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Vocapedia > Terrorism > Militant groups


Al Qaeda / Al-Qaida





Adam Zyglis

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        USA




























terror / terrorism threat        USA










stay on terror watch        USA










terrorism        USA






















global terrorism        USA










counterterrorism strategy        USA










massacre        USA










bloodshed        USA










terrifying ordeal        USA










fear        USA

















Afghanistan > terrorism        USA












Afghanistan > Abu Muhsin al-Masri, senior al-Qaida leader         UK












Mokhtar Belmokhtar, commander of an al-Qaida linked brigade        UK / USA


























Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA)

in the Arabian Peninsula


Nasir al-Wuhayshi



















Burkina Faso > terrorism > al-Qaida        USA



















India > Mumbai terror attacks        USA        2008














al-Qaeda in Iraq










Al-Qaeda in Iraq > Pope Benedict XVI        2006


http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2006-09-18-pope-qaeda_x.htm - broken link


















The F.B.I. wanted poster for Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah,

who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri.


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-Masri

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.


Long featured

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        UK










Mali > Al-Qaida        UK / USA



















Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia

















Militant organizations in North Africa,

including those affiliated with Al Qaeda > ransoms        USA










Kenya, Tanzania

bombings of the United States embassies

in Kenya and Tanzania        1998



















al-Qaida’s north Africa (AQMI) chief


Abdelmalek Droukdel is killed by French forces        UK










Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA) > Syria        USA










Jabhat al-Nusra,

the main Qaeda affiliate in Syria        USA










Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida        USA










Al-Qaida (UK) / Al Qaeda (USA) Leader In Syria


Abdul Mohsen Adballah Ibrahim al Charekh,

better known as Sanafi al-Nasr        USA



















Al Qaeda > Africa > Yemen        USA

















Africa > Al Qaeda in Yemen    2010-2015




































Qassim al-Rimi

al-Qaida leader in Yemen

a founder of al-Qaida

in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)        UK











'Underwear bomber'

foiled Al-Qaida bomb plot /

Antiterrorism Work With Saudis    2012




































Inspire magazine:

the self-help manual for al-Qaida terrorists    2013



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






























































































































Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri    1951-2022


Egyptian-born surgeon-turned-jihadist

who assumed

the leadership of Al Qaeda

after the killing of Osama bin Laden

and who died at 71 in a drone strike

in Kabul, Afghanistan,

over the weekend,

according to U.S. officials,

led a life steeped

in secrecy, betrayal,

conspiracy and violence,

most murderously

in the Sept. 11 attacks

against the United States in 2001.


While Bin Laden,

who was killed

by an American raid in 2011,

was widely seen

as the terrorist mastermind

of those attacks,

many counterterrorism experts

considered al-Zawahri

more responsible.





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 1981.


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

than Mr. bin Laden himself,

according to

the Council on Foreign Relations.





























Al-Qaida-linked group








clampdown against al-Qaida suspects








al Qaeda operative








al-Qaida terror plotter        UK










9 / 11 plotter        USA










terrorist conspiracy








be responsible for N
























Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,

the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, is "eliminated"        8 June 2006


















































story.php?storyId=5472135 - June 8, 2006
















Al Qaeda regional affiliate        USA

















hostage        UK / USA




















hostage crisis        UK / USA














freed hostages        UK










terrorist financing > kidnapping / abduction > ransom        USA












cartoons > Cagle > Al Qaeda        USA        May 2012












al-Qaida recruiter        USA










Al Qaeda-inspired groups        USA        2012


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?        UK        2011

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


Terek Mehanna

is convicted on four terror-related charges

for distributing publications to promote violent jihad










June 2011 > The death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed

(25 August 1972; or 25 February 1974; or 25 December 1974 – 8 June 2011)        UK


– 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.










Bomb plot / International terror alert

as explosive packages found on planes bound for US        October 2010






































Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology        2011










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,

who presided, declared

that she was “fully satisfied

that Mr. Moussaoui is completely competent”

and called him

“an extremely intelligent man.”














Adam Gadahn    1978-2015        USA


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        USA


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 al-Awlaki.










Anwar al-Awlaki    1971-2011


eloquent Muslim cleric

who turned the Web into a tool

for extremist indoctrination.


Mr. Awlaki was perhaps

the most prominent

English-speaking advocate

of violent jihad

against the United States.


The Obama administration

took the extraordinary step

of authorizing

the 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 who oversaw

the early growth of the organization,

a decentralized collection

of semi-autonomous terrorist groups

that has claimed responsibility for scores

of suicide attacks

and car bombings across Iraq.










Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab,

a Nigerian citizen,

was charged with trying to blow up

a transcontinental airliner over Detroit

on 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        2009










Al-Qaida: eight years after 9/11        2009










Ali al-Fakhiri / Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi        2009

















Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land)        USA

















Bin Laden manhunt        USA


bin-laden-hunt_x.htm  - broken link








Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar        UK










Osama bin Laden        UK













Osama bin Laden is killed

in shootout in Pakistan    2011        UK / USA



















osama-bin-laden-idUSRTR2LVPR#a=1  - May 1, 2011








New York Times > Op-Eds About Osama bin Laden


Op-Ed contributors

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    1957-2011        UK / USA













al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden        2010










al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden        2009




















Osama / Usama bin Laden        2007


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

Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi

and Walid bin Attash












Khalid Shaikh / Sheikh Mohammed > Alleged 9/11 mastermind goes to court        2008-2012

































Jose Padilla    2008-2012        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 > Al-Qaida        UK




















9/11 hijackers        UK












9/11 > Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta    1968 – September 11, 2001        UK / USA 












9/11 > Khalid Sheikh Mohammed        UK












9/11 > Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
















Bojinka Jetliners Bomb Plot > Khalid Shaikh Mohammed        USA






terrorists > women        USA






terrorist > Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri

al-Qaida's bomb-maker in chief        UK






terrorist > Saajid Badat        UK






USA > FBI > Most wanted terrorists        UK






safe house















jihad        UK / USA











jihad video        USA










jihadi        UK










jihadist        UK














jihadist        USA












jihadist plot        USA










follower        UK






















sleeper cells        USA











 jihadist plot        USA






plot an attack        USA        2013






Indonesia > Bojinka Jetliners Bomb Plot        USA        2006

plot to blow up several airliners over the Atlantic







plotter        USA






Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman

is charged with planning

to bomb the World Trade Centre        UK        27 August 1993






Pakistan > blast        USA
















claim responsibility for N




















1973 > Yom Kippur war        UK


(the) war (...) began on the 6th October 1973

and ended less than three weeks later

- yet somehow the Israeli and Arab states combatants,

as well as the rest of the world,

still live with the aftermath today.


The consequences of the war were immediate.


Arab oil producers for the first time united

and raised the price of oil precipitously.


The resulting inflation in the developed world

would end the post-World War 2 economic boom

virtually overnight.


In the Anglosphere

this inflation would ebb and flow

for the rest of the decade

and only come to an end with the election

of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan,

who broke its back by neutering unions

with their "cost of living plus" contracts.


In Israel, within months,

five of the right-wing nationalist political parties united

into a new political party called Likud,

which means consolidation.


In 1977,

the Likud would be elected to government.


It has been in power,

either alone or in coalition,

for most of the half century since the war

and its expansionist ideology-building settlements

in "Samaria",

the West Bank Palestinian land captured in 1967,

would come to redefine Israel.


In Egypt,

Anwar Sadat negotiated the return of the Sinai

that more than 5000 Egyptians died trying to recapture.


His signature on the Camp David Accords

was his death sentence.


He was assassinated three years later.


Among those imprisoned and tortured

for their role in the assassination plot

was Ayman al Zawihiri, who later founded al-Qaeda

and recruited Osama bin-Laden to the cause.










play/m001r0tz - BBC podcast - Released On: 30 Sep 2023















Corpus of news articles


Terrorism > Global terrorism > Militant groups


Al Qaeda / Al-Qaida




Tally of Attacks in U.S.

Challenges Perceptions

of Top Terror Threat


JUNE 24, 2015

The New York Times



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 University.

“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 ideology.

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 the scene.

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 Threat,
JUNE 24, 2015,






Resurgent Violence

Underscores Morphing

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, Baghdad.

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 U.S.-trained military.

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.



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 years."

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 majority rule.
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 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 militants.

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 six months.

Pakistani government officials said Islamabad had given the Americans "express approval" for the strikes - the first time Pakistan has admitted to such cooperation.



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 true.


(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,
NYT, 13.6.2014,






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 Force.

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 decidedly limited.

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,






The Deafness Before the Storm


September 10, 2012
The New York Times


IT was 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 that goal.

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 didn’t sound.

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 brief.

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.


Kurt 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,






Bin Laden deputy Zawahri

takes over as Qaeda leader


DUBAI | Thu Jun 16, 2011
8:39am EDT


DUBAI (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 group."

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 a posting.

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 Taliban rule.

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."


(Reporting by Sara Anabtawi,

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,
    R, 16.6.2011,






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 international law.

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 well known.

    Torture Is a Crime, Not a Secret, NYT, 8.9.2010,






What happened

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
12.44 BST
Moazzam Begg
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 12.44 BST on Wednesday 13 May 2009.
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 occupation.

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 2003 invasion.

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 mastermind.

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 matter.

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,






Op-Ed Contributor

Tales From Torture’s Dark World


March 15, 2009
The New York Times


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 still.

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 applied.

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 Zubaydah:

“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 wrists.”

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 interrogation.”

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 standing.”

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 sunlight.”

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, Berkeley,

and Bard College, is the author of

"Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib

and the War on Terror.”

This essay is drawn from a longer article in the new issue

of The New York Review of Books,

available at www.nybooks.com .

    Tales From Torture’s Dark World, NYT, 15.3.2009,







The Torture Report


December 18, 2008
The New York Times


Most 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 services.

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 enemy.

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, Mr. Haynes.

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 waterboarding.

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,






Ahead for Obama: How to Define Terror


November 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — 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 terrorism.

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 for generations.

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 trying detainees.

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 constitutional.

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 Presidential Power.”

    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 the result.

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




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 there.

“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 Brookings Institution.

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,








Zarqawi's Journey:

From Dropout to Prisoner

to Insurgent Leader


July 13, 2004

The New York Times



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 feared him."

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 charisma.

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."


Jihad Dreams

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 sister.

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.


Prison Days

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 in charge.

"He could order his followers to do things just by moving his eyes," Dr. Abu Sabha said.

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.


Adrift Again

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 vegetable stand.

"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 aging mother.

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.


Terrorist Connections

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 Qaeda.

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 disinformation."

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 Jihad Movement.

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,
NYT, 13.7.2004,






February 27 1993


Five killed

in Manhattan 'bomb' blast


From The Guardian archive


February 27 1993
The Guardian


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 inhalation.

"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 deployment
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 yesterday.

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 payroll.

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,
Times, 8.8.2005,
http://www.newsint-archive.co.uk/pages/main.asp - broken link










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