see July 2001-December 2001). Linda Sanchez, Mohamed’s wife, says in an interview at this time, “He’s still not sentenced yet, and without him being sentenced I really can’t say much. He can’t talk to anybody. Nobody can get to him.” The US government has “got Ali pretty secretive.… It’s like he just kind of vanished [into] thin air.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 23-24] There is no evidence he has been sentenced since.
Rayed Abdullah. [Source: Scoop]Rayed Abdullah, an associate of hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour (see October 1996-December 1997 and October 1996-Late April 1999), enters New Zealand despite being on the watch list there and takes further pilot training. The New Zealand government claims it only ascertains his real identity after he has been in the country several months. Abdullah is then arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia, even though he was traveling on a Yemeni passport. [Associated Press, 6/9/2006; New Zealand Herald, 6/10/2006] However, FBI agents and CIA officers later say that the US released Abdullah after 9/11 in an attempt to use him to spy on al-Qaeda for Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. The CIA ensures he is allowed into New Zealand as a part of a joint operation. However, the New Zealanders get cold feet when Abdullah starts flight training again. A CIA official will say: “[W]e know if Rayed was part of the [9/11] plot, someone in al-Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.” An FBI official will comment: “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting [Abdullah] tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in al-Qaeda operations. For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence.” [Stories that Matter, 10/9/2006]
Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui becomes the first and only person charged in direct connection with the 9/11 attacks to stand trial in the US. [Associated Press, 3/17/2006] He was preparing to hijack an aircraft and fly it into a target when he was arrested 26 days before 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and April 22, 2005). Although there has been disagreement whether Moussaoui was to take part in the actual attack of 9/11 or a follow-up plot (see January 30, 2003), the prosecution alleges that Moussaoui had information related to the attacks (see August 16, 2001) and facilitated them by lying and not disclosing everything he knew to the FBI. He is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 12/11/2001 ] The trial receives much media coverage and the highlights include the playing of United 93’s cockpit recorder (see April 12, 2006), a row over a government lawyer coaching witnesses (see March 13, 2006), and testimony by FBI agent Harry Samit (see March 9 and 20, 2006), former FBI assistant director Michael Rolince (see March 21, 2006), and Moussaoui himself (see March 27, 2006).
Moussaoui is forced to wear a stun belt, controlled by one of the marshalls, under his jumpsuit. The belt is to be used if Moussaoui lunges at a trial participant. [New York Times, 4/17/2006] He has already pleaded guilty (see April 22, 2005) and the trial is divided into two phases; in the first phase the jury decides that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, but in the second phase it fails to achieve unanimity on whether Moussaoui should be executed (see May 3, 2006). [Associated Press, 4/3/2006; New York Times, 4/17/2006]
FBI agent Harry Samit testifying at the Moussaoui trial. [Source: Agence France-Presse]FBI agent Harry Samit testifies at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006). Samit was one of the main agents involved in Moussaoui’s arrest and bombarded his superiors with messages about the danger Moussaoui posed (see August 21, 2001 and August 21, 2001). Under direct examination he relates what happened in August 2001 (see August 22, 2001). The prosecutor asks Samit several times what he would have done if Moussaoui had told the truth, and Samit is usually allowed by the judge to say how it would have helped the investigation and made 9/11 less likely. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] However, under cross examination Samit says he was not fooled by Moussaoui’s lies and that he immediately suspected him of preparing to hijack an airplane, but the investigation was thwarted by FBI headquarters, and the Radical Fundamentalist Unit in particular. He admits that he told the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that FBI headquarters was guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism,” and that its opposition blocked “a serious opportunity to stop the 9/11 attacks.” [Associated Press, 3/20/2006] Samit says he warned his supervisors more than 70 times that Moussaoui was an al-Qaeda operative who might be plotting to hijack an airplane and fly it into a building, and that he was regularly thwarted by two superiors, David Frasca and Michael Maltbie. Reporting Samit’s testimony, the London Times will conclude that “the FBI bungled the Moussaoui investigation.” [London Times, 4/25/2006] Similar charges were made by one of Samit’s colleagues, Coleen Rowley, after 9/11 (see May 21, 2002). The Los Angeles Times will comment, “His testimony appeared to undermine the prosecution’s case for the death penalty.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2006]
Judge Leonie Brinkema halts the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006) after it is discovered that Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin violated a court order prohibiting witnesses from following the trial. Martin e-mailed transcripts to seven witnesses and coached them on their testimony. Brinkema calls it “the most egregious violation of the court’s rules on witnesses [I have seen] in all the years I’ve been on the bench.” Even the prosecution says, “We frankly cannot fathom why she engaged in such conduct.” [Washington Post, 3/14/2006; Associated Press, 3/17/2006] Brinkema allows the prosecution to continue to seek the death penalty, but initially removes the aviation security portion of evidence from its case. However, after the prosecution complains this makes the proceedings pointless, she reinstates some of it, allowing the trial to continue. [Associated Press, 3/15/2006; CNN, 3/16/2006; Associated Press, 3/17/2006] As a result of her actions, Martin is placed on paid leave. Additionally, Pennsylvania’s lawyer disciplinary board begins an investigation and federal prosecutors explore charges. [Washington Post, 7/10/2006] Martin’s e-mails also reveal that she has been communicating with attorneys for United and American Airlines. This prompts seven victims’ relatives, who are suing the airlines for being negligent on 9/11, to file a civil action against her alleging that she is trying to help the airline industry avoid civil liability. [CBS News, 4/7/2006; CNN, 4/26/2006]
Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that Osama bin Laden has died in Iran. According to Weldon, the information comes from a high-level Iranian exile source, who claims that bin Laden had been in hiding in Iran. Weldon, who last spoke to the source three weeks ago, says: “[The source has] told me that Osama bin Laden is dead. He died in Iran.” Weldon has long alleged that bin Laden has been using Iran for sanctuary. For example, last June he said: “I’m confident that I know for sure that [bin Laden] has been in and out of Iran.… Two years ago, he was in the southern town of Ladis, 10 kilometers inside the Pakistan border. I also know that earlier this year, he had a meeting with [Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi in Tehran.” [NewsMax, 3/17/2003] Despite this, a man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release statements to the media (see, for example, May 23, 2006).
Charlie Sheen [Source: Publicity photo]Well-known Hollywood actor Charlie Sheen reveals that he believes there is a massive US government coverup of what really occurred on 9/11. Appearing on the Alex Jones radio show, he says, “It seems to me like 19 amateurs with boxcutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75 percent of their targets, that feels like a conspiracy theory. It raises a lot of questions.” [CBS 2 (Chicago), 3/23/2006] He says, “I saw the South Tower hit live, that famous wide shot where it disappears behind the building and then we see the tremendous fireball,” and comments, “it didn’t look like any commercial jetliner I’ve flown on any time in my life.” He questions how a commercial plane could have performed the elaborate maneuvers necessary to hit the Pentagon, as Flight 77 reportedly did, and also says the collapses of the Twin Towers looked like a “controlled demolition.” [CNN, 3/22/2006] In response, some newspaper columnists ridicule him, with the New York Post accusing him of joining the “9/11 gone-bonkers brigade,” and a columnist with the London Guardian calling him “insane.” [New York Post, 3/23/2006; Guardian, 3/25/2006] However, CNN’s daily entertainment news show Showbiz Tonight gives him more sympathetic attention, and covers the story four shows in succession. Several celebrities defend Sheen’s right to express his views. Bestselling author Erica Jong says he has “done his homework, and he’s asking questions. He’s speaking truth to power, which is a brave thing to do.” [CNN, 3/22/2006; CNN, 3/23/2006; CNN, 3/24/2006; CNN, 3/27/2006]
Michael Rolince, who headed the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section when Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested, testifies at Moussaoui’s trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006). He initially states that he was only informed of the Moussaoui case before 9/11 in two brief hallway conversations (see Late August 2001) and did not read a memo sent to him by the Minneapolis field office. However, under cross-examination he admits he also discussed a plan to deport Moussaoui to France, where his belongings could be searched (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). [Associated Press, 3/21/2006; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] According to Newsday, Rolince appears “red-faced and flustered” at the end of the cross-examination and makes the court burst out laughing when he says he did not approve a briefing to FBI field offices about bin Laden threats in the US (see Before April 13, 2001), even though the briefing states he approved it. He says one of his subordinates may have approved it. [Associated Press, 3/21/2006; Newsday, 3/22/2006] Rolince is called by the prosecution, which wants him to give a list of steps the FBI would have taken if Moussaoui had confessed. However, Judge Brinkema states that, “Juries cannot decide cases on speculation… Nobody knows what would have happened.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2006; Associated Press, 3/22/2006]
There is a tumultuous trial of al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra before he is finally convicted in early 2007. Sakra, considered a high-ranking leader, is on trial for co-masterminding a series of bombings in Istanbul, Turkey in 2003 (see November 15-20, 2003). There is also considerable evidence that he was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria (see 2000 and September 10, 2001). Having already confessed to assisting a number of attacks, including the 9/11 plot (see Early August 2005), Sakra makes additional claims during the trial. He says through his lawyer that shortly after being arrested in Turkey in 2005, he was visited in his Turkish prison cell by a group of English speaking foreigners. He claims that he was offered his freedom if he would falsely agree to testify that the Syrian government was involved in the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005. He claims these people were aware that he had secretly met with the head of Syrian intelligence in the past, and that he turned down their offer. [BBC, 11/10/2005] At the start of the trial, Sakra appears quite different than he had when he was seen in public after being arrested seven months before, heavier and with a full beard. He claims to be a completely different person. The Washington Post will comment, “More than 20 journalists failed to recognize Sakra as he entered the court building,” and even his own lawyer claims to doubt Sakra’s identity. [Washington Post, 3/21/2006; BBC, 3/21/2006] Sakra’s trial leaves many questions about him unanswered. The London Times will later say that his “often outrageous behavior, conflicting statements of identity, and the suspicion that he has undergone extensive plastic surgery, have helped to build up a wall of mystery around him.” [London Times, 2/17/2007] Sakra’s lawyer will claim that if Sakra revealed all that he knew, “a few states would collapse.” [Washington Post, 3/21/2006] At the conclusion of the trial, Sakra and six others receive life in prison for their role in the 2003 Istanbul bombings. Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. [BBC, 2/16/2007]
During the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see also March 6-May 4, 2006), the prosecution claims that if Zacarias Moussaoui had not lied when arrested and questioned (see August 16, 2001) and had provided information about the plot (see August 16, 2001), the FAA could have altered its security procedures to deal with the suicide hijacker threat. Prosecution witness Robert Cammaroto, an aviation security officer, says that security measures in effect before 9/11 were designed to cope with different types of threats, such as “the homesick Cuban,” rather than suicide hijackings. He says that if the FAA had more information about Moussaoui, its three dozen air marshals could have been moved from international to domestic flights, security checkpoints could have been tightened to detect short knives like the ones Moussaoui had, and flight crews could have been instructed to resist rather than cooperate with hijackers. Most of these steps could have been implemented within a matter of hours. However, Cammarato admits that the FAA was aware before 9/11 that terrorists considered flying a plane into the Eiffel Tower and that al-Qaeda has performed suicide operations on land and sea. [Associated Press, 3/22/2006]
Ahmed Alnami’s youth hosteling card found in the Flight 93 crash site. [Source: FBI]During the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press publishes a significant portion of the exhibits used during the trial. [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 12/4/2006] Previously, only a few items of the evidence linking the attacks to al-Qaeda were made public. For example, the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph contained 18 documents of the alleged hijackers and their associates. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 171-195 ] The published exhibits include:
Items belonging to the alleged hijackers that were recovered from the crash sites and Logan airport;
Some details of the hijackers’ movements in the US;
Graphic photos of dead victims and body parts in the Pentagon and WTC ruins;
Substitutions for testimony from some of the main plotters such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed;
The missing chapter from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General’s review of the FBI’s performance before 9/11 (see June 9, 2005); and
FBI and CIA documents. [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 12/4/2006]
At the end of July, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, publishes more of the exhibits used in the trial. The additionally published exhibits include, for example:
Documents of the hijackers found at the crash sites and Logan airport, such as Satam Al Suqami’s passport (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ahmed Alnami’s youth hosteling card, and old correspondence between Mohamed Atta and the German authorities;
Recordings of calls made by the passengers from the flights and recordings of the hijacker pilots talking to the passengers;
Documents about the alleged hijackers prepared by the FBI such as a True Name Usage Chart for 2001 and chronologies for eleven of the hijackers from August 16-September 11, 2001;
Documents from the hijackers’ flight schools;
A small sample of the hijackers’ banking and phone records.
However, some of the exhibits are not disclosed. For example, the cockpit voice recording from United 93 is sealed and only a transcript is made available. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006]
Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11. [Source: Mirrorpix(.com)]Against the will of his defense attorneys, Zacarias Moussaoui takes the stand at his trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006) and claims that he was supposed to fly a fifth plane on 9/11. He says the plane would have targeted the White House and one of the muscle hijackers would have been shoe-bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). However, he claims not to have known the details of the other hijackings, only that the WTC would be hit. He does not mention any other collaborators aside from Reid, who has already been sentenced to a long prison term. When the prosecution asks him whether he lied to FBI investigators so the plan could go forward he replies, “That’s correct.” An Associated Press expert calls this, “a stunning revelation that would help prosecutors rather than him.” [Associated Press, 3/27/2006] In what the New York Times calls a “bizarre moment,” the defense team, aware of the damage this admission could do, subject Moussaoui to tough questioning and the chief prosecutor objects that one of the defense attorneys is badgering his own client. [New York Times, 4/17/2006]
Uncertainty over Fifth Jet - There is some dispute over whether Moussaoui was indeed to have flown a fifth plane (see January 30, 2003 and Before 2008). Following the testimony, the defense reads statements made by al-Qaeda leaders who are in custody, but are not permitted to testify at the trial (see May 14, 2003 and March 22, 2005). The statements say that Moussaoui was not part of 9/11, but a follow-up operation. [Associated Press, 3/28/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006 ] However, these statements were obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). The government later concedes that there is no evidence linking Richard Reid to 9/11. [Associated Press, 4/20/2006]
"Complete Fabrication" - Moussaoui had denied being part of 9/11 before the trial (see April 22, 2005). By the end of the trial he will do so again, calling the confession he makes on this day “a complete fabrication.” [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]
A leaked draft of the “narrative” of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) compiled by the Home Office in lieu of an official investigation concludes that there was no direct support from al-Qaeda for the 7/7 bombings. The Observer reports that the narrative concludes, “Far from being the work of an international terror network, as originally suspected, the attack was carried out by four men who had scoured terror sites on the Internet.” It does acknowledge that two of the suicide bombers—Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer—traveled to Pakistan and met with known militants, but concludes that these trips were “ideological, rather than fact-finding.” Even a video of Khan’s last testament released by an al-Qaeda production company in Pakistan is dismissed as evidence of any al-Qaeda involvement in the attack (see September 1, 2005). Patrick Mercer, a spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, says an independent inquiry into 7/7 remains necessary, adding, “A series of reports such as this narrative simply does not answer questions such as the reduced terror alert before the attack, the apparent involvement of al-Qaeda, and links to earlier or later terrorist plots.” [Observer, 4/9/2006] But within months, this assertion of no direct al-Qaeda invovlement will collapse as more information is made public about the bombers’ links to al-Qaeda figures and training in al-Qaeda linked camps in Pakistan. On May 12, 2006, Home Secretary John Reid concludes for the first time that there is “considerable” circumstantial evidence of an al-Qaeda connection. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] By July 2006, Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police force’s head of anti-terrorism, will concede, “Such information as we do have does suggest there is probably a link to al-Qaeda” (see July 6, 2006). [New York Times, 7/7/2006; Daily Telegraph, 7/8/2006] The BBC will report that same month: “British intelligence agencies believe some form of operational training is likely to have taken place while Khan and Tanweer were in Pakistan together and that it is likely they did have contact with al-Qaeda figures.… [T]he evidence pointing to a major role for al-Qaeda is mounting.” [BBC, 7/6/2006] British counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed will argue that the government has deliberately downplayed evidence of al-Qaeda involvement in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years (see July 2, 2006).
Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, until October 2002 the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is another in a small but vocal group of current and retired generals voicing public dissent against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Newbold writes an op-ed for Time magazine, and leads off by saying that after Vietnam, he and other career military officers determined never again to “stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.” But, Newbold writes, it happened again. He takes responsibility for his own actions in planning for the invasion of Iraq, but notes that “[i]nside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots’ rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda.” Newbold retired from the military in late 2002, “in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I’ve been silent long enough.” The cost of the Bush administration’s “flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood,” he writes, and that blood debt drives him to speak out.
A Justifiable War - Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, Newbold says, to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And though invading Iraq was unnecessary and wrong, he says, the US cannot now just withdraw precipitously: “It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists’ message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.”
Outrage - Newbold writes of his deep anger at the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently said that “we” made the “right strategic decisions,” but made thousands of “tactical errors” (see March 31-April 1, 2006). Newbold calls that statement “an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.” Instead, he writes: “What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures.… My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.” Many of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking generals bear their own blame, Newbold writes, in “act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military’s effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction.” Some few actually believed the rationale for war, others were intimidated, and many believed that their sense of duty and obedience precluded their speaking out. “The consequence of the military’s quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.” Many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, “defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight.” Many media reporters, editors, and pundits ignored the warnings and instead played up the rationale for war.
New Visions, New Strategies - The first thing to do, says Newbold, is to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with “many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.” The US owes their troops, living and dead, a debt of gratitude and the responsibility to “construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it.” More generals and others in positions of leadership need to speak out, Newbold concludes, and make sure that we as a nation are not “fooled again.” [Time, 4/9/2006]
The Washington Post reports that leaked documents show the US military is conducting a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. According to the Post, “The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the [Iraq] war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” According to Col. Derek Harvey, who has been a top advisor on Iraq intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although al-Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have conducted some deadly bombing attacks, they remain “a very small part of the actual numbers…. Our own focus on al-Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will—made him more important than he really is, in some ways.” Since at least 2004, the US military has manipulated the Iraq media’s coverage of Zarqawi in an effort to turn Iraqis against the insurgency. But leaked documents also explicitly list the “US Home Audience” as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign. Additionally, sections of leaked military briefings show that the US media was directly used to influence view of al-Zarqawi. For instance, one document notes that a “selective leak” about al-Zarqawi was made to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, which resulted in a 2004 front page story about a letter supposedly written by al-Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] The Daily Telegraph reported in 2004 that “senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax.” The Telegraph also reported the US was buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerated al-Zarqawi’s role and was treating it as fact, even in policy decisions (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] One US military briefing from 2004 states, “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response” and lists three methods: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite US military unit) and “PSYOP,” meaning psychological operations and propaganda. One internal US military briefing concluded that the “al-Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date… primarily for the Iraqi audience but also with the international audience.” It is supposedly US military policy not to aim psychological operations at Americans, but there appears to be no punishment for the violation of this policy in the wake of this media report. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base. [Source: NBC]The Los Angeles Times reveals that stolen computer drives containing important classified information can be purchased cheaply at the local bazaar just outside the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shop owners at the bazaar say a variety of Afghan menial workers at the base continually sell them equipment stolen from inside the base. The drives had been sold cheaply as used equipment and only recently did a reporter discover some of them contained classified information. The drives purchased by reporters include:
Deployment rosters that identify about 700 US soldiers and their social security numbers.
Maps showing the locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan (see January 2005).
Presentations that name suspected militants targeted or “kill or capture.”
A list of officials in the Afghan government profiting from the illegal drug trade (see Early 2005).
Documents and maps suggest the Taliban are staging attacks from across the Pakistan border with Pakistani support (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
A classified briefing about capabilities of a special radar used to find where mortar rounds have been fired, including a map of where the radar was deployed in Iraq in March 2004.
A January 2005 presentation identifying a dozen Afghan governors and police chiefs as “problem makers” involved in kidnappings, support for the Taliban, and/or attacks on US troops.
Discussions of US efforts to “remove” or “marginalize” problematic Afghan officials. One governor on the list was removed from his post in December 2005 after he was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office. But President Hamid Karzai then appointed him to Afghanistan’s upper parliament. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]
Some psychological operations are detailed, including attempts to manage the Afghan media. For instance, one list contains the item, “Prepare radio news stories for local stations highlighting Afghan National Police support.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/12/2006]
“Scores of military documents marked ‘secret,’ describing intelligence-gathering methods and information.”
The names, photographs, and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some spies are described as having networks of informants working for them.
Descriptions of meetings of Taliban commanders held in Pakistan.
A file describing the layout of a US Special Forces base in Afghanistan complete with photographs of its perimeter and procedures for defending the base if attacked. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] The US immediately launches an investigation into the security breach. One US official says, “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] Several days after the first press reports, US soldiers buy up every computer drive from the bazaar that they can find, presumably to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But within two weeks, there are plenty of drives for sale again, some containing classified information. One shopkeeper says he had been selling pilfered US military computer drives for four years: “I may have sold thousands of [them] since I have come and opened this shop.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2006] A month after the security breach was first reported, shopkeepers at the bazaar say they still receive goods from inside the US base, but not at the rate they once did. [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]
The cockpit voice recorder tape from United 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is played at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006) just before the prosecution rests its case. Translations are displayed on a screen along with information taken from the plane’s flight data recorder, such as speed, altitude, and steering yoke position. [Associated Press, 4/12/2006; London Times, 4/12/2006] The recording is sealed by the judge and a transcript is made available to the public. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] This is a big media event and it receives lots of coverage. CNN, for example, calls it “an absolutely spellbinding, unforgettable day in court.” Many of the passages are unintelligible, but the recording seems to indicate that the hijackers murdered a flight attendant. [CNN, 4/12/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] Some of the victims’ relatives previously heard the recording at a private meeting (see April 18, 2002).
Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah. [Source: FBI]Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, an Egyptian al-Qaeda operative, is killed in a remote village in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. There was a $5 million bountry for Atwah, who was wanted for involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Witnesses describe a missile strike followed by a Pakistani helicopter gunship attack. The attack is said to have killed nine people, including two young children. [Associated Press, 4/13/2006; CNN, 10/24/2006]
A new video thought to be from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri praises the insurgency in Iraq. He describes militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a “beloved brother” and says, “I have lived with him up close and have seen nothing but good from him.” However, the video was apparently made some time previously, in November 2005, and the man thought to be al-Zawahiri says it was made to mark the fourth anniversary of the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001). By November 2005, al-Zarqawi had had some sort of relationship with al-Qaeda for about a year (see October 17, 2004), but this relationship will end upon his death in mid-June (see June 8, 2006). [BBC, 4/13/2006]
Harper’s reporter Ken Silverstein reports on a quiet but widespread swell of resistance among CIA personnel to the Bush administration’s detention and torture policies. A former senior agency official tells Silverstein that there is a “big swing” in sentiments away from supporting the administration at Langley. “I’ve been stunned by what I’m hearing,” he says. “There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don’t want to get caught up in it.” The former official says there “seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people” at the CIA to avoid involvement in the worst of the administration’s policies, particularly the “rendition” of prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and torture. The former official says, “There’s an SS group within the agency that’s willing to do anything and there’s a Wehrmacht group that is saying, ‘I’m not gonna touch this stuff.’” Lawyer and human rights activist Scott Horton confirms Silverstein’s reporting, saying that he too is hearing stories of growing dissent at the CIA. Horton says: “When the sh_t hits the fan, the administration scapegoats lower-level people. It doesn’t do a lot in terms of inspiring confidence.” [Harper's, 4/19/2006]
The State Department’s latest annual Country Reports on Terrorism does not list the Taliban as a terrorist group. In fact, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Taliban have never been designated as a terrorist group by the US, Britain, European Union, or any other major Western powers. Governments the US accuses of being sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, are on the list, but the Taliban has never been listed despite its well-known connection to al-Qaeda. One Afghan analyst says that there is a political motive behind this double standard. The Afghan government has reached out to former members of the Taliban to broaden its support and, “You can’t call them ‘terrorists’ and at the same time reconcile with them.” [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2006]
The US Department of State releases its 2005 edition of Country Reports on Terrorism, in which it states that Cuba remains a “state sponsor of terrorism, while Venezuela virtually ceased its cooperation in the global war on terror.” According to the report, Venezuela has been “tolerating terrorists in its territory and seeking closer relations with Cuba and Iran.” [US Department of State, 2006, pp. 155 ]
Christiane Amanpour narrated The Journalist and the Jihadi. [Source: CNN]HBO produces a documentary film entitled The Journalist and the Jihadi about Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and one of the extremists involved in his kidnap and murder, Saeed Sheikh. The film, directed and produced by Ahmed Jamal and Ramesh Sharma, and narrated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, portrays the two men as “a passionate journalist and a shrewd terrorist” representing the best and worst of their respective cultures. The film climaxes with Pearl’s kidnap and murder, while he was investigating the 9/11 money trail in Pakistan. It suggests that, had it not been for complicity between al-Qaeda and certain factions inside Pakistan’s ISI, Pearl may have survived. [Salon, 4/28/2006; New York Times, 10/10/2006]
Army documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, ordered military interrogators to “go to the outer limits” to get information from detainees (see May 19, 2004). The documents also show that senior government officials were aware of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “When our leaders allow and even encourage abuse at the ‘outer limits,’ America suffers. A nation that works to bring freedom and liberty to other parts of the world shouldn’t stomach brutality and inhumanity within its ranks. This abuse of power was engineered and accepted at the highest levels of our government.” The ACLU also releases an April 2004 information paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib (see April 2, 2004). According to the ACLU, the documents show that, far from being the work of “a few bad apples” as alleged by President Bush and other White House officials (see Mid-May 2004, August 2004, September 10, 2004, and October 1, 2004), the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was systematic and authorized by high-level officials, including Sanchez. “These documents are further proof that the abuse of detainees was widespread and systemic, and not aberrational,” says ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “We know that senior officials endorsed this abuse, but these officials have yet to be held accountable.” Other documents show that US soldiers escaped prosecution after killing a detainee in their custody (see March 3, 2005), several reports of detainee abuse are considered “true/valid” (see May 25, 2004), and a military doctor cleared a detainee for further interrogations even after documenting injuries inflicted by beatings and electric shocks (see June 1, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
The Christian Science Monitor reports: “Taliban leaders strut openly around Quetta, Pakistan, where they are provided with offices and government-issued weapons authorization cards; Pakistani army officers are detailed to Taliban training camps; and Pakistani border guards constantly wave self-proclaimed Taliban through checkpoints into Afghanistan.” A Monitor reporter who lives in Kandahar, Afghanistan, notes that the result is that people there “have reached an astonishing conclusion: The United States must be in league with the Taliban… In other words, in a stunning irony, much of this city, the Taliban’s former stronghold, is disgusted with the Americans not because of their Western culture, but because of their apparent complicity with Islamist extremists.” [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2006] CNN will similarly report in September 2006 that Taliban head Mullah Omar and most other top Taliban leaders are living in Quetta (see September 12, 2006).
Zacarias Moussaoui on his way to the Supermax prison. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 9/11 attacks. A jury sentences him to six consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. A single juror votes against the death penalty for one of the three counts for which Moussaoui is eligible to receive the death sentence (see March 6-May 4, 2006). For the other two counts, the vote is 10-2. According to the foreman of the jury, the lone dissenter did not identify his or herself to the other jurors during deliberations and consequently they could not discuss the person’s reasons for opposing the death penalty. “But there was no yelling. It was as if a heavy cloud of doom had fallen over the deliberation room, and many of us realized that all our beliefs and our conclusions were being vetoed by one person,” the foreman explains to the Washington Post. “We tried to discuss the pros and cons. But I would have to say that most of the arguments we heard around the deliberation table were [in favor of the death penalty]… Our sense was this was a done deal for that person and whoever that person is, they were consistent from the first day and their point of view didn’t change.” [Washington Post, 5/12/2006] As a result of the vote, Moussaoui will not be executed and instead will serve six life sentences at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. A day after the sentencing, on May 5, Moussaoui files a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. He says that his March 27 testimony that he was supposed to have hijacked a fifth plane on September 11 and fly it into the White House “was a complete fabrication.” At sentencing the judge told him, “You do not have a right to appeal your convictions, as was explained to you when you plead guilty. You waived that right.” [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]
Osama Awadallah, an alleged associate of two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego, is acquitted in a US trial. Awadallah, a Jordanian living in the US since 1999, was not accused of terrorist activity, but was merely charged with lying to a grand jury investigating the 9/11 attacks. Nine days after 9/11, he was interviewed by the FBI, and he admitted that he knew 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. However, he denied knowing hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who lived with Alhazmi in San Diego. Awadallah was detained as a material witness. After 9/11, his old phone number was found in a car used by some of the hijackers. Eleven jurors wanted to convict him, but one did not, so a mistrial was declared after jurors made clear they could not reach a unanimous verdict. Had he been convicted, he would have faced little to no jail time, and then deportation. Instead, he will continue his studies at San Diego State University. [Associated Press, 5/5/2006] It has been claimed that one day before the 9/11 attacks, Awadallah and others appeared to be celebrating the upcoming attacks (see Late August-September 10, 2001).
A new 5-minute audiotape is released by a person said to be Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape says that Zacarias Moussaoui and the vast majority of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay had nothing to do with 9/11. The speaker says that Moussaoui “has no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11th” and “his confession that he was assigned to participate in those raids is a false confession which no intelligent person doubts is a result of the pressure put upon him for the past four and a half years.” The voice also says that, as Moussaoui has not named a support team, he cannot have been slated to pilot a hijacked airliner, and that, as he was learning to fly, he cannot have been intended to be the 20th hijacker. Further, if Moussaoui had known the 9/11 group, he would have called lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and told him to flee the country (note: jail house calls can be recorded, so this may not have been wise (see August 17, 2001)). There are various theories about Moussaoui’s closeness to the 9/11 plot, but he was supported by some of the people who supported the hijackers (see January 30, 2003). The speaker also says that the detainees in Guantanamo Bay “have no connection whatsoever to the events of September 11th, and even stranger is that many of them have no connection with al-Qaeda in the first place, and even more amazing is that some of them oppose al-Qaeda’s methodology of calling for war with America.” The apparent reason so many detainees are being held: ”(I)t is necessary to create justifications for the massive spending of hundreds of billions on the Defense Department and other agencies in their war against the Mujaheddin.” [MSNBC, 5/23/2006] One Guantanamo detainee, Mohamed al-Khatani, was allegedly supposed to meet lead hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US, but was refused entry to the country, indicating that he was scheduled to be involved in 9/11 (see August 4, 2001 and July 2002).
US officials deny charges leveled by Amnesty International that US interrogators tortured prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison. White House officials also say that the administration intends to close the facility as soon as it is practical to do so. Amnesty International’s most recent annual report faults the US for allegedly abandoning human rights concerns in its pursuit of terrorists. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Amnesty’s charges are false, and says while the administration wants to close Guantanamo, critics have given no answers as to what to do with the detainees. “At some point in the future, would we all like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down? Absolutely,” he says. “But at the moment, there are dangerous people being held in Guantanamo Bay. These are people that were picked up on battlefields, planning for, engaged in various acts of terrorism around the world. These are individuals who pose a threat potentially not only to American citizens, but citizens from Europe as well as around the world.” America is doing the world a service by detaining these dangerous terrorists, he says (see February 7, 2006). [Voice of America, 5/23/2006]
The first oil pumped from Baku, by the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan, arrives in Ceyhan, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, and is loaded onto a ship. The 1,770 km pipeline, which passes through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, bypasses Russia and Iran for geopolitical reasons. The main shareholder is British Petroleum, and other significant shareholders include the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Statoil of Norway, and the US company Unocal, which has an 8.9% interest and became interested in the project no later than 1998. Unocal begins losing interest in a pipeline across Afghanistan around the same time (see December 5, 1998). Substantial amounts to finance the $3-4 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline were arranged by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The consortium members put up the remaining 30%. [US Congress, 2/12/1998; Alexander's Gas and Oil Connections, 7/12/2002; Guardian, 12/1/2003; Guardian, 5/26/2005; Eurasia Daily Monitor, 5/31/2005; Turkish Weekly, 5/29/2006] Journalist Pepe Escobar comments: “In terms of no-holds-barred power politics and oil geopolitics, BTC is the real deal—a key component in the US’s overall strategy of wrestling the Caucasus and Central Asia away from Russia—and bypassing Iranian oil and gas routes… BTC makes little sense in economic terms. Oil experts know that the most cost-effective routes from the Caspian would be south through Iran or north through Russia. But BTC is a designer masterpiece of power politics—from the point of view of Washington and its corporate allies. US Vice President Dick Cheney, already in his previous incarnation as Halliburton chief, has always been a huge cheerleader for the ‘strategically significant’ BTC.” Escobar also mentions that the amount of Caspian oil was overestimated (see November 1, 2002), “the Caspian may hold only 32 billion barrels of oil—not much more than the reserves of Qatar, a small Gulf producer.” [Asia Times, 5/26/2005] However, the Caspian area is still believed to hold considerable amounts of natural gas. The construction of this pipeline does not halt plans for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean (see January 18, 2005).
Around the summer of 2006, the CIA sends up to 50 additional case officers to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a renewed effort to find al-Qaeda’s top leaders. This is said to be a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the newly arrived personnel are given the primary task of finding Osama bin Laden and his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some former CIA officials will say this new push comes after the White House pushed the CIA to step up the effort to find bin Laden. Mid-term US Congressional elections are being held in November 2006. However, the CIA will deny any pressure from the White House and say it was “driven solely by operational considerations.” But the renewed effort results in no significant leads on the whereabouts of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. US intelligence officials will largely blame this on the peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). As part of the treaty, the Pakistani army withdraws ten of thousands of troops from Waziristan and other tribal border regions where the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders has been focused. A senior US intelligence official will later comment: “Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in North Waziristan. Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that’s the most damaging development. The one thing al-Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “The pullback took significant pressure off al-Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
When asked why Osama bin Laden’s wanted poster only mentions his alleged involvement in the East African embassy bombings, but not 9/11, Rex Tomb of the FBI’s public affairs unit says, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.” [Milli Gazette, 6/11/2006] The Washington Post will later pick up this story and say that bin Laden’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 operation is not mentioned on the poster because he has not been indicted for it (see August 28, 2006).
The dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [Source: US army]Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is apparently killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad. There are contradictory details of what exactly happened in the airstrike, and three days later the Washington Post will report that “circumstances surrounding the killing [remain] cloudy.” [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] His killing is hailed by US and Iraqi officials as the most significant public triumph for US-allied forces since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. For instance, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calls him “the leading terrorist in Iraq and one of three senior al-Qaeda leaders worldwide.” The Washington Post calls al-Zarqawi the “mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2006; Washington Post, 6/10/2006] These pronouncements and media reports ignore a revelation made two months earlier by the Washington Post that the US military has been engaged in a propaganda campaign to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance. The newspaper had reported that Zarqawi wasn’t behind nearly as many attacks as commonly reported (see October 4, 2004 and April 10, 2006). Even a Washington Post article about the propaganda surrounding al-Zarqawi published two days after his death will fail to mention any of the details provided in the Post’s original reporting on the campaign. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] Later in the month, an audiotape surfaces in which bin Laden supposedly praises al-Zarqawi as a martyr (see June 30, 2006), calling him a “brave knight” and a “lion of jihad.” US officials say the tape is genuine, however it should be noted that a letter from 2004 said to tie al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leadership is believed by many experts to be a US-government promoted hoax (see April 10, 2006). [Washington Post, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi did pledge loyalty to bin Laden in 2004, but they don’t appear to have been closely linked before then and there even are doubts about how close their relationship was after that time (see October 17, 2004).
Ghaith Pharon’s yacht, photographed in 2005. [Source: Yachtmati]The FBI and Italian paramilitary police raid a luxury yacht owned by Saudi multimillionaire Ghaith Pharaon, but do not find him. Since 1991, there has been an international arrest warrant for Pharaon due to his prominent role in the criminal BCCI bank. Shortly after 9/11, a French intelligence report linked him to Osama bin Laden (see October 10, 2001). Pharaon’s yacht was raided off the coast of Sicily. The yacht was not seized. Despite being wanted for 15 years, Pharaon has managed to continue to run a large business empire. The FBI describes Pharaon as extremely wealthy with “numerous contacts within governments around the world.” [ndependent, 8/16/2006] On August 10, 2006, the FBI puts out an all points bulletin for Pharaon. [ABC News, 8/10/2006] A Middle Eastern newspaper notes that, “In the past few years, Pharoan’s super yacht—which he named Le Pharaon after himself—has repeatedly been seen moored alongside luxury yachts of the rich and famous.” In June 2005, it was seen moored next to the personal yacht of Saudi King Abdullah in a Greek port. Two years earlier, it was seen parked next to another Saudi royal family super yacht near Beirut. [Khaleej Times, 6/13/2006] But there has been no reported word on him since, and the FBI has taken the webpage about him off their website.
Brigadier General Richard Formica. [Source: Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan]The Defense Department publicly releases the so-called “Formica Report,” a report from two years before (see November 2004) that detailed the findings of an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse at Camp Nama, a US detention facility at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. The report, overseen by Brigadier General Richard Formica, is made available through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The investigation found no evidence of any detainees being abused by Army personnel. A Defense Department official says: “This is not new news. The major points and the recommendations [from this report] have been implemented. This is an excellent example of the [Defense Department] doing the right thing; an excellent example of the department implementing the recommendations. You can’t ask for more from your government.” Formica conducted his investigation from May 2004 through November 2004. The official says that one of the most important changes made as a result of the Formica investigation was a clarification of authorized interrogation methods. [Armed Forces Press Service, 6/17/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that include reports of suicide attempts by Guantanamo detainees. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “These documents are the latest evidence of the desperate and immoral conditions that exist at Guantanamo Bay. The injustices at Guantanamo need to be remedied before other lives are lost. We must uphold our American values and end indefinite detentions and widespread abuse.” One report documents an attempted suicide by hanging that ended up with the detainee in a persistent “vegetative state” (see April 29, 2003). The ACLU notes that the Defense Department documents support other reports of attempted suicide at Guantanamo (see Summer 2002 and After, Mid-October 2002, October 9, 2003, and December 2003). Pentagon officials called the suicides an “act of asymmetrical warfare” and “a good PR move to draw attention.” The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “It is astounding that the government continues to paint the suicides as acts of warfare instead of taking responsibility for having driven individuals in its custody to such acts of desperation. The government may wish to hide Guantanamo Bay behind a shroud of secrecy, but its own documents reveal the hopelessness and despair faced by the detainees who are being held without charge and with no end in sight.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 6/19/2006]
Counterterrorism expert Charles Shoebridge, a former detective with the Metropolitan Police, discusses Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). In a radio interview with BBC Newshour, he says: “The fact that [information about Khan] has been so consistently overlooked it would appear by the [British] security service MI5, to me suggests really only one of two options. Either, a) we’ve got a level of incompetence that would be unusual even for the security services. But b) possibly, and this is a possibility, that this man Khan may even have been working as an informant for the security service. It is difficult otherwise to see how it can be that they’ve so covered his tracks in the interim.” [BBC Newshour, 6/26/2006]
Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also mentioned the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a video. [Source: As Sahab]A man said to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio message following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be head of al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq (see June 8, 2006). The voice says that al-Zarqawi, who died following a US air strike, is “one of our greatest knights and one of our best emirs… We were very happy to find in him a symbol and role model for our future generations.” The voice, which the CIA says is bin Laden’s, also asks that al-Zarqawi’s body be returned to Jordan, where he was born. The speaker also says: “We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, until we drain your money and kill your men and send you home defeated, God willing, as we defeated you before, thanks to God, in Somalia.” The message lasts almost 20 minutes and is posted on a website associated with al-Qaeda. [CNN, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi pledged loyalty to bin Laden in 2004 (see October 17, 2004).
Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is secretly transferred from US custody to Pakistani custody. The Pakistani government will later release him and he will apparently rejoin al-Qaeda. In early 2004, Ghul was captured in Iraq and put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). He became a “ghost detainee” because the US refused to admit they even held him. In 2006, the Bush administration decides to close most of the CIA’s secret prisons and transfer most of the important al-Qaeda prisoners to the Guantanamo prison. But Ghul is given to the Pakistani government instead, apparently as a goodwill gesture. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, “[T]he move frustrated and angered former CIA officers, who at the time believed Ghul should have been moved to Guantanamo along with 14 other high-value detainees” (See September 2-3, 2006). The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, promises that it will make sure Ghul is never released. But after only about a year, Pakistan will secretly let Ghul go and he apparently will return to working with al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)). [Associated Press, 6/15/2011] Ghul is given to Pakistan even though he is linked to a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the ISI had a history of protecting him from arrest (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Also, Ghul is released even though he told US interrogators key information about Osama bin Laden’s courier that will eventually prove key to the discovery of bin Laden’s location (see Shortly After January 23, 2004 and Late 2005).
In July 2006, fighting breaks out in southern Lebanon between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. Western intelligence officials soon learn that Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, has been spotted in a Hezbollah military building in Lebanon. Officials also discover that Richard Chichakli, Bout’s longtime business partner, has recently moved from the US to Damascus, Syria. Israeli officials suspect that Bout arms Hezbollah with sophisticated Russian-made armor-piercing antitank missiles. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254] Bout’s role is not confirmed at the time. But in 2008, journalist Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book on Bout, will tell ABC News that recent intelligence indicates Bout did supply the armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] In 2006, Bout’s network is also supplying the US military in Iraq (see Late April 2003-2007).
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. [Source: Publicity photo]The Independent publishes an article questioning some aspects of the official account of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). The article notes that “There are some bewildering gaps in the [government’s] account of 7/7…” It quotes counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, who has recently published a book questioning the government account of the bombings. Ahmed concludes that the government has deliberately downplayed the sophistication of the operation, the size of its support network, and evidence of al-Qaeda involvement, in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years. The Independent notes that “even the nature of the explosives used in the bombing is unclear.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a group of MPs chosen by the prime minister, published a report on the 7/7 bombings in May 2006 (see May 11, 2006), but was vague about the explosives used. The Independent comments, “The report says only that ‘it appears’ they were home-made, although there is plenty of evidence that the bombs were powered by at least some commercial or military explosive.” Ahmed says: “Forensic science… tends to produce unambiguous answers within a matter of hours and days. The idea that continuous examination over many months has failed to finish the job beggars belief.” Ahmed also notes that the links between the 7/7 bombers such as Mohammad Sidique Khan and known al-Qaeda figures have been underplayed. For instance, the ISC report fails to mention Haroon Rashid Aswat at all, despite many articles suggesting that he may have been the mastermind of the bombings and may even have had a relationship with British intelligence (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Ahmed says, “In systematically downplaying the undeniable role of al-Qaeda in the London bombings, the official account is attempting to draw public attention from the fact British authorities have tolerated the activities of an entrenched and burgeoning network of radical Islamists with terrorist connections for more than a decade.” [Independent, 7/2/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accuses the Defense Department of releasing a “whitewash” report on prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The “Church report,” compiled in 2004 (see May 11, 2004), has just been released to the public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU. The report’s executive summary was released in 2005, but the entirety of the report has now been made available. “Despite its best efforts to absolve high-ranking officials of any blame, the Church report cannot hide the fact that abusive and unlawful interrogation techniques authorized by Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld were used in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” says ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh. “The facts speak for themselves, and only underscore the need for an independent investigation into command responsibility for the widespread and systemic abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad.” The report only focused on cases closed before September 30, 2004, did not attempt to determine the culpability of senior officials, and used abuse statistics that the Church investigation itself admitted were incomplete and out of date. The ACLU writes that the Church report “skirts the question of command responsibility for detainee abuse, euphemistically labeling official failure to issue interrogation guidelines for Iraq and Afghanistan as a ‘missed opportunity.’ In addition, it references a ‘failure to react to early warning signs of abuse… that should have prompted… commanders to put in place more specific procedures and direct guidance to prevent further abuse.’ The report provides details of how techniques such as ‘stress positions’—authorized by Secretary Rumsfeld for Guantanamo Bay in December 2002—came to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq. It specifically notes, moreover, that the ‘migration’ of interrogation techniques intended for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq was ‘neither accidental nor uncontrolled.’ Yet, the report concludes that there is ‘no link between approved interrogation techniques and detainee abuse.’” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/3/2006]
Shehzad Tanweer in his last testament video. [Source: Agence France-Presse]One day before the first anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), the Al Jazeera satellite network broadcasts video speeches from what appears to be Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7/7 suicide bombers, and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. A similar video apparently featuring 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and al-Zawahiri was broadcast two months after the 7/7 bombings (see September 1, 2005). As with that video, the two speakers appear separately. The man resembling Tanweer says, “What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.” The man resembling al-Zawahiri seems to make al-Qaeda’s first explicit claim to have directly masterminded the 7/7 bombings as he says that Khan and Tanweer had been trained “in the manufacture of explosives” at al-Qaeda training camp. The videotape also separately shows what seems to be a militant training camp, but there are no obvious clues where or when the speeches were recorded. British officials have generally tried to downplay any al-Qaeda link to the bombings. But after this video is broadcast, Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police force’s head of anti-terrorism, says, “Such information as we do have does suggest there is probably a link to al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 7/7/2006; Daily Telegraph, 7/8/2006]
Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes that, five years after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush and his allies have used the attacks to dramatically expand the power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches. Bush and his allies are “engaged in an authoritarian project,” Krugman writes, “an effort to remove all the checks and balances that have heretofore constrained the executive branch [and] create a political environment in which nobody dares to criticize the administration or reveal inconvenient facts about its actions.” In a follow-up column, Krugman writes: “It is only now, nearly five years after September 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power. Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints.” (Emphasis in source.) [Roberts, 2008, pp. 3]
A shift leader of Triple Canopy, a private US security firm, shoots into at last two civilian vehicles in Baghdad after declaring that he is going to “kill someone today,” according to two of the firm’s employees, Shane Schmidt and Charles L. Sheppard III. It is suspected that at least one person died as a result of the unprovoked attack. [New York Times, 11/17/2006; Washington Post, 11/17/2006]
The Daily Telegraph reports that an investigation in Pakistan has learned that an al-Qaeda recruiter known only by the alias Abdul Rehman introduced the 7/7 London bombers to al-Qaeda. Rehman is said to be of Afghan origin but holds a British passport and lived in Britain. He allegedly met head suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in a British mosque and then later introduced him and Khan’s friend and fellow suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer to al-Qaeda. Rehman is said to be in his fifties and wealthy. He fought against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s and recruited Muslims from Western countries to join that fight. He continued to recruit in the 1990s for the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. A Pakistani official says, “He is very rich and quite often arranged funds for the militant organizations, before and after 9/11.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/8/2006]
In June 2006, the US, NATO, and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency compile a secret report on the Taliban. The report is discussed on July 9 at a private meeting of officials from Western countries and Afghanistan, chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The report goes further than any previous report in describing the Pakistani government’s involvement in supporting the Taliban. It states, “ISI operatives reportedly pay a significant number of Taliban living/ operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight.… A large number of those fighting are doing so under duress as a result of pressure from the ISI. The insurgency cannot survive without its sanctuary in Pakistan, which provides freedom of movement, communications for command and control, and a secure environment for collaboration with foreign extremist groups. The sanctuary of Pakistan provides a seemingly endless supply of potential new recruits for the insurgency.” The report also states that at least four of the Taliban’s top leaders are living in Pakistan. But despite the US involvement in creating the report, US diplomacy generally remains in denial about Pakistan’s double dealing. President Bush not only fails to successfully pressure Pakistan on the issue, but even continues to praise Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The report is not leaked to the press at the time. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 367-368] In September 2006, when Pakistan announces a deal with militants in the tribal region of Waziristan, the heart of al-Qaeda’s safe haven, Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 5, 2006 and September 7, 2006).
Shamil Basayev. [Source: Agence France Presse / Getty Images]Russian government forces kill rebel Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev. The
Russians had reportedly been tracking him, and blew up the truck he was traveling in while he was on an operation just outside of Chechnya. His supporters quickly acknowledge his death, but claim he died in an accident. A New York Times article about his death calls him “Russia’s most wanted man” and the “elusive terrorist leader of the most vicious separatist faction in Chechnya.” He is further described as “an airplane hijacker, a hostage taker, a guerrilla commander, and a war-scarred spokesman for terror who tried to justify mass killings of civilians, even school children, for political ends and revenge.” Basayev was from Chechnya, but he linked up with foreign Islamists such as Ibn Khattab at an early stage in Chechnya’s war against Russia (see February 1995-1996), and he led the Islamist faction of Chechen rebels until his death. Basayev’s death comes just weeks after the killing of Abdul Khalim Saidullayev, the rebel president of Chechnya, dealing the rebel movement a devastating double blow. [New York Times, 7/10/2006; New York Times, 7/11/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that show the Defense Department ignored requests from senior military commanders for clarification regarding interrogation tactics. In January 2003, military commanders in Afghanistan requested clarification from Pentagon officials as to what interrogation methods could be used against prisoners in US custody. Those officials ignored the request (see January 2003). “It is the Defense Department’s responsibility to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely, as the Geneva Conventions require,” says ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “But as these documents show, the Defense Department allowed abusive interrogation practices to flourish.” The documents also show that at least one unit in Afghanistan operated for eight months under rules of interrogation that had been rescinded (see May 2004). In other instances, field and unit commanders came up with their own rules for interrogation. One commander at Guantanamo came up with his own definition of sleep deprivation, according to the documents: “I define ‘sleep deprivation’ as keeping a detainee awake continuously for five or six day’s [sic] straight.” Another unit determined that, if soldiers could be subjected to 20-hour days in training, it should be acceptable to subject prisoners to similar conditions: “If it was okay to subject our soldiers to twenty-hour days, then in our mind’s [sic] it was okay to subject the terrorists to twenty-hour interrogations.” In one instance, a detainee was interrogated for 20 hours every day for almost two months. “These documents further confirm that systemic command failures led to the widespread abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “Only an independent investigation into detainee abuse can be trusted to hold relevant officials accountable for such failures.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006]
Using new legislation that outlaws the glorification of terrorism, the British government bans the British militant groups Al-Ghuraaba and the Saviour Sect (a.k.a. the Saved Sect). The two groups were formed in late 2004, when radical imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed disbanded his group Al-Muhajiroun (see October 2004). But Bakri continued to lead the two new groups and after sending a reporter uncover to infiltrate the groups, the Sunday Times concluded the two groups were “Al-Muhajiroun in all but name” (see July 9, 2005 and Shortly Afterwards). In announcing the banning of the two groups, Home Secretary John Reid says that he is “committed to ensuring that those organizations that change their name do not avoid the consequences of proscription.” [London Times, 7/19/2006] However, just three months later, the Sunday Times will report that the two groups continue to operate after simply merging back together and changing their name yet again, this time to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. The group now mainly operates through the Internet, since Bakri has moved to Lebanon (see August 6, 2005). Anjem Choudary, another long-time leader of Al-Muhajiroun still living in Britain, apparently continues to run the group’s operations there. [Sunday Times (London), 10/29/2006] Despite Reid’s promise not to be deterred by a simple name change, as of 2008 the “new” group has yet to be banned.
US and British counterterrorism officials argue over whether to arrest a group of Islamic extremists plotting to blow up airliners over the Atlantic in a Bojinka-style plot using liquid bombs (see August 10, 2006). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 234-7; MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Surveillance of the plotters is a British operation, but the US is kept fully informed and even President Bush is personally briefed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair on July 28. [Times (London), 9/8/2009; Times (London), 9/8/2009] Andy Hayman, assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, will write in 2009: “Fearful for the safety of American lives, the US authorities had been getting edgy, seeking reassurance that this was not going to slip through our hands. We moved from having congenial conversations to eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations.” [Times (London), 9/8/2009] In the end, a senior CIA official travels to Pakistan. There he induces the local authorities to arrest one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf, who is in that country (see Between July 28 and August 9, 2006), necessitating a wave of arrests in Britain. After the plot is revealed and some of the plotters are arrested, some British officials will complain that the US triggered the arrests too early, saying further investigation could have led to other accomplices. One US official will say that the missed opportunities leading up to 9/11 put US intelligence services more on edge. These charges initially meet with official denials. Frances Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, says: “[W]e worked together to protect our citizens from harm while ensuring that we gathered as much info as possible to bring the plotters to justice. There was no disagreement between US and [British] officials.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 234-7; MSNBC, 8/14/2006] However, details of the dispute will become undeniably clear after the liquid bomb plotters are found guilty in Britain. [Times (London), 9/8/2009; Times (London), 9/8/2009]
Jose Rodriguez, head of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA, travels to Pakistan to order local authorities there to arrest a militant named Rashid Rauf. Rauf is currently in Pakistan, but is a key figure in a British-based conspiracy to blow up several airliners with liquid bombs (see August 10, 2006). The British had briefed US officials on the surveillance of the plotters, but the US had pushed for immediate arrests, whereas Britain wanted to monitor the men for longer to gather evidence for a later prosecution (see Before August 10, 2006). After the Pakistani authorities follow Rodriguez’s instruction to arrest Rauf—without the British being notified in advance—the British have no choice but to prematurely arrest the other plotters, as they fear they will learn of Rauf’s arrest and begin to destroy evidence and disperse. According to the London Times, Rodriguez is ordered to Pakistan by US Vice President Dick Cheney. Michael Clarke, director of the British Royal United Services Institute, will say that after British Prime Minister Tony Blair briefed President Bush on July 28: “Vice President Cheney despatched a man called Jose Rodriguez to Pakistan in secret.… And after Mr Rodriguez’s arrival in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf was picked up. The British were hopping mad about that, because it meant that on August 10 they had no choice but to move in on this plot before all the evidence was as mature as possible. There is a general belief in British security circles that the despatch of Mr Rodriguez to [Pakistan] came straight from the White House.” Based on Clarke’s assessment and other sources, including Andy Hayman, former assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, the Times will conclude that Cheney “nearly destroyed Britain’s efforts to bring the airline bomb plotters to justice.” [Times (London), 9/8/2009]
A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. [Source: Public domain / James Dahl]In late July 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group, conquers the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Somalia has long been divided by various warlords and factions, but the ICU soon takes over much of the country. Within days of taking Mogadishu, a number of large Russian-made cargo planes begin landing in Mogadishu’s newly reopened airport, bringing in weapons for the ICU. US military officials order an investigation as to who is supplying the ICU, and within weeks US intelligence concludes that the planes are owned by companies linked to Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. Soon, intelligence confirms that Bout is working closely not only with Islamist militias in Somalia, but also their allies in nearby Eritrea. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254-255] The ICU will lose control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia in December 2006 after Ethiopia invades the country (see December 24, 2006-January 2007), but the group continues fighting. Bout’s flights will continue into 2007. In July 2007, a Sunday Times reporter posing as a middleman for the ICU will arrange an arms deal with Alexander Radionov, who runs a front company linked to Bout. Had the reporter paid, Radionov would have parachuted eight tons of ammunition into Somalia. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Bout had previously worked with other al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups, including the Taliban (see Summer 2002), but he has also been supplying the US military in Iraq since war began there in 2003 (see Late April 2003).
The US and UN finally officially designates the Philippines and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as a financier of terrorism. Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, executive director of the IRRO’s far east division, is similarly designated as well. The IIRO is a major charity connected to the Saudi government that has long been suspected of financing Islamic militant groups (see January 1996). It was reported shortly after 9/11 that the US left the IIRO off a list of designated terrorism financiers so as to not embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). The Philippine IIRO branch in particular has been publicly accused of funding al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, due to the activities of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who headed that branch when he funded the Bojinka plot in the early 1990s (see 1987-1991). [Associated Press, 8/3/2006; Manila Times, 12/12/2006] A US Treasury Department press release says Al-Mujil has been nicknamed the “million dollar man” for his “long history of providing support to terrorist organizations.” He is accused of funding the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. He is said to have had relationships with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The press release also calls “a senior al-Qaeda member” and accuses the current director of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, “a trusted associate of Khalifa.” But curiously, Khalifa himself is still not officially listed, nor is Daguit. He will die in mysterious circumstances several months later. [Treasury Department, 8/3/2006]
General John Abizaid testifies before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. [Source: Washington Note]General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has grown so severe that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. “A couple of days ago, I returned from the Middle East,” he says. “I’ve rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile. There’s an obvious struggle in the region between moderates and extremists that touches every aspect of life.” He continues, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” The New York Times reports that “the tone of the testimony at the Armed Services Committee’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing was strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments, which have sought to accentuate the positive even as officials acknowledged that Iraq’s government was struggling to assert authority and assure security amid a tide of violence.” [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
Harsh Criticism of Rumsfeld - Abizaid is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld had initially refused to attend the hearing, but agreed to attend after Senate Democrats criticized his refusal. Neither Rumsfeld nor Pace contradict Abizaid’s assessments, though Rumsfeld emphasizes that the war must not be lost. Pace notes that while civil war is possible, he does not believe it is “probable,” and Abizaid says he is “optimistic that that slide [into civil war] can be prevented.” Some of the harshest criticism of Rumsfeld comes from committee member Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who tells him that he failed to send enough troops to Iraq in the 2003 invasion “to establish law and order,” he erred by disbanding the Iraqi army, he failed to plan adequately for the occupation phase, and he “underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.” Now, she says, “we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration’s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?” Rumsfeld responds, “My goodness,” and then says: “First of all, it’s true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it’s an unfortunate and tragic thing that that’s taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, and taking off the heads of people on television. And the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.” Clinton will call for Rumsfeld’s resignation later in the day (see August 3, 2006). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
'Whack-a-Mole' - Because of the continued instability in Iraq, Abizaid says, there is little possibility that US troops will be able to return home in any significant numbers before at least the end of the year. Instead, he says, more US troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad to contain the worsening violence in the capital, and warns that the US will undoubtedly suffer serious casualties in that operation. Acknowledging the necessity for US soldiers to stay in Iraq for the immediate future, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) finds the military’s practice of moving those soldiers from one violence-ridden part of Iraq to another little more than playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” McCain says, “What I worry about is we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole here,” with insurgent activity popping up in places that troops have vacated. “Now we’re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else. It’s very disturbing.” McCain will wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a “surge” of more American troops into Iraq (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
Ayman al-Zawahiri announcing a link-up between al-Qaeda and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. [Source: Al Jazeera]A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video recording, which is aired on Al Jazeera. In the video he says that the Egyptian group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has joined forces with al-Qaeda and the two will form “one line, facing its enemies.” The spiritual leader of Al-Gama is the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, currently in prison in the US on terror charges (see (April 25-May 1989) and 1997-2002). Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader Mohamed Hakaima appears in the video and confirms the link-up. Before it was folded into al-Qaeda, Al-Zawahiri himself headed the Egyptian organization Islamic Jihad, which had sometimes worked with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. However, Al-Gam’a al-Islamiyya, which renounced violence in 1998 following which hundreds of its members were released from jail, denies the alliance, and analysts say that Hakaima is not a top leader in the organization. It issues a statement in Egypt that “categorically denies” al-Zawahiri’s claims, and a former leader, Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, says, “If [some] brothers… have joined, then this is their personal view and I don’t think that most Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members share that same opinion.” [CNN, 8/5/2006; Al Jazeera, 8/7/2006]
Harun Shirzad al-Afghani. [Source: Defense Department]Harun Shirzad al-Afghani is an alleged veteran Islamist militant held in Guanatanamo prison starting in 2007. His Guantanamo file will later be leaked to the public, and it states that he is believed to have attended an important meeting of militant groups on August 11, 2006. A letter found with al-Afghani explains that the meeting is meant to bring together senior figures in the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (a Pakistani militant group), and Hezb-i-Islami (another militant group, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). But most interestingly, the file claims that senior Pakistani military and ISI (intelligence) officials also attend the meeting. The meeting discusses coordination of attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Plans are made to “increase terrorist operations” in certain Afghanistan provinces, including suicide bombings, assassinations, and mines. Al-Afghani also allegedly tells his Guantanamo interrogators that in 2006 an unnamed ISI officer pays an Islamist militant a large sum of money to transport ammunition into Afghanistan to help al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hezb-e-Islami. Al-Afghani’s file describes him as a leader both in al-Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami, with links to important leaders in both groups predating the 9/11 attacks. He is captured in Afghanistan in February 2007 and transferred to Guantanamo several months later. [Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 8/2/2007 ; Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton. [Source: CBC]Lee Hamilton, the former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, gives a wide-ranging interview to the CBC about Without Precedent, a book he recently co-authored about his time on the 9/11 Commission (see August 15, 2006). In the interview he discusses the various “conspiracy theories” surrounding the events of 9/11. The interviewer, Evan Solomon, mentions to him a recent Zogby poll (see May 17, 2006) that found that 42% of Americans agreed that “the US government, and its 9/11 Commission, concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts the official explanation of September 11th.” Hamilton calls this lack of trust in the Commission’s report “dispiriting,” but attacks the “conspiracy theory people,” saying, “when they make an assertion they do it often on very flimsy evidence.” He addresses some of the various “conspiracy theories” that have been put forward about 9/11:
In order to contradict the allegation that the Twin Towers were brought down deliberately with pre-planted explosives, Hamilton says the WTC collapsed (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001) because “the super-heated jet fuel melted the steel super-structure of these buildings and caused their collapse.” He adds, “There’s a powerful lot of evidence to sustain that point of view, including the pictures of the airplanes flying into the building.”
With regard to the collapse of WTC Building 7 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), which some people claim was also caused by explosives, he argues, “[W]e believe that it was the aftershocks of these two huge buildings in the very near vicinity collapsing. And in the Building 7 case, we think that it was a case of flames setting off a fuel container, which started the fire in Building 7, and that was our theory on Building 7.” However, the interviewer points out that the 9/11 Commission’s final report does not actually mention the collapse of Building 7, and Hamilton says he does not recall whether the Commission made a specific decision to leave it out.
In reply to a question about why the debris of Building 7 were moved quickly from the scene without a thorough investigation, even though nobody died in Building 7 and there was no need for rescue operations there, Hamilton responds, “You can’t answer every question when you conduct an investigation.”
When asked whether Saeed Sheikh sent Mohamed Atta $100,000 for the 9/11 plot (see Early August 2001 and Summer 2001 and before), Hamilton replies, “I don’t know anything about it.” When the interviewer presses him about whether the Commission investigated a possible Pakistani Secret Service (ISI) connection to the attacks, Hamilton replies, “They may have; I do not recall us writing anything about it in the report. We may have but I don’t recall it.”
Asked about Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s claim that Vice President Dick Cheney was in the presidential bunker beneath the White House at 9:20 a.m. on 9/11 (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), almost 40 minutes earlier than the Commission claimed he had arrived there, Hamilton replies, “I do not recall.” When pressed, he expands, “Well, we think that Vice President Cheney entered the bunker shortly before 10 o’clock. And there is a gap of several minutes there, where we do not really know what the Vice President really did. There is the famous phone call between the President and the Vice President. We could find no documentary evidence of that phone call.”
When the interviewer points out that Richard Clarke’s account conflicts with the Commission’s over what time authorization was received from Dick Cheney to shoot down Flight 93 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Hamilton retorts, “Look, you’ve obviously gone through the report with a fine-toothed comb, you’re raising a lot of questions—I can do the same thing.”
The interviewer also asks Hamilton whether he has any unanswered questions of his own about 9/11. Hamilton’s response is: “I could never figure out why these 19 fellas did what they did. We looked into their backgrounds. In one or two cases, they were apparently happy, well-adjusted, not particularly religious - in one case quite well-to-do, had a girlfriend. We just couldn’t figure out why he did it. I still don’t know.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/21/2006]
On September 15, 2006, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Pakistani government has recently released thousands of Islamist militants. Pakistani lawyers involved in court cases say that 2,500 foreigners who were originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban have been freed. Many are released in the wake of a peace accord was signed between the Pakistani government and militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions in early September (see September 5, 2006), but some are released in the months before that accord. A US diplomat based in Pakistan complains, “We have repeatedly warned Pakistan over arresting and then releasing suspects. We are monitoring their response with great concern.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2006]
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [Source: FBI]Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, said to be an adviser to Osama bin Laden, is captured and detained in a secret CIA prison. President Bush announced on September 6, 2006 that the secret CIA prisons have just been emptied, at least temporarily (see September 2-3, 2006 and September 6, 2006). Nonetheless, Al-Hadi is put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Very little is known about al-Hadi’s arrest, which will not even be announced until late April 2007, shortly after he is transferred to the Guantanamo prison. It is unknown whether he is captured before Bush’s announcement (in which case he should have been sent to Guantanamo with other high-ranking prisoners), or after. [Salon, 5/22/2007] Prior to Al-Hadi’s arrest, the US government had posted a $1 million reward for his capture. His reward announcement calls him “one of Osama bin Laden’s top global deputies, personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.… He has been associated with numerous attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been known to facilitate communication between al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” The announcement notes that al-Hadi once served as a major in the Iraqi army, and he may still be in contact with bin Laden. [Rewards for Justice, 1/4/2007] In 2005, Newsweek reported that al-Hadi had been the main liaison between bin Laden and the independent minded Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. [Newsweek, 4/4/2005]
Karl Eikenberry. [Source: NATO]In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 383] The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
By autumn 2006, al-Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan’s tribal region near the border of Afghanistan appears to be short on funds. But a peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in the tribal region of North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006) gives al-Qaeda’s leaders breathing room and allows them to receive money from new sources abroad. US intelligence determines that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is increasingly funded by the Iraq war. Operatives in Iraq are raising considerable sums from donations to the anti-US insurgency there, as well as criminal activity such as kidnappings for ransom common in the chaos of the Iraq war zone. Al-Qaeda’s central command had previously sent money outward to Iraq and elsewhere. A senior US counterterrorism official will say in 2007, “Iraq is a big moneymaker for them.” The Pakistani peace deal with militants results in tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers withdrawing from the tribal regions. This in turn allows militants to move between Pakistan and Iraq much easier than before. This official will say there are “lots of indications they can move people in and out easier,” and that operatives from Iraq often bring money. “A year ago we were saying they were having serious money problems. That seems to have eased up.” It is also believed that Taliban forces in Afghanistan are now being taught by al-Qaeda operatives experienced with fighting US forces in Iraq. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
In early September 2006, Anwar al-Awlaki is arrested in Yemen at the request of the US government. Al-Awlaki served as imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers when they lived in the US (see March 2001 and After). [Australian, 11/4/2006] However, al-Awlaki is released in December 2007. The US was limited in how much it could pressure the government of Yemen to keep holding him, because he has never been formally charged with any crime. In a taped interview shortly after his release, he claims that while he was imprisoned in Yemen, he was interrogated by the FBI multiple times and asked about his dealings with the 9/11 hijackers. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] According to the New York Times, “by the end of 2007, American officials, some of whom were disturbed at the imprisonment without charges of a United States citizen, signaled that they no longer insisted on al-Awlaki’s incarceration, and he was released.” [New York Times, 5/8/2010] By February 2008, just two months after US officials approved his release, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan by province, 2005. Based on satellite surveys and other analysis by the UN. Redder provinces produce more. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)The United Nations says Afghanistan’s latest opium harvest is the biggest ever. The harvest was 6,100 metric tons (enough for 610 tons of heroin), an increase of nearly 50 percent from the year before. This is 92 percent of the world total and 30 percent more than global consumption. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s drug office, says, “It is indeed very bad, you can say it is out of control.” He says the Taliban have profited from the drug trade, and they promise protection to growers who expand their operations. 400,000 acres were planted with poppies in 2006; about ten percent of these poppy fields were destroyed by the Afghan government’s eradication program. About five percent was destroyed in the previous year. [New York Times, 9/2/2006; Associated Press, 9/3/2006]
Mohamad Farik Amin. [Source: FBI]The US temporarily closes a network of secret CIA prisons around the world and transfers the most valuable prisoners to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, for eventual military tribunals. The prison network will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). There were reportedly fewer than 100 suspects in the CIA prisons; most of them are apparently sent back to their home countries while fourteen are sent to Guantanamo. All fourteen have some connection to al-Qaeda. Seven of them reportedly had some connection to the 9/11 attacks. Here are their names, nationalities, and the allegations against them.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He is the suspected mastermind of 9/11 attacks and many other al-Qaeda attacks. A CIA biography of KSM calls him “one of history’s most infamous terrorists.”
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks.
Hambali (Indonesian). He attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and is accused of involvement in many other plots, including the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002).
Khallad bin Attash (a.k.a. Tawfiq bin Attash) (Yemeni). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and had a role in other plots such as the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000).
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks and arranged transportation for some hijackers. His uncle is KSM.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Yemeni). A member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. The CIA calls him the “primary communications intermediary” between the hijackers and KSM. He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (Saudi). He is said to have been one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
The remaining seven suspects are alleged to have been involved in other al-Qaeda plots:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian, raised in Saudi Arabia). He is said to be a facilitator who helped make travel arrangements for al-Qaeda operatives. He is also alleged to have organized a series of planned millennium attacks.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (Tanzanian). He was indicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is also said to be an expert document forger.
Majid Khan (Pakistani). He lived in the US since 1996 and is said to have worked with KSM on some US bomb plots (see March 5, 2003).
Abu Faraj al-Libbi (a.k.a. Mustafa al-‘Uzayti) (Libyan). He allegedly became al-Qaeda’s top operations officer after KSM was captured.
Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate and was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate. He is accused of providing funds for the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia (see August 5, 2003). He was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
Gouled Hassan Dourad (Somali). He allegedly scouted a US military base in Djibouti for a planned terrorist attack.
The fourteen are expected to go on trial in 2007. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/6/2006; USA Today, 9/7/2006]
Entity Tags: Majid Khan, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Mohamad Farik Amin, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Hambali, Gouled Hassan Dourad, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Khallad bin Attash, Abu Zubaida, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with rebels in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as Waziristan. This is the area where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have a strong influence and many believe al-Qaeda’s top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hiding there. The accord effectively puts an end to fighting between the Pakistani army and the rebels. Details of the accord are published in a Pakistani newspaper the next day. The main points include:
The Pakistani government agrees to stop attacks in Waziristan.
Militants are to cease cross-border movement into and out of Afghanistan.
Foreign jihadists will have to leave Pakistan, but “those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement.”
Area check-points and border patrols will be manned by a tribal force and the Pakistan army will withdraw from control points.
No parallel administration will be established in the area, but Pakistan law will remain in force.
Tribal leaders will ensure that no one attacks government personnel or damages state property.
The Pakistani government will release captured militants and will pay compensation for property damage and the deaths of innocent civilians. [Dawn (Karachi), 9/6/2006] The deal is negotiated and signed by Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai, who had become the governor of the nearby North-West Frontier Province some months earlier. Orakzai, a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, is known to hate the US and NATO and admire militant groups such as the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Two days later, President Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 7, 2006). The Wall Street Journal comments that Musharraf decided to approve the deal in order to take care of “an even bigger security problem: a growing rebellion in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan.” He does not have the forces to deal with widespread violence in both regions. [Wall Street Journal, 9/8/2006]
A similar deal was made with South Waziristan in February 2005 (see February 7, 2005). The agreement will soon be seen as a big success for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In July 2007, the Washington Post will report that senior US intelligence officials attribute “the resurgence of bin Laden’s organization almost entirely to its protected safe haven among tribal groups in North Waziristan…” (see July 18, 2007). The same month, the Bush administration will publicly call the accord a failure as it collapses amidst an all out fight between the government and militants in Pakistan (see July 11-Late July, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Ali Jan Orakzai. [Source: Farooq Naeem/ Agence France-Presse]On September 5, 2006, the government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with militants in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as Waziristan (see September 5, 2006). Two days later, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Lt. Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai come to the White House to meet with President Bush about the deal. Orakzai is the military commander of the region encompassing the region. He reportedly hates the US and sympathizes with the Taliban, calling them a “national liberation movement” (see Late 2002-Late 2003). In a presentation to Bush, Orakzai advocates a strategy that would rely even more heavily on cease-fires, and says striking deals with the Taliban inside Afghanistan could allow US forces to withdraw from Afghanistan within seven years. Bush supports the deal, saying in public that same day that it would not create safe havens for the Taliban and could even offer “alternatives to violence and terror.” He does add the cautionary note, “You know we are watching this very carefully, obviously.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277; New York Times, 6/30/2008] But three months later, the US State Department will publicly deem the deal a failure for US policy (see November-December 2006). Some US officials will begin to refer to Orakzai as a “snake oil salesman.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Top: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (left) shaking hands with Mohammed Atef (right). Bottom: Bin al-Shibh (left) with bin Laden (right). [Source: Al Jazeera]Al Jazeera television broadcasts previously unseen footage of Osama bin Laden meeting with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was a roommate and close associate of some of the 9/11 hijackers. The footage is said to have been released by al-Qaeda’s production company, As-Sahab, in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin al-Shibh is seen sitting and talking with bin Laden and al-Qaeda military leader Mohammed Atef. Atef was killed in November 2001 (see November 15, 2001), so the footage has to be from before then, but it is unknown if it was filmed before or after 9/11. Bin Laden is also shown strolling through an Afghanistan training camp meeting followers. Al Jazeera says some of these followers include some of the 9/11 hijackers, but their faces are not seen so it is unclear if this is the case. But bin Laden addresses the camera at one point and says of his followers preparing for missions, “I ask you to pray for them and to ask God to make them successful, aim their shots well, set their feet strong, and strengthen their hearts.” The video also includes the last testaments of two of the hijackers, Wail Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi filmed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in March 2001 (see September 7, 2006 and (December 2000-March 2001)). [Associated Press, 9/7/2006; CNN, 9/8/2006]
Hamza Alghamdi, top, and Wail Alshehri, bottom, in their martyr videos. [Source: Al Jazeera]Two more martyr videos of 9/11 hijackers are broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. Al-Qaeda has released some hijacker martyr videos before, usually around 9/11 anniversaries. One of the new videos is of Wail Alshehri. In it he says: “If struggle and jihad is not mandatory now, then when is it mandatory?… When is it time to help Muslims who are under fire in Chechnya? And what about Kashmir and the Philippines? Blood continues to flow. When will it be?” [CNN, 9/8/2006] The other video is of Hamza Alghamdi. In it he says, “If we are content with being humiliated and inclined to comfort, the tooth of the enemy will stretch from Jerusalem to Mecca, and then everyone will regret on a day when regret is of no use.” The videos were made by As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm. Footage of 9/11 destruction has been digitally added to the backgrounds of the videos after 9/11. [Associated Press, 9/7/2006] Both videos were probably recorded around March 2001, when most of the 9/11 hijackers recorded martyr videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)). The two videos are released at the same time as previously unknown footage of Osama bin Laden with 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 7, 2006).
Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. [Source: Defense Department / Helene C. Stikkel]The Washington Post reports in a front page story, “The clandestine US commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast US intelligence world—no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image—has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to US and Pakistani officials.” It is widely believed by US intelligence that bin Laden is hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. Since May 2005, al-Qaeda has killed at least 23 tribal leaders in the region who are opposed to them, making intelligence collection increasingly difficult. There is no single person in charge of the US search for bin Laden with authority to direct covert operations. One counterterrorism official complains, “There’s nobody in the United States government whose job it is to find Osama bin Laden! Nobody!” However, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has become the de facto leader of the search. In recent months, President Bush has requested that the CIA “flood the zone” to gain better intelligence and efforts have stepped up. But at the same time, “Pakistan has grown increasingly reluctant to help the US search.… Pakistani and US counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. ‘The dirty little secret is, [the US has] nothing, no operations, without the Paks,’ one former counterterrorism officer said.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2006]
A video lasting one hour and 16 minutes is released by a man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He calls on Muslims to resist the US, threatens “new events,” and says, “Your leaders are hiding from you the true extent of the disaster.” He also calls for the release of the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and says attacks on Westeners and Jews are considered fair, as “the reality of international politics is the humiliation and repression of the Muslim at the hands of the idol-kings who dominate this world.” In addition, he comments that the war in Afghanistan “is very good” for the Taliban, and that allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are “doomed.” The video, which was made available by being posted on the Internet, references recent events such as a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to CNN, the video is “more technically sophisticated” than previous al-Qaeda videos, as it has subtitles, a highlights section at the beginning, and an interviewer who asks the man thought to be al-Zawahiri questions. [CNN, 9/11/2006]
It is reported that the US has not conducted a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups since 9/11. An NIE is a formal, top-secret analysis about a particular threat combining intelligence from all relevant government agencies. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, says, “When I left the CIA in November 2004, they had not done an NIE on al-Qaeda. In fact, there has never been an NIE on the subject since the 1990s.” The last NIE on the subject in fact was released in 1997 (see 1997 and Late 2000-September 10, 2001). Rolling Stone magazine concludes, “Today, the [NIE] process remains bogged down in interagency disputes—largely because of resistance by the Pentagon to any conclusions that would weaken its primary role in counterterrorism. As a result, the Bush administration remains uncertain about the true nature of the terrorist foes that America faces—and unable to devise an effective strategy to combat those foes.” [Rolling Stone, 9/12/2006]
Pakistani journalist Amir Mir tells CNN: “Pakistan is essentially for the Taliban. Almost their entire leadership of Taliban is hiding in Quetta.” Quetta is a Pakistani town close to the Afghan border. CNN further reports that “American intelligence officials say, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar is also living in Quetta.” Senior British government officials say they are angry Pakistan has not rounded up the Taliban leadership “who they say are planning and plotting and getting stronger from the safety of Pakistan.” [CNN, 9/12/2006] The Christian Science Monitor came to a similar conclusion in May 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Several months later, a captured Taliban spokesman will say that Omar is living in Quetta under the protection of the Pakistani ISI (see January 17, 2007).
President Bush tells a journalist that getting Osama bin Laden is a low priority compared to getting intelligence to stop new attacks. Fred Barnes, executive director of the Weekly Standard, and some other journalists met with Bush on September 12, 2006. Asked the next day on Fox News if Bush thinks catching bin Laden is “priority number one,” Barnes replies, “Well, he said, look, you can send 100,000 special forces, that’s the figure he used, to the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan and hunt him down, but he just said that’s not a top priority use of American resources. His vision of a war on terror is one that involves intelligence to find out from people, to get tips, to follow them up and break up plots to kill Americans before they occur. That’s what happened recently in that case of the planes that were to be blown up by terrorists, we think coming from England, and that’s the top priority. He says, you know, getting Osama bin Laden is a low priority compared to that.” [Fox News, 9/13/2006]
Security camera footage of the Pentagon attack, from the nearby Doubletree Hotel. [Source: Public domain]In mid-September 2006, the FBI releases never-before-seen footage from security cameras at a Citgo gas station near the Pentagon, recorded on the morning of 9/11. Agents seized the video just minutes after the attack on the Pentagon (see (After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FBI releases it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and related lawsuit by the public interest group Judicial Watch. Many people believed the footage would show the strike on the Pentagon. However, the video, depicting views from the gas station’s six security cameras, shows that these cameras apparently did not capture it. The footage has been partially obscured by the FBI, though, to protect the privacy of individuals who were in the Citgo convenience store at the time it was recorded. [Citgo, 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2006 ; CNS News, 9/15/2006; Judicial Watch, 9/15/2006] Early in December, the FBI releases more security camera footage from the morning of 9/11, taken from atop the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, which it also seized after the attacks. This is also in response to the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch and others. The grainy video does not show American Airlines 77 in flight, but does show the explosion after the Pentagon was hit. According to Judicial Watch, this “seemingly contradicts a sworn FBI affidavit in a related case claiming that the Doubletree security recordings ‘did not show the impact of Flight 77 into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.’” [Doubletree Hotel, 9/11/2001; CNN, 12/2/2006; KWTX, 12/4/2006; Judicial Watch, 12/7/2006] In the weeks after 9/11, it was reported that FBI investigators confiscated footage of the impact on the Pentagon from a hotel nearby (see September 21, 2001). Whether the hotel referred to was the Doubletree is unknown. Judicial Watch is trying to obtain 9/11 footage from cameras at the Sheraton National Hotel, which is also near the Pentagon. [Leader-Telegram, 9/12/2001; Judicial Watch, 5/16/2006; CNN, 5/17/2006]
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) holds a press briefing offering its analysis of the 9/11 attacks. Speaking at the event are former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, AEI fellow David Wurmser, AEI fellow Michael Ledeen, and one-time Harvard assistant professor Laurie Mylroie. Speaking first is Mylroie, who argues that al-Qaeda could not have pulled the attacks off without the help of Saddam Hussein. “There has been no clear demonstration that Osama bin Laden was involved in Tuesday’s assault on the United States, but there’s been a lot of speculation to that effect, and it may turn out that he is. So assume that he is because I think the key question will be, how likely is it that Osama bin Laden’s group or any other group carried out these attacks alone, unassisted by a state? I’d like to suggest that it is extremely unlikely—in fact, next to impossible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 67]
Two simultaneous suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in Yemen fail. The Safer refinery in Marib and the al-Dhabba terminal in Hadramout are attacked by four suicide bombers with car bombs, but Yemeni security forces blow the cars up just before they reach their targets. The four suicide bombers and one security guard are killed. The attacks come just a few days after al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks on oil facilities in the Persian Gulf region. A Yemeni court later sentences 32 men to between two and 15 years in jail for their roles in the attacks. Three of them are alleged al-Qaeda operatives tried in absentia who escaped from prison earlier in 2006 (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 11/7/2007] Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam for several of the 9/11 hijackers while they lived in the US, was arrested in Yemen earlier in the month (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He allegedly also has a role preparing for the foiled attacks. [Australian, 11/3/2006; Australian, 11/4/2006] The attempted attacks also come just days before Yemen’s presidential elections. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power since 1978, quickly uses the attacks to criticize his opponent, because one of the opponents’ guards was accused of being involved. The guard is later acquitted. Saleh wins reelection. [New York Times, 3/1/2008] In 2008, one anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Washington Post that some important al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Sir Richard Dannatt. [Source: Associated Press]The London Times later reports that British forces in Afghanistan have cut a secret truce with the Taliban around this time, ceding authority in a portion of the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan to Taliban forces and agreeing to withdraw entirely from the region. The region centers around the town of Musa Qala, where British forces have sustained heavy losses attempting to defend a government outpost. Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, has recently warned that British troops in Afghanistan were stretched to their capacity and can only “just” cope with the demands placed on them. According to the truce, both Taliban and British forces will withdraw from the region, but few believe the Taliban will adhere to the agreement. A British officer concedes, “There is always a risk. But if it works, it will provide a good template for the rest of Helmand. The people of Sangin are already saying they want a similar deal.” One British officer sent a recent e-mail, published days earlier, saying in frustration, “We are not having an effect on the average Afghan. At the moment we are no better than the Taliban in their eyes, as all they can see is us moving into an area, blowing things up and leaving, which is very sad.” [London Times, 10/1/2006]
Abu Bakker Qassim. [Source: McClatchy News]Abu Bakker Qassim, a Chinese Muslim and a member of that country’s Uighur minority, writes a column for the New York Times concerning what he says is his wrongful imprisonment at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Qassim is writing to protest Congress’s consideration of passing legislation that would deny Guantanamo detainees their habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in federal court. Qassim says he and 17 of his fellow Uighurs fled Chinese government oppression and went to Afghanistan, where they were captured by Pakistani bounty hunters and “sold… to the United States military like animals for $5,000 a head. The Americans made a terrible mistake.” After he and four other Uighurs were granted court hearings, US authorities deported them to Albania. “Without my American lawyers and habeas corpus, my situation and that of the other Uighurs would still be a secret,” he writes. “I would be sitting in a metal cage today. Habeas corpus helped me to tell the world that Uighurs are not a threat to the United States or the West, but an ally. Habeas corpus cleared my name—and most important, it let my family know that I was still alive.” Qassim says that like his fellow Uighurs, he is “a great admirer of the American legal and political systems.” He continues: “I have the utmost respect for the United States Congress. So I respectfully ask American lawmakers to protect habeas corpus and let justice prevail. Continuing to permit habeas rights to the detainees in Guantanamo will not set the guilty free. It will prove to the world that American democracy is safe and well.” [New York Times, 9/17/2006] Because of this editorial, Qassim and four other Uighurs will be dubbed “returning to terrorist activities” by the Pentagon (see January 13-14, 2009).
Omar Khyam somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, date unknown. [Source: Public domain]A man on trial in Britain for participation in a fertilizer bomb plot halts his testimony, claiming that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency has threatened his family in Pakistan if he continues to talk. Omar Khyam, a Pakistani-Briton, is accused of leading an al-Qaeda linked plot to blow up an unknown target in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Six others are on trial. In testimony on previous days, Khyam confessed to attending a militant training camp in 2000 in the mountains above Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He says that the camp was run by the ISI, and he trained with AK-47 rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. But on the third day of testimony, when asked if he had bought the fertilizer to make a bomb in Britain, he responds: “Before we go on to that topic, I just want to say the ISI in Pakistan has had words with my family relating to what I have been saying about them. I think they are worried I might reveal more about them, so right now, as much as I want to clarify matters, the priority for me has to be the safety of my family so I am going to stop.” He adds, “I am not going to discuss anything related to the ISI any more or my evidence.” [Guardian, 9/19/2006; BBC, 4/30/2007] The ISI has a reputation of arresting family members and threatening them to accomplish their goals. For instance, when Saeed Sheikh was wanted for the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, the ISI reportedly rounded up 10 members of his family and threatened to harm them, forcing him to turn himself in to the ISI. He later refused to discuss his connection to the ISI, only saying: “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed” (see February 5, 2002). [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Khyam will be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004).
NATO Commander Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, says that the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to profit from the sale of opium in Afghanistan. He says: “We’re losing ground. It affects the insurgency because there’s increasing evidence that a lot of funding goes from the narcotics traffickers to the criminal elements, to what’s left of al-Qaeda, to the Taliban and anyone else that wants to create mischief.” [ABC News, 9/21/2006]
In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, NATO supreme commander General James L. Jones testifies that the Taliban headquarters is in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban presence there has been widely known in intelligence circles since at least 2003 (see April 22, 2003), but this marks the first time a major US figure publicly acknowledges the fact. However, the US still is not pressuring Pakistan very much over the issue. For instance, President Bush did not even bring up the issue when he hosted a dinner recently for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [International Herald Tribune, 10/12/2006]
Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).
Omar al-Faruq in an al-Qaeda propaganda video filmed not long before his death. [Source: Public domain]An al-Qaeda leader who escaped from a US prison the year before is killed in Iraq. Omar al-Faruq is killed in a pre-dawn raid by British soldiers in the city of Basra. About 250 soldiers wearing night vision goggles attempted to take al-Faruq alive, but he is killed in a shoot-out. Al-Faruq was born to Iraqi parents and grew up in neighboring Kuwait. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz comments: “It’s surprising for someone like him to be able to make it to Iraq, where everyone knows how he looks. The guy has long al-Qaeda records.” Experts are especially surprised to find he was in Basra, a heavily Shiite area not friendly to Sunni militants like al-Faruq. A neighbor says that al-Faruq arrived about a month earlier and had relatives in a nearby Sunni enclave. Al-Faruq escaped from the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan in July 2005 (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 9/26/2006]
The BBC reports on a leaked report about Pakistan from a senior officer at the Defence Academy, a think tank run by the British Ministry of Defence. The author remains anonymous, but he is said to be a man with a military background linked to the MI6, Britain’s external intelligence service. The Ministry of Defence and British government in general say it does not represent their official views. The paper has the following conclusions about Pakistan and the war on terrorism:
Pakistan is not stable, and in fact is on the edge of chaos.
The Pakistani government, through its ISI intelligence agency, has been indirectly supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and attacks overseas, such as the 7/7 London bombings.
Western governments have been turning a blind eye towards Pakistan’s instability and indirect protection of al-Qaeda.
The US and Britain cannot hope to win against Islamist militant group until they identify the real enemies and seek to implement a more just vision. This will require Pakistan to move away from military rule and for the ISI to be dismantled and replaced.
Time is running out for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The US is likely to withdraw his funding and possibly even his protection. Without US support, he is unlikely to stay in power for long.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not gone well. The war in Iraq in particular has been a great recruitment tool for extremists across the Muslim world.
A secret deal to extricate British troops from Iraq so they could focus on Afghanistan failed when British military leaders were overruled by their civilian leaders.
The enemy the West has identified—terrorism—is the wrong target. As an idea, it cannot be defeated. [BBC Newsnight, 9/28/2006; BBC, 9/28/2006]
The West’s fight against extremism is going nowhere with no end in sight.
Britain should use its military links with Pakistan’s army at a senior level to persuade Musharraf to step down, accept free elections, and dismantle the ISI.
The report’s author traveled to Pakistan in June 2006 as part of a delegation on a fact-finding visit. He held interviews with the Pakistani officials and academics to prepare a report about the country and the global war on terror. [London Times, 9/28/2006] Musharraf rejects the report’s conclusions. He tells the BBC, “There is perfect co-ordination going on” between Pakistan and Western countries on terrorism, and there is “intelligence and operational co-ordination at the strategic level, at the tactical level.” He rejects the idea that the ISI should be dismantled. “I totally, 200% reject it. I reject it from anybody - [Ministry of Defence] or anyone who tells me to dismantle ISI.” [BBC, 9/28/2006]
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks out against the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the federal government wide latitude to incarcerate and interrogate “terror suspects” without charge or due process of the law (see October 17, 2006). Obama says that “political considerations” for the upcoming midterm elections played a significant role in the timing of the bill, but “what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics. This is serious. If this was a debate with obvious ideological differences—heartfelt convictions that couldn’t be settled by compromise—I would understand. But it’s not.” Obama notes that in five years of the Bush administration’s system of military tribunals, “not one terrorist has been tried. Not one has been convicted. And in the end, the Supreme Court of the United States found the whole thing unconstitutional (see June 30, 2006), which is why we’re here today. We could have fixed all of this in a way that allows us to detain and interrogate and try suspected terrorists while still protecting the accidentally accused from spending their lives locked away in Guantanamo Bay. Easily. This was not an either-or question.” Congress could have written and passed legislation that would have established “a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused,” one that would be in line with domestic law and the Geneva Conventions. Instead, “politics won today.… The administration got its vote, and now it will have its victory lap, and now they will be able to go out on the campaign trail and tell the American people that they were the ones who were tough on the terrorists.” Meanwhile, Obama says, questions about the efficacy and legality of the Bush system of justice persist, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping “while we look the other way,” and the administration is bent on fighting a war in Iraq “that our own government’s intelligence says is serving as al-Qaeda’s best recruitment tool.… This is not how a serious administration would approach the problem of terrorism.” [US Senate, 9/28/2006]
The above still is from the bin Laden speech footage released in late 2006, and the below still is from the film The Road to Guantanamo released in early 2006. The date stamps are 1/8/2000 and 8/1/2000. In the film it is speculated the speech could have been from January or August 2000. [Source: London Times / Sony Pictures]A new videotape showing bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, and Ziad Jarrah in Afghanistan before 9/11 is leaked to the media. NBC reports that the US military obtained the tape at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in late 2001. NBC filed a freedom of information act request for the video earlier in 2006, but still had not gotten copies when the London Times somehow got a copy and released it. [MSNBC, 9/30/2006] The Times will only say the video was passed to them “through a previously tested channel. On condition of anonymity, sources from both al-Qaeda and the United States have confirmed its authenticity.” There is no sound, and the Times claims that “lip-readers have failed to decipher it, according to a US source.” One part of the tape shows bin Laden addressing a crowd of about 100 followers on January 8, 2000. Another part of the tape shows Atta and Jarrah together at an Afghanistan training camp on January 18, 2000, apparently while they read their wills. [London Times, 10/1/2006] Ben Venzke, head of a group monitoring terrorism communications called the IntelCentre, says, “It is highly unlikely that al-Qaeda wanted the material to be released in this manner and it is not consistent with any previous release.” He notes that bin Laden previously said he was saving Atta’s last will for a special occasion. This release could have spoiled those plans. Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, finds it strange the cameraman focuses on bin Laden’s audience instead of on bin Laden, clearly identifying many of the people in the crowd. “Was this a video by al-Qaeda or by a security agency? I have never seen such a video.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2006] Further, it is noted on the Internet that footage of bin Laden’s speech is remarkably similar to footage of a bin Laden speech in The Road to Guantanamo, a docu-drama released in March 2006. While the film is mostly made up of reenactments, it is based on the real cases of several Guantanamo prisoners and shows one of them being asked to identify himself in the speech footage in 2003.
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, an alleged member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg, Germany, cell with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, is discovered in Syrian custody. It had been known that Zammar was arrested in late 2001 in Morocco and renditioned to Syria for likely torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). However, his imprisonment had never been officially admitted by the Syrian government and his exact location was unknown. But this month, a European Union official monitoring trials in Damascus, Syria, sees Zammar in a state security court and notifies the German Embassy. According to Guel Pinar, Zammar’s lawyer in Germany, if it had not been for the chance encounter, Zammar might have remained out of sight forever. “No one in the world would have known,” she will say. [Washington Post, 2/5/2007] Zammar has been secretly held without trial or charge for five years, but shortly after the sighting, he will be tried and sentenced (see February 11, 2007).
In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
Main elements of the CIA detention program;
Arrest and transfer;
Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
Other methods of ill-treatment;
Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
Prolonged stress standing;
Beatings by use of a collar;
Beating and kicking;
Confinement in a box;
Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Lieutenant General David Richards, the British general commanding NATO troops in Afghanistan, meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on October 9, 2006, in an effort to persuade him to stop the Pakistani ISI from training Taliban fighters to attack US and British soldiers in Afghanistan. The day before, he tells the Sunday Times there is “a Taliban problem on the Pakistan side of the border.… Undoubtedly something has got to happen.” Richards has evidence compiled by NATO, US, and Afghan intelligence of satellite pictures and videos showing training camps for Taliban soldiers and suicide bombers inside Pakistan. The evidence includes the exact address of where top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan. Richards wants Pakistan to arrest Omar and other Taliban leaders. One senior US commander tells the Times: “We just can’t ignore it any more. Musharraf’s got to prove which side he is on.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/8/2006] What happens between Richards and Musharraf is unknown, but there are no subsequent signs of the ISI reducing its support for the Taliban or of Pakistan arresting Taliban leaders.
The chart presented during the CENTCOM briefing. [Source: New York Times]A briefing by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Iraq is sliding towards a complete breakdown of order. The briefing features a chart used by the military as, in the words of New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, “a barometer of civil conflict.” Gordon describes the slide as providing “a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.” The briefing was prepared by CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate, overseen by Brigadier General John Custer. The slide contains a color-coded bar chart titled “Index of Civil Conflict,” which tracks the sharp rise in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in February (see February 22, 2006), and documents a subsequent rise in violence despite US efforts to contain conflicts in and around Baghdad. Gordon describes the chart as tracking, among other factors, “the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures,” and not so much more traditional factors like “the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.” The chart shows Iraq moving quickly away from “peace,” the ideal condition on the far left of the chart, to a point labeled “chaos” on the right side. Gordon notes, “As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.” A CENTCOM official says, “Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side.” [New York Times, 11/1/2006]
John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, celebrates the passage of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Yoo writes that Congress has ordered “the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror.” The bill is not so much a victory for the presidency, Yoo writes, as it is a loss for the judiciary, a “stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” It supersedes the Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which Yoo calls “an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy… [a] stunning power grab.” Now, he writes: “Congress and the president did not take the court’s power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court’s habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions. The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.” Yoo had previously authored numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 10/19/2006]
In an interview with WDAY’s Scott Heinen, Vice President Dick Cheney says it was a “no-brainer for me” to authorize waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After and Summer 2003). Cheney says that since waterboarding and other brutal methods are not torture, as he defines the term (see Mid-March 2002), the entire issue is not really an issue. “We don’t torture,” he says. “That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to, and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 154-155; Financial Times, 10/26/2008] After Cheney’s statement causes a welter of criticism among lawmakers and media figures, the White House says Cheney was not talking about waterboarding, and insists that the US does not torture. Cheney calls reporters to bolster the denial. “I did not talk about specific techniques and won’t,” he says. “I didn’t say anything about waterboarding.… He [Heinen] didn’t even use that phrase.” Human Rights Watch says Cheney’s remarks are “the Bush administration’s first clear endorsement” of waterboarding. [Associated Press, 10/28/2006]
The Chenagai madrassa after the Predator strike. [Source: BBC]The US launches a Predator drone missile strike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Bajour district of Pakistan’s tribal region, then Pakistan sends in helicopters to attack the survivors. The aim is to kill al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he is not there. Pakistani officials initially claim that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are killed, including Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an operational leader. But the next day they only say that some Taliban members are killed. [ABC News, 10/30/2006; ABC News, 10/31/2006] The attack is said to have killed 82, many of them students at the madrassa located in Chenagai, a hamlet of Damadola village, which had been hit by a Predator strike earlier in the year (see January 13, 2006). [London Times, 11/26/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney says foreign terrorists in Iraq are launching a spate of attacks in order to influence the upcoming US midterm elections—in essence, accusing terrorists of trying to sway Americans to vote for Democrats. Al-Qaeda and other terror groups active in Iraq are trying to “break the will of the American people.” He continues, “They’re very sensitive to the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled.” He goes on to claim that terror attacks in Iraq are being scheduled to coincide with US election events and to garner maximum media coverage to impact the elections. He provides no evidence for this. October saw one of the highest death tolls for US forces since the invasion of March 2003. Republicans fear that bad news from Iraq will cost them seats in the US Congress. Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff echoes Cheney’s statements, saying that Islamist militants are trying to “increase opposition to the war and have an influence against the president.” White House officials add that the US media is deliberately focusing on the “bad” news of casualties, carnage, and terrorist attacks, and failing to cover the “good” news coming out of the occupation. The White House and the Pentagon are launching a new propaganda effort to use “new media” outlets such as blogs to spread their message and counter what they say is a sophisticated propaganda effort by Islamists to manipulate the news and affect the US elections. [BBC, 10/31/2006]
Shakir al-Abssi, a 51-year-old Palestinian militant and former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leaves Syria and heads to the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refuge camp in Lebanon, where he establishes the new Sunni militant group Fatah al-Islam. Abssi’s departure coincides with a clamp-down in Syria against Islamic militant groups. By late March 2007, Abssi’s organization will boast a militia force of 150 fighters, roughly 50 of whom are Saudi Arabians or nationals from other Arab countries who have fought in the insurgency in Iraq. [Scotsman, 3/25/2007; Reuters, 3/25/2007]
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