Focal Points Blog

A Bin Laden Trial a “Circus”? Who Doesn’t Like a Circus?

I have it on good authority that Navy SEALs put a premium on capturing targets because they’re taught that information is the true prize. Then why, we continue to wonder, did one of them shoot Osama bin Laden, especially since indications are that he’d already been captured? Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan explains.

SEAL Team Six was told to accept surrender only “if he did not pose any type of threat whatsoever,” and if troops “were confident of that in terms of his not having an IED [improvised explosives device] on his body, his not having some type of hidden weapon or whatever,”

But Americans weren’t aware of that when they were celebrating what sounded like a cold-blooded shooting. Even here: Jubilation Erupts in Harvard Yard As Obama Tells World Osama Bin Laden is Dead. (In a side note . . . young men — want a true test of how yoked to violence your sexuality is? Young women cheering bin Laden’s killing: major turn-on or turn-off?)

How does Americans celebrating bin Laden’s killing look to the rest of the world? An NBA player, of all people, has an idea.

[Chris] Douglas-Roberts [was] disturbed by the ensuing celebration. It reminded him of the response in Afghanistan — which was also captured on television — following 9/11. “We just looked like the Afghan people, a decade later,” he said.

As you’re no doubt tired of seeing me post, a court case would have been preferable. Many claim that a trial would be a “circus.” At the Independent (via Duck of Minerva via the Progressive Realist) Geoffrey Robertson writes:

I do not minimise the security issues at his trial or the danger of it ending up as a squalid circus like that of Saddam Hussein. But the notion that any form of legal process would have been too hard must be rejected. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – also alleged to be the architect of 9/11 – will shortly go on trial and had Bin Laden been captured, he should have been put in the dock alongside him, so that their shared responsibility could have been properly examined.

Failing that, Robertson adds

Bin Laden could not have been tried for 9/11 at the International Criminal Court — its jurisdiction only came into existence nine months later. But the Security Council could have set up an ad hoc tribunal in The Hague, with international judges (including Muslim jurists), to provide a fair trial and a reasoned verdict.

This would have been the best way of de-mystifying this man, debunking his cause and de-brainwashing his followers. In the dock he would have been reduced in stature — never more remembered as the tall, soulful figure on the mountain, but as a hateful and hate-filled old man, screaming from the dock or lying from the witness box.

At its most elemental level, legality exists to mitigate man’s brutality to man. A court case would have spared us Americans (including President Obama at Ground Zero) making a brutish spectacle of themselves.

Returning to bringing bin Laden back alive, at Time’s Swampland, Massimo Calabresi writes:

John Yoo, who wrote the brief [for the Bush administration] that provided legal cover for waterboarding, sleep-deprivation and other harsh interrogation methods, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal . . . arguing that bin Laden’s assassination “vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden’s door.” . . . Most provocatively, Yoo asserts that by killing bin Laden, rather than capturing and interrogating him, the Navy Seal team made a grave error. “Special forces using nonlethal weaponry might have taken bin Laden alive . . . [and] one of the most valuable intelligence opportunities since the beginning of the war has slipped through our hands.”

It’s mortifying when John Yoo gives voice to one’s sentiments. But, no matter what his motivation is, when he’s right, he’s right.

A Generation Exhales with Bin Laden’s Death

The enthusiastic flag-waving. The gaudy red, white, and blue jumpsuits, the booming chants of “USA, USA, USA.” The huge crowd of jubilant young people gathered outside the White House, celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death.

Is it right to celebrate the death of an individual, even one as abhorrent as bin Laden?

His death won’t bring home the thousands of troops fighting and losing their lives in the name of “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The “Global War on Terror” (a never-ending war on a tactic) won’t end with bin Laden’s death. Is it really appropriate to engage in such unrestrained partying?

I feel it’s somewhat jarring to see the images of Americans marking this historic moment by partying outside the White House and across the country. We may be effectively guilty of celebrating death and exhibiting the worst of Western excesses, while we continue to condone drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that kill terrorists and civilians alike.

However, from the perspective of someone who was only 11 years old when the 9-11 attacks happened (as were many of the college-age revelers), there’s a real emotional and mental aspect to this event that is being overlooked. Every young person in my age group vividly remembers where he or she was when the terrorist attacks happened. I remember hearing the news crackle through the radio on my school bus in London and then seeing the horrific images of the attacks once I got home.

While my contemporaries and I may not have had the ability to look at the events through a critical lens, the images from those days will be forever burned into our psyches. There was a definite feeling that the world we knew before the attacks was gone and that things would never be the same again.

For those of us who grew up in the West under the shadow of the attacks in New York, Washington, Madrid, and London, Osama bin Laden is really the embodiment of a world that has become gripped in fear and hatred. A man who was responsible in whole or in part for murdering thousands of people, encouraging a climate where human rights and freedoms are limited, destroying the popular image of Islam as a religion, and radicalizing the debate on identity so that it has become “them vs. us.” Perhaps my generation, he has become a literal bogeyman who changed the world we live in for the worse.

The kind of celebrations that erupted in front of the White House could be seen as a disturbing sign of people who have been whipped up into a jingoistic frenzy. However, I suggest that these celebrations are something else: the collective “exhale” of a group of young men and women who have grown up in a world that lacked confidence, belief, and any semblance of “peace.”

Laurence Hull is a former Foreign Policy In Focus intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. He lives in London, UK and is studying history and international studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reading Netanyahu the Riot Act Would Have Done More to Halt Terrorism Than Killing bin Laden

Netanyahu ObamaBut apart from that cynical thought, let us be straight about one thing. Bin Laden was killed this Sunday, and it does offer serious possibilities.

Gullibility and skepticism seem joined at the hip. People who would take their umbrellas if the Obama administration told them it was sunny outside are quite willing to believe and quote any deranged website with a conspiracy theory. It is interesting to note the convergence of left and right — Osama’s death was faked, Obama’s birth certificate was forged.

Occam’s razor compels me to think that neither is true. And by the way, I was living close to the World Trade Center, saw and heard the planes, and commented at the time on Rudi Giuliani’s spectacular incompetence at putting his emergency headquarters in Number 7 World Trade Center and stocking it with tanks containing thousands of gallons of fuel in defiance of his own city’s Fire Department regulations.

That consistent incompetence is a factor that has fueled a thousand conspiracy theories. Going after Saddam Hussein and downplaying Afghanistan allowed Bin Laden to get away. Trusting the Pakistani ISI, former CIA surrogates in the region, allowed him to stay away. The war in Afghanistan was consistently under-resourced so the Bush White House could exorcise its own familial ghosts in Baghdad.

But strategic incompetence has not obviated flashes of tactical brilliance on the part of conservatives. As I said at the time, the perennial TV news backdrop of the triptych of the burning World Trade Center flanked by Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein helped provide the emotional strength for the war on Iraq, despite it having nothing to do with Al Qaeda or the 9-11 attack. It occurred to me that some of the exultation on those young faces in the flash mob with their unseemly celebration of Bin Laden’s death could have derived from subliminal childhood exposure to those images. It is also that image which has given some metaphysical substance to the absurdity of a war on an abstraction, the “War on Terror.”

Which comes back to the death of Bin Laden. It was a very risky move for Obama. “Liberals” and Democrats are not allowed the luxury of spectacular failure. Jimmy Carter’s abortive attempt to rescue the hostages from Teheran haunted his career. A similar helicopter crash in Pakistan could have sealed the fate for the Obama White House.

Of course an assassination on the territory of a foreign and allegedly friendly state could also have caused problems. It is indeed illegal in a prima facie way, but Bin Laden’s presence in a major Pakistani metropolis certainly embarrasses the government there. It was in everybody’s interest not to inform the local authorities. The Pakistan government could disclaim knowledge, and the US could be certain that any information they passed on would go straight to warn Bin Laden. Indeed, such is the climate of rancor among American conservatives one would almost wonder if one of the worries in Washington was a risk of leaks or sabotage from insiders there. But internationally, while, say Beijing and Moscow might tut tut about it, the heirs of the KGB are hardly in a secure pulpit to sermonize, and their real feelings are more likely to be admiration than admonition.

Even the burial at sea is, shall we say, a red herring. Few of his victims got to choose their funeral rights, and the Sunni Wahabi tradition is spartan in the extreme.

In any case the action has given Obama a big boost domestically at a time that he needed it. It would be ironic if healthcare for elderly Americans were protected because the President has overseen the assassination of an elderly Saudi, but that’s politics!

Internationally, it will not necessarily have that much effect. Bin Laden was no Lenin overseeing an Islamist international. Al Qaeda was a state of mind more than an organized conspiracy. He was no Old Man of the Mountains sending out his assassins, but his example inspired the varying spontaneous degrees of psychopathology among the disaffected.

But his rallying cause for jihad still holds: US support for Israel is as strong now as ever. Obama would have had more beneficial international results taking out Netanyahu politically than eliminating Bin Laden physically, since it would address that genuine cause. Recent poll results from Iran and Egypt suggest that the US still provides plenty of room for suspicion in the region.

One possible consequence is that Obama might be tempted to declare victory and pull out of Afghanistan. He could even claim budget savings to protect Medicare! However, the Taliban were not controlled by Al Qaeda and his death is unlikely to affect their belligerence. His elimination at least allows the US to get over its prejudices and get into serious talks with the Pushtoon communities for a negotiated settlement of some kind.

Indeed the exorcism of the Bin Laden ghost could even provide political cover for talks with Hamas and Hizbollah. Of course anyone except Fox news pundits knows that Al Qaeda had nothing to do with them at all, but with his shade out of the way, an emboldened Obama could do it.

But it comes back to the same core problem. At the core of America’s fractious relationship with most of the world, and particularly the Middle East, is Washington’s relationship with Israel — and he is unlikely to get Netanyahu’s “permission,” for it. Would he go ahead anyway? How about being tough on terror — and on the excuses for terror as well? It is possible and desirable, but is it likely?

For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

Was Bin Laden Killed Because U.S. Feared He Might Be Found Innocent in Court?

Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said, “If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that.”

. . . reported the Associated Press.


. . . a U.S. national security official told Reuters. . . . “This was a kill operation,” . . . making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.

And, in fact, Osama bin Laden, though unarmed, was shot. At the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin writes that

. . . it’s worth noting that the apparently universal acclaim for the killing represents a major shift in American perceptions of such actions. Following the revelations of C.I.A. assassination plots by the Church Committee, in the nineteen-seventies, President Ford issued Executive Order 11905 (later 12333), which stated, No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.

Humanitarian concerns and legality aside, what about strategic considerations of bringing him back alive? Despite the computers, storage devices, and documents seized, the man himself might have eventually provided a font of information, especially from the point of view of a nuclear-arms specialist such as myself, on not only terrorism networks but his attempts to acquire nuclear know-how, technology, and fuel.

Many claim the trial — whether in a civil or military court in the United States, or in the International Criminal Court — would have been a circus. But is that a reflection of a fear they might share with the U.S. government — that despite what was seized, the evidence might be insufficient to convict bin Laden?

Bin Laden May Be Dead But His Grievances Live On

The killing of Al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden is not likely to have a profound impact one way or the other in the struggle against the terrorist organization and its allied groupings. On the one hand, Al-Qaeda may face a potential leadership void and internal divisions. On the other hand, the organization has decentralized in the ten years since the United States and allied forces drove them from their sanctuaries in Afghanistan and terrorist cells operate independently from bin Laden’s leadership and a whole new generation of terrorists subscri bing to the apocalyptic and genocidal ideology has sprung up as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The good news, however, is that Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups have been seriously weakened in recent months. Indeed, far more significant than bin Laden’s death has been the nonviolent pro-democracy insurrections that have been sweeping the Arab world in that they are empowering civil society, instilling hope, and creating models of governance that are much less likely to breed terrorists.

Bin Laden always insisted that only through subscri bing to his apocalyptic reactionary ideology and genocidal methods could Muslim peoples overthrow oppressive and corrupt U.S.-backed Arab dictatorships. Indeed, his first attack against U.S. interests was a residential compound of U.S. soldiers training the repressive Saudi internal security forces back in 1995. However, bin Laden and his followers never came close to overthrowing any Arab regime. Most Arabs found his methods not only morally reprehensible, but recognized how he gave dictatorial governments an excuse to crack down even harder against all dissent. Instead, millions of Middle Easterners are recognizing that – as did Filipinos, Poles, Chileans, Serbs and others before them – that strategic nonviolent action is far more powerful and effective. The masses calling for freedom, liberty, and social justice directly counter bin Laden’s medieval visions of a theocratic dictatorship to which very few Muslims aspire.

The sense of triumphalism and celebration of bin Laden’s death is inappropriate, though, in many respects, the Obama administration handled the situation well. Any killing of a prominent leader by hostile forces could conceivably cause a backlash – and, ideally, it would have been better had he been captured and tried in an international tribunal – but the circumstances of his death will hopefully minimize any anti-American reaction.

Bin Laden was killed in a gun battle, not as a result of assassination by an anonymous drone launched in a control center thousands of miles away. Despite formal denials by both sides, there was clearly some cooperation with Pakistani authorities, so it was not a unilateral American operation. It appears that there were no civilian casualties. Bin Laden was buried in accordance with Muslim ritual, rather than having his body unceremoniously displayed in a propaganda show.

How this contrasts with the policies of Bush administration: If there was any logic to the madness of 9/11, it was the hope that the United States would overreact and launch massive ground invasions of Middle Eastern countries, like the Soviets did in Afghanistan a generation later. Bin Laden knew that the inevitable large-scale killings of civilians and blatant neo-imperialist agenda inherent in such ill-fated efforts would radicalize a whole new generation of extremists to bin Laden’s cult-like heresy in the name of Islam. Bush fell right into his trap, naively believing that a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells could be destroyed through high-altitude bom bing, and sending U.S. forces into fighting bloody counter-insurgency wars in Islamic countries with a long tradition of resistance to foreign invaders.

To Obama’s credit, he recognized the folly of the invading Iraq, correctly noting that unilaterally taking over a country that was no threat to us and had absolutely no operational ties to Al-Qaeda would be a major distraction from the fight against an organization that really was a threat. Ironically, however, most of his key appointments to relevant positions in his administrations were supporters of the illegal and unnecessary war: Joe Biden as vice-president; Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State; Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense; Janet Napolitano as Secretary for Homeland Security; Richard Holbrooke as special advisor for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Dennis Ross as special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia; among others. His willingness to appoint people who clearly had difficulty distinguishing real threats from phantom threats raised serious questions regarding whether he really took the threat from Al-Qaeda seriously.

However, the final demise of Osama bin Laden appears to have come not through the indiscriminate use of force against entire nations, but through a well-planned precisely-targeted paramilitary operation based upon solid intelligence painstakingly gathered over many months.

(Ironically, it appears that bin Laden could have been caught soon after 9/11. Pakistani and British newspapers reported that in the weeks after the attack that leaders of Pakistan’s two Islamic-identified parties negotiated a deal that could have avoided war. According to these reports, the Taliban would have extradited bin Laden to Pakistan to face an international tribunal that would then decide whether to try him or hand him over to the United States. However, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain pressured that country’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, to kill the deal. An American official was later quoted saying that “casting our objective too narrowly” risked “a premature collapse of the international effort if by some luck chance Mr. bin Laden was captured.” In short, the United States actually preferred going to war than bringing bin Laden to justice.)

Similarly, improved intelligence and interdiction, com bined with breaking up the financial networks that supplied Al-Qaeda operatives, have done far more the prevent another 9/11-type attack than military operations.

Ultimately, the way to stop the threat of the kind of mega-terrorism that came to America’s shores nearly ten years ago is not simply through killing terrorists but in ending policies that help create them. As most Muslims long recognized, bin Laden was never an authority on Islam. He was, however, a businessman by training who – like any shrewd businessman – knew how to take a popular fear or desire and use it to sell a product: in this case, anti-American terrorism. The grievances expressed in his manifestoes – the ongoing U.S. military presence in the Middle East, the humanitarian consequences of the U.S. policy in Iraq, U.S. support for the Israeli government, and U.S. backing of autocratic Arab regimes – have widespread appeal in that part of the world. Even if only a tiny percentage of Muslims accept bin Laden’s ideology and tactics, it will be enough to replenish the ranks of Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups as long as the United States continues to pursue such misguided policies.

U.S. and Japan Equally Shameless in Shuttling Officials From Regulatory Agencies to Nuclear Energy Industry

In both Japan and the United States, nuclear power is just another industry in which officials shuttle back and forth between it and jobs with regulatory and other government agencies. In his Rolling Stone article, America’s Nuclear Nightmare, Jeff Goodell explains.

Over the past decade, the nuclear industry has contributed more than $4.6 million to members of Congress — and last year alone, it spent $1.7 million on federal lobbying. Given the generous flow of nuclear money, the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] is essentially rigged to operate in the industry’s favor.

Goodell turned to IPS’s own Robert Alvarez for some insight on such officials.

“They are vetted by the industry,” [he said.] “It’s the typical revolving-door story — many are coming in or out of jobs with the nuclear power industry. You don’t get a lot of skeptics appointed to this job.”

For example:

Jeffrey Merrifield, a former NRC commissioner who left the agency in 2007, is a case in point. When Merrifield was ready to exit public service, he simply called up the CEO of Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear operator, and asked him for a job recommendation. Given his friends in high places, he wound up taking a top job at the Shaw Group, a construction firm that builds nuclear reactors.

Merrifield returned the favor.

During the Fukushima disaster, Merrifield appeared on Fox News, as well as in videos for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s lobbying group. In one video . . . Merrifield reassures viewers that the meltdown in Japan is no big deal. “We should continue to move forward with building those new plants,” he says, “because it’s the right thing for our nation and it’s the right thing for our future.”

Meanwhile in Japan, report Norimitsu Onishi and Ken Belson for the New York Times

Though it is charged with oversight, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is part of the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry, the bureaucracy charged with promoting the use of nuclear power. Over a long career, officials are often transferred repeatedly between oversight and promotion divisions, blurring the lines between supporting and policing the industry.

Influential bureaucrats tend to side with the nuclear industry — and the promotion of it — because of a practice known as amakudari, or descent from heaven [which] allows senior bureaucrats, usually in their 50s, to land cushy jobs at the companies they once oversaw. . . . generations of high-ranking officials from the ministry have landed senior positions at the country’s 10 utilities since Japan’s first nuclear plants were designed in the 1960s.

A prominent example is Tokio Kano, a former vice president at Tepco who was elected to Parliament.

. . . on the strength of Mr. Kano’s leadership, Japan adopted a national basic energy plan calling for the growth of nuclear energy as a way to achieve greater energy independence and to reduce Japan’s emission of greenhouses gases. The plan and subsequent versions mentioned only in broad terms the importance of safety at the nation’s nuclear plants despite the 2002 disclosure of cover-ups at Fukushima Daiichi and a 1999 accident at a plant northeast of Tokyo in which high levels of radiation were spewed into the air. . . . In a move that has raised eyebrows even in a world of cross-fertilizing interests, he has returned to Tepco as an adviser. . . . In an interview at a Tepco office here, accompanied by a company spokesman, Mr. Kano said he had served in Parliament out of “conviction.”

Now for the money quote:

“It’s disgusting to be thought of as a politician who was a company errand boy just because I was supported by a power company and the business community,” Mr. Kano said.

It’s even more disgusting when workers trying to keep spent fuel rods from overheating become ill with radiation sickness.

WikiLeaks: U.S. Is Just All Right to Jihadists Fighting With Libyan Rebels

Will John McCain never learn? On Wednesday, the 2008 presidential hopeful was busy banging the drum for increased American presence in the civil war raging in Libya. Arguing that a stalemate in the conflict between Libya’s leader Colonel Moamer Gadaffi and rebels in the country’s east would harm American interests, McCain suggested that “we could do the same thing that we did in the Afghan struggle against the Russians. There are ways to get weapons in [to the rebels] without direct US supplying.”

Little does McCain know (we have to hope), but he was advocating for aiding and arming some of the same people that were actively trying to harm the United States just a few short years ago. As an embassy cable released months ago by WikiLeaks made clear, some of the rebels fighting Gadaffi got their chops battling American forces in Iraq as insurgents following the US invasion in 2003. And now this week comes word that one of the rebel leaders was a former detainee in Guantanamo Bay.

By his own account, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu has a long and sordid history, including close ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden. Born in Derna in 1959, bin Qumu

Served as a tank driver in the Libyan armed forces as a private. The Libyan Government states he was addicted to illegal drugs/narcotics and had been accused of a number of crimes including: murder, physical assault, and distributing narcotics. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1993, he escaped from prison and fled to Egypt. He traveled to Afghanistan (AF) and trained at Usama Bin Laden’s (UBL) Torkham Camp. After participating in the Soviet jihad, he moved to Sudan (SU). Detainee worked as a truck driver for Wadi Al-‘Aqiq, one of UBL’s companies in Suba, SU.

Bin Qumu was considered such a nuisance to the Gadaffi regime that the Libyan government persuaded the Sudanese to push him out of the country. “He left Sudan sometime in 1997, using a false Mauritian passport. He travelled to Pakistan (PK), where he resided in…Peshawar.” Soon, according to bin Qumu’s own narrative, he “joined the Taliban movement…and fought with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was wounded in the leg.”

In a strange twist, the assessment notes that following his injury, bin Qumu returned to Peshawar and worked with the Qadaffi Foundation, run by Moamer’s now-reviled son Saif al-Islam al Qadaffi. The report’s author, Brigadier General Jay Hood, apparently did not hold the foundation in particularly high regard, noting that their work in Pakistan involved “relocating extremists and their families.” Nevertheless, it was the Qadaffi Foundation itself who tipped off bin Qumu’s whereabouts to Pakistani authorities.

Note: The Qadhafi Oragnization operated out of the Libyan Embassy and worked to secure transportation to Libya for any Arab fleeing the region, including Al-Qaida members. There appeared to have been an agreement between the governments of Libya and Pakistan that allowed the Pakistanis to interview the Arabs before they left. Detainee was likely detained by the Pakistani’s [sic] and turned over to US forces against the Libyan government’s wishes due to discrepancies in his story.

The report goes on to list the various reasons bin Qumu poses a threat to American national security. Among other things, the report notes that

Detainee has a long-term association with Islamic extrewmist [sic] jihad and members of Al-Qaida and other extremist groups. Detainee refuses to disclose complete information regarding his past, associates, and activities…The Libyan Government considers detainee as “dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts. He was known as one of the extremist commanders of the Afghan Arabs”…[which] refers to Arab Mujahideen that elected to stay in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Soviet Jihad…Detainee is an associate of UBL’s from Sudan. Al Shweikh, possibly a reference to Ibn Sheikh Al Libi, recommended detainee to UBL. UBL reportedly knows detainee’s brother very well. Detainee drove a truck for one of UBL’s companies while living in Sudan.

Curiously, given bin Qumu’s intelligence value, which the report lists as “high,” the assessment makes clear that the Libyan’s continued detention at Guantanamo Bay would be inappropriate.

JTF GTMO recommends detainee by [sic] Transferred to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention…Based upon information obtained since detainee’s previous assessment, it is recommended he be transferred…to his country of origin (Libya) if a satisfactory agreement can be reached that allows access to detainee and/or access to exploited intelligence. If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reaced for his continued detention in Libya, he should be retained under DoD control.

The recommendation to transfer bin Qumu back to Libya likely reflects the emerging relationship between the George W. Bush administration and the Qadaffi regime after it agreed to give up its nuclear ambitions in late 2003.

A satisfactory agreement was reached between the Washington and Tripoli, and bin Qumu was returned to Libya in September 2007. He was released in 2010 under the auspices of an amnesty granted by Qadaffi to anti-regime prisoners. Today, bin Qumu is one of several prominent leaders Senator McCain has advocated supporting in the fight against Qadaffi.

The New York Review of Book’s Nicholas Pelman caught up with bin Qumu in eastern Libya’s rebel enclave Derna just the other week.

In a small alleyway near the town’s main bank, Sufian bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, nursed his Kalashnikov, hailed the United States as a protector of the weak, and pronounced the US-led bombardment “a gift from God.” Solitary confinement in the prisons of Muammar Qaddafi or at Guantanamo Bay seemed to make many Libyans garrulous and extroverted, as if compensating for the years of lost human company. But bin Qumu’s six years under Guantanamo’s arc lights—he had been detained in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks—and three years in a Libyan cell the size of his cubbyhole look in Darna have turned him into a recluse. He is convinced that Western intelligence agenicies are still hunting him. His hennaed hair is combed flat, ain a style uncommon in Libya, as if he were wearing a toupee. A pair of fluffy white slippers embroidered with cats lie on a rattan bookcase. Neighbors fend off intruding journalists by saying he has left for the front. “You know I know who you are,” he says a touch disconcertingly when we meet. He asks me to put away my tape recorder, saying it reminds him of his interrogators.

Bin Laden: If Ever We Wanted to Bring ‘Em Back Alive

At Wired’s Danger Room, David Axe and Noah Shactman wrote of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Special Operations: “Depending on which version is true, Pakistan either had a direct role in the risky, bloody raid … or no role at all.” More to the point:

The crash occurred near the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbottabad, according to the report, highlighting Bin Laden’s long-term proximity to Pakistan government forces — and thus the great extent of his local protection.

In other words, the size of the compound alone meant its inhabitants must have been known to the Pakistani authorities, yet they weren’t the source of the information leading to the attack on the compound.

Meanwhile MSNBC reports: “The U.S. was conducting DNA testing and used facial recognition techniques to help formally identify him, Reuters reported. Results of the DNA tests were expected to be available in the next few days.” From another report: “ABC News just reported that the government used a DNA sample from the brain of a deceased bin Laden sister held by a Boston hospital to match the DNA from bin Laden’s body.”

Which presumably is why the rumor arose that he was killed earlier in the week and the news withheld until the body was identified. Whatever the case, burying bin Laden’s body at sea limits the number of people who saw the dead body. It fuels those who stand ready to make the case he wasn’t really killed perhaps because they think he was/is a CIA asset. Nor did Al-Arabiya TV help when it ran a Photoshopped image superimposing mortal injuries on a photo of bin Laden taken when he was alive.

Meanwhile, for those who fear a bout of blowback, it might be time to duck and cover, if you believe disclosures in the latest WikiLeaks dump. From the International Business Times

Shortly after 9/11, Al Qaeda had warned to set off a “nuclear hellstorm” if Osama bin Laden is ever captured or killed, according to U.S. government documents that were leaked just last month by Wikileaks.

Wikileaks’ files show that al Qaeda’s senior leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was detained and interrogated, had spilled the beans that the terrorist group had, indeed, hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe and that it would be detonated if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed.

While this is, no doubt, bravado, it does highlight an opportunity missed. If we were able to bring bin Laden back alive, we might have extracted information from him about his attempts to secure nuclear-weapons — the know-how, the technology, and the fuel. No, of course not through torture — conceivably it might have been something he’d have wanted to brag about.

Sure, coaxing bin Laden out of his compound might have been unrealistic because it would have required rustling up all his wives, children, and grandchildren that could be found, lining them up outside his compound, and threatening to kill them. Naturally, we wouldn’t, but it would have been up to him to call our bluff. From the viewpoint of those concerned with nuclear terrorism, something along those lines might have been worth trying.

Nuclear Energy Needs Handouts, Can’t Cut It in Free Market

Americans who favor it claim that nuclear energy makes us less dependent on Middle-Eastern oil with its attendant price spikes (those that aren’t a product of speculation, that is). But nuclear-energy plants don’t do much to ease the national debt. As Jeff Goodell reports in his Rolling Stone piece America’s Nuclear Nightmare (emphasis added)

Since the Manhattan Project was created to develop the atomic bomb back in the 1940s, the dream of a nuclear future has been fueled almost entirely by Big Government. America’s current fleet of reactors exists only because Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act in 1957, limiting the liability of nuclear plant operators in case of disaster. And even with taxpayers assuming most of the risk, Wall Street still won’t finance nuclear reactors without direct federal assistance, in part because construction costs are so high (up to $20 billion per plant) and in part because nukes are the only energy investment that can be rendered worthless in a matter of hours. “In a free market, where real risks and costs are accounted for, nuclear power doesn’t exist,” says Amory Lovins, a leading energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Nuclear plants “are a creation of government policy and intervention.”

Goodell also points out that without such taxpayer supports as the $54 billion President Obama included in his 2012 budget “in federal loan guarantees for [them] no new reactors would ever be built.”

In other words, nuclear energy is just another industry that wouldn’t exist were it not for the kindness of the government. In fact, it’s not that different from a New Deal WPA project. Of course, once they’re up and running, writes Goodell, nuclear-power plants are “cheap to operate, meaning the longer they run, the more profitable they become.” In other words, the public helps build nuclear power plants and assumes the risk while the industry reaps the profits. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, banks.

WikiLeaks: Juveniles at Gitmo Didn’t Come From “a Little-League Team”

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fiftieth (50!) in the series.

When reports began surfacing in 2003 that Guantanamo Bay was housing children detained as enemy combatants, then-Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers dismissed these concerns by noting that

despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed. Some have stated they’re going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little-league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team. And they’re in Guantanamo for a very good reason—for our safety, for your safety.

According to documents released this week, Myers’ claim hardly reflected reality as the assessment of fifteen year-old Naquib Ullah makes upsettingly clear.

Ullah, who was suffering from tuberculosis when he was nabbed by American forces in 2003, had already experienced unspeakable brutality before being shipped off to Cuba. According to his own account, Ullah

was kidnapped while doing an errand for his father by eleven men who belonged to a group called “Samoud’s people” from the village of Khan, Afghanistan. Detainne stated the eleven men that abducted him forcibly raped him at gunpoint and he was taken back to their village encampment as a prisoner and forced to manual work.

Just days later, word arrived to the camp that American forces were closing in, and that a raid would be imminent. The men “ordered the detainee and some others to stay behind and fight the Americans. The detainee was captured in possession of a weapon but it had not been fired.”

Why the child was brought to Guantanamo is not fully justified in the assessment. The report’s author, Major General Geoffrey Miller, seems at a loss to understand how the boy ended up in his charge. His observation lead to the unavoidable conclusion that Richard Myers was either completely out of touch with the war in Afghanistan that he was ostensibly overseeing, or just a craven liar, when he assured reporters that all Gitmo detainees were subjected to a “thorough process” of vetting. Miller unambiguously notes that Ullah

was a kidnap victim and a forced conscript of a local warring tribe, affiliated with the Taliban. Though the detainee may still have some remaining intelligence, I’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove this juvenile from his current environment and afford him an opportunity to “grow out” of the radical extremism he has been subject to.

One may ask if Miller was referring to the extremism of Gitmo, not radical Islam, because two sentences later the Major General points out that the boy

Has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. He is considered a low risk to the US, its interests and its allies.

Miller’s assessment is a far cry from what then-Vice President led the public to believe when he argued that the only the most dangerous threats to American security were being transported to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention. “They are very dangerous,” Cheney warned. “They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.” My guess is that Naquib Ullah might beg to differ, or at least would have at the time. He was returned to Afghanistan in 2004.

Page 153 of 207« First...102030...151152153154155...160170180...Last »