Focal Points Blog

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.

Peru’s Fujimoris: Like Father Like Daughter?

FujimorisTwo polls released this week show Ollanta Humala with a small lead over Keiko Fujimori as the campaign heats up for the second round of voting in Peru’s presidential elections. With more than a month to go before the June 5 vote, it is far too soon to predict the electoral outcome. But one thing is clear: The rest of the campaign will get ugly, as right-wing sectors are very nervous about the impact of a potential Humala victory on their bank accounts. Most of the mainstream media – with the notable exceptions of the Lima daily, La República, and the weekly magazine, Caretas – is throwing its weight, and electoral coverage, behind Fujimori. Already, several prominent journalists have been fired out of concern that they would not be sufficiently sympathetic to Fujimori and the outspoken Jaime Bayly is going back on the air on Channel 4, presumably as an attack dog targeting Humala. As one Peruvian journalist told us, “we’re going to witness a lot of hysterical accusations in the next few weeks.”

What that press will not likely be covering is the tremendous damage Alberto Fujimori’s presidency wreaked on Peruvian democracy and the widespread human rights violations and massive corruption that prevailed under his rule. Since making it to the second round, Keiko Fujimori has sought to distance herself from the “excesses” that took place during her father’s regime, vowing to respect human rights and democratic practices. Though she started her campaign with a one-point platform – to pardon her father – she now claims that if elected she won’t release him from jail. But she has repeatedly stated that her father was one of the best presidents that Peru ever had; indeed, as the first round of voting approached her campaign ads featured more and more pictures of her with her father.

Having surrounded herself with those that helped him rule during the 1990s (including Vice Presidential candidate and member of Opus Dei, Rafael Rey, as well as Fujimori’s former prime minister, Jaime Yoshiyama), it is ingenuous to think that another Fujimori government would not go down a similar path.

Keiko Fujimori now claims that her father may have had some authoritarian tendencies, but was not responsible for human rights violations. Her memory must be short-lived, as it was only two years ago that the Peruvian Supreme Court found Alberto Fujimori guilty of creating and operating a secret death squad, the Colina Group, that kidnapped and murdered Peruvians during the country’s internal armed conflict. In other words, Fujimori was convicted for having created and maintained the military and political structure that fostered human rights violations in the name of combating terrorism and that sentence was upheld on appeal by a second tribunal of Supreme Court justices. (See our article on the Fujimori verdict at Foreign Policy in Focus.) Moreover, he denied that such violations ever took place and protected those involved through a series of amnesty laws. In short, Keiko Fujimori claims that her father saved Peru from terrorism, but was not responsible for the human rights atrocities that were a fundamental tactic in the counter-terrorism strategy.

In a trial that was widely praised as impartial and respected fully due process guarantees, Alberto Fujimori was convicted and given a 25-year prison sentence for the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre in which 15 people were killed and four gravely wounded; the disappearance and later killing of nine students and a professor from the Cantuta University in 1992; and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer following the April 1992 autogolpe, or self-coup. The first two cases were carried out by the Colina Group, which operated out of the Army Intelligence Service and whose purpose was to eliminate suspected guerrilla sympathizers. But these were not the only atrocities committed by the clandestine death squad. It also carried out a series of assassinations and disappearances that are far too numerous to list here.

The human rights violations carried out under the Fujimori regime went far beyond those committed by the Colina Group. Forced disappearances were disturbingly common. Extrajudicial executions were carried out in peasant communities such as Chumbivilcas, Santa Bárbara and others. And thousands of innocent Peruvians were arbitrarily detained and imprisoned under draconian anti-terrorist legislation. The torture of anyone accused of terrorism was the norm. Fujimori himself was forced to form an ad hoc commission to review cases of los inocentes, the innocent ones, which ultimately led to the release of more than 500 people (and thousands more during the transitional government after Fujimori fled the country).

What allowed the Fujimori regime to get away with such atrocities for so long was that it also undermined the most basic elements of democratic governance, usurping the powers of other branches of government, demolishing the judiciary, rewriting the constitution to its liking, buying off or bribing major media outlets and constantly changing the rules of the game when necessary to consolidate control or perpetuate itself in office. It was only after public outrage reached a boiling point following Fujimori’s ascension to a clearly illegitimate third term in office and the release of videos showing his right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing opposition members of congress to switch party affiliation that the carefully crafted authoritarian regime came crashing down.

Before the regime’s demise, however, government officials, including Fujimori and Montesinos, bilked the country for billions of dollars. Fujimori has also been convicted for illicit appropriation of state funds and pled guilty to various counts of corruption. In 2004, Transparency International put Fujimori seventh in a list of the most corrupt former leaders in the world (following Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier) for allegedly have stolen US$600 million. Over 200 individuals associated with his government have been convicted for corruption – and these do not include any cases where an appeal is still pending. In his book, Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru, Alfonso W. Quiroz estimates that the average annual cost of corruption during the Fujimori regime ranged from an astounding US$1.4 to 2 billion, at times reaching 50 percent of government expenditures.

As we have reported before, there are well-founded reasons to be concerned about a potential Ollanta Humala presidency. Sound allegations have surfaced of responsibility for human rights violations when he was a military commander in a jungle region during Peru’s brutal civil conflict. Some of his close advisers come from a military background – in a country where the military has not been known for its democratic credentials. And in the past, he has echoed some of Hugo Chavez’s anti-democratic rhetoric, though he has clearly distanced himself from such talk during this campaign. Yet as many people in Peru are now saying, “with Humala there may be uncertainties, but with Fujimori, there is proof.”

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

The Internet: Tool of Revolution — or Repression?

Cross-posted from the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

We often hear about the revolutionary power of the Internet to take down authoritarian regimes. Less often do we consider how online technologies can provide dastardly means for repressive governments to locate, monitor, and persecute dissidents.

The geniuses over at the RSA Animate have recently posted an annotated talk by Evgeny Morozov. If you’re not familiar with RSA Animate, its method is to create videos in which a cartoonist illustrates a brief lecture by a writer or academic. The resulting animations are clever and engaging, adding an extra layer of clarity and humor to whatever topic the speaker is discussing. Some of their past hits include presentations by David Harvey and Barbara Ehrenreich.

With this one, Morozov—currently a visiting scholar at Stanford and author of a new book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom—criticizes the assumption that the Internet is necessarily helping to promote democracy.

Morozov has emerged in recent years as a leading critic of “techno-utopian” perspectives on the Internet and social networking. The talk that RSA has animated is actually one from 2009, but Morozov’s points are very pertinent to discussions of current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

One argument he consistently makes is that while tech enthusiasts regularly highlight the benefits of new Internet innovations for activists, rarely do they consider the other side of the equation: how technology can also aid enemies of democracy and free expression. He suggests that dictators are not nearly so afraid of the Internet as we might imagine, and that in many cases they have effectively co-opted bloggers and mined social networks to promote their repressive ends. “States used to torture to get this kind of information,” he says. “Now all they have to do is go onto Facebook.”

I’ve waded into debates on the Internet as a tool for organizing on a few previous occasions. In general, I’m inclined to agree with the commonsense view that an increased flow of information hurts dictatorships, making it more difficult for them to control public opinion. So I don’t wholly buy Morozov’s contrarianism. But I am more skeptical than many of the claims of Facebook and Twitter revolutions, and I appreciate Morozov’s critical perspective. I especially enjoy seeing him picking fights, at his Foreign Policy blog, with the likes of Clay Shirky and Thomas Friedman.

For those who prefer to read Morozov’s writing instead of watching the video, he lays out his views about the role of the Internet in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt at the Guardian:

Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = democracy. QED.

Sadly, this is the level of nuance in most popular accounts of the internet’s contribution to the recent unrest in the Middle East….

[T]oday, the role of the telegraph in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution—just like the role of the tape-recorder in the 1979 Iranian revolution and of the fax machine in the 1989 revolutions—is of interest to a handful of academics and virtually no one else. The fetishism of technology is at its strongest immediately after a revolution but tends to subside shortly afterward.

In his 1993 bestseller The Magic Lantern, Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most acute observers of the 1989 revolutions, proclaimed that ‘in Europe at the end of the 20th century, all revolutions are telerevolutions’—but in retrospect, the role of television in those events seems like a very minor point.

Will history consign Twitter and Facebook to much the same fate 20 years down the road? In all likelihood, yes.

At New Scientist, Morozov considers how “The Internet is a Tyrant’s Friend“:

Thanks to radical improvements in technologies such as face recognition, it may become even easier for the secret police to track their opponents. Here, too, there is a cut-throat competition among western firms, who rightly smell lucrative commercial opportunities—wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those online photos of your friends could be tagged automatically? And yet you can almost guarantee that such technologies would be abused by authoritarian states.

Lastly, for the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent, Morozov wrote on the Green Revolution in Iran and the “Downside to the ‘Twitter Revolution’“:

[T]his new media eco-system is very much like the old game of ‘Telephone,’ in which errors steadily accumulate in the transmission process, and the final message has nothing in common with the original. Judging by the flawed media coverage of the events in Tehran, the game never sounded more Iranian. Thus, to blame Andrew Sullivan for first dreaming up the ‘Twitter Revolution,’ we have to blame a bevy of English-speaking Iranian bloggers who had shaped his opinion (many of them from the Iranian diaspora, with strong pro-Western feelings—why else blog in English?), as well as Farsi-speaking bloggers in Tehran who had shaped the opinion of the English-speaking Iranians, and so forth. Factor in various political biases, and it becomes clear that what Andrew Sullivan is ‘seeing’ might be radically different from what is actually happening.

Morozov has his more balanced moments and inserts the necessary concessions that, yes, the Internet is a powerful tool that can be fruitfully employed by pro-democracy forces. But in a debate filled with techno-utopian assumptions, it is his penchant to debunk that rightly catches our attention.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising.

WikiLeaks: Double Agent Bin Hamlili Double-Crossed the Taliban and the West

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the forty-ninth in the series.

Of all the Gitmo detainee assessments published thus far by WikiLeaks, none comes more ready-made for the big screen than that of Adil Hadi al-Jaza’ire Bin Hamlili. The Algerian terrorist’s story is the stuff of pulpy spy thrillers, replete with sociopathic violence, double-dealings and a mystery ending that will leave readers squirming in their seats.

Bin Hamlili’s personal narrative is a breathtaking account of a young man’s rearing on the battlefields of Afghanistan during the period of Russian occupation. It began with an epic, roundabout journey across North Africa, through the Middle East, and ultimately to Central Asia. Around 1986,

At approximately eleven years of age, detainee left Algeria and headed to Afghanistan with his father, his brother, detainee’s second cousin…and another associate names Abu Bakr Muhammad Boulghiti…Detainee’s father was committed to dawa (missionary work) and decided to go to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union…

They travelled for three months across the desert through Burkina Faso to Mali where they stayed at a mosque for almost nine months. Their vehicle and all their goods were stolen by thieves and they were forced to obtain new passports and health cards from the United Nations (UN). His father told the UN representatives that they were Moroccans in order to obtain new identity cards. With their paperwork in order they continued on their way to Afghanistan via Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Eventually, they were taken to a guesthouse of Osama bin Laden. Bin Hamlili was pressed into service immediately. “Detainee attended training at the nearby Sada, PK camp several times between 1986 and 1991…Detainee fought against the Soviets and the Soviet-backed Afghan regime beginning in 1986, at the age of eleven.” From there, bin Hamlili fought with a number of jihadi groups, ultimately leading the “Khalifa Group in Peshawar, a Takfir group established to engage militant combat in Algeria.”

The experience impacted bin Hamlili profoundly, leading him to ultimately embrace a fundamentalist ideology excessive by even extremist standards.

Detainee has admitted to killing another al-Qaida operative to enforce an extremist interpretation of Sharia law…Detainee murdered al-Qaida member Asadullah al-Sindhi and al-Sindhi’s wife in 1997. Al-Sindhi was [bin Laden’s] commercial representative to Pakistan and the brother of Abdallah al-Sindhi. Detainee’s Takfiri beliefs were his primary justification for this assassination. Detainee killed al-Sindhi because he married a woman within one month of her divorce, instead of waiting four months as required by Sharia, or Islamic law.

Far from suffering punishment at the hands of al Qaeda for the murder of bin Laden’s man in Pakistan, bin Hamlili rapidly rose to prominence in the organization, taking on increased responsibilities and building an impressive resume of murder and intrigue. He served as bin Laden’s courier to al Qaeda operatives, “arranging money transfers, procuring visas and identity cards, and performing other duties” for agents conducting terrorist operations. He reportedly became a close associate of Midhat al-Sayyid Umar, a “poison and explosives expert who helped train the perpetrators of the 2000 terrorist attack against the USS Cole in Yemen.” He is also believed by some to be “Abu Adil, the leader of a militant cell that was responsible for attacks on multiple civilian targets in Pakistan in 2002.” The list of alleged associations, acts of terror and other disturbing dealings goes on and on, becoming nearly monotonous until we learn that bin Hamlili was involved in an attempt

to transfer stolen nuclear material to al-Qaida, the Khalifa Group and the governments of Iraq and Sudan. In 1995, Muhammad Shah, a close associate of detainee (with whom detainee was captured), attempted to sell uranium and red mercury to detainee, al-Qaida senior military commander Abu Hafs al-Masri…the Iraqi government, and the Khalifa Group. The Khalifa Group also subsequently offered the red mercury to the Sudanese government.

No dummy, bin Hamlili “did not accept the offer and was not sure if the material was genuine.” As the report itself notes, “red mercury is a fictitious material advertised as a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, high explosives, and missile guidance systems. It has been associated with hoax attempts to sell the material.”

In any event, the most intriguing details offered by the report surround bin Hamlili’s role as a spy. The assessment reveals that bin Hamlili served the Taliban as an intelligence officer. Trouble is, the Taliban wasn’t the only government employing the Algerian in this capacity. The report notes that bin Hamlili was in fact a triple-agent, working simultaneously for the Canadian and British intel services as well, noting that “in December 2000 detainee was recruited as HUNINT source for the CSIS [Canadian intelligence] and the BSIS [British intelligence] because of his connections to members of various al-Qaida linked terrorist groups that operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Detainee was a HUMINT source until his capture by Pakistani authorities in June 2003.” Not only that, but the Americans came to believe that bin Hamlili was double-crossing both agencies: “the CIA, after numerous custodial interviews with detainee, found detainee to have withheld important information from the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS) and British Secret Intelligence Service (BSIS) (for whom he served as a HUMINT source).”

Stop right there. If the report is correct to suggest that bin Hamlili was on the books of both CSIS and BSIS between 2000 and 2003, then serious questions need to be asked concerning the degree to which the British and Canadian governments were bankrolling the very crimes with which American authorities were charging bin Hamlili and detaining him at Guantanamo Bay. These questions, of course, were not asked by the report’s author. Instead, the report closes by reiterating the judgment that bin Hamlili posed a high risk to American security, and therefore needed to be detained indefinitely.

Except he wasn’t. Despite the fact that bin Hamlili “has made statements to [Gitmo] personnel indicating his intent to kill US citizens upon his eventual release,” he was returned to Algeria in 2010 in perhaps the creepiest twist to bin Hamlili’s tale. Where bin Hamlili is today is anyone’s guess. According to the Miami Herald, bin Hamlili was sent home with another Gitmo detainee, though the government’s announcement of the transfer “did not make clear whether the men went home as free men or were to be held by Algerian authorities for further trial or investigation.” The former scenario, given bin Hamlili’s history, is frightening enough.

But the latter possibility is equally disturbing. “Two other Algerians previously held at Guantanamo were granted asylum in France after their attornies argued successfully that the men feared a return to their homeland, which has struggled with militant Muslim extremist movements.” Given bin Hamlili’s membership and critical participation in precisely these movements, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he is currently being held in detention no more forgiving than that on offer at Guantanamo Bay, and no less reprehensible.