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Al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab asks for questions from “individuals, agencies, and all media” to be put to al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The request is issued in the form of an advertisement posted on militant websites used by As-Sahab. The questions are to be submitted in writing by sending them to the Internet forums where As-Sahab traditionally posts its messages, no later than January 16, 2008. The forums should then forward the questions “with no changes or substitutions, no matter whether they agree or disagree [with the question].” According to the Associated Press (AP), this is the first such offer by al-Qaeda’s main leadership since 9/11, although an arm of the organization in Saudi Arabia did something similar a few years ago. AP calls al-Qaeda “increasingly media-savvy,” and reports the request as “a new twist in al-Qaeda’s campaign to reach a broader audience.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007] Al-Zawahiri will answer the questions in two installments in April (see April 2, 2008 and April 17, 2008).
IntelCenter, a US-based organization that conducts research into terrorism, finds that al-Qaeda has released more than 90 videos in 2007. This is more than al-Qaeda released in the previous three years put together. The videos were released through the organization’s media arm, As-Sahab. Al-Qaeda’s most prominent spokesman is its second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has issued at least 16 messages this year (see January 5, 2007, January 23, 2007, and July 11, 2007), whereas al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is only credited with issuing five (see September 7, 2007, September 11, 2007, September 20, 2007, October 22, 2007, and November 29, 2007). The Associated Press will comment: “The videos have grown more sophisticated in targeting their international audience. Videos are always subtitled in English, and messages this year from bin Laden and al-Zawahiri focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan have been dubbed in the local languages, Urdu and Pashtu. Videos and audiotapes have also had a faster turnaround, referring sometimes to events that occurred only days earlier. The al-Qaeda leaders’ messages are often interwoven with footage of past attacks, militants training, and TV news clips of world events and leaders including President Bush—evidence that their producers have easy access to media.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007]
Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid allegedly claims responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto earlier in the day. Syed Saleem Shahzad, a journalist for both the Adnkronos International (AKI) news service and the Asia Times, claims to have gotten a call from al-Yazid. Speaking in faltering English, al-Yazid reportedly says, “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujaheddin.” It is further alleged that the assassination was planned by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. US officials say they cannot confirm the claim. [AKI, 12/27/2007; ABC News, 12/27/2007]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new 56-minute audio tape over the Internet. He warns Sunni Arabs aligned with the US in Iraq and also indicates he wishes to attack Israel. The voice on the tape says that the US-aligned Iraqis “have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people. They will suffer in life and in the afterlife.” He recommends the Islamic State in Iraq (which will later be commonly referred to as ISIS), an umbrella organization of which al-Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise is a part. Regarding Israel, he says, “We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the sea,” and threatens “blood for blood, destruction for destruction.” The tape does not mention the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two days previously, so was presumably recorded before that. [Associated Press, 12/29/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in one of Pakistan’s military garrison areas, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, Indian intelligence warned the US in mid-2007 that bin Laden could be living in northwest Pakistan, after getting some information about the movements of al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-2007). Over the next six months or so, Indian intelligence learned more about the movement of al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan. Then, in early 2008, India sends the US more intelligence. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “This time, we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors.” Cantonments are permanent military garrison areas administered by the military. Abbottabad, where bin Laden will be killed in 2011, is one of the cantonments in northwest Pakistan. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
The Canadian press reports that the casualty rate among Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is far higher than that of American and British soldiers in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Canadian troops are stationed in and around the city of Kandahar, one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers die at a rate of 2.6 to four times higher than their British and American counterparts in Afghanistan, and at a rate 2.6 times higher than American soldiers in Iraq. Proportionately, Canadians are dying at a faster rate in Afghanistan than through most of World War II. Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Robertson, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says, “Kandahar province is very different from even Helmand province next door,” where British troops are stationed. “It’s a totally different threat environment. We are in the former heartland of the Taliban, and obviously they have resorted to tactics designed to force casualties among civilians and security forces whenever possible.” Some experts believe that the heavy casualty rates among Canadians is partly traceable to the Canadians’ lack of heavy-transport helicopters; as a result, they are forced to rely more on ground transportation, where the threat of roadside bombs and ambushes is constantly present. Canada has lost a total of 74 soldiers since joining the US and Britain in Afghanistan. [Canada National Post, 1/4/2008]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The Sunday Times runs a series of articles about FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, detailing allegations made by Edmonds about Turkish and US involvement in the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, as well as money laundering, drugs, and conventional weapons. Some allegations made by Edmonds were previously discussed in the press, but many remained secret; she divulges more to Sunday Times now because, after having unsuccessfully attempted to pursue her case through the courts and Congress, she has become “disillusioned with the US authorities’ failure to act.”
Allegations against State Department and Pentagon Officials - The allegations center on an unnamed former high-ranking State Department official, who is said to have received money from Turkish nuclear smugglers, and on other household names who served at the Pentagon. Edmonds says, “He [the State Department official] was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” She adds, “If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials.” The former State Department official says: “If you are calling me to say somebody said that I took money, that’s outrageous… I do not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as this.”
"Overlapping Corroboration" - The Sunday Times says that it spoke to two FBI agents and two CIA officers who worked on nuclear proliferation while researching the story, and, “While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.” One of the CIA sources confirms that Turkey did acquire nuclear secrets from the US and shared them with Pakistan and Israel, saying: “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/20/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]
Official Said to be Marc Grossman - The high-ranking State Department official who is not named in the Sunday Times articles, possibly due to libel law considerations, is said to be Marc Grossman by both Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and former CIA officer Phillip Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative. [Raw Story, 1/20/2008; American Conservative, 1/28/2008]
An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. [Source: TV2 Norway]Militants attack a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, with machine guns and a suicide bomber. Six people are killed and six more are injured. The suicide bomber blows himself up and one of the machine gunners is killed, and two other attackers apparently escape. The target is the Serena Hotel, a heavily guarded five-star hotel frequented by Westerners. A Norwegian journalist and a US citizen are among those killed. A Taliban spokesperson immediately takes credit for the attack. [BBC, 1/15/2008] Months later, the New York Times will report that the attack was actually masterminded by a leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, which is largely based in Pakistan. The leader is not named, but Sirajuddin Haqqani will later boast in an interview that he planned the attack (see March 25, 2009). According to the Times: “Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, [top leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence [the ISI] and still enjoys their protection.” In a video, Jalaluddin boasts of his role in an attack on a hotel, which presumably is the Serena Hotel attack, as well as boasting of other attacks. Jalaluddin is Sirajuddin’s father. [New York Times, 6/17/2008]
A group of suspected suicide bombers are arrested in Barcelona, Spain. Twelve are Pakistani and two are Indian, and all of them had trained at militant camps in Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where al-Qaeda has a safe haven. One of the suspected suicide bombers is actually an informant for French intelligence, known by the name Asim (see Late January 2008). Having just arrived in Barcelona from the safe haven several days before, Asim mistakenly believes that an attack is imminent. But in the rush to quickly arrest the suspects, at least six of them get away, with one supposedly taking most of the explosives with him. Spain’s leading counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon says, “In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe. Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here.” Asim claims the suspects were going to start with an attack in Barcelona, which was going to be followed by demands from al-Qaeda through Baitullah Mahsud, a militant leader in Waziristan. If their demands were not met, they would stage more attacks in Spain and then in other European countries. US officials say they monitored phone calls to Pakistan by some of the suspects. Some suspects were already under surveillance by Spanish intelligence. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Associated Press]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a house in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The missile reportedly kills about 13 people. Some of them are said to be militants, and US officials will later confirm that one of those killed is al-Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi. He is considered a top field commander and a liaison between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008] He is relatively unknown to the public, but in September 2007, the Washington Post profiled him as about one of a dozen of the most important current al-Qaeda leaders. He also survived a US rocket attack in June 2007. [Washington Post, 9/8/2007]
On January 16, 2007, a young man known as Asim arrives in Barcelona. He had recently been living in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan as an informant for French intelligence. He comes to Barcelona to inform on a group of Pakistanis living in that town who spent time in Pakistani training camps and allegedly are planning a series of suicide attacks in Spain and possibly other European countries. He is posing as one of the suicide bombers. Fearing that an attack is imminent, Spanish authorities arrest most of the suspects three days later (see January 19, 2008). But the Spanish decide that they don’t have enough physical evidence to successfully prosecute the arrested suspects, and they turn Asim into a protected witness for the prosecution. The New York Times will comment, “the case has caused diplomatic friction among investigators. Spain’s handling of the French informant has enraged officials at France’s intelligence agencies and eroded trust between the countries, French and other European officials said. The informant’s value as a source was destroyed when he was made a prosecution witness and the contents of his statements were leaked to the news media.” Asim’s case contradicts the commonly held notion that intelligence agencies have been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda’s central command (see March 20, 2008). But many questions remain. It is unclear when he first penetrated Waziristan as an informant, how much time he spent there, and how high level his al-Qaeda contacts there were. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
Abu Mansoor al-Amriki. [Source: Al-Jazeera]A militant in a video message released this month has an interesting background. The message supports Shabab, one of two radical Islamic groups fighting for power in war-torn Somalia. According to a US intelligence source, the militant in the video, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, is an ex-US soldier who fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. No US soldiers officially fought in the Bosnia war, but about a dozen Muslim ex-US Special Forces soldiers fought in Bosnia and trained al-Qaeda and other mujaheddin forces there around 1993 (see December 1992-June 1993). At the time, the US military and Saudi government apparently had an interest in sending Muslim ex-Special Forces there (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992). Mansoor is said to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda’s East Africa leadership, and is a lead trainer for Somali insurgent forces. Although he only appears on video wearing a face mask, it is clear that he is Caucasian. [Middle East Times, 2/28/2008]
Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” [Reuters, 2/27/2008; New York Times, 3/1/2008]
Senator Barack Obama, during a 2006 visit to Somalia. [Source: Associated Press]Conservative radio hosts such as Dan Caplis and “Gunny” Bob Newman use a photo of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wearing traditional Kenyan robes to imply that Obama has terrorist sympathies. As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Caplis says the photo shows Obama wearing “the same type of turban and clothing that Osama bin Laden wears,” while Newman asks, “[W]hy do you think Obama really had the photo taken, dressed up as a Somali warlord?” The photo was taken during an August 2006 visit by Obama to Kenya, where his father was born. [Media Matters, 2/25/2008] It was published a few days ago by the conservative Drudge Report. According to Yusuf Garaad Omar, head of the BBC’s Somali Service, the robes are “the normal clothes that nomadic people wear. The head turban is especially used by elderly people as a suggestion of respect. It is something that has no meaning whatsoever in Somalia culture. If you see someone dressed like that in Somalia, you think it is a nomadic person—that is all. There is no religious significance to it whatsoever. It is mainly the nomadic people who use it. Some of them are religious, some are not. It is simply a tradition of the place where they are from. In this particular place, Wajir in north-east Kenya, the community is majority ethnic Somali.… This debate reminds me of people back home in Somalia, who say that women should not wear trousers, or other cultures who say men should not wear a tie. I just don’t think it makes sense.” [BBC, 2/26/2008] Caplis asks his listeners why Obama would “put on similar clothing to the outfit worn by the man who personally ordered thousands of Americans, including women and kids, to be burned to death,” and says that “it would be as if [former President] John Kennedy had gone out and thrown on the fatigues and the funny baseball hat that Castro wore.” Newman, like Caplis a nationally syndicated Clear Channel talk show host, tells his audience, according to Media Matters: “We were five years into the war on terror when Obama knowingly and willingly dressed up in Somali warlord garb to have his photo taken.” He asks if Obama wore the robes “to garner support from Muslim-Americans who ideologically support Muslim terrorists?” and then asks, “Would it have been right for [former President] Harry Truman to dress up like a Nazi in 1948?” Caplis also tells his audience, “[Obama’s] middle name is Hussein, which should not be held against him for a second; his last name rhymes with Osama, which should not be held against him for a second.” [Media Matters, 2/25/2008] Months later, Newman will tell his listeners that an Obama presidency will welcome “an invasion of Muslim terrorists” (see July 10, 2008).
Entity Tags: Bob Newman, Clear Channel Communications, John F. Kennedy, Media Matters, Barack Obama, Harry S. Truman, Dan Caplis, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf Garaad Omar, Fidel Castro
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 12 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Kaloosha, near the Afghan border. Some suspected militants are reportedly killed, but details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
Abdelkader Belliraj. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Belgian media reports that Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen arrested in Morocco earlier in the month, is actually a long-time informant for Belgium’s internal security service, State Security. [Agence France-Presse, 2/29/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2008] The Belgian government initially denies the charges but soon tacitly admits them when the head of State Security, Alain Winants, complains about the leak of the “highly classified” status of Belliraj several days later. Agence France-Presse reports that although the “accusations were at first met with scepticism in Belgium, authorities now consider them credible.” Belliraj has been personally involved in armed robberies and murders dating back to the 1980s, and has links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamist militant groups. It remains unclear if Belliraj was committing all his crimes with the approval of Belgian officials or if he may have been duping them to some degree. One anonymous Belgian police official speculates: “How could he travel freely since the 1980s from Belgium to various terrorist hot-beds around the world? There are two possibilities: either he worked for a secret service or else the State Security is full of idiots.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/11/2008] On Belgian newspaper claims that at the same time he was a paid Belgian informant since 2000, “It’s almost certain that at the same time he worked for another foreign secret service, possibly the French DGSE or American CIA.” [Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Another major Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, claims that Belliraj had both French and US intelligence links while working with Belgium too. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/4/2008]
Sally Kern. [Source: Tulsa World]Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) claims during a House speech that homosexuality is a bigger threat to America than terrorism, and compares homosexuality to “toe cancer.” Kern says, among other things: “Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it’s the death knell of this country.… I honestly think it’s the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat.” She even claims, “Gays are infiltrating city councils.” [Think Progress, 3/7/2008] In the aftermath of her remarks, Kern tells a reporter for the conservative Cybercast News Service (CNS) that she is the target of a “hate campaign.” She says, “They haven’t just attacked me—they’ve attacked my family, they attacked the Bible, they’ve attacked Christianity.” Her words were taken out of context, she says: “They made it sound like I was spewing hate and talking in one long rant against homosexuals. I would never do that. I have never done that.” A supporter, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, accuses “Kern’s attackers of being ‘terrorists.’” [Think Progress, 3/28/2008]
Victor Bout in handcuffs in Thailand on the day of his arrest. [Source: Associated Press]Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is arrested in Thailand. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had set up a sting operation to nab Bout. For months, DEA agents posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a militant group linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. DEA agents and Thai police meet Bout at the five-star Sofitel Silom Hotel in Bangkok, supposedly to finalize an arms deal, and immediately arrest him and his bodyguards. According to a Thai police officer, Bout does not resist arrest but merely says, “The game is over.” A relatively new DEA task force is behind Bout’s arrest, even as news reports indicate Bout’s fleet of aircraft has been shipping supplies to the US military in Iraq in recent years. The DEA agents posed as arms dealers working for FARC but went after Bout because of evidence that he had been involved in drug smuggling as well. Bout faces up to 10 years in prison in Thailand for taking part in illegal weapons deals there. US officials are also seeking Bout’s extradition to the US so he can face more charges. Bout is a Russian citizen and has been based in Russia in recent years, but the Russian government has decided against seeking his extradition. Mother Jones comments, “Willing to work for anyone, Bout’s business divorced itself from any political, philosophical, or moral constraint. It delivered military cargo with equal enthusiasm to terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, rebel warlords, embattled dictatorships, legitimate businesses, humanitarian aid groups, and sovereign governments, including the United States” (see Late April 2003-2007). He also worked with the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups (see Summer 2002 and Late July 2006). Experts note that Bout’s network has been unique in providing a full range of smuggling services and it is unlikely it will survive without him. [Mother Jones, 3/16/2006]
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), is arraiged before a military commission. Jawad refuses to accept the assistance of his military counsel, Air Force Major David Frakt, says he knows of no civilian lawyer who would represent him, and says he does not wish to represent himself. Jawad tells the court he has no desire to continue the proceedings. The judge rules that Frakt will continue to represent Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and officially declared a “high value” prisoner. Rahim was captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces in July 2007 (see July 2007) and then was held in a secret CIA prison until his transfer to Guantanamo (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008).
Why Is Rahim Considered Important? - Rahim is just the 16th person the US government has declared a “high value” prisoner. Fourteen prisoners were given that label when they were transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo in September 2006 (see September 6, 2006 and September 2-3, 2006). The 15th was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who was held by the CIA in autumn 2006 and sent to Guantanamo in April 2007 (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008] Although there had been reports in Pakistan about Rahim shortly after his arrest, virtually nothing was known about him until his transfer to Guantanamo. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007] He may have experienced extreme sleep deprivation during CIA interrogations (see August and November 2007).
Hayden's Memo - There still are no published photographs of him. At the same time Rahim is sent to Guantanamo, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a memo to CIA employees explaining Rahim’s alleged importance. Hayden calls Rahim a “tough, seasoned jihadist” with “high-level contacts,” and claims his arrest “was a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other anti-coalition militants.” According to Hayden, Rahim sought chemicals for an attack on US forces in Afghanistan and tried to recruit people who had access to US military facilities there. He helped prepare Tora Bora as a hideout in 2001, and then helped al-Qaeda operatives flee the area when US forces overran it in late 2001. But perhaps most importantly, Rahim had become one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators and translators in the years prior to Rahim’s arrest. [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
A new audio recording is released, allegedly from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape directs the message to “the intelligent ones in the European Union” and discusses a cartoon said to be offensive to Muslims—showing the prophet Muhammed with a bomb in his turban—that was recently re-printed by all major Danish newspapers. The tape, which criticises US-led bombing of “those modest mud villages which have collapsed onto our women and children,” says that the “morals of fighting” should be observed in conflict, but the west has abandoned them, “even if you hold aloft its slogans in theory.” However, the publication of the cartoon and other similar ones is worse than bombing innocent civilians: “Although our tragedy in your killing of our women and children is a very great one, it paled when you went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings. This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe.” The voice also claims that, despite the publication, “you haven’t seen any reaction from the one and a half billion Muslims.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/19/2008] In actual fact, when the cartoons were first published there were protests around the world in which dozens were killed, and Danish diplomatic offices were destroyed in two cities. [BBC, 3/20/2008] The voice argues that the cartoons should not have been published under freedom of expression, as US troops in Europe are not subject to European law, and, according to the voice, those who question the amount of Jews killed in the holocaust are suppressed. In addition, when the King of Saudi Arabia told Britain to stop its investigation of the corrupt al-Yamamah deal, British Prime Minister Tony Blair complied. [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/19/2008] The message comes on the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). [BBC, 3/20/2008] However, the man thought to be bin Laden makes no mention of Iraq on the tape. [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/19/2008] The audio message is released in video form with a graphic showing a still image of bin Laden holding an AK-47 and bearing the logo of as-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media wing. There is a written translation of the message in English. It is unclear when the message, released by posting at an Islamist website, was recorded. [BBC, 3/20/2008]
The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. [Washington Post, 3/20/2008] Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio message urging Muslims to join the insurgency in Iraq, as this is the “nearest jihad battlefield to support our people in Palestine.” The message comes one day after the previous communication thought to be from bin Laden (see March 19, 2008) and just over five years after the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). According to the person thought to be bin Laden, “Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron,” and Arab leaders were complicit in Israeli attacks on Gaza. “The people of the blessed land should sense the great favour God has bestowed upon them and do what they should do to support their mujahideen brothers in Iraq,” the speaker says. “It is a great opportunity and a major duty for my brothers the Palestinian emigrants [in Arab countries], between whom and jihad on the plains of Jerusalem a barrier has been built.” [BBC, 3/20/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape calling for attacks on Israeli and Western targets to avenge recent Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. The tape is released by posting to the Internet and produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab. “O Muslims. Today is your day. Hit the interest of the Jews and the Americans and all those who participated in the aggression against Muslims,” says al-Zawahiri. “Monitor the targets, collect the money, prepare the hardware, plan accurately, and then attack.” Al-Zawahiri adds, “No one can say today that we should fight the Jews in Palestine only,” and calls for Muslims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against Israel. Demonstrations only serve to let off steam, he says, so Palestinians should focus on armed struggle. “Let them know that they would bleed for every dollar they spend on killing Muslims,” he says. “They cannot… insult our prophet and support Israel, and expect to live in peace in their countries.” Al-Zawahiri also accuses Arab leaders of colluding with the US and Israel in blockading Palestinians in Gaza. “The satanic alliance shows us its ugliness and how low it is, an alliance of the crusaders and the Jews and with them [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, and [Saudi Arabia’s ruling] Saud family, and the son of al-Hussein [Jordan’s King Abdullah].” [Reuters, 3/24/2008]
A front page article in the Los Angeles Times reports that the US effort to fight the financing of terrorism is “foundering.” Insiders complain that the Bush administration’s efforts are stumbling over legal difficulties, interagency fighting, and disagreements with allied nations. Michael Jacobson, a recently retired senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, says, “The international cooperation and focus is dropping, the farther we get from 9/11.” The Times notes that “Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other key nations have not taken the necessary steps to crack down on terrorist financing or suspect money flowing across their borders.” Designations of terrorist financiers has slowed to a “trickle.” Militant groups are also using methods that are harder to trace, including sending money by donkey or mule. Robert Grenier, recently retired director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, says the US has exaggerated the successes of financial enforcement: “There’s been a lot of work done on it, a lot of focus. But as a method for identifying and capturing terrorists, it has not been significant.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/24/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a 90-minute audiotape with the first part of responses to questions solicited from the public and journalists (see December 19, 2007). In the replies, he rejects criticism of attacks by al-Qaeda’s followers that have killed thousands of people, maintaining al-Qaeda does not kill innocent people. “We haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else,” says al-Zawahiri. “If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.” [Associated Press, 4/2/2008] The second part of the responses will be issued later in the month (see April 17, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage repeats the false assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, a trope repeated by many conservative radio hosts (see January 22-24, 2008). In reality, Obama is a practicing Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ. The allegations that Obama is, or ever was, a Muslim have been debunked by, among others, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. Savage again lies to his listeners by telling them another oft-repeated falsehood, that Obama was educated in a radical Islamist “madrassah” during a childhood stint in Indonesia. Savage tells his listeners: “Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to—a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim.… Yes, check it out.” [Media Matters, 4/7/2008] Weeks before, Savage told his listeners that Obama and his former pastor supported the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Obama would bring chaos and devastation to the United States on a scale not seen since the Civil War (see March 13, 2008).
The US is unable to find more troops to send to Afghaninstan, due to the war in Iraq. On April 10, 2008, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tells a Congressional committee: “I’m deeply concerned. In this economy of force operation, we do what we can. Requirements exist that we simply cannot fill and won’t likely be able to fill until conditions improve in Iraq.” The US would like to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the growing Taliban resistance there, but the US is unwilling to divert forces from Iraq due to renewed violence there, and NATO allies remain unwilling to send more troops as well. A study by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group funded by the European Commission, reports that there were 704 insurgent attacks causing 463 civilian deaths from January through March of 2008, compared with 424 attacks causing 264 civilian deaths during the same months in 2007. US officials privately admit that their estimates are similar. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/15/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a second set of responses to questions solicited by al-Qaeda in December 2007 (see December 19, 2007 and April 2, 2008). [NEFA Foundation, 4/17/2008 ; Associated Press, 4/22/2008; Associated Press, 4/23/2008] The response comes in a two-hour audio recording posted to an Islamic website and accompanied by the logo of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm. Al-Zawahiri’s comments include:
The theory that Israel carried out the September 11 attacks is false and was started by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, through the Al-Manar television station. “The purpose of this lie is clear—[to suggest] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no [one] else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it,” he says. “Iran’s aim here is also clear—to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.” In recent audio recordings, al-Zawahiri has accused Iran of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The insurgent umbrella group Islamic Nation of Iraq led by al-Qaeda is “the primary force opposing the crusaders and challenging Iranian ambitions” in Iraq.
In response to a question about whether al-Qaeda plans to attack Western countries involved in Iraq, he replies: “My answer is: Yes! We think that any country that has joined aggression on Muslims must be deterred.”
This includes Japan, which pulled its non-combat troops out of Iraq in 2006, because “Japan provided help under the banner of the crusader coalition… therefore it participated in the crusader campaign against the lands of Islam.”
Global warming reflects “how criminal, brutal, and greedy the Western crusader world is, with America at the top.” However, global warming will “make the world more sympathetic to and understanding of the Muslims’ jihad against the aggressor America.”
There are no women in al-Qaeda, although “the women of the mujaheddin are playing a heroic role in taking care of their houses and sons.”
The Taliban have taken over 95 percent of Afghanistan and are sweeping Pakistan as well. “The crusaders and their agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan are starting to fall,” al-Zawahiri adds.
It is against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country because in doing so they would “have permanent stay there under the laws of the infidels.” [Associated Press, 4/22/2008; Associated Press, 4/23/2008]
Al-Zawahiri also singles out some countries for threats, such as Denmark, saying: “Denmark has done her utmost to demonstrate her hostility towards the Muslims by repeatedly dishonoring our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation. I admonish and incite every Muslim who is able to do so to cause damage to Denmark in order to show your support for our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, and to defend his esteemed honor.” [NEFA Foundation, 4/17/2008 ] Al-Qaeda will attack the Danish embassy in Pakistan six weeks later. [Jyllands-Posten, 6/2/2008]
A man thought to be al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a 16-minute audio tape around five years after the US and others invaded Iraq. The man calls on Islamist fighters to turn Iraq into a “fortress of Islam,” and says the establishment of a greater Islamic state is “the most important” duty of every Muslim. The tape contains references to recent events—testimony by US General David Petraeus to Congress and a strike by textile workers in Egypt. The man is also critical of Iran for siding with the US against Sunni Arabs in Iraq. [Guardian, 4/18/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, who has been detained at Guantanamo since age 16 (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), is beaten so badly by guards that weeks later he still has what Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will describe as “extreme bruises on his arms, knees, shoulders, forehead, and ribs.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).
Aden Hashi Ayro. [Source: Intelcenter / Associated Press]A US missile strike kills Aden Hashi Ayro, the alleged head of al-Qaeda’s operations in Somalia. Ayro and up to ten others are killed in the region of Dusamareeb, an area a few hundred miles north of the capital of Mogadishu. The strike is said to be the fifth US attack in Somalia since Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006 with US support (see December 24, 2006-January 2007). Ayro is said to have attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Then he returned to Somalia in 2003 and quickly rose up the ranks of al-Shabab, the military arm of the Islamic Court Union. He is said to be in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations there, although he is not a formal member of al-Qaeda. He was reportedly behind the scattered deaths of some foreigners in Somalia between 2003 and 2005. But despite this death, in recent months militant groups such as al-Shabab have been gaining ground against Somalia’s weak transitional government and the occupying Ethiopian troops keeping it in power. [Washington Post, 5/1/2008; Time, 5/2/2008]
A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains,
“After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.”
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), agrees to participate in his trial (see March 12, 2008), but authorizes his defense counsel, Major David Frakt, only to represent him for the purpose of challenging the legitimacy of the military commission system. Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been punished for his behavior at his arraignment (see March 12, 2008) by the loss of certain “comfort items,” including his only blanket. Frakt asks that the blanket and other items be returned to Jawad, asks for a mental health evaluation (see December 2003), and for changes in Jawad’s conditions of confinement. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] At some point in May, presumably after the hearing, Jawad will be severely beaten by his guards (see May 2008).
Damadola Strike in May 2008. [Source: Mohammed Sajjad Associated Press]A missile fired from a US Predator drone reportedly kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Suleiman al-Jazairi. He and 15 others are killed in the strike on a house in the village of Damadola in Pakistan’s tribal region. The house is said to belong to former Taliban defense minister Maulvi Obaidullah, and members of Obaidullah’s family, including women and children, are thought to be among the dead. Al-Jazairi is said to be a trainer and explosives expert, and involved in planning attacks in Europe. Damadola has been hit by drones twice before (see January 13, 2006 and October 30, 2006). Al-Jazairi was little known in the media prior to the strike. [New York Times, 5/16/2008; Observer, 6/1/2008] Obaidullah apparently is not killed. He had been imprisoned in Pakistan since 2003, and had been released several days before as part of a swap for Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, who had been kidnapped in February. [PAN, 5/20/2008]
A new audio message is released by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden. In the message, which lasts about nine minutes and is posted to a website commonly used by al-Qaeda, the speaker calls on Muslims to continue the fight to liberate Palestinian land. The speaker pledges to continue fighting the Israelis and not give up “a single inch of Palestine,” adding that the Palestinian cause is the most important factor driving al-Qaeda’s war with the West. The tape’s release comes around the time of Israel’s 60th anniversary, when US President Bush is in Israel to attend the anniversary celebrations [BBC, 5/16/2008]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio tape calling on Muslim fighters to help end the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In the tape, released by posting on the Internet, the speaker says it is the duty of every Muslim to fight the “oppressive closure.” The tape is released two days after the previous one (see May 16, 2008), on the day US President Bush ends a visit to the Middle East. [Sky News, 5/18/2008]
The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The British human rights organization Reprieve claims that the US has detained around 26,000 terror suspects in its network of secret prisons. It also says that several prisoners were held on a network of secret prison ships, both for detention and for interrogation sessions that were held “off the books.” The prisoners allegedly included American-born John Walker Lindh (see December 2001-January 2002) and Australian David Hicks (see July 3, 2003). Reprieve says that the US has used ships stationed off the Somali coast and off the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to detain suspects (see June 2, 2008), including the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu; up to 17 naval vessels have been used, the group says. The Navy admits that its ships have sometimes housed prisoners for short periods of time, but denies that its vessels are used as long-term floating prisons. “We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” says Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. Reprieve bases its claims on evidence from the US military, the Council of Europe, and testimony from a former detainee at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Guardian, 6/2/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape criticizing his native Egypt for not opening up its border to Palestinians. The 11-minute tape is released by posting to the Internet to mark the 41st anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. “The brother from Gaza is refused entry [by Egypt], while an Israeli tourist is allowed to enter without a visa,” says al-Zawahiri, calling for an end to Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. He also terms Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his troops “criminal traitors” for perpetuating the siege of Gaza. “Salvation of the Muslim nation is through the march of its sons on the path of jihad,” he adds. [Al Jazeera, 5/5/2008]
Mark Levin. [Source: 640 WHLO-AM]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin tells his listeners that presidential candidate Barack Obama “lied to” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when he “told them today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist group after voting against a bill designating them a terrorist group a year ago.” Fox News anchor Martha McCallum echoes the accusation a day later on her show The Live Desk, saying that Obama “seems to be changing his tune on the significant issue.” Both Levin and McCallum are misrepresenting Obama’s voting record. He has consistently voted to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, and co-sponsored a November 2007 bill to do just that. Levin and McCallum are referencing a 2007 bill that Obama says he would have voted against, a bill that, Obama said, “states that our military presence in Iraq should be used to counter Iran.” Obama disagreed with that portion of the resolution, not another section that advocated for the designation of the Guards as a terrorist organization. The false characterization of Obama’s stance on the Guards may originate with Obama’s opponent John McCain, who says just before Levin’s broadcast that Obama “was categorical in his statement when he opposed that legislation. Then he goes before AIPAC and supports it. I know he’s changing on the surge, he’s trying to change on his pledge to negotiate with dictators without preconditions.” Levin flatly calls Obama “a liar… he’s a radical extremist and he’s a liar.” [Media Matters, 6/6/2008]
In a panel discussion hosted by PBS’s Bill Moyers, journalist Jonathan Landay, discussing the US war in Afghanistan, notes that the vast majority of media coverage has been granted to the Iraq occupation. The war in Afghanistan is largely forgotten by the media, or merely rolled into Iraq coverage. Landay notes that Afghanistan is “a far more serious threat for US national security than Iraq is.” Similarly, the media rarely reports on the dire terrorist threats centered in the tribal areas of Pakistan. “[T]his is a black hole virtually which the United States is deeply involved in that we don’t see a lot of meaningful, I mean, in-depth coverage of,” he says. [PBS, 6/6/2008]
The FBI arrests Pittsburgh-area resident Bradley T. Kahle as part of a larger sweep of a domestic terrorist group (see June 8, 2008). Kahle, a recruiter for the Pennsylvania Citizens Militia, tells authorities he had planned to shoot black people from a rooftop in Pittsburgh, and says that if either Barack Obama (D-IL) or Hillary Clinton (D-NY) are elected president, the country will be engulfed in civil war. Kahle, a resident of Troutville, Pennsylvania, allegedly gave undercover FBI agents explicit instructions on how to make deadly grenades using “bean cans” or other such containers. Undercover agents have been monitoring Kahle and other area domestic terrorism plotters for well over a year. In a raid, FBI agents find 16 improvised bombs in what the agents term a “gun reloading room,” along with cans of fragmentation and bags of lead shot. Kahle has shown undercover agents a number of firearms, including assault rifles and a sniper rifle, and over 5,000 rounds of ammunition. An FBI affidavit says of Kahle’s improvised grenades: “Kahle continued that a tactic for employing a bean can, if raided, is to wait until the police shoot gas through your door. The hole made by the gas projectile can then be used to throw a bean can grenade back out at the approaching entry team to kill as many law enforcement officers as possible.” He allegedly told an undercover agent that once he began attacking law enforcement officials: “You wouldn’t want to be near me. SWAT teams included. Bring them all on.… don’t send the kids, bring your very best. Hey, eight or 10 good bean bombs… five or 600 rounds of ammo and some good equipment. I would be a tough take.” Kahle told undercover agents that he intended to begin by shooting judges, magistrates, and police chiefs, which he said would “start the doomsday process.” He also told an undercover agent that he hoped Clinton or Obama would “get assassinated” if they were elected president. “If not they will disarm the country, and we will have a civil war.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/11/2008; Associated Press, 6/11/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011] Federal Judge Pete Pesto will rule that despite Kahle’s stockpile of weapons and his rhetoric, he does not pose a threat to the community, and releases him on house arrest with an electronic monitor pending his trial. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6/12/2008] Kahle will be acquitted of all charges. He will say that “the US Constitution was the big winner” in the verdict. Defense attorney Blair Hindman will successfully argue that Kahle never directly threatened anyone, and all of his weapons were for defensive purposes and “no different than what thousands of other Americans have in their garages.” [Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, 3/10/2010]
A screenshot of a local Pittsburgh news broadcast showing three of four suspects arrested on charges of domestic terrorism. [Source: FireDogLake (.com)]The FBI arrests four Pittsburgh-area people on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks. Marvin Hall of Rimersburg, Perry Landis of the Clarion area, Morgan Jones of Lucinda, and Melissa Huet, presumably of Pittsburgh, are arrested after authorities learned they were stockpiling a cache of weapons with plans to target local government buildings. Two more suspects will be arrested days later, including Bradley T. Kahle (see June 8, 2008). Many of the six have ties to the right-wing militia movement; Landis is sergeant-at-arms of the Brookville Tiger Militia in Jefferson County. In a raid, the FBI confiscates hundreds of weapons, including hunting rifles, a Romanian assault rifle, 16 homemade bombs, homemade rockets, a homemade flame thrower, blasting caps, and cannons. The four made threats to blow up government buildings and carry out other acts of domestic terrorism. They face numerous federal firearms charges as well as charges of illegal sales, manufacture, and transport of weapons. The raid is the culmination of three years of investigations, including the insertion of undercover agents inside the operation. Federal agents have raided other area compounds over the last two days in the Clarion area; one of these raids led to Kahle’s arrest. Landis has told undercover agents that he intended to assassinate Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA). David Neiwert, a progressive reporter and blogger who is an expert on right-wing terrorism, later writes of the dearth of mainstream media coverage: “Imagine, if you will, how this would have been handled were these folks of Arab extraction or believers in radical Islamist ideology instead of your garden-variety far-right American ideology. CNN would have the cameras and reporters there, NBC would host an hour discussing the threat, and [conservative bloggers] Michelle Malkin and Little Green Footballs’ Chuck Johnson would [be] bouncing around the walls of their rubber rooms even more frenetically than usual amid shouts of ‘Jihad!!!!’” [KDKA-TV, 6/9/2008; David Neiwert, 6/10/2008; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6/12/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011] Hall, Landis, Jones, and Huet will be convicted. [Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, 3/10/2010]
A blasted vehicle in front of the prison. [Source: Allauddin Khan / Associated Press]A suicide truck bomber hits the front gate of the Sarposa Prison, south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. A second suicide bomber on foot hits the back wall of the prison a short time later. Then, about 30 Taliban on motorbikes rush into the prison, killing nine guards and freeing the prisoners. Between 900 to 1,100 prisoners escape, including about 400 Taliban militants. Minibuses waiting at the front of the prison then drive many of the escaped prisoners away, while the rest flee on foot. [Associated Press, 6/14/2008] A US official says no internationally recognized Taliban leaders were in the prison, but some significant mid-level fighters did escape. Officials also say the attack is noteworthy “because of the evident planning behind it and the skill with which it was carried out—a demonstration of the Taliban’s ability to carry out complex and bold operations with modest manpower.” [Newsweek, 6/17/2008] The provincial police chief of Kandahar, the local head of the intelligence agency, and the head of police criminal investigations are fired several days later for negligence. It is not alleged that any of them helped stage the escape. [BBC, 6/26/2008]
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed. Major David Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been subjected to a harsh regime of sleep deprivation nicknamed the “frequent flyer program.” Records show that Jawad was moved from one cell to another 112 times over the period of two weeks, with guards shackling, moving, and unshackling him for an average of once every two hours and 50 minutes. Frakt tells the court that Jawad had attempted suicide months before. The military commission judge refuses to dismiss the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Members of the Frontier Corps near Shakai, in the region of South Waziristan, in August 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir / Reuters / Corbis]The British newspaper The Observer reports that the Frontier Corps, a Pakistani government paramilitary force operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan, sometimes join in attacks on US-led forces in Afghanistan. The article alleges there are “box loads” of after-action reports compiled after armed clashes near the border, detailing the Frontier Corps working with the Taliban and other allied militants. Some attacks are launched so close to Frontier Corps outposts that Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban is assumed. There has been a dramatic increase in cross-border incidents compared to the same time the year before. An anonymous US official says: “The United States and NATO have substantial information on this problem. It’s taking place at a variety of places along the border with the Frontier Corps giving direct and indirect assistance. I’m not saying it is everyone. There are some parts that have been quite helpful… but if you have seen the after-action reports of their involvement in attacks along the Afghan border you would appreciate the problem.” The US government continues to downplay such incidents, worried about its relationship with the Pakistani government. A NATO spokesman says: “The real concern is that the extremists in Pakistan are getting safe havens to rest, recuperate and retool in Pakistan and come across the border. The concerns have been conveyed to the Pakistan authorities.” [Observer, 6/22/2008]
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A Hamas spokesman had made positive comments about Obama in April, but after Obama stated his support for Israel against Hamas and other Islamist terror organizations, a Hamas spokesman stated that his organization “does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and [Republican John] McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win.” As reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh says: “I will guaran-damn-tee you there will not be a terrorist attack before the election. And you know why there won’t be one? Because they want Obama elected.… Hamas has endorsed Obama. Hamas has endorsed Obama. Do you think they’re going to do anything to upset the apple cart of Obama’s election? Why do you think they’ve endorsed Obama? Because they want a very strong ally for Israel in the White House?” Limbaugh expands his rhetoric to equate Democrats with Islamic terrorists: “[E]very time I hear [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad speak, every time I hear a tape from [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al Zawahiri or a so-called dispatch from [Osama] bin Laden, whenever I hear from any of these Middle East al-Qaeda terrorists, I think I’m hearing Democrat [sic] Party talking points.… Am I politically incorrect for saying this? We all know it to be true.” Limbaugh has previously asserted that “Islamofascists are actively campaigning for the election of Democrats.” [Reuters, 6/4/2008; Media Matters, 6/24/2008]
US intelligence allegedly discovers that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and a faction of the Taliban are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan. US intelligence is intercepting Pakistani government communications in an attempt to find out if the Pakistani government is still supporting militants fights US soldiers in Afghanistan. Communications intercepts already revealed an active link between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani (see May 2008). According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, new intercepts at this time show that the ISI is working to carry out a spectacular bombing in Afghanistan. But apparently, the exact target is not known. Two weeks later, the Indian Embassy in Kabul will be bombed (see July 7, 2008). Afterwards, the US will accuse the ISI and the Haqqani network of plotting the bombing, mostly based on these intercepts from before the bombing (see July 28, 2008 and August 1, 2008). [London Times, 2/17/2009]
David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
Conyers: “Do you support it?”
Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]
The New York Times publishes a long front-page analysis of the policy disputes and mistakes that have bogged down US efforts to combat al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The article reveals that the US effort has often been “undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the CIA, including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas.… [B]y most accounts, the administration failed to develop a comprehensive plan to address the militant problem there, and never resolved the disagreements between warring agencies that undermined efforts to fashion any coherent strategy.” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state for President Bush’s first term and the administration’s point person for Pakistan, says, “We’re just kind of drifting.” Pakistan’s policy as led by President Pervez Musharraf has also been adrift and/or ineffective: “Western military officials say Mr. Musharraf was instead often distracted by his own political problems, and effectively allowed militants to regroup by brokering peace agreements with them.” The Times concludes, “Just as it had on the day before 9/11, al-Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States.” The camps are smaller than the ones used prior to 9/11, but one retired CIA officer estimates that as many as 2,000 militants train in them at any given time, up from several hundred in 2005. “Leading terrorism experts have warned that it is only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack planned in the mountains of Pakistan is carried out on American soil.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Polish intelligence warns India and the US that the Taliban are likely to attack the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The embassy will be bombed one week later, killing 54 (see July 7, 2008). The document giving the warning is entitled, “Threat Report… Threat to Indian Embassy.” It is based on information received one day earlier. It states, “Taliban are planning to carry out an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul.” It goes on to describe how a suicide bomber plans to use a stolen Afghan government car and stolen uniform to get past security. The document will be publicly leaked in 2010 as part of a massive WikiLeaks release of US documents relating to the US war in Afghanistan. [Press Trust of India, 7/27/2010] It is unclear how or where Polish intelligence got this information. US intelligence apparently learns around this time that the Taliban and ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan (see Late June 2008). However, it appears that India acts on at least one of the warnings, because the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan will later say that India took extra security measures in the weeks before the bombings because “we were expecting trouble.” Most importantly, sand-filled blast barriers are placed around the main embassy building. That, plus the quick action of security guards, will prevent the bomber from getting closer to the building, and thus reduce the number of lives lost. [Associated Press, 7/9/2008]
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org. [Source: New York Times] (click image to enlarge)It is reported that June 2008 was the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the US invaded that country in late 2001. There were 28 US combat deaths there that month, which nearly equals the 29 US combat deaths in Iraq in the same month. A total of 46 soldiers in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed in June, the highest monthly total of the war. There have been 533 US combat deaths since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, began in late 2001 (but this number includes deaths in the region outside of Afghanistan). Top US commanders say that the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with the previous year. US officials and Afghanistan experts say the increasing soldier death toll is a sign of the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says: “What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective. It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved.” [Washington Post, 7/2/2008] The same day as the new peaks of soldier deaths in Afghanistan is front-page news in most US newspapers, President Bush announces that the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be increased by the end of 2008. However, he gives no details on exactly when or by how many. [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
A suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 54 people and injures 140 others. The main target appears to be a diplomatic convoy that had just entered the embassy gate, directly followed by the suicide truck. Among the dead are two senior Indian diplomats, including the military attaché, Brigadier Ravi Mehta. Many of those killed are people standing in line waiting for visas. [London Times, 8/3/2008] The Indian government received at least one warning about an attack on the embassy, and it took extra security precautions that helped reduce the loss of lives (see July 1, 2008). The Afghan interior ministry quickly asserts that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped the Taliban with the attack. A presidential spokesman states at a news conference, “The sophistication of this attack and the kind of material that was used in it, the specific targeting, everything has the hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past.” The Afghan government has asserted that the ISI is responsible for other attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in late April 2008 (see April 27, 2008). The Indian government also quickly blames the ISI and the Taliban. [Financial Times, 7/8/2008; Taipei Times, 7/9/2008] The Taliban deny involvement in the attack, but the New York Times notes that the Taliban usually deny involvement in attacks with a large number of civilian casualties. [New York Times, 7/8/2008] Less than a month later, US intelligence will accuse the ISI of helping a Taliban-linked militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani to plan the bombing (see August 1, 2008). President Bush will even directly threaten Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack is linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Doctored photo supposedly showing Barack Obama in the company of Osama bin Laden. [Source: Media Matters / Newsradio 850 KOA]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman posts doctored “satirical” photographs of Democratic candidate Barack Obama supposedly posing with Osama bin Laden and as “Che Obama” (appearing as South American socialist revolutionary Che Guevara) on his radio station’s Web site. Newman also posts real photos of Obama with fake captions featuring profanity-laden threats directed at Newman. The Web site, like Newman’s radio station, KOA Radio of Denver, is owned by Clear Channel Communications. One caption has Obama saying about Newman, “If that sumb_tch even tries to get into my convention [the Democratic National Convention], I’ll have him disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa.” Another reads, “Upon seeing Gunny Bob approaching with a microphone, Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama angrily warns the Gunny, ‘If you come any closer, I’ll have the Secret Service shoot and then waterboard you, you fascist Marine capitalist b_stard!’” The fake Obama-bin Laden photo is captioned, “Endorsed By Terrorists, Tyrants and Racists Everywhere.” [Media Matters, 7/9/2008] In May, Newman accused Obama of being a “thug,” and rhetorically asked the candidate if he intended to come to Denver and “whip [his] white _ss” (see May 19, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman, the host of a popular Denver talk show, says that if Barack Obama (D-IL) is elected president, the US will be overrun by Muslim terrorists. If Obama is elected, Newman tells his audience, “we better start learning Arabic.… There will be a lot more Arabic speakers here in our country if he [is], because there will be an invasion of Muslim terrorists if he becomes president.” Under an Obama presidency, Newman says, “the first sentence… American kids would have to learn is ‘please don’t cut my head off.’” [Media Matters, 7/11/2008] Newman continues the right-wing assertion that Obama is a Muslim, an assertion long since proven false (see January 22-24, 2008).
Tehrik-i-Taliban, a group of Pakistani militants linked to the Taliban, declares the imposition of Sharia law (strict Islamic judicial code) in the Mohmand tribal area in Pakistan. Islamic courts have been established in the four regions of Mohmand, and the group has established similar courts already in the adjacent region of Bajaur. [Dawn (Karachi), 7/15/2008]
Aafia Siddique in Afghan custody on July 17, 2008. [Source: Associated Press]Aafia Siddiqui, a female Pakistani neuroscientist and alleged al-Qaeda operative, is arrested by Afghan police in the town of Ghazni, Afghanistan. Police reportedly also find bomb-making instructions, substances in bottles and jars, and papers describing US landmarks. There are conflicting accounts about what happens next:
US Government's Version - The next day, a group of US agents come to visit her, but she is being held unsecured in a room, hiding behind a curtain. One of the US agents puts his rifle down. She allegedly picks up the rifle to shoot at the group. She shoots twice and misses, while a US agent shoots back and hits her at least once. [CNN, 8/4/2008; Reuters, 8/5/2008]
Afghan Police Version - According to Reuters, “Afghan police in Ghazni however, [tell] a different story.” They claim that they find Siddiqui in Ghazni after reports of her behaving suspiciously. They find maps of the town, including one of the governor’s house, and arrest her and a teenage boy. US troops then request that she be handed over to them, but Afghan police refuse, according to a senior police officer there. US soldiers then disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approaches the US soldiers complaining of mistreatment by the police. The US soldiers, under the impression that she could have explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shoot her and take her away. The boy remains in Afghan police custody. [Reuters, 8/5/2008]
She is extradited to the US a couple of weeks later, where she is due to stand trial for attempting to murder the US agents. Siddiqui had lived and studied in the US for many years. She was in Pakistan in March 2003 when it was announced that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been arrested. She disappeared several days later (see Late September 2001-March 2003). The FBI issued an alert for her arrest, alleging that she had been an al-Qaeda sleeper agent in the US. There has been speculation that she had been secretly arrested by the US or Pakistan, and what happened to her since 2003 still remains a mystery. [CNN, 8/4/2008]
The 500th US soldier is killed in Afghanistan since the start of US military involvement there in late 2001. During the first three years of the war, about two-thirds of the US casualties were caused by non-hostile conditions such as illnesses and crashes. But since 2005, about 70 percent of casualties have taken place under hostile conditions. One hundred and eleven US soldiers were killed in 2007. This is the highest annual toll so far, but the rate for 2008 is much higher on average. Afghan security forces have suffered many more fatalities, but exact numbers are difficult to obtain. The Afghanistan Defense Ministry says nearly 600 Afghan soldiers were killed from March 2005 to March 2008. The Afghan Interior Ministry says 1,119 police officers were killed from March 2007 to March 2008. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
Ahmed al-Mashjari (right) with unidentified associate, in propaganda video. [Source: Public domain]A suicide bomber named Ahmed al-Mashjari crashes a van full of explosives into a government security headquarters in the eastern province of Hadramaut in Yemen. Four are killed, including a Yemeni soldier. The al-Qaeda affiliate Soldiers of Yemen Brigades takes credit for the bombing, calling al-Mashjari a “heroic martyr.” The Yemeni government is said to have a tacit agreement whereby al-Qaeda operatives are left alone and in return they do not attack targets within Yemen. But Nadia al-Sakkaf, editor of the Yemen Times, says: “There was a deal [with the jihadis] but it’s not working any more. Now there are just fanatics who want to be hired by al-Qaeda, people who have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and have no skills, who are not integrated into society and have no education. They are brainwashed. Jihad is all they know.” [Yemen News Agency, 7/27/2008; Guardian, 7/30/2008]
A US drone strike kills al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri). He is one of six people killed in the strike on a compound in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Mursi, an Egyptian, was considered a poisons and explosives expert, and was accused of training the suicide bombers in the 2000 USS Cole bombing. He also is believed to have run the Darunta training camp in eastern Afghanistan until it was abandoned during the US invasion in late 2001. The US had put a $5 million bounty on him. A statement by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid posted on the Internet about a week later will confirm his death. [Associated Press, 8/3/2008]
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
The New York Times reports that US intelligence agencies have concluded that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped plan the July 7, 2008, bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The attack was initially blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, and 54 people were killed (see July 7, 2008). It is said US intelligence intercepted communications between ISI officers and militants who took part in the attack. The communications were intercepted before the bombing, but apparently were not specific enough to stop the attack. Anonymous US officials would not specifically tell the Times what kind of assistance the ISI gave the bombers. However, it was noted that the ISI officers involved were not renegades, suggesting their actions could have been authorized by superiors. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] The US also claims to have arrested an ISI officer inside Afghanistan, apparently for a role in the attack, but who this person is and what their role exactly allegedly was remains unclear. India and Pakistan have been traditional enemies, and Pakistan is concerned about India’s influence in Afghanistan. Many Western intelligence officials have long suspected that the ISI gets aid from the US and its allies and then uses this support to help the militants the US is fighting. However, solid proof has been hard to find. However, one British official tells the London Times, “The Indian embassy bombing seems to have finally provided it. This is the smoking gun we’ve all been looking for.” [London Times, 8/3/2008] One State Department official similarly says of the bombing evidence, “It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held. It was sort of this ‘a-ha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.” US officials believe that the embassy bombing was probably carried out by members of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who in turn has close alliances with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US officials also say there is new evidence that ISI officials are increasingly providing militants with details about the US military campaign against them. In some cases, this has allowed militants to avoid US missile strikes in Pakistan. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] Several days before these accusations against the ISI were leaked to the press, British and US officials privately confronted Pakistani officials about the charges. President Bush even directly threatened Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack were linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s information minister, admits to journalists that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, still contains pro-Taliban operatives. She says, “We need to identify these people and weed them out.” However, she later changes her statement, claiming that the problems were in the past and there will be no purge. [London Times, 8/3/2008] Her comment comes right as US intelligence accuses the ISI of involvement in a recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008).
Cover of ‘The Obama Nation’ [Source: Threshold / FactCheck (.org)]Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. [Simon and Schuster, 8/1/2008; New York Times, 8/12/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” [New York Times, 8/12/2008]
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” [FactCheck (.org), 2008; FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008] And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008]
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” [Media Matters, 8/4/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008]
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” [Media Matters, 8/6/2004] (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) [Free Republic, 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi, 8/7/2004] An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008] FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Mwai Kibaki, NewsMax, Salon (.com), Raila Odinga, Simon and Schuster, Trinity United Church of Christ, Tony Rezko, Michelle Obama, St. Petersburg Times, Zulfan Adi, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ayers, Media Matters, Hillary Clinton, Malcolm X, Boston Globe, Bernadette Dohrn, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Matalin, Chicago Tribune, FactCheck (.org), John Kerry, Jerome Corsi, David Axelrod, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Free Republic, WorldNetDaily, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Pages from two passports seized in the raid. Both show pictures of Fazul but have different names. [Source: East African Standard]An al-Qaeda leader named Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), narrowly escapes capture in Kenya. The US government claims that Fazul had important roles in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and the 2002 hotel bombing in Mombasa, Kenya (see November 28, 2002). Fazul was indicted for the embassy bombings before 9/11, and there is a $5 million reward for him. On August 2, 2008, Kenyan police raid a house in Malindi, a town on Kenya’s coast. Two passports bearing Fazul’s picture but different names are found, as well as his laptop computer. A Kenyan newspaper reports that a local police officer may have tipped off Fazul about the raid minutes before it took place. A half-eaten meal is discovered in the house, and the television is still on, leading police to believe that he ran out of the house just before they arrived. Three Kenyans are arrested and charged with helping to hide him. He reportedly narrowly escaped a US air strike in Somalia in 2007 (see December 24, 2006-January 2007), as well as a police raid in Kenya in 2003. [CNN, 8/4/2008; East African Standard, 8/5/2008] He will be killed in Somalia in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape about Pakistan on which he speaks English. This is the first recording he has released in English, a language al-Zawahiri says he chose because he wants to speak directly to the Pakistani people, but cannot speak Urdu, the predominant language there. The message, produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab, is aired by the ARY One World news network, but is apparently not made available anywhere else on the Internet. On the tape, al-Zawahiri lists a series of grievances he has against the Pakistani government and US involvement there, as well as relating his own personal experiences living in Pakistan. [ABC News, 8/10/2008]
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), again attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed (see June 19, 2008). Major David Frakt shows evidence that General Thomas Hartmann, the military commission’s chief legal adviser, had pressured Guantanamo prosecutors to charge his client (see January 13, 2009 and January 18, 2009). Judge Stephen Henley finds that Hartmann had indeed brought undue pressure to prosecute Jawad, and bars Hartmann from any further involvement in the case as Hartmann has demonstrated his inability to stay neutral. Henley also orders a top-level review of the charges against Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Henley will throw out the evidence against Jawad, ruling that Jawad’s confession was obtained through torture (see November 22, 2008).
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo, resigns his position after becoming increasingly disillusioned and despondent over the treatment of detainees at the facility, many of whom he believes are likely innocent.
A Reluctant Believer in Stories of Abuse - Vandeveld began as an enthusiastic prosecutor. He joined to help avenge the 9/11 attacks, and served for seven years as a military lawyer in Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “All of us fought because we believed that we were protecting America and its ideals,” he will later write. “But my final tour of duty made me question everything we had done.” Vandeveld was a prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions in Guantanamo from June 2007 through September 2008. He will write, “Warning signs appeared early on, but I ignored them.” He was powerfully impressed when his superior officer, Colonel Morris Davis, resigned rather than agree to pursue politically motivated prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). Vandeveld’s own turning point came when he began working on the prosecution of Mohammed Jawad, who was 16 at the time he was captured (see December 17, 2002). When Vandeveld learned that Jawad claimed to have been horrifically abused while in US custody, as he later recalls: “I accused him of exaggerating and ridiculed his story as ‘idiotic.’ I did not believe that he was a juvenile, and I railed against Jawad’s defense attorney, whom I suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer.” He came to change his mind, eventually filing a declaration in federal court “stating that it is impossible to prepare a fair prosecution against detainees at Guantanamo Bay (see January 13, 2009).… I had concluded that the system of handling evidence is a haphazard farce. I saw this clearly with Jawad.” Vandeveld will write that he has seen evidence proving both Jawad’s age and his stories of being brutalized, including beatings, being thrown down a flight of stairs, and being subjected to an intense program of sleep deprivation (see June 19, 2008): “As a juvenile, Jawad should have been treated with care, held separately from the adult population, and provided educational and other rehabilitation services. Instead, he was placed in isolation and deprived of sleep. More than once he tried to commit suicide, according to detainee records” (see December 2003).
Torturing an Innocent Man - Vandeveld began combing through evidence suggesting that Jawad was innocent, and found that not only had Jawad been duped and drugged by the terrorists who recruited him, the evidence shows that he never carried out the attack against US soldiers of which he stands accused. Vandeveld writes of the difficulties he had in gathering the evidence; military investigators repeatedly kept it from him. “Only after long delays and many, many requests was it finally given to me,” he will later write, “because even after nearly seven years, the military commissions do not have a system in place for discovering exculpatory evidence or providing it to the defense” (see January 20, 2009).
Sinking into Despair - Vandeveld began working towards Jawad’s release to his family in Afghanistan. But Vandeveld’s superiors refused to countenance the idea. Vandeveld will write of his increasing depression and despair, and his inability to discuss his mental anguish with his family or friends due to the classified nature of the case. He finally turned to a Jesuit priest, Father John Dear, whom, he writes, “has written and spoken widely about justice.” He could not give Dear more than an overview of the situation, but Dear’s advice was blunt. “Quit Gitmo,” Dear told him. “The whole world knows it is a farce. Refuse to cooperate with evil, and start your life over.” But Vandeveld was afraid to take Dear’s advice. As he recalls, “I was afraid of losing friends, my job, whatever popularity I enjoyed, and my status as someone who was well thought of in this community.”
Resignation - It was Dear and, ironically, Jawad’s defense lawyer, whom Vandeveld descirbes as “a scorned adversary whose integrity and intelligence transformed him into a trusted friend,” who finally led Vandeveld to make a decision: he resigns. His final appearance before the Guantanamo military commissions was as a witness in Jawad’s defense (see January 13, 2009). “My testimony was a confession of sorts,” he later writes, “an acknowledgment of the error of my own ways as well as a candid admission of the shortcomings of the system that I had so enthusiastically supported.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009] Vandeveld will write that Guantanamo has become a “stain” on the US’s international reputation (see January 18, 2009). He will also call for Jawad’s release (see January 13, 2009).
As the Democratic Party’s nominee for US president, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is given his first classified intelligence briefing. The briefing includes information on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that Obama already is under the impression that bin Laden has to be hiding in Pakistan, and the briefing solidifies that view. The official says, “What I remember in terms of the aftermath of that briefing and into the transition was just how much the focus became on Pakistan.” [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes almost tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A spate of recent airstrikes has exacerbated the problem and is fueling a public backlash, the report says. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields,” a direct violation of the laws of war. The report is titled “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan.” It analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations.
Different Types of Strikes - The vast majority of civilian deaths occur during unplanned, impromptu airstrikes, the report finds; planned airstrikes result in far fewer civilian casualties. “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” says HRW official Brad Adams. “Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans.”
Deaths Escalate from 2006 to 2007 - In 2006, 116 Afghan civilians died during US/NATO airstrikes; in 2007, 321 died during US/NATO airstrikes. In both years, the number of civilians dying due to Taliban strikes far outnumbered those killed by US or NATO forces. All of these trends continue during the first seven months of 2008.
'Poor Response by US Officials' - HRW is highly critical of what it calls “the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.” The report finds: “Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”
Demanding Solutions - Adams says that the US must work to curtail the unplanned airstrikes that kill so many Afghan civilians, and when civilians are killed, the US must take the proper responsibility and provide “timely compensation.” He adds: “While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.” HRW also notes that in many instances, civilian deaths are accompanied by destroyed villages, causing that entire village’s population to become refugees. Afghanistan has a large and ever-growing number of what HRW calls “internally displaced persons.” Adams says: “The recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghans make clear that the system is still broken and that civilians continue to pay the ultimate price. Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.” [Human Rights Watch, 9/7/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video accusing Iran of collaborating with the United States. Excerpts of the video are played on the Qatar-based pan-Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera, but apparently not posted to the websites usually used for disseminating such videos. Al-Zawahiri says Tehran is “cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,” and denounces the Iranians for recognizing the two governments. “Not even one Shiite authority—whether in Iraq or elsewhere—has issued a fatwa [religious edict] obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he adds. The video also features clips of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/2008]
Jalaluddin Haqqani. [Source: New York Times]A US drone attack targets the Haqqani network in the tribal region of Pakistan. Pakistani officials will say that five missiles kill 23 people and wound 18 more. The missiles hit a compound in North Waziristan run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani. It appears they are targeted, since family members arrived at the compound just a half hour before. However, neither Haqqani network leader is killed. Officials say one of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s two wives, his sister, sister-in-law, and eight of his grandchildren are killed. The Haqqani network is considered a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. The US believes the Haqqani network has been involved in recent attacks in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul (see July 7, 2008) and a failed assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). The Haqqani network is widely believed to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 9/10/2008]
Walid Shoebat. [Source: TalkGuests (.com)]Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that Walid Shoebat, who claims to be a reformed terrorist and is now a favorite guest of right-wing radio hosts, tells host G. Gordon Liddy that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is “definitely a Muslim,” a patent falsehood that has been repeatedly debunked (see January 22-24, 2008). Shoebat also repeats another widely debunked falsehood, that terrorist groups such as Hamas have proclaimed their support for Obama. Shoebat briefly discusses Obama’s supposed “indoctrination” in Indonesian “madrassas” (as a child, Obama was educated in an Indonesian Catholic school for a brief period), then says: “No one is called Hussein unless he is Muslim. So it is very clear that Barack Hussein Obama is definitely a Muslim.” Anyone who leaves the Muslim faith is to be killed, Shoebat claims, so Obama is by definition a Muslim by dint of still being alive. Shoebat also says: “from al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas, every single Muslim terrorist organization supports Barack Hussein Obama. So why would Americans want to have a president that is connected to Islam and that is proud to be Muslim?” [Media Matters, 9/11/2008]
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008]
Ahmed Alghamdi in his martyr video. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda releases a martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi. In the ten-minute video, in Arabic with English subtitles, Alghamdi says, “There are many proofs which clarify and encourage martyrdom operations. They are one of the ways of massacring the enemies of Allah, so you must carry them out.” The video was most likely recorded in Afghanistan in March 2001, at the same time most of the other hijackers recorded martyr videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)). This is the seventh one released. [Sun, 9/22/2008] Alghamdi’s speech is part of a 90-minute video featuring speeches by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and others. Al-Qaeda promised through the Internet to release the video in time for the 9/11 anniversary, as it did with other 9/11 hijacker videos each year, but the video appears one week late. Some counterterrorism experts say the delay could be a sign that al-Qaeda’s propaganda efforts are faltering. [Associated Press, 9/19/2008; Sun-Herald (Sydney), 9/21/2008] Al-Qaeda will not release any hijacker videos in 2009 or 2010.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former Taliban official for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network that the US is supplying arms to the Taliban to “jeopardize the security situation” as a justification to stay in Afghanistan. According to Iranian Press TV, Mujda says the US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism, but actually wanted to create a base to exercise pressure on rivals in the region. He also says that NATO-led forces are even encouraging cross border attacks by the Taliban from Pakistan. Alluding to meetings held in the United Arab Emirates, Mujda further suggests that the US has begun direct talks with the Taliban to secure results in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election, implying the possibility of negotiations on an important role for the Taliban in the next Afghan government. [Press TV, 9/28/2008]
ISI Director Nadeem Taj is replaced by Ahmad Shuja Pasha. [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] One day ago, it was reported that the US was intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. Taj became ISI head only a year ago (see 2007). [Australian, 9/29/2008] In March 2009, the New York Times will report that shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. This apparently led to the replacement of Taj and his assistants. The Indian embassy bombing occurred during Taj’s brief time as ISI director. However, the Times will also report that many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained that the ISI’s support for militants remains as strong as ever (see March 26, 2009). [New York Times, 3/26/2009] In October 2001, the US also successfully pressured Pakistan to replace its ISI director and several others because of their support for Islamist militants, only to see the replacements continue the same policy of supporting militants (see October 8, 2001).
The US and Britain jointly drop all charges against terror suspect Binyam Mohamed, realizing that Mohamed’s confession to his involvement in a so-called “dirty bomb” plot (see November 4, 2005) is likely the product of torture and not real (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). However, his captors refuse to release him from Guantanamo, driving him to try to force the matter by filing a lawsuit (see February 4, 2009) and going on a hunger strike (see February 8, 2009). In late February 2009, Mohamed will be released (see February 22-24, 2009). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Christiane Amanpour on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on October 3, 2008. [Source: Real Time with Bill Maher]ABC News reporter Christiane Amanpour says that Osama bin Laden is living in a villa in Pakistan, not in a cave. She makes these comments as a guest on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher. She says: “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable… [who] thinks that [bin Laden is] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa… in Pakistan. Not a cave.” After bin Laden’s death in an urban compound in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amanpour will explain that she’d heard the information a short time earlier from a “US intelligence officer who had recently left a top position.” [ABC News, 5/3/2011]
A Web graphic accusing presidential candidate Barack Obama of beginning his political career in the home of college professor William Ayers. [Source: Kickin and Screamin (.com)]Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) accuses Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) of “palling around with terrorists” who intend to attack American targets. Palin, telling audiences in Colorado and California that it is “time to take the gloves off,” says Obama has ties to the 1960s-era radical group Weather Underground through an acquaintance, University of Illinois at Chicago professor William Ayers. Obama, Palin says, “is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” The Weather Underground was once labeled a domestic terrorist group by the FBI. Ayers served on a board with Obama and held a fundraiser for Obama’s Senate run in 1995. Obama has condemned Ayers’s connections with the Weather Underground, and most media organizations have discounted any ties between the two men. The Weather Underground has been defunct for decades. Palin says she is not attempting to “pick a fight” with Obama, but is telling campaign audiences about Obama and Ayers because “it was there in the New York Times… and they are hardly ever wrong.” Ayers, she says, “was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol.’ Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes.… This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for for all of us.” Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan condemns Palin’s remarks, and cites a list of media outlets that have debunked the so-called Obama-Ayers connection. “Governor Palin’s comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign’s statement this morning that they would be launching Swiftboat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation’s economic ills,” Sevugan writes. He also notes that the New York Times is one of the media outlets that debunked the connection, stating, “In fact, the very newspaper story Governor Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Senator Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less ‘pals,’ and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was eight.” The Obama campaign calls the attempt by the McCain-Palin campaign to link Obama to Ayers part of a campaign of “dishonest, dishonorable assaults against Barack Obama.” [Christian Science Monitor, 10/5/2008]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]
Presidential candidate John McCain takes the microphone from a woman who says opponent Barack Obama is ‘an Arab.’ [Source: Associated Press / Truthdig (.com)]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican candidate for president, draws boos and catcalls from his own supporters when he defends opponent Barack Obama (D-IL) from charges that he is an Arab. Obama has been accused of being Arabic, Muslim, and not a US citizen by opponents (see October 1, 2007, April 18, 2008, July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, and October 8-10, 2008). At a town hall in Minnesota, McCain takes questions from selected members of the audience; in recent days, spurred by accusations from McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), that Obama is a close ally of “terrorist” William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008), McCain rallies have been marked by screams and cries of “Terrorist!” and “Traitor!” hurled against Obama. According to McClatchy reporters, at a rally in New Mexico earlier in the week, McCain “visibly winced” when he heard one supporter call Obama a “terrorist,” but said nothing in response. In today’s town hall, supporters pressure McCain to attack Obama even more fiercely. Instead, when one supporter tells McCain he fears the prospect of raising his young son in a nation led by Obama, McCain replies, “I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The comment draws boos and groans from the crowd. McCain continues: “If you want a fight, we will fight. But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments.… I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean to say you have to be respectful.” Later in the town hall, an elderly woman tells McCain: “I don’t trust Obama.… He’s an Arab.” McCain shakes his head during her comment, then takes the microphone from her and says: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.” Obama and his supporters have acknowledged that the rhetoric in the final weeks of the campaign is likely to get even more heated. He tells crowds in Ohio, “We know what’s coming, we know what they’re going to do.” In recent rallies, McCain has stepped back from the more heated rhetoric, refusing to talk about Ayers and instead calling Obama a “Chicago politician.” Palin, however, has continued the attacks on Obama via the Ayers association. Recent McCain-Palin television ads asking, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” have been taken by some as insinuating that Obama may be a Muslim. Obama has been a practicing Christian for decades (see January 6-11, 2008). Former Governor William Milliken (R-MI) has said, “I’m disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign.” [McClatchy, 10/10/2008; Los Angeles Times, 10/11/2008] The next day, Obama thanks McCain. “I want to acknowledge that Senator McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric yesterday, and I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other,” he tells a crowd in Philadelphia. Referencing McCain’s military service, he says McCain “has served this country with honor and he deserves our thanks for that.” He then returns to his standard campaign broadsides against McCain’s economic proposals. [Wall Street Journal, 10/11/2008]
Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s national security adviser, visits India and meets with Indian officials. He tells them that neither the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, nor any other part of the Pakistani government had a role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year (see July 7, 2008). The Indian government and other governments have blamed the ISI working with the Taliban for the bombing (see August 1, 2008). However, Durrani does admit, “We have some contacts with bad guys and perhaps one of them did it.” This comment is not made publicly, but it is mentioned in a US State Department cable about the meeting that is leaked by WikiLeaks in 2011. According to the cable, Durrani later repeats the comment to a US official. [Hindu, 5/20/2011]
A CIA drone kills al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. The drone strike hits the village of Taparghai, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The CIA claims that Habib, an Egyptian, is the group’s fourth-ranking leader. Four people are said to be killed. It is said Habib became al-Qaeda’s chief of operations for the tribal region after Abu Ubaida al-Masri died from hepatitis around January 2008. [New York Times, 10/17/2008; Asia Times, 10/29/2008] Little had been previously reported on Habib. But in early 2007, a New York Times article listed him as one of a handful of important new al-Qaeda leaders, and the FBI called him “one of the five or six most capable, most experienced terrorists in the world.” [CBS News, 3/15/2007; New York Times, 4/2/2007] A drone strike failed to kill Habib in 2006 (see 2006).
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Secret Service officials blame the inflammatory campaign rhetoric of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK) for an upsurge in death threats against president-elect Barack Obama (D-IL) in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. During the campaign, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, citing his association with 1960s antiwar radical William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008). According to the Secret Service, “The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him’ until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric” (see October 15, 2008). The Secret Service says it has evidence that some white supremacists may have used Palin’s words as encouragement to issue credible and specific death threats. During the campaign, Obama’s wife Michelle, upset by one such report, asked her friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett, “Why would they try to make people hate us?” A report by security and intelligence analysts Stratfor, coinciding with the Secret Service’s announcement, warns that Obama remains a high-risk target for racist assassins. The report finds: “Two plots to assassinate Obama were broken up during the campaign season and several more remain under investigation. We would expect federal authorities to uncover many more plots to attack the president that have been hatched by white supremacist ideologues.” McCain campaign aides blame Palin for engaging in heated rhetorical attacks on Obama, including direct accusations of him being un-American, without the knowledge or approval of McCain. Palin has retorted that these campaign aides are “jerks” who took her words “out of context,” saying: “I consider [their criticisms] cowardly. It’s not true. That’s cruel, it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news that’s not fair and not right.” Palin claims she was victimized by sexist reporters and news commentators during the campaign. [Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2008]
In a speech, CIA Director Michael Hayden says that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in the tribal region of northwest Pakistan. He adds that bin Laden “is putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security,” and is isolated from al-Qaeda’s daily operations. [BBC, 11/14/2008]
Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).
Mohamed al-Khatani in September 2009. [Source: US Defense Department]Military prosecutors at Guantanamo say they are going to file new war crimes charges against Mohamed al-Khatani, the so-called “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 plot. The senior official in charge of prosecutions at Guantanamo, Susan Crawford, dismissed similar charges against al-Khatani six months before (see May 13, 2008). Military officials now say that even though al-Khatani was originally interrogated using previously approved, then later disapproved, techniques (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002), those previous interrogations will not make it impossible to try him. Speculation has been rife that Crawford dismissed the charges against al-Khatani over concerns that he was tortured at Guantanamo. (In 2009, Crawford will verify that al-Khatani was indeed tortured—see January 14, 2009). Colonel Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, says of al-Khatani, “His conduct is significant enough that he falls into the category of people who ought to be held accountable by being brought to trial.” According to evidence compiled by the 9/11 Commission, al-Khatani was slated to have been one of the “muscle hijackers” (see August 4, 2001). Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Broyles, al-Khatani’s defense lawyer, says new charges filed against his client would be disturbing. “It speaks about the moral bankruptcy of this whole process,” Broyles says, “that there’s nothing we can do to these people that is too much, that there are no consequences for our own misconduct.” [New York Times, 11/18/2008]
A man thought to be al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video in which he attacks recently elected US President Barack Obama. In his first speech since Obama’s election, al-Zawahiri speaks in front of pictures of Obama praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem during a pre-election visit to Israel, and African-American leader Malcolm X, who was murdered in 1965. The speech contrasts Obama with Malcolm X, who al-Zawahiri refers to as an “honorable” African-American and who is shown in video footage in the background. In one of his speeches, Malcolm X used the term “house negroes” in reference to domestic slaves who were considered more docile towards their masters than the field slaves. “It is true about you and people like you… what Malcolm X said about the house negroes,” al-Zawahiri says, referencing former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor Condoleezza Rice. “You represent the opposite to honorable black Americans like… Malcolm X.” He attacks Obama for “choosing to be an enemy of Islam and Muslims,” saying that the Muslim nation “had bitterly received” Obama’s support for Israel. “You have chosen to stand in the ranks of the enemies of Muslims and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim that your mother is Christian,” al-Zawahiri adds. The video also includes a warning about switching troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama has pledged to do. “What you have announced before… that you will withdraw [US] troops from Iraq [and send them] to Afghanistan is a policy that is doomed to failure,” says al-Zawahiri. “If you still want to be stubborn about America’s failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of [former US President George W.] Bush and [former Pakistani President] Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them.” [Times (London), 11/19/2008]
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