Archive for December, 2007

News and Analysis (12/20/07)

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Rather than get slapped with a Congressional subpoena, the CIA willingly hands over documents relevant to the destroyed videotapes showing possible torture interrogations:

Arab students begin eying Australia as their new hotspot for studying aboard after being fed up with extra visa delays and harassment at US airports:

Congress won’t budge on at least $50 million of the administration’s $300 million request for aid to Pakistan unless it pushes Musharraf to restore democratic rights, including an independent judiciary:

Living with a defacto and legal apartheid existence is the price Israel’s Arab minority pays for refusing to leave their home during the bloody 1948 expulsion of the Palestinians to make space for the state of Israel:

“There’s no one helping us negotiate the return…The Americans are telling us that we’ve got to negotiate between each other, because it’s not their business. But the Iraqi government said it’s not their business either.”—Dhia’a Al-Dien, local Baghdadi councilman

Driven by the desire to prevent a US-backed revolution, the Iranian government uses guise of preventing sinful behavior to crackdown on individual liberties and violate the Islamic precept “Let there be no compulsion in religion”:

Saudi ‘Ulema issue a rare warning of its monetary policies and urges greater government subsidies but also calls on individual piety to avoid hoarding and give charity:

News and Analysis (12/19/07)

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

As the Bush administration spars with Congress and a federal judge over conducting an independent inquiry into the destroyed CIA torture tapes, defense attorneys for suspected Al-Qai’da terrorists ask another fed judge to turn over remaining evidence on Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation and the NY Times reveals four top administration lawyers discussed what to do over the tapes…

…meanwhile information of Pakistan’s own Gitmo-like system come to light, detailing Musharraf’s attempts to circumvent the civilian court system that parallel the Bush administration’s maneuvers in the US:

Donor pledges in Paris show strong monetary support for the Palestinian Authority, but some officials and analysts express skepticism of the peace conference’s effectiveness due to ongoing fighting between Hamas and Fatah and continuation of Israel’s occupation and settlement expansion:

Washington Post editorial asserts the only way to prevent further instability in Pakistan is for the US to “unambiguously side with Pakistan’s democratic forces” and ensure upcoming elections are not rigged:

News and Analysis (12/18/07)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Confirming MFI’s skeptical analysis about the validity of Abu Zubayah’s information and supposed rank, disputes between the FBI and CIA emerge over the tortured Al-Qai’da suspect:

Fighting from some Senators derails last-minute attempt to cram through intelligence law bill granting retroactive immunity to telecoms:

As a slap in the face to Bush’s faux policy toward Tehran, Russia delivers its first shipment of enriched-uranium to Iran:

Turkey makes its first major foray into northern Iraq since Ankara gave the green light to pursue PKK militants, while the US provides Turkish soldiers with important battlefield intelligence, but at a cost to diplomatic efforts meant to push reconciliation in Iraq:

News and Analysis (12/17/07)

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Political, economic and security interests, as well as a more open political system allow Russian Muslims the ability to make the sacred hajj pilgrimage to Mecca:

King Abdullah pardons the “Girl of Qatif” gang rape victim of a 200-lash sentence, but the so-called justice system that slapped her with the verdict remains unchanged:

Western nations pledge billions of Euros in aid to the Palestinian Authority, however challenges such as tough negotiations with Israelis and exclusion of Hamas in Gaza remain:

Self-confessed leader of notorious Southeast Asian militant organization goes on trial for terrorism charges and possibly faces the death penalty if convicted:

Opposition leaders ranging from “liberal activists” to “reformist Muslim clerics” go to more virtual settings like Facebook and Youtube to mobilize their support:

Lebanon delays presidential vote for a ninth time due to parliamentary deadlock over emerging consensus candidate Michel Suleiman will be elected:

News and Analysis (12/16/07)

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Big brother’s tentacles reach out for more executive power as Bush seeks to transform the Judge Advocate Generals into a politicized tool for the administration, pushes the Justice Department to squelch investigations on the destruction of CIA videotapes, and deepen its relationship with telecoms to spy on Americans:

Failures on the Afghan front, largely due to resources diverted to Iraq, force the Bush administration to reassess its mission there:

“This is like a murderer who turns in his weapon and then claims he has been absolved of the crime.”—Ashan Iqbal, spokesperson for opposition leader Nawaz Sharif

News and Analysis (12/14/07)

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Sami Al-Arian and his defense team beat back government abuse of the grand jury system meant to coerce him into testifying against other Muslim organizations:

As a New York Times editorial demands Congress take stronger action on falsified Iraq intelligence, warrantless wiretapping, and torture, the House finally votes to pass a bill effectively banning torture:

More stories of the follies of occupation: A British intelligence report finds evidence of Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda involved in London/Glasgow attacks while Basra residents feel British troops liberated them from the tyranny of Saddam only to be put in the hands of criminal militias:

Iran analysts Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh argue the latest NIE report undermines Ahmedinejad because Iranians can focus more on domestic problems of diminishing civil liberties and economic prosperity as threat of war with the US no longer looms:

Musharraf seeks to end martial law tomorrow, but only after he disfigures the nation’s constitution so he won’t be dragged before a court:

Torture Revisited – The Case of Abu Zubaydah, Waterboarding and Kiriakou

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Recently, the Washington Post and CNN featured stories story summarizing the statements of a former CIA case officer, John Kiriakou, who claimed waterboarding “probably saved lives”, but also said he believed it constitutes torture and that Americans can “do better.”

While it is very pleasing to hear a former intelligence with field experience like Kiriakou’s recant his views on waterboarding, his alleged success story of Abu Zubaydah’s (AZ) torture doesn’t add up. Before giving a critical scrutiny of his comments, let’s provide a summary of his assertions:

  • AZ, a “crucial and highly placed terrorist”, was caught in the spring of 2002
  • Kiriakou initially tried “softer” approaches to eliciting information from AZ while he was in the hospital, however he was “ideologically zealous, defiant and uncooperative”
  • By mid-summer 2002 he was already moved to “a secret CIA prison” where he was waterboarded
  • Within “about 35 seconds” of being waterboarded, Abu Zubaida broke down
  • The next day AZ said he would tell them whatever they wanted. According to Kiriakou’s account, AZ’s reason was because “…Allah had come to him in his cell and told him to cooperate, because it would make things easier for his brothers”
  • Torture of AZ led to revelations about the importance of figures such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad

Anyone seriously knowledgeable in Islamic beliefs will look at this collection of assertions and ask “Was Zubaydah insane, ignorant of Islam, or just trying to pull one over on his tormentors?” Researchers like Marc Sageman find “terrorists are surprisingly normal in terms of mental health,” so if he is insane, one must ask if his traumatic interrogation experience drove him that way, or at the very least made him worse if indeed he was unstable prior to his detention. Alternatively, he may not be insane at all but said whatever he thought would stop the torture without regard to its veracity or consistency with Islamic beliefs.

Based on reporting by independent journalist Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, my guess is that was somewhat mentally unstable before his detention, but made worse after being tortured. In Suskind’s book, and other interviews, he quotes certain intelligence officials, including a former top FBI Al-Qaeda analyst, saying, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.” This would perhaps put into context a diary AZ kept for a decade that included entries “ ‘in the voice[s] of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3’ – a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego.” It would also at least partly explain why Zubaydah allegedly heard God’s voice—a delirious-sounding notion at best and blasphemous at worst to Muslims, especially ultra-conservative Salafi/Wahhabis like Zubaydah. The sheer physical and mental stresses of torture probably drove him to further delusion and is likely as the other reason for his alleged Divine revelation. It would also give greater credence to claims by other intelligence officials, cited by Suskind, that Zubaydah was not a high-level operations manager, but a low-level logistics coordinator. It would be an unnecessary and enormous security liability to have a man with mental problems in such an important position.

Contrary to research conducted by academics and the experiences of other former professional interrogators, Kiriakou claims Zubaydah is an example where torture “probably saved lives” by leading to the capture of key terrorists. With reluctance he stated, “It was an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at that time. But we’ve moved beyond that.” According to intelligence officials cited by Suskind, under torture AZ gave false confessions that sent law enforcement officials on wild goose chases, except in one case: he correctly identified 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s moniker, “the brain.” Kiriakou alleges this piece of information from AZ was key in KSM’s eventual arrest.

So is this the smoking gun proving that torture works? Not really. According to the 9/11 Commission report, the CIA already knew KSM’s codename as early as August 2001, before the 9/11 attacks occurred and before AZ’s capture in 2002. This small, redundant piece of information did little to contribute to KSM’s capture. The main contributions came from two human intelligence sources—an Al-Qaida defector lured by a $25 million reward and the help of the Emir of Qatar himself—and a careless trail of Al-Qaida’s cell phone numbers and reused Swiss SIM cards that intelligence agencies smartly exploited. Abu Zubaydah’s confession contributed little, if anything to the success of other counterterrorism operations.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kiriakou that waterboarding is torture and immoral, but vehemently disagree that it was ever necessary or that ever worked in this case. Waterboarding and all other forms of torture are just plain morally and tactically bankrupt. Indeed, America can do better.

Allahu ‘Alim.

[My thanks to Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad for conversations and suggestions that contributed substantially to this article.]

Alejandro J. Beutel
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (12/13/07)

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

After flouting international and US domestic law for almost six years, political winds have finally shifted against the Bush administration and the CIA as the Senate widens its investigations of the destroyed videotapes…

…however, answering whether or not waterboarding is torture will determine how far investigations will go:

Latest poll conducted in Pakistan by the International Republican Institute finds at least two-thirds of Pakistanis want Musharraf see him unfit as President and want him to quit:

In a major political overture to Tehran and religious signal to Shi’a, Saudi Arabia invites Iranian President Ahmedinejad to hajj:

News and Analysis (12/12/07)

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

A federal appeals court rules a clause in 1996 counterterrorism law banning “material support or resources” to State Department-designated terrorist organizations is unconstitutionally vague:

CIA Director Mike Hayden claims ignorance on who authorized the destruction of videotapes containing footage of Gitmo detainees’ torture and why lawmakers were not told about it sooner:

Editorial from the Lebanon Daily Star argues “effective and responsible” governments permitting free and fair elections and protecting its best and brightest minds will help Muslims flourish again:

Lebanese politics take a turn toward for the worse as a high-ranking army general likely to become the nation’s next top commander is assassinated:

Pakistani journalists accuse the state of using its central media regulatory authority to muzzle free speech and press while analysts and local activists expect more instability and violence if upcoming elections are not free and fair:

US-led coalition efforts to bring aid to local Afghanis and gain their support by day are undermined by the Taliban’s intimidation and violence:

News and Analysis (12/11/07)

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

A former CIA official’s allegation that waterboarding was approved by top officials from the White House, the NSC Council and the Justice Department heats up the debate about whether “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a euphemism for torture:

Research conducted by Seton Hall Law professor Mark Denbeaux, finds that the Pentagon significantly overstates the potential threat of releasing detainees:

While former members of the National Security Council Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that the NIE provides an opportunity for comprehensive diplomatic engagement with Tehran, the US continues to push for more sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council:

Human Rights Watch claims the Egyptian state fabricated an entire terrorist organization in order to justify extending emergency rule:

Moqtada Al-Sadr uses the time in a self-declared six-month cease-fire to purge his forces of any unwanted “criminals” or “extremists” and regain trust among ordinary Iraqi Shi’as: