Posted on 03/16/2013 by Juan Cole
The Guardian reports that Ben Emmerson, the UN’s special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, says that the Pakistani government has given no tacit consent to US drone strikes according to a search of government records. Therefore, he concludes, the strikes are likely illegal in international law.
US drone strikes according to Pakistan government statistics:
Number of US drone strikes on Pakistan’s tribal belt since 2004: 330
Congressional authorizations for attack on Pakistan: 0
Number of people killed by the strikes: 2,200
Average number of people killed per strike: 6.6
Number of people wounded by the strikes: 600
Average number of people wounded per strike: 1.8
Number of known non-combatant civilians killed: 400
Further number of suspected non-combatant civilians killed: 200
Average number of innocent civilians likely killed by each strike: 1.8
Percentage of those killed that are likely innocent civilians: 27
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Posted on 03/01/2013 by Juan Cole
Chris Woods and Alice K Ross write at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.
Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.
They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.
At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.
Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.
Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.
The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.
Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.
‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.
‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’
Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government.
The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.
In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.
It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.
Ian Macdonald QC
The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday – cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.
Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.
Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.
Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.
In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.
In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.
Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.
Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships, and subsequent US actions.
‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,’ Saghir Hussain told the Bureau.
Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship ‘means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.’
Campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.
‘We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,’ he said.
‘I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.’
Liberal Democrat Hughes said that while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a ‘political and constitutional limbo’.
‘There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take a citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,’ he said.
Keep reading How the British Gov't Stripped Alleged Militants of Citizenship before they were Droned to Death (Woods & Ross)
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Posted on 02/19/2013 by Juan Cole
Greg Grandin writes at Tomdispatch.com:
The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.
Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.
All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”
No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin America.
What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.” Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”
Two, Three, Many CIAs
How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)? After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.
Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”
In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it. Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.
Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere. Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.
The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome. The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.
Keep reading Why there Were no CIA Torture Black Sites in Latin America (Grandin)
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Posted on 02/06/2013 by Juan Cole
NBC’s Michael Isikoff has revealed the text of a white paper composed for Congress by the Department of Justice that sheds light on the legal arguments made by Eric Holder in justifying the killing by drone strike of Americans abroad, who are suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda. That the memo did not even require that the US know of a specific and imminent plot against the US, of which the al-Qaeda member was guilty, for it to kill him from the skies, alarmed all the country’s civil libertarians.
Here are five objections to the vision of the memo, which it seems to me is directly contrary to the spirit and the letter of the US constitution. It is contrary in profound ways to the ideals of the founding generation.
1. In the Western tradition of law, there can be no punishment without the commission of a specific crime defined by statute. The memo does not require that a specific crime have been committed, or that a planned criminal act be a clear and present danger, for an American citizen to be targeted for execution by drone.
2. To any extent that the president’s powers under the memo are alleged to derive from the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force, i.e. from the legislature, they are a form of bill of attainder (the History Learning Site explains what that is here):
“A bill, act or writ of attainder was a piece of legislation that declared a person or persons guilty of a crime. A bill of attainder allowed for the guilty party to be punished without a trial. A bill of attainder was part of English common law. Whereas Habeus Corpus guaranteed a fair trial by jury, a bill of attainder bypassed this. The word “attainder” meant tainted. A bill of attainder was mostly used for treason . . . and such a move suspended a person’s civil rights and guaranteed that the person would be found guilty of the crimes stated in the bill as long as the Royal Assent was gained. For serious crimes such as treason, the result was invariably execution.”
What, you might ask, is wrong with that? Only that it is unconstitutional. Tech Law Journal explains:
“The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3 provides that: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed.” . . .
“These clauses of the Constitution are not of the broad, general nature of the Due Process Clause, but refer to rather precise legal terms which had a meaning under English law at the time the Constitution was adopted. A bill of attainder was a legislative act that singled out one or more persons and imposed punishment on them, without benefit of trial. Such actions were regarded as odious by the framers of the Constitution because it was the traditional role of a court, judging an individual case, to impose punishment.” William H. Rehnquist, The Supreme Court, page 166.
The form of the AUMF, in singling out all members of al-Qaeda wherever they are and regardless of nationality or of actual criminal action, as objects of legitimate lethal force, is that of a bill of attainder. Congress cannot declare war on small organizations– war is declared on states. Such a bill of attainder is inherently unconstitutional.
3. The memo’s vision violates the principle of the separation of powers. It makes the president judge, jury and executioner. Everything is done within the executive branch, with no judicial oversight whatsoever. The powers the memo grants the president are the same enjoyed by the absolute monarchs of the early modern period, against whom Montesquieu penned his Spirit of the Laws, which inspired most subsequent democracies, including the American. Montesquieu said:
“Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.
There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.
Most kingdoms in Europe enjoy a moderate government because the prince who is invested with the two first powers leaves the third to his subjects. In Turkey, where these three powers are united in the Sultan’s person, the subjects groan under the most dreadful oppression.
Ironically, given contemporary American Islamophobia, the Obama administration has made itself resemble not the Sun-King, Louis XIV, who at least did have a court system not completely under his thumb, but rather, as Montesquieu saw it, the Ottoman sultans, who he claimed combined in themselves executive, legislative and judicial power. (Actually the Muslim qadis or court judges who ruled according to Islamic law or sharia were also not completely subjugated to the monarch, so even the Ottomans were better than the drone memo).
4. The memo resurrects the medieval notion of “outlawry”– that an individual can be put outside the protection of the law by the sovereign for vague crimes such as “rebellion,” and merely by royal decree. A person declared an outlaw by the king was deprived of all rights and legal protections, and anyone could do anything to him that they wished, with no repercussions. (The slang use of “outlaw” to mean simply “habitual criminal” is an echo of this ancient practice, which was abolished in the UK and the US).
I wrote on another occasion that the problem with branding someone an “outlaw” by virtue of being a traitor or a terrorist is that this whole idea was abolished by the US constitution. Its framers insisted that you couldn’t just hang someone out to dry by decree. Rather, a person who was alleged to have committed a crime such as treason or terrorism had to be captured, brought to court, tried, and sentenced in accordance with a specific statute, and then punished by the state. If someone is arrested, they have the right to demand to be produced in court before a judge, a right known as habeas corpus (“bringing the body,” i.e. bringing the physical person in front of a judge).
The relevant text is the Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
5. The memo asks us to trust the executive to establish beyond the shadow of a doubt the guilt of an individual in a distant land, to whom access is so limited that the US cannot hope to capture him or have local authorities capture him. But Andy Worthington has established that very large numbers of the prisoners the US sent to Guantanamo were innocent of the charges against them. If the executive arm of the government can imprison people mistakenly, it can blow them away by drone mistakenly. A US government official once told me the story of an Iraqi Shiite who had fled persecution under Saddam through Iran all the way to Afghanistan. In 2001, locals eager to make a buck turned him in as “Taliban” to the US military, which apparently did not realize that Iraqi Shiites would never ever support a hyper-Sunni movement like that. So the Iraqi Shiite was sent to Guantanamo and it could even be that Taliban themselves were paid by the US for turning him in. The official may have been speaking of Jowad Jabar. These American officials are way too ignorant to be given the power to simply execute human beings from the sky on the basis of their so-called ‘intelligence.’
Then there is the whole premise of the memo, quite apart from its substance. The memo, as Glenn Greenwald points out, ratifies the Bush/Cheney theory that the whole world is a battlefield on which the US is continually at war. Treating the few hundred al-Qaeda, spread around the world in 60 small cells, as an enemy army, making them analogous to German troops in WW II, is insane on the face of it. Our current secretary of state, John Kerry, largely rejected the notion. Al-Qaeda consists of criminals, not soldiers, and they pose a police counter-terrorism problem, not a battlefield problem. The notion that the whole world is a battlefield violates basic legal conceptions of international law such as national sovereignty.
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Posted on 02/06/2013 by Juan Cole
Tom Engelhardt writes at Tomdispatch.com
Consider Inauguration Day, more than two weeks gone and already part of our distant past. In its wake, President Obama was hailed (or reviled) for his “liberal” second inaugural address. On that day everything from his invocation of women’s rights (“Seneca Falls”), the civil rights movement (“Selma”), and the gay rights movement (“Stonewall”) to his wife’s new bangs and Beyoncé’s lip-syncing was fodder for the media extravaganza. The president was even praised (or reviled) for what he took pains not to bring up: the budget deficit. Was anything, in fact, not grist for the media mill, the hordes of talking heads, and the chattering classes?
One subject, at least, got remarkably little attention during the inaugural blitz and, when mentioned, certainly struck few as odd or worth dwelling on. Yet nothing better caught our changing American world. Washington, after all, was in a lockdown mode unmatched by any inauguration from another era — not even Lincoln’s second inaugural in the midst of the Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt’s during World War II, or John F. Kennedy’s at the height of the Cold War.
Here’s how NBC Nightly News described some of the security arrangements as the day approached:
“[T]he airspace above Washington… [will be] a virtual no-fly zone for 30 miles in all directions from the U.S. capital. Six miles of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers will be shut down, with 150 blocks of downtown Washington closed to traffic, partly out of concern for car or truck bombs… with counter-snipers on top of buildings around the capital and along the parade route… [and] detectors monitoring the air for toxins… At the ready near the capital, thousands of doses of antidotes in case of a chemical or biological attack… All this security will cost about $120 million dollars for hundreds of federal agents, thousands of local police, and national guardsmen from 25 states.”
Consider just the money. It’s common knowledge that, until the recent deal over the renewal of the George W. Bush tax cuts for all but the richest of Americans, taxes had not been raised since the read-my-lips-no-new-taxes era of his father. That’s typical of the way we haven’t yet assimilated the new world we find ourselves in. After all, shouldn’t that $120 million in taxpayer money spent on “safety” and “security” for a single event in Washington be considered part of an ongoing Osama bin Laden tax?
Maybe it’s time to face the facts: this isn’t your grandfather’s America. Once, prospective Americans landed in a New World. This time around, a new world’s landed on us.
Making Fantasy Into Reality
Bin Laden, of course, is long dead, but his was the 9/11 spark that, in the hands of George W. Bush and his top officials, helped turn this country into a lockdown state and first set significant portions of the Greater Middle East aflame. In that sense, bin Laden has been thriving in Washington ever since and no commando raid in Pakistan or elsewhere has a chance of doing him in.
Since the al-Qaeda leader was aware of the relative powerlessness of his organization and its hundreds or, in its heyday, perhaps thousands of active followers, his urge was to defeat the U.S. by provoking its leaders into treasury-draining wars in the Greater Middle East. In his world, it was thought that such a set of involvements — and the “homeland” security down payments that went with them — could bleed the richest, most powerful nation on the planet dry. In this, he and his associates, imitators, and wannabes were reasonably canny. The bin Laden tax, including that $120 million for Inauguration Day, has proved heavy indeed.
In the meantime, he — and 9/11 as it entered the American psyche — helped facilitate the locking down of this society in ways that should unnerve us all. The resulting United States of Fear has since engaged in two disastrous more-than-trillion dollar wars and a “Global War on Terror” that shows no sign of ending in our lifetime. (See Yemen, Pakistan, and Mali.) It has also funded the supersized growth of a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy; that post-9/11 creation, the Department of Homeland Security; and, of course, the Pentagon and the U.S. military, including the special operations forces, an ever-expanding secret military elite cocooned within it.
Given the enemy at hand — not a giant empire, but scattered jihadis and minority insurgencies in distant lands — all of these institutions, which make up the post-9/11 National Security Complex, expanded in ways that would have boggled the minds of previous generations (as would that most un-American of all words, “homeland”). All of this, in turn, happened in a poisonously paranoid atmosphere in Washington, and much of the rest of the country.
Keep reading Paranoia Strikes Deep: A Cowering America still Haunted by Bin Laden's Ghost (Engelhardt)
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Posted on 01/18/2013 by Juan Cole
The destabilization of Mali and southern Algeria is a complex political and social process that does not have only one cause. But a changing ecology forced by climate change is a major contributor to the region’s problems.
This region is part of a Saharan and sub-Saharan band across Africa called the Sahel. I have traveled a bit in the far west of the Sahel, in rural Senegal.
h/t Robert Stewart
The climate of the Sahel has fluctuated over the decades, being determined by big phenomena such as El Nino and the Indian Ocean monsoon, as well, it has been discovered, as how warm the waters of the Indian Ocean are. In the first 7 decades of the twentieth century, the region got a fair amount of rainfall, and lower Mali where the capital of Bamako is could raise livestock, making Malians agriculturally relatively well off. The consequent rise in population (Mali is now about 15 million) probably made the country overpopulated for what it could sustain in the more arid decades after 1980, when the warming waters of the Indian Ocean produced dry conditions in the Sahel.
Global warming has accelerated in the past 40 years, as the billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide factories have spewed into the atmosphere has produced a greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere.
h/t NOAA via JISAO U Wash
It is estimated that global warming could reduce the amount of food produced in Mali by as much as 16% by 2050.
The drought of the 1970s caused thousands of northern Mali Tuaregs to go to Libya. Col. Muammar Qaddafi organized them as a mercenary unit. Qaddafi, however, dissolved it in the late 1980s, at which time many Tuareg came back to Mali and participated in the 1990 coup.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Jan. 12, 2013, explains (trans. USG Open Source Center):
“… Iyad Ag Ghali was born in the Kidal Region of northern Mali. He hails from the Ifoghas Family, a noble Tuareg family. The northern region, at that time, was prosperous owing to livestock development; however, it later suffered a severe drought which destroyed life in the region and made the residents migrate to distant countries, reaching Chad and Libya. (Late Libyan Leader)
Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi took advantage of the Tuareg migration from northern (Mali) and established an independent Tuareg army that he called the “Islamic Legion” (also known as the Islamic Pan-African Legion). Iyad Ag Ghali joined this legion in early 1980s and showed tremendous courage. This prompted Al-Qadhafi to send him to Lebanon to fight against the Christian phalangists there. He also took part in the Chad war before returning to Mali as Al-Qadhafi announced the dissolution of the Islamic Legion. However, the moment he returned to Mali, he contributed to the 1990 military rebellion and became one of the outstanding leaders of the rebellion movement. It was he who led the final attack of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) against the Malian forces in Manaka City on 28 June 1990.”
Ghali was active in the secular Tuareg nationalist movement, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), in northern Mali in the 1990s.
Then in the late 1990s, he came into contact with the Tablighi Jama’at, a Pakistan-based Muslim revivalist organization that specializes in helping secularized Muslims recover their faith. Tablighi Jama’at is politically quietist and not violent, but is relatively fundamentalist with regard to approach to Islam. Ghali became fanatically religious and gradually adopted Wahhabi ideas, becoming devoted to destroying the Sufi shrines so popular in Mali.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat explains (trans USG OSC):
“When the rebellion movement broke out once again in northern Mali in 2006, former (Malian) President (Amadou) Toumani Toure assigned him the task of negotiating with the Tuareg. In August 2006, the negotiations resulted in the Algiers Accords. In 2007, the president appointed him as a consular adviser in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. However, in 2010, he returned after suspicions arose about his affiliation with Al-Qa’ida Organization. Having been deported to his country of origin, he reassumed his previous role as a mediator in releasing hostages; he had become wealthy by then. In 2011, he separated himself from the MNLA, established the “Ansar al-Din,” and, in alliance with jihadist movements, he became in control on the ground. In his first military move since he changed intellectual and ideological convictions, Iyad (Ag) Ghali attacked the city of Aguelhok in far northern Mali and took over a fortified military base of the army there.”
Ansar Dine, Ghali’s organization, doesn’t seem to me to have grown out of the 2011 Libyan War and return of Tuareg mercenaries from Libya. Ghali came back from Libya in the late 1980s, and his turn to radical Muslim fundamentalism happened in Mali in the late 1990s under Pakistani influence.
The return in 2011 of further mercenaries did contribute to the declaration of Azawad independence by the Berbers of the north by the secular nationalist Azawad National Liberation Movement. Its members don’t for the most part agree with Ghali’s harsh Wahhabi ideas.
In turn, the loss of territory in the north angered the Mali officer corps and contributed to their decision to make a coup against elected president Amadou Toumani Touré last March. The sanctions slapped on Mali as a result by its neighbors and by NATO members later last year forced the military to at least say that they were abadoning the coup, installing the speaker of parliament, Dioncounda Traoré and a national unity cabinet. This government was in turn overthrown by the officers in December, 2012, so that there has been a second coup.
The weakness of the Mali government likely is related to the drought years of the past decade, during which hundreds of thousands of Malians were forced to emigrate to other countries and the agricultural productivity and tax base of the more fertile south was devastated. This economic decline at the center made it easier for the rebel Tuareg of the north to declare their Azawad. There are several factions in the north, some of them Berber-nationalist and relatively secular, but the best fighters seem to be Ghali’s Ansar Dine, and their movement south last Thursday helped provoke the French intervention. The harsh drought conditions may or may not have contributed to the radicalization of sections of Mali’s Muslim population, though of course that the radicalization took the form of radical fundamentalism is an accident of history (in the Cold War period they likely would have turned Communist)
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Posted on 01/15/2013 by Juan Cole
An important problem with the narrative line of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the Central Intelligence Agency’s quest for Usama Bin Laden, is not just that it comes across as pro-torture but that it ignores the elephant in the room: Bad intelligence elicited by torture almost derailed that quest to put down al-Qaeda by diverting most resources to Iraq.
“Zero Dark Thirty” stands in a long line of Hollywood-Washington collaborations that essentially do the work of propaganda. The lineage includes Michael Curtiz’s 1942 “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart, which was produced under the Office of War Information’s guidelines; the director assigned it the government-prescribed theme of “III B (United Nations — Conquered Nations) Drama,” as Tanfer Emin Tunc argues.
The film is misleading precisely because it does what the Bush administration did not do. It stays with Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda. At one point a CIA official complains that there are no other working groups concentrating on al-Qaeda, that it is just the handful of field officers around the table. But he does not say that the Bush administration ran off to Iraq and closed down the Bin Laden desk at the CIA. Nor do any of the characters admit that bad intelligence, including that gathered by torture, helped send the United States off on the Great Iraq Wild Goose Chase.
I care about this issue in part for reasons of my own biography. As a Baby Boomer who was against the Vietnam War, I had never had much to do with the US government until the September 11 attacks. Had I not been on the doorstep of 50 when they took place, I might well have enlisted. I felt 9/11 profoundly, to my very soul, and was depressed about it for years. I wanted to do what I could to understand al-Qaeda and help destroy it. When RAND and other providers of speakers in Washington asked me to come out and talk to analysts from various government agencies, I was pleased to do it. At the time, Arabists and Islam experts in the US were not so numerous, and pernicious self-proclaimed experts had proliferated. There was a lot of Islamophobia around, and most Americans who did not know the Middle East first hand did not realize that al-Qaeda was a tiny fringe, not representative of Islam.
I don’t know if all those talks I gave in DC to inter-agency audiences were ever useful in fighting al-Qaeda, but I certainly hope so, and I was proud to do my bit in presenting an informed and analytical approach to fighting the phenomenon. I was trying to model for them social analysis as academics understand it. I was also honored to address people who were doing their best to confront a major security challenge.
But because I saw the Iraq War as a distraction from the fight against al-Qaeda, and was vocal about critiquing its prosecution, the Bush White House decided that it did not want me consulting in DC and tried to have me blackballed. The Bushies were fine with a phalanx of quacks and phony experts descending on the capital to charge millions for their crazed schemes. But having someone come to town who knew whereof he spoke was intolerable. In the end, the White House asked the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA to find dirt on me and try to destroy my reputation.
Bush and Cheney exploited al-Qaeda and the threat of terrorism to erode civil liberties at home and to reshape Iraq and its oil riches abroad. But they weren’t that interested in actually finding Bin Laden or rolling up al-Qaeda. Someone like myself, who could see that Iraq was a massive train wreck and that it actually prolonged al-Qaeda’s significance, was most inconvenient in 2005 and 2006.
So, I mind the the narrative of “Zero Dark Thirty” for personal reasons. It leaves out a key obstacle to the quest it recounts. Some of what is wrong with the film may derive from its beginnings, as a story about how the quest for Bin Laden failed. That premise had to be changed after May 2, 2011, of course. But a film that began with an exploration of failure should have highlighted the Iraq distraction and the bad intel from torture all the more.
I made this point when al-Qaeda operative Ibn Shaykh al-Libi died in a Qaddafi prison in 2009:
The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison. See also Andy Worthington.
Al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured trying to escape from Afghanistan in late 2001. He was sent to Egypt to be tortured, and under duress alleged that Saddam Hussein was training al-Qaeda agents in chemical weapons techniques. It was a total crock, and alleged solely to escape further pain. Al-Libi disavowed the allegation when he was returned to CIA custody. But Cheney and Condi Rice ran with the single-source, torture-induced assertion and it was inserted by Scooter Libby in Colin Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations.
If torture can mislead you into launching a war that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths, then it should be avoided, quite apart from the fact that it is illegal and that the United States is signatory to binding treaties specifying its illegality. (It is coming out that Bush-Cheney’s own CIA Inspector-General expressed the view that the Bush-era torture was medically unsound, did not produce the desired results, and contravened the UN Convention against torture.
Here is what Condi Rice told the Lehrer News Hour in 2002, based on the torture-induced statements of the late al-Libi:
‘ “We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of Al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time,” Rice said. “We know too that several of the [Al Qaeda] detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to Al Qaeda in chemical weapons development.” ‘
In my book, Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, I note that Gen. Bonaparte forbade the use of torture by French military interrogators in Cairo, on the grounds that it produced too much misinformation. Napoleon was not exactly squeamish. And even he would have been ashamed of the crew we had in Washington before last January.
End/ (Not Continued)
Critics such as Glenn Greenwald argued that the film assumes that torture yielded key intelligence, especially the identity of Bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. Most intelligence officials say that the al-Kuwaiti lead did not come from waterboarding or other torture techniques,
In the end, I’m not entirely sure that the film shows torture succeeding for the CIA. In fact, al-Kuwaiti’s identity is confirmed by other techniques in the film. In one instance a man (“Ammar”) who was tortured to no effect is tricked into believing that he had already given up operational information. This kind of technique is called in intelligence work ‘false flag tradecraft,’ i.e. fooling an informant by feeding him or her a set of false premises. In part, this success comes from a rapport the man made with “Maya,” the relentless woman field officer. Again, in real life interrogations, such rapport and such false flag techniques are always more successful than torture.
In another scene, a Pakistani man who is interrogated begins by saying that he had been tortured in the past by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, and is willing to cooperate to avoid further mistreatment at American hands. I suppose that exchange serves as a suggestion that torture works in the long run, but what he gives the Americans is this case freely given.
The screenplay does, nevertheless, have a fascination with torture, and implies at several points its utility, as Karen Greenberg showed in these pages last week. Thus, when al-Kuwaiti’s true identity is established, a field officer complains that it can no longer be double-checked with detainees because President Obama had closed down the torture program. This odd complaint assumes that detainees who had protected his identity despite years of abuse and brutalization would have fingered al-Kuwaiti if only waterboarded a few times more.
That torture was ineffective in tracing Bin Laden was confirmed by Senator John McCain.
McCain wrote in 2011,
“I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda. In fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.”
McCain was tortured while a POW in Vietnam and is among the few prominent American politicians to stand forthrightly against what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did in committing the US to war crimes. He is a critic of the film, and I think his view of this matter should be taken extremely seriously.
I did not like “Zero Dark Thirty” as a film. I found it emotionally thin, grim and relentless. It failed to establish an emotional connection to any of the characters, or to flesh them out as characters. The violence is deployed for the purposes of surprise rather than suspense, so that its dramatic effect is limited. It is episodic (we know that the Islamabad Marriott was blown up; shouldn’t the film present a theory as to why?) Any suspense is further blunted by our lack of connection to the protagonist. Whereas in “Argo,” my heart was in my mouth when the embassy employees were in danger, I just couldn’t summon that kind of interest in Jessica Chastain’s “Maya.” The characters remain undeveloped because this film is plot driven, but also because it is primarily didactic, intended to send a message. Unfortunately, instead of glorifying the genuine heroes who have mostly rolled up al-Qaeda (an evil organization that wants to kill your children), it covers many of them with the shame of war crimes.
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