How the war on terrorism became a business model

Book review by Mike Lofgren

When I was a congressional staffer, I became acutely aware that elected officials choose issues to put at the top of their agendas mainly for their ability to shake money out of the purses of contributors. Behind every political cause is a racket designed to privatize the profits and socialize the losses. It is no wonder, then, that James Risen, national security correspondent for the New York Times, has been in legal jeopardy with two presidential administrations of different parties. His new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, is a chronicle of fascinating and heretofore secret stories in America’s war on terrorism.

The book has a simple and arresting thesis: the longest war in America’s history is pure nirvana for the greedy and unscru-pulous — a thesis that attacks the underlying bipartisan consensus on terrorism of the last dozen years. Whatever the architects of the war on terrorism thought they were doing, the Iraq War’s purpose rapidly evolved into an enriching opportunity for contractors and bureaucratic empire building for government employees.

Risen opens his book with a little-known operation from the Iraq War. It began immediately after the U.S. occupation of that country and continued until the summer of 2004. Air Force C-17 cargo planes transported $20 billion in cash from the vaults of the New York Federal Reserve Bank in New Jersey to Baghdad. The ostensible purpose of this cash, much of which had never been formally appropriated by Congress, was to revive the country’s shattered public services and pay Iraqi civil servants.

The program was so hideously mismanaged that $11.7 billion of the $20 billion was unaccounted for, disappeared, or was stolen. As one might expect in a Middle East culture of bribery, an unknown quantity was pocketed by Iraqi politicians. But another, also undetermined, amount was skimmed by mid-level and junior U.S. military officers in charge of distributing the cash. Risen mentions the cases of some who were caught depositing suspiciously large sums in their U.S. bank accounts.

War is, of course, synonymous with waste, but the war on terrorism is in a class by itself. Greatly abetted by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s blanket outsourcing of military logistics in 1992, the money spent on war has become a gold rush for private, largely unaccountable contractors. The same holds true in the intelligence community: about 70 percent of the National Security Agency’s budget is spent on contracts. That, combined with the revolving door to a corporate board seat beckoning senior agency officials, means the pull is always toward waste, fraud and abuse.

It is up to senior officials in the executive branch to exercise oversight and discipline over the process. Oversight is also a key constitutional function of Congress. However, Risen documents that such oversight is still almost totally lacking. He notes that the administration of George W. Bush habitually obstructed Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen, who tried to do his job in uncovering fraud and theft. In 2010 Bowen finally tracked down $2 billion of the lost cash in a bunker in Lebanon. Incredibly, the Obama administration did not grant his team clearance to enter Lebanon to continue the pursuit.

What about Capitol Hill? Rather than exposing waste in the war on terrorism and clawing back the money, GOP lawmakers have exacerbated the mess by throwing more money at the agencies than they could ever spend wisely. They are also not terribly interested in bad-news stories about anything that falls under the heading of national security.

In Feb. 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before my employer, the Senate Budget Committee, on the State Department’s budget. Much time was spent on the state of recon-struction in Iraq. The secretary reeled off impressive statistics on the rebuilding of the water, sewer and electric power systems. At that point ranking Democrat Kent Conrad sharply questioned her based on a leaked, draft SIGIR report refuting her optimistic presentation of reconstruction in nearly every particular.

The hearing was getting interesting, and Rice’s voice fell into that nervous tremolo that we all heard when the 9/11 Commission caught her in a less than truthful statement. Nearly instantly, however, the chairman, Republican Judd Gregg, normally an indefatigable fiscal conservative and rooter-out of waste, gaveled the hearing to a premature ending, thereby relieving Rice of her torment and the public of the full story. The next day I learned from a colleague that as soon as Rice had returned to the State Department from her inquisitorial tribulation on the Hill, Bowen started receiving pressure to withdraw his report.

The true state of Iraq reconstruction was vital for policymakers to learn. Not only did the lack of clean water and reliable electricity make Iraqis’ lives miserable; the absence of power meant businesses could not operate and more people were thrown into the swelling ranks of the unemployed and disaffected. Many of those people began to see the Americans as hostile occupiers rather than liberators, and it is not surprising that the growing insurgency targeted the disaffected for recruitment.

The Bush administration’s measures to fight the war on terrorism guaranteed more terrorists, which in turn guaranteed the agencies more money to fight the war on terrorism. The same process was at work with respect to torture and drone strikes. It is a great business model for contractors and bureaucratic empire builders, but far less favorable as a national security strategy. As Risen says, the greedy contractors and out-and-out con men he profiles “are the beneficiaries of one of the largest transfers of wealth from public into private hands in American history.”

Someone may have made the cynical cost-benefit analysis that the less-than-existential national stakes and the relatively low casualty rate — 6,000 U.S. military dead in 13 years of war amount to only a third of U.S. dead from the one-month-long Battle of the Bulge in World War II — make a prolonged war on terrorism an acceptable business model.

It is difficult to read Pay Any Price and not come away with the sick feeling that the Bush presidency was at bottom a corrupt and criminal operation in collusion with private interests to hijack the public treasury. But what does that say about Congress, which acted more often as a cheerleader than a constitutional check? And what does it tell us about the Obama administration, whose Justice Department not only failed to hold the evildoers account-able, but has preserved and expanded some of its predecessors’ most objectionable policies?

If Risen is correct, America’s campaign against terrorism may have evolved to the point that endless war is the tacit and unalterable goal, regardless of who is formally in charge.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His article is edited from Washington Monthly, March/April/May 2015, and reprinted in PeaceMeal, May/June 2015.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Islamic authority says extremists no ‘Islamic State’

CAIRO — The top Islamic authority in Egypt, revered by many Muslims worldwide, launched an Internet-based campaign on August 24 challenging an extremist group in Syria and Iraq by saying it should not be called an “Islamic State.” The campaign by the educational institute Dar al-Ifta, the top authority that advises Muslims on spiritual and life issues, adds to the war of words by Muslim leaders across the world targeting the Islamic State group, which controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria. Its violent attacks, including mass shootings, destroying Shiite shrines, targeting minorities, and beheadings have shocked Muslims and non- Muslims alike.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, previously said the extremists violate all Islamic principles and laws and described the group as a danger to Islam as a whole. Now, the Dar el-Ifta he oversees will suggest foreign media drop using “Islamic State” in favor of the “al-Qaida Separatists in Iraq and Syria,” or the acronym “QSIS,” said Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to the mufti.

This is part of a campaign that aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spreads hate between people,” Negm said according to Egypt’s state news agency MENA. “We also want to reaffirm that all Muslims are against these practices which violate the tolerant principles of Islam.”

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also weighed in. Speaking to editors of Egyptian newspapers on August 24, he said the extremist group is part of a plot aiming to “undermine Islam as a belief.” He said the current religious discourse in the region only feeds “minds that believe that killing and bloodshed is the way to defend Islam,” in comments carried by MENA.

El-Sissi has been a champion of advancing moderate Islam, building his power base in the chaotic region since he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on vows to crush extremist Islam.

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik, had also called the QSIS group Islam’s No. 1 enemy. The world’s largest bloc of 57 Islamic nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the brutal actions of the group, as well as the targeting of minorities, have nothing to do with the values of Islam.

Muslims around the world have battled against the backlash that followed the rise of al-Qaida and the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S. Scholars and activist groups have sought for years to disassociate themselves from militants touting their own extremist versions of Islam, of which the so-called Islamic State group is another one more aggressive than al-Qaida.

– edited from The Associated Press, August 24, 2014
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Al-Qaeda is a criminal justice problem, not a military one

Philip Mudd

For the first few years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was not at all clear we were beating al-Qaeda. Terror attacks took place in London, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and the Philippines. But today, al-Qaeda’s leadership is decimated and its regional affiliates are struggling mightily. The lone-wolf threat remains significant, but lone wolves do not represent strategic threats any more than gang killings represent the crippling of U.S. society. We have far to go to defeat our jihadist adversary and its slowly eroding ideology, but we are more than halfway through writing the book of the downfall and death of al-Qaeda.

Amid the global decline of deaths from terror attacks since 9/11, our nation recently debated whether to give this group what it wants: continued treatment as a viable military adversary on par with U.S. soldiers. Doing so suggests that al-Qaeda fighters deserve to be treated differently than the common criminals and murderers they are. Their ideology is dying because they can’t defend themselves against charges of wanton murder across the Muslim world. That is their Achilles’ heel. Yet now we have agreed to mandate military custody for some detainees.

The 2012 defense authorization bill that Congress passed in December, and President Obama backed down from his threat to veto, takes a position on detainees that is misguided. It should prompt the president to fully exercise the discretion the legislation gives him.

Certain provisions in the defense legislation offer a boon to al-Qaeda, allowing its fighters to argue that they remain a strategic threat, that they are a powerful movement meriting a military response, and that the growing perception that they’ve become common criminals is wrongheaded. We don’t seem to be fighting them when we decide they have to head to military custody; it’s what they want. We’re fighting among ourselves, even as we’re grinding them down operationally.

One rationale for why we are headed down this path might be that it is a better option for the U.S. agencies that have to interrogate the fighters. Yet not once in nearly 10 years in senior positions at the CIA and the FBI did I hear a professional raise this issue. Indeed, some of our most respected national security leaders have said they don’t need or want this law.

Like the debate about whether we should direct law enforcement professionals to Mirandize suspects, this is a national security dispute in which questions about how to fight the enemy outside the Beltway have become subordinate to fighting inside the Beltway.

The legislation Congress sent the president grants him authority to waive the military-detention provisions. He should use it because the criminal justice system has tools the military doesn’t. A new, healthy debate could center on whether there should be adjustments to terror cases without mandating military custody. One useful legal action would be accelerating the deportation of non-citizens in national security investigations. We spend too many taxpayer dollars on people we should have simply expelled, but the process to send them home is cumbersome.

As it considers best tactics going forward, Washington also should tackle the politically sensitive question of how to advance the legal process by which the United States collects digital intelligence. We’re mired in a decades-old analog process that was designed to accommodate Cold War needs. And it would be useful to address why, years after intelligence reform, we still lack a single clearinghouse for security clearances.

Meanwhile, it’s the degradation of its platform that al-Qaeda hates, the perception that its fighters are weak killers with no vision and no future. Our goal should be simple: Take what our adversaries hate and turn it against them. In countless statements, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have told us they cannot defend the killing of innocents. Military engagements are easy for them to explain; murder is not.

In numerous polls across the Islamic world, citizens consistently say that they do not understand al-Qaeda killings of Muslims, though they have no problem with al-Qaeda and Taliban military engagements with the United States. And al-Qaeda’s footprint — its recruiting, its ability to take advantage of the Arab Spring and its presence on al-Jazeera — is disappearing because of its inability to answer these criticisms.

The United States does not want to suggest that al-Qaeda is a battlefield adversary; it is not. Yet we have said its members are worthy of treatment as military adversaries, requiring military custody. They are below this and slipping further every day from self-inflicted missteps. We should take advantage of their mistakes and use those errors against this fading threat. Don’t give them what they want. Give them what they hate.

Philip Mudd served as deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2003 to 2005 and as senior intelligence adviser to the FBI from 2009 to 2010. He is senior global adviser at Oxford Analytica, a global analysis and consulting firm.

– edited from The Washington Post, December 29, 2011
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Revenge is not the way to peace

John Dear S.J.

I had just finished giving a weekend retreat on the Sermon on the Mount in Los Angeles when I heard the news that the U.S. had killed Osama bin Laden. Unlike the president, the U.S. military and the hundreds who cheered and waved flags, I did not celebrate. I do not support or cheer the killing of anyone. As a Christian, I am not allowed to retaliate, seek revenge or to kill. I’m supposed to love enemies, do good to those who hate, and bless those who persecute.

Reading the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7, we discovered that Jesus is clear, consistent and insistent about creative nonviolence: “Blessed are the peacemakers. Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other cheek. Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. Do not judge. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” We could not find one instance where Jesus waffles on nonviolence. He never says, “However, if your enemies are particularly vile, kill them all.” He does not offer a set of conditions to justify warfare. He commands universal, nonviolent love.

Many in our group expressed bewilderment at such teachings: too challenging, too hard, too impractical, too scary! they said over and over. But Gandhi took these words to heart, I pointed out. He is one of those rare figures who read from the Sermon on the Mount every day for many decades to strengthen his nonviolence and satyagraha — truth force.

Retaliation will not break the downward spiral of violence. It will only fan the flames of hatred and war. Active nonviolence breaks that vicious cycle. We must nonviolently resist those who do evil, not become like them. Create justice for everyone and we will reap a great harvest of peace.

Our wars, our weapons, our state terrorism have not brought us peace. The U.S. assassination of bin Laden will not end terrorism or bring peace. It will only inspire further violence and bring a new generation of terrorists to retaliate against us.

But who follows these teachings of Jesus anymore? Very few. We have twisted Christianity so that God will bless our wars. If Osama bin Laden did not represent true Islam and the All-Merciful One, neither do George W. Bush or Barack Obama represent true Christianity and the nonviolent Jesus.

In fact, al-Qaeda and the Pentagon are two sides of the same coin. In the end, both spend their resources trying to kill, and end up killing innocent civilians. If Osama bin Laden was guilty of killing innocent civilians, so are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Barak Obama guilty of the same. The truth is that the U.S. military has killed millions more people than al-Qaeda. Both need to be stopped and dismantled.

The U.S. should immediately end its evil wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Libya, bring all its troops home and institutionalize non-military methods of resolving global conflict. Our method of global domination and imperial policing has utterly failed. The cheering crowds outside the White House after Obama’s announcement symbolize our failure to make peace. Instead, we too are caught up in the contagion of bloodlust and revenge.

Within days of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Red Cross asked me to help coordinate all the chaplains ministering to the grieving relatives at the Family Assistance Center. I also ministered to hundreds of rescue workers at Ground Zero. In our daily briefings with hundreds of chaplains, I often asked if they heard any talk of vengeance. No, I was repeatedly told. Instead, we all heard words of sorrow and hopes for peace. “My son would never want anyone killed in retaliation for his death,” several parents told me.

President Obama closed his speech announcing the murder of Osama bin Laden by invoking God and God’s blessing. But God does not bless war or warmakers. If we want God’s blessing, we have to become peacemakers. When we decide that retaliatory violence and war do not work and finally take up the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount, then the God of peace will bless us. Until then, we will remain stuck in the death-spiral of violence and war.

– edited from the National Catholic Reporter, May 3, 2011
PeaceMeal, May/June 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Your taxes fund anti-Muslim hatred

Chris Hedges

News personalities, politicians, self-appointed experts on the Muslim world, and law enforcement and intelligence officials, as well as the Christian right, have successfully demonized Muslims in the United States since the attacks of 2001. It is acceptable to say things openly about Muslims that could never be said about any other ethnic group. And as the economy continues to unravel, as we face the possibility of revenge attacks by Islamic extremists, perhaps on American soil, the plight of Muslims is beginning to mirror that of targeted ethnic minority groups on the eve of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

The major candidates for the Republican nomination for the presidency, along with television personalities such as Bill Maher, routinely employ hate talk against Muslims as a way to attract votes or viewers. Right-wing radio and cable news, including Christian radio and television, along with websites such as Jihad Watch and FrontPage, spew toxic filth about Muslims over the airwaves and the Internet.

But perhaps most ominously—as pointed out in “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace,” a report by Political Research Associates — a cadre of right-wing institutions that peddle themselves as counterterrorism specialists and experts on the Muslim world has been indoctrinating thousands of police, intelligence and military personnel in nationwide seminars. These seminars, run by organizations such as Security Solutions International and International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association, embrace gross and distorted stereotypes and propagate wild conspiracy theories. And much of this indoctrination within the law enforcement community is funded under two federal grant programs for training — the State Homeland Security Program and Urban Areas Security Initiative — which made $1.67 billion available to states in 2010.

The seminars preach that Islam is a terrorist religion, that an Islamic “fifth column” or “stealth jihad” is subverting the United States from within, that mainstream American Muslims have ties to terrorist groups, that Muslims use litigation, free speech and other legal means to advance the subversive Muslim agenda, and that the goal of Muslims in the United States is to replace the Constitution with Islamic or Shariah law.

“You would not expect a Democratic administration to fund right-wing groups,” Thom Cincotta, a civil liberties attorney and the author of the Political Research Associates report, told me, “and yet we continue to have hard-right, Islamophobic speakers and companies being paid taxpayer dollars to promote racist doctrines that undermine U.S. national security policy concerning Islam and the Muslim world. Policy expert after policy expert points out that framing our counterterrorism efforts as a war against Islam is a recipe for building increased resentment among Muslims, as well as a potent recruiting tool for those who would like to carry out violent attacks against us. This kind of demonizing breaks down communication between law enforcement agents and Muslim communities, which have proven to be strong allies in the rare instances of domestic extremism. Not only does it threaten to erode basic civil liberties, it threatens freedom of expression and freedom of worship.”

There is now an industry of well-funded hatemongers producing seminars, courses and books on Islam. Walid Shoebat, one of the stars of the circuit, gives a presentation titled “The Jihad Mindset and How to Defeat It: Why We Want to Kill You.” Shoebat, who bills himself as a reformed terrorist and who speaks to law enforcement officials around the country, tells his listeners that mainstream Muslim organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are terrorist fronts and that Islamists are by nature violent extremists and pedophiles. Shoebat, like most of the other “reformed” Muslims trotted out to speak at these events, has embraced fundamentalist Christianity. He denounces Islam as the religion of the Antichrist.

The poison of this rhetoric was on display recently when a trustee of City University of New York blocked the playwright Tony Kushner, who is Jewish, from receiving an honorary doctorate because of Kushner’s criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The trustee, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, labeling Kushner “an extremist,” told The New York Times that the Palestinians “who worship death for their children are not human.”

The effects of this campaign of racial hatred are being felt throughout the Muslim community. Those with Muslim names are routinely harassed at airports, and many who wear traditional Muslim dress report mounting cases of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Muslim children endure taunts in schools. Muslims complain of intrusive surveillance, unconstitutional profiling and frequent mistreatment by law enforcement. The practice of Islam, especially in its traditional forms, is now viewed by many as a sign of criminal intent. And with the rise of the surveillance and security state — we now have 854,000 people working in our domestic security apparatus and 800,000 more employed as police and emergency personnel — national law is being turned into an instrument of overt repression against a religious minority.

Those making war on Islam are ignorant of the practices and beliefs of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims. The Muslim community is not a monolith. It is composed of numerous ethnic, national, cultural and racial groups that often have little in common and in some cases are antagonistic. Of the some 6 million Muslims in the United States, only 5 to 10 percent define themselves as religious. And those groups that express political versions of Islam are a tiny minority.

The portrayal of Muslims as mortal enemies serves the interests of the expanding security state and the war industry, which consume half of all federal discretionary spending. The “Muslim threat” propagates the culture of fear and ensures our political passivity. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an Islamic scholar and the co-founder of Zaytuna College, who has watched the steady deterioration of Muslims’ civil rights since the 2001 attacks, calls the attacks on American Muslim leadership and Islamic charities “Swiftboating,” in reference to the right-wing smearing of John Kerry’s war record when the senator was running for president in 2004. Create doubt in people’s minds about the allegiances of Muslim leaders and you effectively undermine the entire community. He says these caricatures of Muslims as evil terrorists become effective tools in justifying the ongoing occupations and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proxy wars in Yemen and Pakistan, and the suspension of basic civil liberties at home. Israel, as well as its supporters in the United States, routinely employs the same racist cant to excuse Israeli war crimes and deny the legitimate rights of Palestinians.

Yusuf tells Muslims in the United States that they should attempt to understand those who readily embrace these stereotypes. “We can’t demonize those who attend rallies where they demonize us, because in the end the people who attend these rallies are also victims,” he said. “They are victims of these demagogues with bully pulpits. People are scared. They are losing their jobs. Their mortgages have gone into foreclosure. They are angry. Demagogues always arise in these situations to use and direct anger. The Muslim community is just an easy target.”

– edited from, posted on May 9, 2011
PeaceMeal, May/June 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Terrorism seeps out of Iraq

The Iraq war, which for years has drawn militants from around the world, is beginning to export fighters and the tactics they have honed in the insurgency to neighboring countries and beyond, according to American, European and Middle Eastern government officials and interviews with militant leaders in Lebanon, Jordan and London. Some of the fighters appear to be leaving as part of the waves of Iraqi refugees crossing borders that government officials acknowledge they struggle to control. But others are dispatched from Iraq for specific missions. Estimating the number of fighters leaving Iraq is at least as difficult as it has been to count foreign militants joining the insurgency. But early signs of an exodus are clear, and officials in the United States and the Middle East say the potential for veterans of the insurgency to spread far beyond Iraq is significant.

In a report written for the United States government, Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, said battle-hardened militants from Iraq posed a greater threat to the West than extremists who trained in Afghanistan. Iraq has become a laboratory for urban guerrilla tactics, he explained, citing the use of safe houses, surveillance, bomb making and mortars. Militants in Iraq are turning out instructional videos and electronic newsletters on the Internet that lay out their playbook for a startling array of techniques, from encryption to booby-trapped bombs to surface-to-air missiles, and those manuals are circulating freely in cyberspace.

Tactics common in Iraq are showing up in other parts of the world. In Somalia and Algeria, for example, recent suicide bombings have been accompanied by the release of taped testimonials by the bombers, a longtime terrorist practice embraced by insurgents in Iraq.

When Muhammad al-Darsi, 24, got out of prison in Libya last year after serving six years for militant activities there, he had one goal: killing Americans in Iraq. A recruiter he found on the Internet arranged to meet him in Damascus, Syria. But when he got there, Mr. Darsi said, he was drafted into the war that is seeping out of Iraq. The recruiter told him a team of militants from Iraq had traveled to Jordan, where they were preparing attacks on Americans and Jews. He asked Mr. Darsi to join them and blow himself up in a crowd of tourists at the airport in Amman. “I agreed,” Mr. Darsi said in a nine-page confession to Jordanian authorities after the plot was broken up. The authorities said they believed that the bomb maker flew from Baghdad to prepare the explosives for Mr. Darsi.

U.S. officials have accused Syria of being indifferent to the way militants use their country as a gateway to Iraq. In Damascus, Mounir Ali, a Ministry of Information spokesman, conceded that controlling Syria’s long border with Iraq was difficult. But he blamed the United States for not supplying border-control technology and said that Syria, too, was apprehensive about militant attacks. “We are very afraid of this problem created in Iraq,” he said. “The religious problem. The sectarian one. It is going to affect everybody and primarily Syria.”

Dr. Mohammad al-Massari, a Saudi dissident in Britain who runs the jihadist Internet forum,, said in an interview, “The flow of fighters is already going back and forth, and the fight will be everywhere until the United States is willing to cease and desist.”

In Lebanon, the Lebanese Army recently found itself in a furious battle against a militant group, Fatah al Islam, whose ranks included as many as 50 veterans of the war in Iraq, according to Maj. Gen. Achraf Rifi, general director of the Internal Security Forces in Lebanon. More than 30 Lebanese soldiers were killed fighting the group at a refugee camp near Tripoli. General Rifi said that “if any country says it is safe from this, they are putting their heads in the sand.”

– edited from The New York Times
PeaceMeal, July/August 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Army study slams war on terror

A scathing new report published by the Army War College broadly criticizes the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism, accusing it of taking a detour into an "unnecessary" war in Iraq and pursuing an "unrealistic" quest against terrorism that may lead to U.S. wars with states that pose no serious threat. The report, by Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB in Alabama, warns that as a result of those mistakes, the Army is "near the breaking point."

The report recommends, among other things, scaling back the scope of the "global war on terrorism" and instead focusing on the narrower threat posed by the al Qaeda terrorist network. "[T]he global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly . . . its parameters should be readjusted," Record writes. Currently, he adds, the anti-terrorism campaign "is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security."

Record, a veteran defense specialist and author of six books on military strategy and related issues, was an aide to then-Sen. Sam Nunn when the Georgia Democrat was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In discussing his political background, Record also noted that in 1999, while on the staff of the Air War College, he published work critical of the Clinton administration.

His essay, published by the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, carries the standard disclaimer that its views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Army, the Pentagon or the U.S. government. But retired Army Col. Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., director of the Strategic Studies Institute, hardly distanced himself from it. "I think that the substance that Jeff brings out in the article really, really needs to be considered," he said.

Publication of the essay was approved by the Army War College's commandant, Maj. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., Lovelace said. He said he and Huntoon expected the study to be controversial, but added, "He considers it to be under the umbrella of academic freedom."

Many of Record's arguments, such as the contention that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was deterred and did not present a threat, have been made by critics of the administration. But it is unusual to have such views published by the War College, the Army's premier academic institution. Iraq, Record concludes, "was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al Qaeda."

In addition, the essay goes further than many critics in examining the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism. Record's core criticism is that the administration is biting off more than it can chew. He likens the scale of U.S. ambitions in the war on terrorism to Adolf Hitler's overreach in World War II. "A cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number," he writes. "The Germans were defeated in two world wars . . . because their strategic ends outran their available means."

He also scoffs at the administration's policy, laid out by President Bush in a November speech, of seeking to transform and democratize the Middle East. The potential policy payoff of a democratic and prosperous Middle East, if there is one, almost certainly lies in the very distant future, he writes. "The basis on which this democratic domino theory rests has never been explicated."

The essay concludes with several recommendations, such as increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps — a position that appears to be gathering support in Congress. But Record also says the United States should scale back its ambitions in Iraq, and be prepared to settle for a "friendly autocracy" there rather than a genuine democracy.

– edited from The Washington Post, January 12, 2004
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2004

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

‘Year in hell’ brings lawsuit against U.S.

Did the United States government send an innocent man out of the country to be tortured? That’s the disturbing question at the heart of a case that may reveal a secret side of the war on terrorism — one that the administration does not want to talk about.

maher_arar.jpg (2403 bytes)In September 2002, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen (photo), took his wife and two children on a beach vacation in Tunisia. But he flew home alone early on Sept. 26 for his job as a software engineer. On a stopover at JFK Airport in New York en route to Montreal, Mr. Arar, 32, was detained and interrogated by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

When INS agents began questioning him, Arar wasn’t concerned at first, he said in an interview on 60 Minutes II aired Jan. 21."The interrogation lasted about seven or eight hours, and then they came and shackled me and chained me," Arar recalled. "I said, ‘What's happening here?’ And they would not tell me." What he didn’t know is that he’d been placed on the U.S. immigration watch list.

After spending the night in a holding cell, Arar was shackled, driven to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and locked in solitary confinement. Agents told him they had evidence that he’d been seen in the company of terrorist suspects in Canada and accused him of being a member of al Qaeda. Arar denies any involvement with the organization.

Arar was held incommunicado. When his wife, Monia Mazigh, who has a PhD in finance, didn’t hear from him for six days, she called the Canadian embassy. Then American officials acknowledged they were holding Arar. A Canadian consular official visited Arar in Brooklyn and assured him he’d be deported home to Canada.

But the U.S. Justice Department had a different plan. After two weeks in custody, Arar was taken from his cell by federal agents in the middle of the night. "They read me the document. They say, ‘The INS director decided to deport you to Syria,’" Arar related. "And of course, the first thing I did was I started crying, because everyone knows that Syria practices torture."

Torture in Syrian prisons is well-documented. The state department’s own report cites an array of gruesome tortures routinely used in Syrian jails. And in a speech last fall, President Bush condemned Syria, alongside Iraq, for what he called the country’s "legacy of torture and oppression."

Deportation agents flew Arar on a specially chartered jet to Jordan, and the Jordanians drove him to Syria. It would be a year before Maher Arar would see his family again.

The morning after his arrival, Arar said a Syrian intelligence officer arrived carrying a thick, black electrical cable. "He said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said — I was crying, you know — ‘Yes, I know what it is. It’s a cable.’ And … he beat me very strongly" on the palms of the hands, then stopped and asked questions.

Arar says the physical torture took place during the first two weeks, but he says he also went through psychological and mental torture: "They would take me back to a room, they call it the waiting room. And I hear people screaming. And they, I mean, people, they’re being tortured. And I felt my heart was going to go out of my chest."

Arar says he was held in an underground cell 3 feet wide, 6 feet long, and 7 feet high. "It’s a grave. It’s the same size of a grave. It’s a dark place. It’s underground," says Arar. It was his home for a full 10 months.

He says the Syrians were pressing him to confess he’d been to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan: "They just wanted to find something that the Americans did not find — and that’s when they asked me about Afghanistan. They said, ‘You’ve been to Afghanistan,’ so they would hit me three, four times. And, if I hesitate, they would hit me again."

Arar says he signed a confession because he was "ready to do anything to stop the torture." But he claims that he had never been to Afghanistan, or trained at a terrorist camp. "Just one hit of this cable, it’s like you just forget everything in your life. Everything!" he says.

Back in Canada, Monia was fighting for her husband’s life. Eventually, she got the ear of then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and Canadian diplomats subsequently demanded answers from the United States. It turned out, however, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had been passing the information about Arar’s alleged terrorist associations to U.S. intelligence. And U.S. government officials spoken to by 60 Minutes II say they told Canadian intelligence that they were sending Arar to Syria — and the Canadians signed off on the decision.

It took a year from the time Arar was detained in New York for him to be released. Syria’s highest-ranking diplomat in Washington, Imad Moustapha, said, "We could not substantiate any of the allegations against him."

60 Minutes II alleges that the decision to deport Arar was made at the highest levels of the U.S. Justice Department, with a special removal order signed by John Ashcroft’s former deputy, Larry Thompson. Ashcroft made his only public statement about the case in November. He said the U.S. deported Arar to protect Americans — and had every right to do so.

"I consider that really an utter fabrication and a lie," says Michael Ratner, one of Arar’s attorneys and head of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York. "They knew, when they were sending him to Syria, that Syria would use certain kinds of information-gathering techniques, including torture, on him. They knew it," says Ratner. "That’s why he wasn’t sent to Canada."

On January 22, 2003, CCR filed suit in federal court against Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other U.S. officials. The suit states that the decision to deport Mr. Arar to Syria was done with full knowledge of the existence of state-sponsored torture in that country, and in direct violation of the Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed and ratified by the United States in 1994. Federal officials deported Mr. Arar to Syria under the Government’s "extraordinary renditions" program precisely because that country can and does use methods of interrogation that would not be legal or morally acceptable in this country or any other democratic country.

Mr. Arar has already filed a multimillion-dollar damage suit against Syria and Jordan. He says he was also beaten by Jordanian officials before being handed over to Syria.

In Canada on January 21, the RCMP raided the home and offices of an Ottawa Citizen journalist as part of a criminal investigation into leaks in the case of Maher Arar. Police say they are investigating an alleged breach of the Security of Information Act by reporter Juliet O’Neill, who wrote a story on the Arar case in November. The act makes it illegal to communicate leaked secret documents. Ottawa Citizen editor-in-chief Scott Anderson said, "I think this is a black, black day for freedom in this country. I am outraged."

– compiled from CBS News, CBC News (Canada), CCR-NY and Amnesty International
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2004

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Red Cross blasts U.S. over prisoners

The International Committee for the Red Cross reiterated its criticism of the Bush administration on October 10 for ignoring repeated appeals to give legal rights to prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After a visit to the base, ICRC officials said many prisoners were suffering "a worrying deterioration" in mental health because they are held without charges and without legal counsel."They have no idea about their fate and they have no means of recourse at their disposal through any legal mechanism," said ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal.

Westphal said the ICRC, the only independent body with access to the detainees, had yet to see "any significant movement" from administration officials to its long-standing request that the United States give the prisoners legal rights in accordance with international conventions governing prisoners of war. The Bush administration has refused to grant them prisoner of war status but says the detainees are treated humanely.

However, human rights groups have criticized the conditions under which the prisoners are held, adding that interrogation techniques used there might include torture. Whatever the prisoners’ status, the ICRC said: "People held as a result of conflict or armed violence are protected by international humanitarian law, and should be treated humanely."

Those held at Guantanamo come from more than 40 countries and speak around 17 languages, the ICRC said. Suspected of links to the fallen Afghan Taliban regime or al-Qaida terrorist network, some prisoners have been confined for more than 18 months. The Pentagon has refused to identify them, has not brought charges against any, and has barred them from contacting lawyers. The Pentagon is in the final stages of planning for military trials of at least some of the prisoners.

"We have observed what we consider to be a worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of the internees" because of the uncertainty of their situation, Westphal said. The indefinite detentions without charge have led to 32 suicide attempts by 27 prisoners, mostly by hanging.

At a May 28 White House press briefing — two days after the Pentagon reported two new suicide attempts — President Bush's former press secretary Ari Fleischer asserted, "The prisoners in Guantanamo are … receiving far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously."

On November 30, an anonymous military official announced that more than 100 men and boys will be released from Guantanamo in the next two months.

– compiled from The Associated Press and Reuters
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2003

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Shredding the Constitution

The actions taken by President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft in authorizing military tribunals for suspected terrorists and secretly detaining more than a thousand persons in the United States for questioning have been condemned as "a constitutional coup d'etat" by experts on constitutional and international law.

An executive order signed by President Bush gives him the exclusive right to identify, try, and even execute foreign terrorists without the constitutional or evidentiary protections ordinarily granted defendants in the U.S. criminal justice system. Under the executive order, the president himself is to determine who is an accused terrorist or has "knowingly harbored" a terrorist and is, therefore, subject to trial by tribunal.

Those accused do not need to be tried in the United States. They may be tried in other countries — like "liberated" Afghanistan — and on ships at sea. The tribunals will be held in secret without a jury. Panels of military officers will be the judges, empowered to impose the death penalty if two-thirds of them agree. There will be no appeals to any of their sentences.

The tribunals will not be conducted in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice. "The accused in such a court would have dramatically fewer rights than a person would in a court-martial," according to Eugene R. Fidell, the president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Mr. Fidell said he expected the executive order to be challenged in court.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole emphasized, "The only times that military tribunals have been permitted in the past have been in a declared war with respect to enemy aliens — people who are involved in fighting against us in a declared war on behalf of a nation with which were at war."

President Bush asked for an official declaration of war, but Congress refused.

White House officials said the tribunals are necessary to protect potential American jurors from the danger of passing judgment on accused terrorists. They also said the tribunals would prevent the disclosure of government intelligence methods, which normally would be public in civilian courts.

"[T]he conventional way of bringing people to justice doesn't apply to these times," said White House communications director Dan Bartlett.

Harvard Law School professor Phillip Heymann, a former deputy attorney general, pointed out that terrorists — notably those convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — have been successfully prosecuted in civilian court under the Classified Information Procedures Act, which allows classified information to be used at trial without being disclosed to the public. He added, "The tribunal idea looks to me like a way of dealing with a fear that we lack the evidence to convict these people."

Conservative columnist William Safire lambasted the president's order in no uncertain terms: "Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens. . . . We are letting George W. Bush get away with the replacement of the American rule of law with military kangaroo courts. . . . In an Orwellian twist, Bush's order calls this Soviet-style abomination 'a full and fair trial.' "

In the criminal investigation following the September 11 terrorist attacks, some 1,200 persons in the United States have been held incommunicado. Numerous legal protections under the Constitution and international treaties appear to have been ignored or violated in their detention.

"We are becoming a banana republic here in the United States, with 'disappeared' [persons]," said Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois. "We don't know where they are or the conditions under which they are being held. We have no idea whether they have access to attorneys. We do know one of them died, under highly suspicious circumstances, while in custody."

Resident aliens "are entitled to the protections of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment," Boyle said. The foreign detainees are also protected by international law under treaties to which the United States government is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Covenant affords basic due process protections to everyone in the United States, irrespective of their citizenship, according to Boyle.

After two months, federal authorities said they had found no evidence indicating that any of the people detained played a role in the suicide hijacking plot.

In an earlier century, the Supreme Court ruled that a President of the United States — no less than Abraham Lincoln — had violated the Constitution by subjecting Confederate sympathizers to military tribunals. The Supreme Court asserted: ". . . [Our constitution] foresaw that troublous times would arise, when rulers and people would become restive under restraint and seek by sharp and decisive measures to accomplish ends deemed just and proper; and that the principles of constitutional liberty would be in peril, unless established by irrepealable law. . ."

The Bush administration is not only shredding America 's most sacred document — the United States Constitution — it is also putting in harms way American citizens — journalists and others — who may be charged by foreign governments with threatening their national security. If the United States can prosecute and even execute vaguely identified "supporters of terrorism" swiftly and secretly, why can't other countries also follow our lawless example?

- compiled from The New York Times, The Village Voice and American Free Press
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2001

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)