Terrorism > Global terrorism > Militant groups
> Al Qaeda / Al-Qaida
is the staff cartoonist for The Buffalo News.
His cartoons are internationally syndicated
by Cagle Cartoons.
Politics of Bin Laden
May 1, 2012
L: Uncle Sam = USA
C: Osama Bin Laden
R: U.S. President Barack Obama
terror / terrorism threat
stay on terror watch
global terrorism USA
Afghanistan > terrorism
Afghanistan > Abu Muhsin al-Masri, senior al-Qaida leader
Algeria > Mokhtar Belmokhtar, commander of an al-Qaida linked
brigade UK / USA
Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA)
in the Arabian Peninsula
Burkina Faso > terrorism > al-Qaida
India > Mumbai terror attacks
al-Qaeda in Iraq
Al-Qaeda in Iraq > Pope Benedict XVI
The F.B.I. wanted poster for Abdullah Ahmed
who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad
Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation
Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy
Attacks, Was Killed in Iran
Israeli agents shot Abu Muhammad al-Masri on the
streets of Tehran at the behest of the U.S., officials said,
but no one — Iran, Al Qaeda, the U.S. or Israel —
has publicly acknowledged the killing.
Nov. 13, 2020
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah / nom de guerre Abu Muhammad
Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks,
is Killed in Iran 2020
Al Qaeda’s second-highest leader
(was) accused of being one
of the masterminds of the deadly 1998 attacks
on American embassies in Africa,
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah,
who went by the nom de guerre
Abu Muhammad al-Masri,
was gunned down on the streets of Tehran
by two assassins on a motorcycle on Aug. 7,
the anniversary of the embassy attacks.
He was killed along with his daughter,
the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son
Hamza bin Laden.
Mr. al-Masri, who was about 58,
was one of Al Qaeda’s founding leaders
and was thought to be first in line
to lead the organization
after its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted Terrorist list,
he had been indicted in the United States
for crimes related to the bombings
of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,
which killed 224 people and wounded hundreds.
The F.B.I. offered a $10 million reward
for information leading to his capture
Islamist groups in Mali
connecting with militants from Libya, Nigeria, Algeria
2012-2013 UK / USA
Mali > Al-Qaida’s north African affiliate > Aqim
Mali > Al-Qaida UK / USA
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia
Militant organizations in North Africa,
affiliated with Al Qaeda > ransoms
bombings of the United States
in Kenya and Tanzania 1998
al-Qaida’s north Africa (AQMI) chief
Droukdel is killed by French forces UK
Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA) > Syria
Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida
Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA) Leader In Syria
Abdul Mohsen Adballah Ibrahim al
better known as Sanafi al-Nasr
Al Qaeda > Africa > Yemen USA
Africa > Al Qaeda in Yemen
al-Qaida leader in Yemen
a founder of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
foiled Al-Qaida bomb plot / Antiterrorism Work With Saudis
the self-help manual for al-Qaida terrorists
slick and sinister magazine for jihadis, Inspire,
suggests using a vehicle to mow down a target
– which is apparently what happened in Woolwich
Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA)
FR / UK / USA
Al-Qaida / Al-Qaeda / al Qaida /
al Qaeda / the al-Qaeda terrorist network
Al-Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri
clampdown against al-Qaida
al Qaeda operative
al-Qaida terror plotter
be responsible for...
the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, is "eliminated"
the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, is "eliminated"
https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5472135 - June 8, 2006
Al Qaeda regional affiliate
freed hostages UK
terrorist financing > kidnapping / abduction > ransom
cartoons > Cagle > Al Qaeda USA May 2012
al-Qaida recruiter USA
Al Qaeda-inspired groups
jihadists of various kinds,
some identifying themselves with Al Qaeda,
are flourishing in Africa and the Middle East,
where the chaos that followed the Arab uprisings
has often given them greater freedom
to organize and operate.
Al-Qaida inner circle:
where are they now?
Key figures in Osama bin Laden's
web of connections and their whereabouts
Al-Qaida / Al Qaeda 2011
US man convicted on terrorism charges
for conspiring to aid
al-Qaida UK December 2011
is convicted on four terror-related charges
for distributing publications to promote violent jihad
The death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed
– a man who topped the FBI's most wanted list
for planning the Aug. 7, 1998,
U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania –
was the third major strike in six weeks
against the worldwide terror group
that was headed by Osama bin Laden
until his death last month.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
an Egyptian surgeon,
Mr. Zawahri was the leader
of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad,
the terrorist group
blamed for the assassination
of President Anwar el-Sadat in
He joined in an alliance
with Mr. bin Laden's group in 1998.
Many counter-terrorism officials
believe Mr. Zawahri was more instrumental
in the tactical planning
of the September 11 attacks
Mr. bin Laden himself,
the Council on Foreign Relations.
Bomb plot / International terror alert
as explosive packages found on planes
bound for US October 2010
Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology
Zacarias Moussaoui USA
Mr. Moussaoui’s behavior
at his trial in 2006
was sometimes erratic.
He tried to fire his own lawyers,
who presented evidence
that he suffered
from serious mental illness.
But Judge Leonie M. Brinkema,
declared that she was “fully satisfied
that Mr. Moussaoui is completely competent”
and called him “an extremely intelligent man.”
Adam Gadahn 1978-2015
A California-born convert to Islam,
Mr. Gadahn was long seen
as an important Qaeda propagandist who,
as a member of the terror network’s
media arm, As Sahab,
played instrumental roles including translator,
video producer and cultural interpreter.
Samir Khan 1986-2011
young Web-savvy American of Pakistani origin
thought to be behind the Al Qaeda magazine Inspire,
killed in the same September 2011 strike
that killed the radical cleric Anwar
eloquent Muslim cleric
who turned the Web into a tool
Mr. Awlaki was perhaps
the most prominent
against the United States.
The Obama administration
took the extraordinary step
targeted killing of Mr. Awlaki,
who was in hiding in Yemen.
dead-but-not-forgotten.html?playlistId=1194811622182 - Aug. 27, 2015
Abu Ayyub al-Masri
who assumed command of Al Qaeda
in Mesopotamia in June 2006
after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
the Jordanian terrorist
early growth of the organization,
a decentralized collection
of semi-autonomous terrorist groups
that has claimed responsibility for scores
suicide attacks and car bombings
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab,
a Nigerian citizen,
was charged with trying to blow up
a transcontinental airliner over Detroit
Christmas Day, 2009
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani USA
Najibullah Zazi USA
charged on Sept. 24, 2009,
with one count of conspiring with others
to use weapons of mass destruction
US kills al-Qaida target in Somalia helicopter assault
Al-Qaida: eight years after 9/11
Ali al-Fakhiri / Ibn al-Sheikh
Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land)
Bin Laden manhunt USA
Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar
Osama bin Laden UK
Osama bin Laden is killed in shootout in Pakistan
New York Times > Op-Eds About Osama bin Laden
began writing about Osama bin Laden
after the bombings
of the United States Embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
As this sampling shows,
perceptions of Bin Laden evolved
as he transformed
from an obscure fundamentalist
to the embodiment of global terrorism
and hatred for the United States.
al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden
al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden
al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden 2010
al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden 2009
Osama / Usama bin Laden
http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten/fugitives/laden.htm - broken link
The 9/11 accused
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali
and Walid bin Attash
Khalid Shaikh / Sheikh Mohammed > Alleged 9/11 mastermind goes to court
Jose Padilla USA
On June 10, 2002,
Attorney General John Ashcroft
interrupted a visit to Moscow
to announce a sensational arrest:
an American citizen named Jose Padilla
had been detained at O'Hare Airport
and charged with taking part in an Al Qaeda plot
to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb"
within the United States.
Mr. Padilla spent more than three years
in solitary isolation in a military brig
as an officially designated enemy combatant.
Then in November 2005,
as a court challenge to his status was pending,
the Bush administration suddenly announced
that criminal charges had been filed against him
in federal court in Miami.
The new indictment
made no mention of the dirty bomb
or most of the other original charges.
Updated: Sept. 19, 2011
Timeline > 1989-2004 > Al-Qaida UK
The Guardian > Special report >
9/11 > Mohamed Atta
9/11 > Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
9/11 > Khalid Sheikh Mohammed USA
Bojinka Jetliners Bomb Plot > Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
terrorists > women USA
terrorist > Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri
al-Qaida's bomb-maker in chief
terrorist > Saajid Badat
USA > FBI > Most wanted
jihad UK / USA
jihadist plot USA
plot an attack
Indonesia > Bojinka Jetliners Bomb Plot
plot to blow up several airliners
over the Atlantic
Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman
is charged with planning
to bomb the World Trade Centre
27 August 1993
Pakistan > blast USA
claim responsibility for N
Corpus of news articles
Terrorism > Global terrorism > Militant
Al Qaeda / Al-Qaida
Tally of Attacks in U.S.
of Top Terror Threat
JUNE 24, 2015
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks
on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal
assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or
social media rants.
But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a
surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by
white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than
by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim,
compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New
America, a Washington research center.
The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week,
with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly
savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people
espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of
the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory
law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or
religious minorities and random civilians.
Non-Muslim extremists have carried out 19 such attacks since Sept. 11, according
to the latest count, compiled by David Sterman, a New America program associate,
and overseen by Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert. By comparison, seven lethal
attacks by Islamic militants have taken place in the same period.
If such numbers are new to the public, they are familiar to police officers. A
survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff’s departments
nationwide to rank the three biggest threats from violent extremism in their
jurisdiction. About 74 percent listed antigovernment violence, while 39 percent
listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence, according to the researchers, Charles
Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke
“Law enforcement agencies around the country have told us the threat from Muslim
extremists is not as great as the threat from right-wing extremists,” said Dr.
Kurzman, whose study is to be published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and
Homeland Security and the Police Executive Research Forum.
John G. Horgan, who studies terrorism at the University of Massachusetts Lowell,
said the mismatch between public perceptions and actual cases has become
steadily more obvious to scholars.
“There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in
the United States has been overblown,” Dr. Horgan said. “And there’s a belief
that the threat of right-wing, antigovernment violence has been underestimated.”
Counting terrorism cases is a notoriously subjective enterprise, relying on
shifting definitions and judgment calls.
If terrorism is defined as ideological violence, for instance,
should an attacker who has merely ranted about religion, politics or race be
considered a terrorist? A man in Chapel Hill, N.C., who was charged with fatally
shooting three young Muslim neighbors had posted angry critiques of religion,
but he also had a history of outbursts over parking issues. (New America does
not include this attack in its count.)
Likewise, what about mass killings in which no ideological motive is evident,
such as those at a Colorado movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school in
2012? The criteria used by New America and most other research organizations
exclude such attacks, which have cost more lives than those clearly tied to
Some killings by non-Muslims that most experts would categorize as terrorism
have drawn only fleeting news media coverage, never jelling in the public
memory. But to revisit some of the episodes is to wonder why.
In 2012, a neo-Nazi named Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh temple in Wisconsin
and opened fire, killing six people and seriously wounding three others. Mr.
Page, who died at the scene, was a member of a white supremacist group called
the Northern Hammerskins.
In another case, in June 2014, Jerad and Amanda Miller, a married couple with
radical antigovernment and neo-Nazi views, entered a Las Vegas pizza restaurant
and fatally shot two police officers who were eating lunch. On the bodies, they
left a swastika, a flag inscribed with the slogan “Don’t tread on me” and a note
saying, “This is the start of the revolution.” Then they killed a third person
in a nearby Walmart.
And, as in the case of jihadist plots, there have been sobering close calls. In
November 2014 in Austin, Tex., a man named Larry McQuilliams fired more than 100
rounds at government buildings that included the Police Headquarters and the
Mexican Consulate. Remarkably, his shooting spree hit no one, and he was killed
by an officer before he could try to detonate propane cylinders he had driven to
Some Muslim advocates complain that when the perpetrator of an attack is not
Muslim, media commentators quickly focus on the question of mental illness.
“With non-Muslims, the media bends over backward to identify some psychological
traits that may have pushed them over the edge,” said Abdul Cader Asmal, a
retired physician and a longtime spokesman for Boston’s Muslim community.
“Whereas if it’s a Muslim, the assumption is that they must have done it because
of their religion.”
On several occasions since President Obama took office, efforts by government
agencies to conduct research on right-wing extremism have run into resistance
from Republicans, who suspected an attempt to smear conservatives.
A 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security, which warned that an
ailing economy and the election of the first black president might prompt a
violent reaction from white supremacists, was withdrawn in the face of
conservative criticism. Its main author, Daryl Johnson, later accused the
department of “gutting” its staffing for such research.
William Braniff, the executive director of the National Consortium for the Study
of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, said the
outsize fear of jihadist violence reflects memories of Sept. 11, the daunting
scale of sectarian conflict overseas and wariness of a strain of Islam that
seems alien to many Americans.
“We understand white supremacists,” he said. “We don’t really feel like we
understand Al Qaeda, which seems too complex and foreign to grasp.”
The contentious question of biased perceptions of terrorist threats dates back
at least two decades, to the truck bombing that tore apart the federal building
in Oklahoma City in April 1995. Some early media speculation about the attack
assumed that it had been carried out by Muslim militants. The arrest of Timothy
McVeigh, an antigovernment extremist, quickly put an end to such theories.
The bombing, which killed 168 people, including 19 children, remains the
second-deadliest terrorist attack in American history, though its toll was
dwarfed by the roughly 3,000 killed on Sept 11.
“If there’s one lesson we seem to have forgotten 20 years after Oklahoma City,
it’s that extremist violence comes in all shapes and sizes,” said Dr. Horgan,
the University of Massachusetts scholar. “And very often it comes from someplace
you’re least suspecting.”
Tally of Attacks in U.S. Challenges Perceptions of Top Terror
JUNE 24, 2015,
of Al Qaeda Threat
JUNE 13, 2014
1:09 A.M. E.D.T.
The New York Times
WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD — - In Iraq, an al Qaeda splinter group
is threatening Baghdad after seizing control of two cities. In Pakistan, the
Taliban attacked a major airport twice in one week. And in Nigeria, the Islamist
militant group Boko Haram was blamed for another mass kidnapping.
A cluster of militant attacks over the past week is a reminder of how the
once-singular threat of al Qaeda has changed since the killing of Osama bin
Laden, morphing or splintering into smaller, largely autonomous Islamist
factions that in some cases are now overshadowing the parent group.
Each movement is different, fueled by local political and sectarian dynamics.
But this week’s violence is a measure of their ambition and the long-term
potential danger they pose to the West.
Between 2010 and 2013, the number of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-related groups rose
58 percent and the number of "Salafi jihadists" - violent proponents of an
extreme form of Islam - more than doubled, according to a report by the RAND
Corp think tank.
Daniel Benjamin, former U.S. State Department counterterrorism coordinator under
President Barack Obama, said he was "considerably more optimistic 18 months ago
than ... now" about the threat posed by al Qaeda-related groups.
Few examples are more vivid than the fall of northern Iraq, which has raised the
prospect of the country's disintegration as a unified state.
Sunni insurgents known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL,
seized the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday, and then overran an area further
south on Wednesday, capturing the city of Tikrit and threatening Iraq's capital,
The militants are exploiting deep resentment among Iraq's Sunni minority, which
lost power when the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. Since the
U.S. withdrawal in 2011, the Sunni population has become increasingly alienated
from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shii'ite-dominated government and his
This has helped fuel the stunning resurgence of ISIL. The group seeks to create
a caliphate based on medieval Sunni Islamic principles across Iraq and
neighboring Syria, where it has become one of the fiercest rebel forces in the
civil war to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
ISIL underscores the complexity of the new galaxy of militant groups. Earlier
this year, it split from the core al Qaeda organization completely, after a
dispute between ISIL's leader and bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"WE ARE TALKING ABOUT YEARS"
Even if Iraq can survive the onslaught, there is no saying how long it might
take to restore order. "This is a very protracted war against terror," said an
adviser to Maliki. "We are not talking about months. We are talking about
It has taken years for the situation to reach its current low point. After the
2003 Iraq invasion, the disgruntled Sunni population initially served as the
base for a bloody insurgency against the U.S. military and emerging Shi'ite
Continue reading the main story
That revolt appeared to have been quelled by the time U.S. troops left in
December 2011. But Iraqi Sunni grievances simmered, fanned by what they saw as
Maliki's sectarian rule and failure to build an inclusive government and army.
The future members of ISIL, then calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq,
were ready when the uprising in Syria started in 2011 and moved in to take
advantage of the chaos. Bolstered by their success on the battlefield, they
renamed themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
With ISIL's lightning advance in Iraq in recent days, the army has seen
thousands of soldiers desert their posts in the north. And in Baghdad, fears of
a sectarian bloodbath have grown.
Benjamin, now at Dartmouth University, said that groups like ISIL and rival
Jabhat al-Nusrah in Syria, while serious regional problems, do not pose the same
direct threat to the United States and its allies that bin Laden's al Qaeda did.
"We shouldn't lose sight of that," he said. "I don't think it's an existential
threat by any means."
TENSIONS HIGH IN PAKISTAN
Tensions are also running high in Pakistan, where a brazen attack by the
Pakistani Taliban on the country’s biggest airport in Karachi underscored the
resurgence of an Islamist group with longtime ties to al Qaeda. Ten militants
were killed in a gun battle that claimed at least 34 other lives.
The Pakistani Taliban has vowed a large-scale campaign against government and
security installations after months of failed peace negotiations. In response,
the Pakistani army is expected to ramp up air strikes in restive tribal areas.
So far, cities like Islamabad and Lahore have not seen the kind of violence that
has plagued other parts of the country. But observers expect that to change.
The Pakistani Taliban operate closely with al Qaeda, which has senior commanders
deployed in the tribal areas, as well as the Afghan Taliban, who provide their
Pakistani comrades with funding and logistical support.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long advocated peace talks with the Taliban but
the picture changed radically after the airport attack, with public opinion
swinging back again in favor of an all-out military operation against the
Signaling possible escalation, U.S. drones struck Taliban hideouts in Pakistan,
killing at least 10 militants in response to the Karachi airport attack,
officials said on Thursday, in the first such raids by unmanned CIA aircraft in
Pakistani government officials said Islamabad had given the Americans "express
approval" for the strikes - the first time Pakistan has admitted to such
In Nigeria, Islamist group Boko Haram, another al Qaeda-linked group, has
stepped up attacks in recent months after the kidnapping of more than 200
schoolgirls in April sparked international outrage.
The group is suspected in the abduction last week of up to 30 women form nomadic
settlements in Nigeria's northeast, close to where it grabbed the schoolgirls,
residents and Nigerian media said. The militants were reported to be demanding
cattle in exchange for the women.
Along with a desire for international attention, analysts believe the
increasingly ferocious attacks are designed to embarrass the Nigerian government
and ultimately give Boko Haram more negotiating power in its demand for the
introduction of sharia law in northern Nigeria.
Bomb attacks in the capital of Abuja in the run-up to the World Economic Forum
in May killed scores of people and illustrated the powerlessness of security
forces to stop them.
Ahead of an election next year, President Goodluck Jonathan appears at pains to
show his government can tackle Boko Haram, ordering a "full-scale operation"
against the group and authorizing security forces to use "any means necessary
under the law."
But that's easier said than done, given the difficulties faced by security
forces in Africa's most populous nation.
Some analysts say that while Boko Haram's tactics are similar to al Qaeda's, any
links are tenuous at best.
"They've got no particular interest in attacking Western targets. It's all
focused on their aims: introducing sharia law and a level of autonomy,
self-determination for the north," said Martin Roberts, a senior Africa analyst
at research firm IHS.
One group that has repeatedly set its sights on American targets is the
Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which was believed to have
been behind the failed attempt in 2009 to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner by
the so-called "underwear bomber."
In a message to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, Obama repeated his
administration's warnings that AQAP is "the most active and dangerous affiliate
of al Qaeda today."
But the militant splinter groups are evolving so rapidly that - thanks to ISIL's
rapid expansion and to operations against AQAP in Yemen - that may no longer be
(Additional reporting by David Dolan in Abuja
and Warren Strobel in Washington.;
Writing by Jason Szep and Matt Spetalnick;
Editing by David Storey and Lisa Shumaker)
Resurgent Violence Underscores Morphing of
Al Qaeda Threat,
Al Qaeda in Syria
December 10, 2012
The New York Times
The presence of rebel fighters in Syria that were trained and
supported by Al Qaeda poses a serious problem for the United States and Western
allies. The Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has become one of the
most effective forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.
The fear is that the group could hijack the revolution and emerge as the
dominant force in Syria after Mr. Assad is ousted from power. Obama
administration officials have been increasingly frank about this threat, along
with the possibility that sectarian conflicts among the country’s Sunni,
Alawite, Christian and other groups may well rage on after Assad.
There are no easy answers, and no one believes that Washington, or any external
power, can dictate the outcome. But President Obama still needs to provide a
clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the
jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.
Mr. Obama has blacklisted the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, which
would make it illegal for Americans to have financial dealings with it. It makes
sense to isolate the group and try to dry up its resources, but the designation
by itself isn’t sufficient. American officials have to make a case directly to
the countries or actors that are believed to be most responsible, either
directly or as a conduit, for the weapons and other assistance to the Nusra
Front: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. However much they may
want to see Mr. Assad fall, they play a deadly game in empowering any affiliate
of Al Qaeda, which though weakened, is dedicated to global jihad and the violent
overthrow of Sunni monarchies.
The problem is that many Syrian rebel groups work closely with the Nusra Front
precisely because its skilled fighters have been so effective at storming
fortified Syrian positions and leading other battalions to capture military
bases and oil fields.
Some say the terrorist designation could backfire by pitting the United States
against the rebel forces. Others have argued that one way to marginalize the
jihadi groups is for the United States to arm the moderate and secular rebel
groups or even establish a no-fly zone that would forcibly ground the Syrian Air
But the situation in Syria is extremely complicated, and President Obama’s
caution in resisting military intervention is the right approach. As we saw in
Iraq and Afghanistan, even after committing tens of thousands of troops,
America’s ability to affect the course and outcome of armed conflict is
Against the backdrop of war, the United Nations, the United States and some
European officials are still promoting a negotiated deal to limit the bloodshed.
Even if the warring sides were willing to abandon the fight, any deal would
require Russian support, but talks between American and Russian officials over
the weekend gave no sign that Moscow is prepared to abandon Mr. Assad.
Al Qaeda in Syria, NYT, 10.12.2012,
Deafness Before the Storm
The New York Times
By KURT EICHENWALD
perhaps the most famous presidential briefing in history.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the
threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That
morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by
America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden
Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished
On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only
that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was
investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials
dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping
headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the
impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close
reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.
That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug.
6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are
still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other
recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the
administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that
infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been
disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it
provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in
the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White
House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a
terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that
Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time
frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An
intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in
interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at
the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled;
according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an
attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the
neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources
said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist,
conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the
neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White
House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,”
the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin
Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of
the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist
in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive
pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists
being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.
And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives
connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term
attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1,
the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.”
Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible,
and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.
Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the
Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting
of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for
a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took
place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was
batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.
That same day in Chechnya, according to intelligence I reviewed, Ibn Al-Khattab,
an extremist who was known for his brutality and his links to Al Qaeda, told his
followers that there would soon be very big news. Within 48 hours, an
intelligence official told me, that information was conveyed to the White House,
providing more data supporting the C.I.A.’s warnings. Still, the alarm bells
On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but
that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not
feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence
official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its
aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6
In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that
they had ignored C.I.A. warnings by saying they had not been told when and where
the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the
point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the
plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the Aug. 6 brief
was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a
role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, Fla., by a
suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on Aug. 4. Two weeks later,
another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges
in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not
connected, and Washington did not react.
Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency
to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And
that may be the most agonizing reality of all.
Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair
and a former
reporter for The New York Times,
is the author
of “500 Days:
Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars.”
The Deafness Before the Storm, NYT, 10.9.2012,
Laden deputy Zawahri
takes over as Qaeda leader
DUBAI | Thu
Jun 16, 2011
(Reuters) - Veteran militant Ayman al-Zawahri has taken command of al Qaeda
after the killing of Osama bin Laden, an Islamist website said on Thursday, a
move widely expected following his long years as second-in-command.
Bin Laden's lieutenant and the brains behind much of al Qaeda's strategy,
Zawahri vowed this month to press ahead with al Qaeda's campaign against the
United States and its allies.
"The general leadership of al Qaeda group, after the completion of consultation,
announces that Sheikh Dr. Ayman Zawahri, may God give him success, has assumed
responsibility for command of the group," the Islamist website Ansar
al-Mujahideen (Followers of the Holy Warriors) said in a statement.
The bespectacled Zawahri had been seen as bin Laden's most likely successor
after the man held responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York
and Washington was shot dead by U.S. commandos in Pakistan 45 days ago.
His whereabouts are unknown, although he has long been thought to be hiding
along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is offering
a $25 million reward for any information leading to his capture or conviction.
Former U.S, intelligence officer Robert Ayers said Zawahri was "a man lacking in
charisma, a pale shadow of bin Laden."
"He's a grey bureaucrat, not a leader who can energize and rally the troops. The
only thing his promotion will accomplish is to elevate his priority as a target
for the U.S."
Sajjan Gohel of Asia-Pacific Foundation security consultants said Zawahri had
been in practical charge of al Qaeda for many years, but lacked bin Laden's
presence and his "ability to unite the different Arab factions within the
Others see a more accomplished figure.
London-based journalist Abdel-Bari Atwan, who interviewed bin Laden in 1996,
said Zawahri was the "operational brains" behind al Qaeda and was respected in
part because, he said, he had been bin Laden's chosen deputy.
"He managed to transform al Qaeda from being a small organization focused on
expelling U.S. interests from Saudi Arabia into a global organization. The men
he brought to al Qaeda from his own Egyptian Islamic Jihad group proved to be
the instruments that drove al Qaeda's international push."
Believed to be in his late 50s, Zawahri met bin Laden in the mid-1980s when both
were in Pakistan to support guerrillas fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Born
to an upper-class Cairo family, Zawahri trained as a doctor and surgeon.
"A worthy successor to a great predecessor. We ask God to grant you and your
soldiers success for the victory of Islam and Muslims and to raise the banner of
religion," a contributor to another Islamist militant website, As-Ansar, said in
In a video message posted on the internet on June 8, Zawahri said al Qaeda would
continue to fight.
"The Sheikh (bin Laden) has departed, may God have mercy on him, to his God as a
martyr, and we must continue on his path of jihad to expel the invaders from the
land of Muslims and to purify it from injustice," Zawahri said.
Zawahri called this year's Arab uprisings a disaster for Washington because, he
said, they would remove Arab leaders who were the corrupt "agents of America."
He also pledged allegiance to the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar,
calling him "Emir of the Believers."
The pledge, which repeats one made by bin Laden in the 1990s, was seen by
analysts as an attempt to shore up al Qaeda's alliance with the Taliban, which
sheltered the Arab-led group until U.S. attacks on Afghanistan in 2001 ended
Western powers have demanded the Taliban cut all ties with al Qaeda.
"Today, and thanks be to God, America is not facing an individual or a group ...
but a rebelling nation which has awoken from its sleep in a jihadist renaissance
challenging it wherever it is," Zawahri said.
Among some Egyptians there was disdain at the news.
Karim Sabet, 34, a director of an oil and gas startup firm, said he was not
surprised by the announcement.
"He's been the loyal no. 2 forever. Zawahri seems even more of a mad man than
Osama was, and he'll want to prove himself by going on the attack soon. Another
devil killing in the name of Islam. Disgusting."
Isabel Coles and Cairo bureau,
William Maclean in London;
writing by Reed Stevenson
editing by Andrew Roche and Jan Harvey)
Bin Laden deputy Zawahri takes over as Qaeda leader,
Torture Is a Crime, Not a Secret
September 8, 2010
The New York Times
Five men who say the Bush administration sent them to other countries to be
tortured had a chance to be the first ones to have torture claims heard in
court. But because the Obama administration decided to adopt the Bush
administration’s claim that hearing the case would divulge state secrets, the
men’s lawsuit was tossed out on Wednesday by the full United States Court of
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The decision diminishes any hope that this odious
practice will finally receive the legal label it deserves: a violation of
The lawsuit was brought in 2007 against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan,
that the plaintiffs said had arranged the rendition flights that took them to
Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan to be tortured. One of the men, Binyam Mohamed,
had his bones broken in Morocco, where security agents also cut his skin with a
scalpel and poured a stinging liquid into his wounds.
But the merits of the case were never considered because the Bush administration
argued that even discussing the matter in court would violate the state secrets
privilege. Barack Obama told voters in 2008 that he opposed the government cult
of secrecy, but once he became president, his Justice Department also argued
that the case should be dismissed on secrecy grounds.
The Ninth Circuit was sharply divided, voting 6 to 5 to dismiss the case and
overturn a decision to let it proceed that was made by a panel of three circuit
judges last year. The majority said it reached its decision reluctantly and was
not trying to send a signal that secrecy could be used regularly to dismiss
lawsuits. But even though it is public knowledge that Jeppesen arranged the
torture flights, the majority said any effort by the company to defend itself
would pose “an unacceptable risk of disclosure of state secrets.”
That notion was demolished by the five-judge minority that dissented from the
ruling, pointing out that the plaintiffs were never even given a chance to make
their case in court using nonsecret evidence, including a sworn statement by a
former Jeppesen employee about the company’s role in what he called “the torture
flights.” The case should have been sent back to the district court to examine
which evidence was truly secret; now it will have to be appealed to a Supreme
Court that is unlikely to be sympathetic to the plaintiffs.
The state secrets doctrine is so blinding and powerful that it should be invoked
only when the most grave national security matters are at stake — nuclear
weapons details, for example, or the identity of covert agents. It should not be
used to defend against allegations that if true, as the dissenting judges wrote,
would be “gross violations of the norms of international law.”
All too often in the past, the judges pointed out, secrecy privileges have been
used to avoid embarrassing the government, not to protect real secrets. In this
case, the embarrassment and the shame to America’s reputation are already too
Torture Is a Crime, Not
a Secret, NYT, 8.9.2010,
to Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi?
The death in a Libyan prison of the al-Qaida suspect
reminds us of his shameful mistreatment
at American hands
Wednesday 13 May 2009
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 12.44 BST
on Wednesday 13
It was last updated at 12.45 BST
on Wednesday 13 May 2009.
"From Allah we come and to Him shall we return." Thus begin hundreds of
comments on leading Arabic language news sites today, in response to the death
of Ali al-Fakhiri – better known to the world as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. But the
report of the alleged suicide in his cell in a Libyan prison, where he had been
held since 2006, has been met widely with scepticism.
His capture in November 2001 wasn't announced officially until January 2002,
when US media hailed al-Libi's capture as that of the highest ranking member of
al-Qaida in US military custody. By the time I was kidnapped and detained by US
officials and taken to the US detention facility in Kandahar, I had already
heard rumours that al-Libi had been transported by the Americans in a coffin to
some unspecified location. And when I was moved to the Bagram detention facility
I was told by US intelligence agents that if I did not co-operate I would be
meeting the same fate as him. They said he didn't answer their questions so they
sent him to Egypt. There he told them his life story within two days.
What I didn't know at the time – but have learned and spoken about since – is
that al-Libi was severely tortured, including by water-boarding, into confessing
that al-Qaida was working with Saddam Hussain on obtaining chemical and
biological weapons in order to kill Americans. This information was submitted to
Colin Powell, the then US secretary of state, who argued the case for war
against Iraq based heavily on this information – which he described as credible
and reliable. But a year later al-Libi retracted his statement. That mattered
little to the people of Iraq, who by then were fully under the US-led
The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) later opined that al-Libi's information
was not correct and that he had made the confession either under duress or to
get better treatment. What the world knew by then was that there were no weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq and that al-Qaida had no presence in Iraq until the
But in all of this, what became of al-Libi? In late 2006, President Bush
announced that all high-value detainees (HVD) were being transferred from secret
detention sites to Guantánamo Bay to face trial by military commission. Indeed,
several allegedly high-ranking suspects, whose location had been kept hidden
until then, were sent in 2007 to Guantánamo. They included Abu Zubaydah, said to
be a close associate of al-Libi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged al-Qaida
Al-Libi, however, was not so fortunate. Human rights organisations reported in
2007 that al-Libi had been handed over to the latest ally in the "war on
terror", Libya. Here he was sentenced to life imprisonment – his charges or
trial have never been reported or made public – and ended up, dying of
tuberculosis, isolated in a desert prison. It's anyone's guess as to why the US
authorities chose not to send al-Libi to Guantánamo for trial, but it seems
blatantly obvious to me. Perhaps one of the brave lawyers who are not given the
chance to fight their clients' cases in a court of law would have done so in the
court of public opinion – at a time when the world's most notorious prison – and
war – was so much in the public domain.
There had been much talk by lawyers, activists, journalists and human rights
groups about speaking to al-Libi somehow – before it was too late – and
reportedly a delegation from Human Rights Watch were recently able to gain
access to him. If the report of his death is true, exactly what happened to
al-Libi, like many other cases of enforced disappearances, will probably remain
unknown. The reports say that he was last visited by family members on 29 April
this year. Perhaps they have an idea about how he really died and why he wasn't
sent to Guantánamo. They probably are too scared to tell anyone, even if they do
know. As is often the case, the wife and child he leaves behind don't even
But the case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi – the man whose tortured testimony was
used to justify a war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of people and,
ironically, indirectly led to the pre-trial detention of thousands more – should
serve as a stark reminder of what happens when torture is applied to gain
information. President Obama has recently granted immunity to CIA agents who may
well have been involved in al-Libi's interrogation and torture. If the desire to
get at what went wrong is so blatantly covered up under cover of "national
security concerns", there will be no end to this. And once again, the warmongers
will get away with another odious and criminal cover-up.
What happened to Ibn
al-Sheikh al-Libi?, G, 13.6.2009,
Tales From Torture’s Dark World
March 15, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK DANNER
ON a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the
East Room of the White House and informed the world that the United States had
created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.
“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small
number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war
have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program
operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of
procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply
with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of
Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be
lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important:
perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his
government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence
that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic
of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled
At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Bush made it possible that day for
those on whom the alternative set of procedures were performed eventually to
speak. For he announced that he would send 14 “high-value detainees” from dark
into twilight: they would be transferred from the overseas “black sites” to
Guantánamo. There, while awaiting trial, the International Committee of the Red
Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to
meet with them.”
A few weeks later, from Oct. 6 to 11 and then from Dec. 4 to 14, 2006, Red Cross
officials — whose duty it is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions
and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war — traveled to Guantánamo and
began interviewing the prisoners.
Their stated goal was to produce a report that would “provide a description of
the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period
they were held in the C.I.A. detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months
to almost four and a half years.”
As the Red Cross interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not
intended to be released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee
agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities,” to be given in strictest
secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding
them — in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general
counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on Feb. 14, 2007.
The result is a document — labeled “confidential” and clearly intended only for
the eyes of those senior American officials — that tells a story of what
happened to each of the 14 detainees inside the black sites.
A short time ago, this document came into my hands and I have set out the
stories it tells in a longer article in The New York Review of Books. Because
these stories were taken down confidentially in patient interviews by
professionals from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and not
intended for public consumption, they have an unusual claim to authenticity.
Indeed, since the detainees were kept strictly apart and isolated, both at the
black sites and at Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories would
seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely. As its authors state in their
introduction, “The I.C.R.C. wishes to underscore that the consistency of the
detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular
weight to the information provided below.”
Beginning with the chapter headings on its contents page — “suffocation by
water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement
in a box” — the document makes compelling and chilling reading. The stories
recounted in its fewer than 50 pages lead inexorably to this unequivocal
conclusion, which, given its source, has the power of a legal determination:
“The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases,
the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program,
either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other
elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
Perhaps one should start with the story of the first man to whom, according to
news reports, the president’s “alternative set of procedures” were applied:
“I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured
approximately 4 meters by 4 meters. The room had three solid walls, with the
fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not
sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several
days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept,
shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks.
During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the
constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the
toilet, which consisted of a bucket.
“I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on
the chair. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. At first the Ensure made
me vomit, but this became less with time.
“The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud,
shouting-type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15
minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud
hissing or crackling noise.
“The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My
interrogators did not wear masks.”
So begins the story of Abu Zubaydah, a senior member of Al Qaeda, captured in a
raid in Pakistan in March 2002. The arrest of an active terrorist with
actionable information was a coup for the United States.
After being treated for his wounds — he had been shot in the stomach, leg and
groin during his capture — Abu Zubaydah was brought to one of the black sites,
probably in Thailand, and placed in that white room.
It is important to note that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators,
that everyone in that white room — guards, interrogators, doctor — was in fact
linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the
other side of the world. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide,
‘Well, I’m going to slap him. Or I’m going to shake him,’” said John Kiriakou, a
C.I.A. officer who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, in an interview with ABC News.
Every one of the steps taken with regard to Abu Zubaydah “had to have the
approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on
him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request
permission to do X.’”
He went on: “The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific.... No one
wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.”
Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National
Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney,
the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John
Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the
interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A.
director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques
At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by
John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture
memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered
torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would
be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure,
or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely
result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green
light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu
“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around
my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against
the hard walls of the room.”
The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and
6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added:
The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a
cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my
air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw
that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From
now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my
neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the
impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard
wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”
After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three
feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and
restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to
crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs
held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very
painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It
was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made
it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to
bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have
slept or maybe fainted.
“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what
looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black
cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water
bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few
minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position.
The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.
“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture
carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a
bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and
the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps,
trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”
After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and
again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with
the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two
interrogators as before.
“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the
next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.
This went on for approximately one week.”
Walid bin Attash, a Saudi involved with planning the attacks on American
embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, was captured
in Pakistan on April 29, 2003:
“On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I
remained naked for the next two weeks.... I was kept in a standing position,
feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs
and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was
dark with no light, artificial or natural.”
This forced standing, with arms shackled above the head, seems to have become
standard procedure. It proved especially painful for Mr. bin Attash, who had
lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:
“After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed
my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache
and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my
Cold water was used on Mr. bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use
of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had
been looped around Abu Zubaydah’s neck:
“On a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck
and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was
also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and
was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the
walls of the corridor during such movements.
“Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic
sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water
was then poured onto my body with buckets.... I would be kept wrapped inside the
sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the key planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in
Pakistan on March 1, 2003.
After three days in what he believes was a prison in Afghanistan, Mr. Mohammed
was put in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood and headphones, and shackled and placed
aboard a plane. He quickly fell asleep — “the first proper sleep in over five
days” — and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he
realized he had come a long way:
“I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing
black, with masks and army boots, like Planet X people. I think the country was
Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me
without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in ‘.pl.’”
He was stripped and put in a small cell. “I was kept for one month in the cell
in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my
feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor,” he told the Red Cross.
“Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being
held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the
handcuffs around my wrist, resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars
consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both
ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual
For interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions
lasted for as long as eight hours and as short as four.
“If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and
punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar
would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two
ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The
beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me
using a hose-pipe.”
As with Abu Zubaydah, the harshest sessions involved the “alternative set of
procedures” used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the
effects of the others:
“The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe
by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for
about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the
wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This
was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of
water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention
of the doctor.”
Reading the Red Cross report, one becomes somewhat inured to the “alternative
set of procedures” as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grow
numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the
detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic
heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking.
Here again is Mr. Mohammed:
“After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie
on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my
ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well.... The toilet consisted
of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request” — he was shackled
standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling — “but I was not allowed to clean
myself after toilet during the first month.... I wasn’t given any clothes for
the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw
Abu Zubaydah, Walid bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — these men almost
certainly have blood on their hands. There is strong reason to believe that they
had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused
the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other
“high-value detainees” whose treatment while secretly confined by the United
States is described in the Red Cross report.
From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and
punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be.
The fact that judges, military or civilian, throw out cases of prisoners who
have been tortured — and have already done so at Guantánamo — means it is highly
unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.
For the men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most
important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of
torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the
possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect
relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value
is, at the least, much disputed.
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in
intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s
approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the
United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much
belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.
What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the
United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the
president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say
that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed
American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of
the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and
helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause.
By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made
of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront
us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.
Mark Danner, a professor of journalism
at the University of California,
and Bard College, is the author of
"Torture and Truth: America,
and the War on Terror.”
This essay is drawn from a longer article in the
of The New York Review of Books,
Tales From Torture’s
Dark World, NYT, 15.3.2009,
The New York Times
Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a
few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush’s most unquestioning
supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse,
torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence
Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what
amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially
other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales
and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.
The report shows how actions by these men “led directly” to what happened at Abu
Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons.
It said these top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and
America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices
based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until
the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train
soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless
The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify
their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva
Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the “war on terror” — the first time
any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions.
That order set the stage for the infamous redefinition of torture at the Justice
Department, and then Mr. Rumsfeld’s authorization of “aggressive” interrogation
methods. Some of those methods were torture by any rational definition and many
of them violate laws and treaties against abusive and degrading treatment.
These top officials ignored warnings from lawyers in every branch of the armed
forces that they were breaking the law, subjecting uniformed soldiers to
possible criminal charges and authorizing abuses that were not only considered
by experts to be ineffective, but were actually counterproductive.
One page of the report lists the repeated objections that President Bush and his
aides so blithely and arrogantly ignored: The Air Force had “serious concerns
regarding the legality of many of the proposed techniques”; the chief legal
adviser to the military’s criminal investigative task force said they were of
dubious value and may subject soldiers to prosecution; one of the Army’s top
lawyers said some techniques that stopped well short of the horrifying practice
of waterboarding “may violate the torture statute.” The Marines said they
“arguably violate federal law.” The Navy pleaded for a real review.
The legal counsel to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time
started that review but told the Senate committee that her boss, Gen. Richard
Myers, ordered her to stop on the instructions of Mr. Rumsfeld’s legal counsel,
The report indicates that Mr. Haynes was an early proponent of the idea of using
the agency that trains soldiers to withstand torture to devise plans for the
interrogation of prisoners held by the American military. These trainers — who
are not interrogators but experts only on how physical and mental pain is
inflicted and may be endured — were sent to work with interrogators in
Afghanistan, in Guantánamo and in Iraq.
On Dec. 2, 2002, Mr. Rumsfeld authorized the interrogators at Guantánamo to use
a range of abusive techniques that were already widespread in Afghanistan,
enshrining them as official policy. Instead of a painstaking legal review, Mr.
Rumsfeld based that authorization on a one-page memo from Mr. Haynes. The Senate
panel noted that senior military lawyers considered the memo “ ‘legally
insufficient’ and ‘woefully inadequate.’ ”
Mr. Rumsfeld rescinded his order a month later, and narrowed the number of
“aggressive techniques” that could be used at Guantánamo. But he did so only
after the Navy’s chief lawyer threatened to formally protest the illegal
treatment of prisoners. By then, at least one prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, had
been threatened with military dogs, deprived of sleep for weeks, stripped naked
and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks. This year, a military tribunal
at Guantánamo dismissed the charges against Mr. Qahtani.
The abuse and torture of prisoners continued at prisons run by the C.I.A. and
specialists from the torture-resistance program remained involved in the
military detention system until 2004. Some of the practices Mr. Rumsfeld left in
place seem illegal, like prolonged sleep deprivation.
These policies have deeply harmed America’s image as a nation of laws and may
make it impossible to bring dangerous men to real justice. The report said the
interrogation techniques were ineffective, despite the administration’s repeated
claims to the contrary.
Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who protested the abuses, told the
Senate committee that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain
that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as
judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat —
are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.”
We can understand that Americans may be eager to put these dark chapters behind
them, but it would be irresponsible for the nation and a new administration to
ignore what has happened — and may still be happening in secret C.I.A. prisons
that are not covered by the military’s current ban on activities like
A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top
officials at the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse.
Given his other problems — and how far he has moved from the powerful stands he
took on these issues early in the campaign — we do not hold out real hope that
Barack Obama, as president, will take such a politically fraught step.
At the least, Mr. Obama should, as the organization Human Rights First
suggested, order his attorney general to review more than two dozen
prisoner-abuse cases that reportedly were referred to the Justice Department by
the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — and declined by Mr. Bush’s lawyers.
Mr. Obama should consider proposals from groups like Human Rights Watch and the
Brennan Center for Justice to appoint an independent panel to look into these
and other egregious violations of the law. Like the 9/11 commission, it would
examine in depth the decisions on prisoner treatment, as well as warrantless
wiretapping, that eroded the rule of law and violated Americans’ most basic
rights. Unless the nation and its leaders know precisely what went wrong in the
last seven years, it will be impossible to fix it and make sure those terrible
mistakes are not repeated.
We expect Mr. Obama to keep the promise he made over and over in the campaign —
to cheering crowds at campaign rallies and in other places, including our office
in New York. He said one of his first acts as president would be to order a
review of all of Mr. Bush’s executive orders and reverse those that eroded civil
liberties and the rule of law.
That job will fall to Eric Holder, a veteran prosecutor who has been chosen as
attorney general, and Gregory Craig, a lawyer with extensive national security
experience who has been selected as Mr. Obama’s White House counsel.
A good place for them to start would be to reverse Mr. Bush’s disastrous order
of Feb. 7, 2002, declaring that the United States was no longer legally
committed to comply with the Geneva Conventions.
The Torture Report, NYT, 18.12.2008,
for Obama: How to Define Terror
The New York Times
By JONATHAN MAHLER
— Early last Tuesday morning, a military charter plane left the airstrip at
Guantánamo Bay for Sana, Yemen, carrying Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim
Hamdan. Once the Bush administration’s poster boy for the war on terror — the
first defendant in America’s first military tribunals since World War II — Mr.
Hamdan will spend less than a month in a Yemeni prison before returning to his
family in Sana, having been acquitted by a jury of United States military
officers of the most serious charge brought against him, conspiracy to support
The turn of events underscores the central challenge President Obama will face
as he begins to define his own approach to fighting terrorism — and the
imperative for him to adopt a new, hybrid plan, one that blends elements of both
traditional military conflict and criminal justice.
Until now, much of the debate over how best to battle terrorism has centered on
the two prevailing — and conflicting — paradigms: Is it a war or a criminal
action? The Hamdan case highlights the limitations of such binary thinking. As
the verdict in his tribunal this summer made clear, Mr. Hamdan was not a
criminal conspirator in the classic sense. Yet, as an aide to the world’s most
dangerous terrorist, neither was he a conventional prisoner of war who had
simply been captured in the act of defending his nation and was therefore
essentially free of guilt.
So how should Americans think about Mr. Hamdan? More broadly, how should they
think about the fight against terrorism?
The problems with the war paradigm are by now familiar. Because the war on
terror is unlike any other the United States has waged, traditional wartime
policies and mechanisms have made for an awkward fit, in some instances
undermining efforts to defeat terrorism. The traditional approach to dealing
with captured combatants — holding them until the end of hostilities to prevent
them from returning to the battlefield — is untenable in a war that could last
If you treat the fight against terrorism as a war, it’s hard to get around the
argument that it’s a war without boundaries; a terrorist could be hiding
anywhere. Yet by asserting the right to scoop up suspected terrorists in other
sovereign nations and indefinitely detain and interrogate them without hearings
or trials, the administration complicated its efforts to build an international
coalition against terrorism.
“The war-against-Al-Qaeda paradigm put us in a position where our legal
authorities to detain and interrogate didn’t match up with those of our allies,
so we ended up building a system that’s often rejected as strategically unsound
and legally suspect by even our closest allies,” says Matthew Waxman, a law
professor at Columbia who worked on detainee issues in the Bush administration.
Perhaps the most problematic consequence of the war paradigm, though, is that it
gave the president enormous powers — as commander in chief — to determine how to
detain and interrogate captured combatants. It was the use, or abuse, of those
powers that produced the Bush administration’s string of historic rebukes at the
Supreme Court, starting in 2004 when the justices ruled in Rasul v. Bush that
the president had to afford the Guantánamo detainees some due process.
Some critics of President Bush are now urging President-elect Obama to abandon
the war paradigm in favor of a pure criminal-justice approach, which is to say,
either subject captured combatants to criminal trials or let them go. This will
almost certainly not happen.
Mr. Obama may be more inclined to prosecute suspected terrorists in the federal
courts than Mr. Bush has been, and he may even avoid referring to the battle
against terrorism as a “war.” But ceding the military paradigm altogether would
severely limit his ability to fight terrorism. On a practical level, it would
prevent him from operating in a zone like the tribal areas of Pakistan, where
American law does not reach.
“If you seriously dialed it back to the criminal-justice apparatus you will
paralyze the executive branch’s ability to go where they believe the bad guys
are,” says Benjamin Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “When people
talk about a return to the criminal-justice system, they’re ignoring the
geographical limits of that system.”
In fact, the military approach to fighting terrorism predates the Bush
administration. After Al Qaeda attacked two American embassies in Africa in
1998, President Clinton launched cruise missiles against terrorist camps in
Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan thought to be making chemical
weapons. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said he would not hesitate
to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan — an act of war — if that country’s
government was unwilling to do so itself.
Going forward, the fight against terrorism will have to be something of a
hybrid. This is a novel idea, as the Constitution lays out only two distinct
options: the country is at war, or it is not. Such a strategy may require
building new legal systems and institutions for detaining, interrogating and
There has already been talk of creating a national security court within the
federal judiciary that would presumably give more flexibility on matters like,
say, the standard of proof for evidence collected on an Afghan battlefield.
Similarly, it may be necessary to set clear legal guidelines for when the
government can detain enemy combatants, and how far C.I.A. agents can go when
interrogating terror suspects.
This won’t be easy. It will require striking a balance between the need to
preserve and promote America’s rule-of-law values, protect its intelligence
gathering and ensure that no one who poses a serious threat is set free.
Such an infrastructure is not likely to survive unchallenged, let alone win
popular support, if the executive branch builds it alone. Its chances would be
far better with input from Congress, acting as the elected representatives of
the people to ensure that any new systems protect both the public and America’s
values. And direct advice from the courts could ensure that they are found to be
Paradoxically, such an approach might ultimately enhance a president’s power.
“We need a strong president to fight this war,” says Jack Goldsmith, a law
professor at Harvard who worked in the Bush Justice Department, “and the way to
ensure that there’s a strong president is to have the other institutions on
board for the actions he feels he needs to take.”
Jonathan Mahler, a contributing writer
for The Times Magazine, is the author,
most recently, of “The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
and the Fight Over
Ahead for Obama: How to Define Terror, NYT, 30.11.2008,
The Torture Sessions
April 20, 2008
The New York Times
Ever since Americans learned that American
soldiers and intelligence agents were torturing prisoners, there has been a
disturbing question: How high up did the decision go to ignore United States
law, international treaties, the Geneva Conventions and basic morality?
The answer, we have learned recently, is that — with President Bush’s clear
knowledge and support — some of the very highest officials in the land not only
approved the abuse of prisoners, but participated in the detailed planning of
harsh interrogations and helped to create a legal structure to shield from
justice those who followed the orders.
We have long known that the Justice Department tortured the law to give its
Orwellian blessing to torturing people, and that Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld approved a list of ways to abuse prisoners. But recent accounts by ABC
News and The Associated Press said that all of the president’s top national
security advisers at the time participated in creating the interrogation policy:
Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Rumsfeld; Condoleezza Rice, the national
security adviser; Colin Powell, the secretary of state; John Ashcroft, the
attorney general; and George Tenet, the director of central intelligence.
These officials did not have the time or the foresight to plan for the aftermath
of the invasion of Iraq or the tenacity to complete the hunt for Osama bin
Laden. But they managed to squeeze in dozens of meetings in the White House
Situation Room to organize and give legal cover to prisoner abuse, including
brutal methods that civilized nations consider to be torture.
Mr. Bush told ABC News this month that he knew of these meetings and approved of
Those who have followed the story of the administration’s policies on prisoners
may not be shocked. We have read the memos from the Justice Department
redefining torture, claiming that Mr. Bush did not have to follow the law, and
offering a blueprint for avoiding criminal liability for abusing prisoners.
The amount of time and energy devoted to this furtive exercise at the very
highest levels of the government reminded us how little Americans know, in fact,
about the ways Mr. Bush and his team undermined, subverted and broke the law in
the name of saving the American way of life.
We have questions to ask, in particular, about the involvement of Ms. Rice, who
has managed to escape blame for the catastrophic decisions made while she was
Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, and Mr. Powell, a career Army officer who
should know that torture has little value as an interrogation method and puts
captured Americans at much greater risk. Did they raise objections or warn of
the disastrous effect on America’s standing in the world? Did anyone?
Mr. Bush has sidestepped or quashed every attempt to uncover the breadth and
depth of his sordid actions. Congress is likely to endorse a cover-up of the
extent of the illegal wiretapping he authorized after 9/11, and we are still
waiting, with diminishing hopes, for a long-promised report on what the Bush
team really knew before the Iraq invasion about those absent weapons of mass
destruction — as opposed to what it proclaimed.
At this point it seems that getting answers will have to wait, at least, for a
new Congress and a new president. Ideally, there would be both truth and
accountability. At the very minimum the public needs the full truth.
Some will call this a backward-looking distraction, but only by fully
understanding what Mr. Bush has done over eight years to distort the rule of law
and violate civil liberties and human rights can Americans ever hope to repair
the damage and ensure it does not happen again.
The Torture Sessions, NYT, 20.4.2008,
McCain, Iraq War
and the Threat of ‘Al Qaeda’
April 19, 2008
The New York Times
By MICHAEL COOPER
and LARRY ROHTER
As he campaigns with the weight of a deeply unpopular war on
his shoulders, Senator John McCain of Arizona frequently uses the shorthand “Al
Qaeda” to describe the enemy in Iraq in pressing to stay the course in the war
“Al Qaeda is on the run, but they’re not defeated” is his standard line on how
things are going in Iraq. When chiding the Democrats for wanting to withdraw
troops, he has been known to warn that “Al Qaeda will then have won.” In an
attack this winter on Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic
front-runner, Mr. McCain went further, warning that if American forces withdrew,
Al Qaeda would be “taking a country.”
Critics say that in framing the war that way at rallies or in sound bites, Mr.
McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is oversimplifying the hydra-headed
nature of the insurgency in Iraq in a way that exploits the emotions that have
been aroused by the name “Al Qaeda” since the Sept. 11 attacks.
There has been heated debate since the start of the war about the nature of the
threat in Iraq. The Bush administration has long portrayed the fight as part of
a broader battle against Islamic terrorists. Opponents of the war accuse the
administration of deliberately blurring the distinction between the Sept. 11
attackers and anti-American forces in Iraq.
“The fundamental problem we face in Iraq is that there is not a single center of
gravity, as in the cold war, but a whole constellation of contending forces,”
said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism and counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown
University. “This is much more fractionated than most people could imagine, with
multiple, independent moving parts, and when you have that universe of networks,
you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The entity Mr. McCain was referring to — Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, also known as
Al Qaeda in Iraq — did not exist until after the United States invaded Iraq in
2003. The most recent National Intelligence Estimates consider it the most
potent offshoot of Al Qaeda proper, the group led by Osama bin Laden that is now
believed to be based on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
It is a largely homegrown and loosely organized group of Sunni Arabs that,
according to the official American military view that Mr. McCain endorses, is
led at least in part by foreign operatives and receives fighters, financing and
direction from senior Qaeda leaders.
In longer discussions on the subject, Mr. McCain often goes into greater
specificity about the entities jockeying for control in Iraq. Some other
analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple
insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly
reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic
setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself
to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M.
Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the
But some students of the insurgency say Mr. McCain is making a dangerous
generalization. “The U.S. has not been fighting Al Qaeda, it’s been fighting
Iraqis,” said Juan Cole, a fierce critic of the war who is the author of “Sacred
Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam” and a
professor of history at the University of Michigan. A member of Al Qaeda “is
technically defined as someone who pledges fealty to Osama bin Laden and is
given a terror operation to carry out. It’s kind of like the Mafia,” Mr. Cole
said. “You make your bones, and you’re loyal to a capo. And I don’t know if
anyone in Iraq quite fits that technical definition.”
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is just one group, though a very lethal one, in the stew
of competing Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, Iranian-backed groups, criminal
gangs and others that make up the insurgency in Iraq. That was vividly
illustrated last month when the Iraqi Army’s unsuccessful effort to wrest
control of Basra from the Shiite militia groups that hold sway there led to an
explosion of violence.
The current situation in Iraq should properly be described as “a multifactional
civil war” in which “the government is composed of rival Shia factions” and
“they are embattled with an outside Shia group, the Mahdi Army,” Ira M. Lapidus,
a co-author of “Islam, Politics and Social Movements” and a professor of history
at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California,
Berkeley, wrote in an e-mail message. “The Sunni forces are equally hard to
assess,” he added, and “it is an open question as to whether Al Qaeda is a
unified operating organization at all.”
In recent months, Mr. McCain has also been talking more about the threat posed
by Iranian influence in Iraq, bringing him in line with American military
officials, who in the wake of the Basra fighting seem increasingly convinced
that Iranian support for Shiite groups now constitutes the primary security
threat in Iraq.
Mr. McCain acknowledged those concerns on Tuesday night in an interview with
Chris Matthews on MSNBC when he said that “we now see the Iranians beginning to
reassert an age-old Persian ambition, as you know, to increase their influence,
particularly in southern Iraq.”
In talking about both threats, Mr. McCain tripped up last month on a visit to
the Middle East, when he mistakenly said several times that the Iranians were
training Qaeda operatives in Iran and sending them back to Iraq. Prompted by one
of his traveling companions, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mr.
McCain corrected himself, saying that he had misspoken and had meant to say Iran
was training “other extremists” in Iraq.
And Mr. McCain went beyond what he usually says and what his foreign policy
advisers believe during a back-and-forth with Mr. Obama at the end of February.
It began when Mr. Obama said at a Democratic debate that while he intended to
withdraw American forces from Iraq as rapidly as possible, he reserved the right
to send troops back in “if Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq.”
Mr. McCain seized on the remark. “I have some news,” he said at a
town-hall-style meeting in Tyler, Tex. “Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It’s called ‘Al
Qaeda in Iraq.’ My friends, if we left, they wouldn’t be establishing a base.
They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen.”
In general, Mr. Obama’s views track with those of many independent analysts. In
a speech last August, he criticized President Bush by saying: “The president
would have us believe that every bomb in Baghdad is part of Al Qaeda’s war
against us, not an Iraqi civil war. He elevates Al Qaeda in Iraq — which didn’t
exist before our invasion — and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are
training new recruits in Pakistan.”
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wants to begin withdrawing troops, has
spoken of leaving some troops behind to fight Al Qaeda, deal with Sunni
insurgents, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly help the
Iraqi military. She warned last year of the dangers if Iraq turned into a failed
state “that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda.”
Few, including Mr. McCain, expect Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni group, to
take control of Shiite-dominated Iraq in the event of an American withdrawal.
The situation they fear and which Mr. McCain himself sometimes fleshes out is
that an American withdrawal would be celebrated as a triumph by Al Qaeda and
create instability that the group could then exploit to become more powerful.
“Al Qaeda in Iraq would proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke
sectarian tensions, pushing for a full-scale civil war that could descend into
genocide and destabilize the Middle East,” Mr. McCain said this month. “Iraq
would become a failed state. It could become a haven for terrorists to train and
plan their operations.”
Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser, said during a
recent conference call with reporters that in the event of an American pullout,
“you might not necessarily see a single entity taking charge.” But such a
withdrawal could empower Shiite militias in the south and Kurds in the north,
leaving Al Qaeda “free to try to impose its will” and lead to increased
sectarian violence that “would be very likely to draw neighbors into the
conflict,” he said.
While “it is absolutely incorrect to describe the Sunni insurgency in Iraq as
driven by Al Qaeda, you can’t properly talk about Iraq without talking about Al
Qaeda in Iraq” and its importance in the larger war against terror, said Reuel
M. Gerecht, a former Middle East specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency
who is now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
“Bin Laden is a pretty good judge of the history of his own organization and its
future, and he looks upon Iraq as the great battle, the make-or-break issue that
will decide the fate of the ummah,” the global community of Islamic faithful.
When Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior military commander in Iraq, testified to
the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Mr. McCain sought an endorsement
of his focus on Al Qaeda. But General Petraeus responded with an evaluation more
nuanced than the argument Mr. McCain typically offers on the campaign trail. Al
Qaeda “is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as
it was, say, 15 months ago,” he said.
In response to another of Mr. McCain’s questions, General Petraeus replied, “The
area of operation of Al Qaeda has been greatly reduced in terms of controlling
areas that it controlled as little as a year a half ago.”
McCain, Iraq War and
the Threat of ‘Al Qaeda’, NYT, 19.4.2008,
A PROFILE IN TERROR
From Dropout to Prisoner
to Insurgent Leader
July 13, 2004
The New York Times
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
AMMAN, Jordan, July 10 - Ten years ago, fellow inmates remember, Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi emerged as the tough-guy captain of his cellblock. In the brutish
dynamic of prison life, that meant doling out chores.
"He'd say, 'You bring the food; you clean the floor,' " recalled Khalid Abu
Doma, who was jailed with Mr. Zarqawi for plotting against the Jordanian
government. "He didn't have great ideas. But people listened to him because they
According to American officials, Mr. Zarqawi has come a long way from his
bullying cellblock days and is now the biggest terrorist threat in Iraq, accused
of orchestrating guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings, kidnappings and
beheadings. [On Sunday he claimed responsibility for a mortar barrage in Samarra
last Thursday that killed five American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier.]
American views of Mr. Zarqawi's relationship to Al Qaeda have varied. Secretary
of State Colin L. Powell has described him as a Qaeda operative, but a senior
American military official said recently that sources now indicated that Mr.
Zarqawi was "a separate jihadist.''
He remains a singular target: American forces are stepping up airstrikes on
buildings they believe to be his safe houses in Falluja and have raised the
bounty on him to $25 million, the figure offered for Osama bin Laden.
For all that, Mr. Zarqawi remains a phantom, with little known about his
whereabouts or his operations.
In Jordan, where he stamped strong impressions on people as he climbed the
ladder of outlaw groups, friends and associates described the making of a
militant. They say he grew up in rough-and-tumble circumstances and adopted
religion with the same intensity he showed for drinking and fighting, though he
became far less a revolutionary mastermind than a dull-witted hothead with gruff
These people, who knew Mr. Zarqawi until he disappeared into the terrorist murk
of Afghanistan four years ago, acknowledge that he may have changed. But they
say that while the man they knew could be capable of great brutality, they have
a hard time imagining him as the guiding light of an Iraqi insurgency.
"When we would write bad things about him in our prison magazine, he would
attack us with his fists," said Yousef Rababa, who was imprisoned with Mr.
Zarqawi for militant activity. "That's all he could do. He's not like bin Laden
with ideas and vision. He had no vision."
Mr. Zarqawi, thought to be 37, grew up fast and hard in Zarqa, a crime-ridden
industrial city north of Amman known as Jordan's Detroit.
From his two-story concrete-block house, he looked out on hills dotted with
smokestacks. He came from a poor family and has seven sisters and two brothers.
His father was a traditional healer. His mother struggled with leukemia. His
birth name was Ahmed Fadeel al-Khalayleh.
Childhood friends say he was much like any other boy, chasing soccer balls
through gravely streets, doing average work in school, not going to the mosque
much. But he liked to fight. "He was not so big, but he was bold," said a
cousin, Muhammad al-Zawahra.
At 17, family members say, he dropped out of school. Friends said he had started
drinking heavily and getting tattoos, both discouraged under Islam. According to
Jordanian intelligence reports provided to The Associated Press in Amman, Mr.
Zarqawi was jailed in the 1980's for sexual assault, though no additional
details were available.
By the time he cleared 20 he was adrift, his family said, and like other young
Arab men looking for a cause, he looked northeast, to Afghanistan.
Saleh al-Hami, Mr. Zarqawi's brother-in-law - who, like many former guerrillas
who fought in Afghanistan, has a long black beard and a plastic leg - said Mr.
Zarqawi arrived in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in the spring of 1989 to join
the jihad, or holy war, against the Russians. But he got there a little late.
The Russians had just pulled out. So instead of picking up a gun, Mr. Zarqawi
picked up a pen.
He became a reporter for a small jihadist magazine, Al Bonian al Marsous, whose
name means "The Strong Wall.'' He was 22, with a medium build and shiny black
eyes, and roamed the countryside interviewing Arab fighters about the glorious
battles he had missed.
Mr. Hami was convalescing in a hospital after he stepped on a land mine when he
met Mr. Zarqawi. The two grew close, and he later married Mr. Zarqawi's younger
One night while they were camping in a cave, he recalled, Mr. Zarqawi shared a
special dream. He said he had seen a vision of a sword falling from the sky.
"Jihad" was written on its blade.
Mr. Zarqawi returned to Zarqa in 1992 and fell in with a militant Islamic group,
Bayaat al Imam, or Loyalty to the Imam. He was arrested in 1993 after the
Jordanian authorities discovered assault rifles and bombs stashed in his house.
His lawyer said Mr. Zarqawi lamely told investigators that he had found the
weapons while walking down the street. "He never struck me as intelligent," said
the lawyer, Mohammed al-Dweik.
Mr. Zarqawi was sent to Swaqa prison, on the desert's edge. He was housed with
other political prisoners in a large room with iron bunk beds. Cellmates said
Mr. Zarqawi turned his bunk into a cave, covering each side with blankets. He
sat for hours bent over a Koran, trying to memorize all 6,236 verses.
Friends said this was typical. When he was a drinker, they said, he was an
extreme drinker. When he was violent, he was extremely violent.
He strutted around in Afghan dress and a woolly Afghan hat and lived and
breathed old Afghan battles. "Back then, he liked Americans," Mr. Abu Doma said.
"Abu Musab used to say they were Christian and they were believers."
The Russians were his No. 1 enemy, but this, like many other beliefs, would
change behind bars. In the wing where Mr. Zarqawi lived, ideologies scraped up
against one other. But cellmates said he shied away from politics. Instead, he
pumped iron. Cellmates remember his barbells, made from pieces of bed frame and
olive oil tins filled with rocks.
As the years passed, Mr. Zarqawi's arms and chest grew - and so did his role. He
mapped out shifts for cleaning, bringing meals to cells and visiting the doctor.
He did not talk much. When asked to describe him during this period, almost
everyone interviewed began with the word "jad," which means serious.
His firmness was his attraction, fellow inmates said, his remoteness his power.
By 1998, when a prison doctor, Basil Abu Sabha, met him, Mr. Zarqawi was clearly
"He could order his followers to do things just by moving his eyes," Dr. Abu
His religious views became increasingly severe. They had been marinating in a
stew of militant beliefs served up by the imams and sheiks in the iron bunks
next to him. He lashed out at cellmates if they read anything but the Koran.
Mr. Abu Doma said he got a threatening note for reading "Crime and Punishment."
"He spelled Dostoyevsky 'Doseefski,' Mr. Abu Doma said, laughing. "The note was
full of bad Arabic, like a child wrote it."
Fellow inmates said that around that time, 1998, just as Al Qaeda was emerging
as a serious threat blamed for the two bombings of United States Embassies in
Africa, Mr. Zarqawi started talking about killing Americans.
In March 1999, Mr. Zarqawi was released under an amnesty for political
prisoners. His associates said they expected him to return to jail.
"Because of his views, there was no place for him in Jordan," said Mr. Rababa,
explaining that the country, tempered and mostly secular, was no place for an
extremist. As for himself, Mr. Rababa said he had found a place in Jordan
because his views had matured.
But for Mr. Zarqawi, Mr. Rababa said, "everyone was the enemy."
Mr. Zarqawi also had hopes for a normal life, according to Mr. Hami, who said he
had at least two children and had thought of buying a pickup truck and opening a
"You could tell he was confused," Mr. Hami said.
In early 2000, Mr. Zarqawi went to Peshawar, Pakistan, at the Afghan border. It
was a deeply religious city, which made it attractive to him. He even took his
But at the doorstep to jihad, he hesitated.
"He said it was Muslims fighting Muslims in Afghanistan and he didn't believe in
the cause," Mr. Hami said. "And he liked the air in Peshawar and thought it was
a good place for his mother."
Mr. Zarqawi's family said he was especially close to her, kissing her forehead
every time he walked in the door.
While he was deciding what to do, his Pakistani visa expired. Around the same
time, Jordan declared Mr. Zarqawi a suspect in a foiled terror plot against a
Christian pilgrimage site.
"At that point, he had nowhere else to go," Mr. Hami said.
In June 2000, Mr. Hami said, Mr. Zarqawi crossed into Afghanistan, alone. His
mother died of leukemia in February of this year at age 62. Mr. Hami said her
last wish was for her son to be killed in battle, not captured.
American intelligence officials said Mr. Zarqawi opened a weapons camp connected
to Al Qaeda in late 2000 in western Afghanistan. There he took up his nom de
guerre, with Zarqawi a reference to his hometown of Zarqa.
United States officials said he was wounded in a missile strike after the Sept.
11, 2001, terror attacks when American forces went after the Taliban and Al
Intelligence officials say he then left Afghanistan, where he had taken a second
wife, and made his way to a corner of northern Iraq controlled by a Kurdish
separatist Islamic group called Ansar al-Islam.
The next sighting of Mr. Zarqawi was on Sept. 9, 2002, when Jordanian agents
said he illegally entered Jordan from Syria.
A month later Laurence Foley, a senior American diplomat, was fatally shot
outside his home in Amman. Jordanian agents arrested three men who, the agents
said, told them that they had been recruited, armed and paid by Mr. Zarqawi. He
was sentenced to death in absentia.
On Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell made his assertions about Mr. Zarqawi
at the United Nations.
Mr. Powell stands by his statement, a spokesman said this month, even though
other parts of that speech have been discredited and Mr. Powell mistakenly
identified Mr. Zarqawi as Palestinian. He actually is of the Beni Hassan tribe,
with roots deep in the Jordanian desert.
Other American information about Mr. Zarqawi has also been incorrect. At first
it was said that he had a leg amputated during a Baghdad hospital visit, but
now, a senior United States military official said in an e-mail message, "we
believe Zarqawi has both legs, and reporting of the missing limb was
At the beginning of the war in Iraq, Mr. Zarqawi and the Ansar fighters were
driven out of the country. In August a car bomb blew up the Jordanian Embassy in
Baghdad, the first in a deadly wave of bombings. Mr. Zarqawi, because of his
history as an anti-Jordan militant, was immediately a suspect.
In February, American officials in Baghdad released a 6,700-word letter -
outlining a terror strategy to drag Iraq into civil war - that they said had
been found on a CD from Mr. Zarqawi to Al Qaeda's leadership. But people who
know Mr. Zarqawi wonder if he was the author. They said the lengthy political
analysis, the references to seventh-century kings and embroidered phrases like
"crafty and malicious scorpion" do not sound like him.
"The man was basically illiterate," Mr. Abu Doma said, though he acknowledged
that a learned acolyte could be helping him.
Americans officials stand by their identification. They said the letter had been
seized from a courier working for Mr. Zarqawi, who calls his group the Tawid and
The mystery remains. On May 11, a video appeared, titled "Sheik Abu Musab
Zarqawi Slaughters an American Infidel." It showed the beheading of Nicholas
Berg, the young Pennsylvania businessman. American officials believe that Mr.
Zarqawi may have been the killer.
Back in Amman, there are questions. The killer on the video cuts with his right
hand. While Mr. Hami said he thought Mr. Zarqawi was right-handed, Mr. Rababa
and Mr. Abu Doma, who shared the same room with him for several years, insisted
that he used his right hand only for eating and shaking hands.
Abdallah Abu Romman contributed reporting for this article.
Zarqawi's Journey: From Dropout to Prisoner to Insurgent Leader,
in Manhattan 'bomb' blast
From The Guardian archive
February 27 1993
Terrorism was yesterday blamed for an explosion which tore
through the World Trade Centre in New York, killing at least five people,
injuring up to 500 and paralysing lower Manhattan.
Late last night rescue workers were still going through the eerily dark twin
towers, one of New York's most famous landmarks, looking for trapped workers.
Television networks quoted fire officials as saying that a large bomb caused the
blast. Accidental causes were ruled out.
Governor Mario Cuomo put units of the National Guard on alert. New York's
airports were placed on security alert for possible "terrorist activities".
Police said the explosion took place in an area of the underground car park
reserved for the security services and the president when he visits New York.
Police took no chances with a bomb threat at another landmark, the Empire State
building, later in the afternoon and evacuated the building.
The explosion at the World Trade Centre brought down the ceiling in an
underground station below the car park. Scores of passengers were in the
station, which services New Jersey. Fires at the base of the complex of seven
office buildings sent heavy smoke throughout.
In one dramatic rescue, a police helicopter hovered over the roof of one of the
twin towers, and hoisted a pregnant woman into the aircraft.
"I was standing there waiting for the train when I heard an explosion," said
Robert Ashley as he was carried away. Fred Ferby spoke of his panic as dense
black smoke filled the concourse below the World Trade Centre. "It was like a
tomb. I panicked, I tried to get out as fast as I could."
Rescue workers, hampered by icy conditions, worked to free people from the
rubble on the station platform. Workers emerged, faces blackened with soot. With
electricity cut, workers had to make their way down the buildings on foot.
Hospitals around New York treated hundreds of patients, mostly for smoke
"The building shook," said Lisa Hoffman, who works nearby. "I looked out the
window to see if New Jersey had disappeared."
The explosion occurred at 2.15pm, when the area around the centre was filled
with employees on their lunch break. Minutes later, the area, where 100,000
people work, was filled with the wail of sirens.
Trading ground to a halt as all of New York's commodity markets which share the
building closed early because of smoke. The incident caused huge disruption in
the New York subway system as the World Trade Centre is a major transfer point.
From The Guardian
archive > February 27 1993 >
Five killed in Manhattan 'bomb' blast,
G, Republished 27.2.2007, p. 32,
On This Day -
August 8, 1998
From The Times archive
On the eighth anniversary of the
of US troops to Saudi Arabia
two American embassies in East Africa
were bombed almost simultaneously
WITH lax airport security and
thousands of miles of porous borders with countries in a state of war, Kenya and
Tanzania presented a soft underbelly to the international terrorists who
detonated two car bombs outside American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam
The prime suspect, intelligence sources said last night before formal
investigations, is Osama bin Laden, 44, a Saudi Arabian-born Islamic
fundamentalist zealot behind a wave of similar bomb attacks, who has good
contacts in East Africa.
Mr bin Laden has extensive links inside Sudan, where he is based when he moves
outside Afghanistan, and in Somalia, where he has a network of extremists on his
He would have had little difficulty in smuggling the explosives and detonators
required to devastate reinforced concrete buildings in both Kenya and Tanzania.
To observers it has been a surprise that terrorist groups have not exploited the
almost non-existent security at most African airport terminals and anarchic
frontiers to unleash terror against American embassies.
US and Saudi investigators believe that the millionaire scion of a wealthy Saudi
family funded the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York and the murder
of 19 American airmen in a bomb attack in Dhahran in 1996.
From The Times Archive > On This Day - August 8, 1998,
Related > Anglonautes >
terrorism, global terrorism, militant groups,
terrorism > air > weapons
religion / faith,
abuse, violence, extremism,
Related > Anglonautes > History
21st century > USA > Terrorism (II) > Osama bin Laden is
21st century > USA > 11 September 2001 - 9/11
2001 > USA > 9/11 > Frontpages
20th century > UK > Scotland > 1988 > Lockerbie plane
21st century >
USA > 2001-2005
20th century > USA > Oklahoma City bombing - 1995
Related > Anglonautes > Images
Cartoons > 11 September 2001 (9/11)
Anglonautes > Videos > Documentaries > 2010s
Terrorism > 9/11
Terrorism > 9/11 > CIA > torture
USA / Cuba > Terrorism > Guantánamo Bay