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News, analysis and primary source documents on terrorism, extremism and national security.


Thursday, May 27, 2004
 

Cleric's Arrest in U.K. May Have Hidden Implications In Berg Slaying

The U.S. has requested the extradition of a key figure linking the killer of Nicholas Berg and an al Qaeda terrorist who used Berg's computer password in the United States.



CNN has reported that the U.S. has requested that the U.K. extradite radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Mazri, leader of the Finsbury Park mosque in London.



Berg connectionsAccused al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui attended Hamza's mosque, as did Richard Reid, the al Qaeda "shoe bomber." According to Newsweek (external link), Hamza headed a London cell of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network.



Hamza's Web site was recently banned by U.K. authorities for publishing a link to the video of Nicholas Berg, an American civilian, being beheaded by a man who appears to be Zarqawi.



The arrest of Hamza has been rumored to be in the works for more than a year, according to a report on the extradition warrant published in the Daily Telegraph. The report said the extradition request was based on testimony related to James Ujaama, a U.S. citizen who has pleaded guilty to attempting to set up a terrorist cell working in Oregon and Washington state.



Hamza was not arrested at the time, although the UK has been fighting to strip him of his British citizenship. An Egyptian native, Hamza moved to the UK in 1981.



-- JM Berger

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Cleric's Arrest in U.K. May Have Implications In Berg Slaying

By J.M. BERGER

Intelwire.com




A radical Muslim cleric has been charged with trying to set up terrorist training camps on U.S. soil, in a case that may have implications for the Nicholas Berg investigation.



British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been linked to both the killer of Nicholas Berg and to an al Qaeda terrorist who used Berg's computer password in the United States.



Berg connectionsAccording to CNN, Hamza "faces U.S. charges of providing material support to al Qaeda and aiding a deadly 1998 kidnapping in Yemen in an 11-count indictment released Thursday."



Earlier Thursady, it was reported that the U.S. requested that the U.K. extradite radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Mazri, leader of the Finsbury Park mosque in London.



The charges against Hamza include hostage-taking related to a 1998 incident in Yemen, according to Reuters. Because the crime carries a possible death penalty, the extradition from the U.K. may be protracted or even end up being unsuccessful.



The sealed indictment was filed on April 19, 2004. Berg disappeared in Iraq on April 10. His body was found May 8, and the video was released May 11. Berg's killer is believed to be Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, leader of an al Qaeda splinter group that is coordinating some resistance efforts in Iraq.



Accused al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui attended Hamza's mosque, as did Richard Reid, the al Qaeda "shoe bomber." According to Newsweek (external link), Hamza headed a London cell of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network.



Moussaoui and Berg met in Oklahoma, where Moussaoui was studying flying and Berg was attending college. Moussaoui used Berg's university computer password to check e-mail. The FBI questioned Berg in the U.S. after Moussaoui's arrest. (related story)



Hamza's Web site was recently banned by U.K. authorities for publishing a link to the video of Berg, an American civilian, being beheaded by a man who appears to be Zarqawi, CNN reported.



A conspiracy oriented Web site called jackblood.com reported earlier this month that the Berg video was uploaded from London. The report has been reprinted and the claim repeated around the Web. INTELWIRE has not been able to independently verify this report.



NPR and other mainstream media outlets have reported on the upload, but were unable to identify where it may have occured.



The arrest of Hamza has been rumored to be in the works for more than a year, according to a report on the extradition warrant published in the Daily Telegraph.



The report said the extradition request was based on testimony related to James Ujaama, a U.S. citizen who was charged with setting up a terrorist cell working in Oregon and in Washington state. He pleaded guilty to charges of aiding the Taliban, including with computer assistance and by sending at least one recruit to Afghanistan.



Hamza was not arrested at the time, although the UK has been fighting to strip him of his British citizenship. An Egyptian native, Hamza became a British citizen by marriage in 1981.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004
 

Terry Nichols Found Guilty On 161 Counts of Murder

By J.M. Berger

INTELWIRE.com




The trial of Terry Nichols ended with a whimper, not a bang.



The accused conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing was convicted of 161 murder charges by the state of Oklahoma, making him eligible for the death penalty as sought by prosecutors.



The Oklahoma state murder trial was more notable for what was left out than for what it revealed. If anything, the state trial was far less complex and detailed than the federal proceeding that netted Nichols life in prison.



And despite early indications from the defense team regarding its strategy, in the end, the trial broke very little new ground. Nichols' attorneys attempted to introduce evidence of a broader conspiracy to bomb the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, but the defense was thwarted by the trial judge.



In the end, the case came down to a simplistic argument in which both defense and prosecution took opposite extremes. The prosecution argued that Nichols was not only involved in the bombing but suggested he was its mastermind, a conclusion that came off as a significant stretch, based on the known evidence.



The defense argued, conversely, that Nichols had nothing at all to do with the bombing, an equally dubious argument. "He's not involved. He's never been involved," attorney Brian Hermanson said in his closing arguments.



Judge Steven Taylor ruled that testimony relating to the possible involvement of a gang of white supremacist bank robbers would not be allowed during the Nichols trial, cutting the legs out from under the planned defense strategy.



Several defense witnesses were disallowed based on the judge's ruling that there was insufficient evidence to allow their testimony. The judge barred the defense team from presenting any testimony that attempted to show a conspiracy involving the bank robbery gang, citing a lack of physical evidence to support that line of investigation.



The ruling came despite several stories by the Associated Press revealing documents and evidence that the federal government had failed to provide during the federal trials of Nichols and co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh. The judge said the new evidence did not meet the legal standard for admissibility and was not directly exculpatory of Nichols.



However, the defense team was allowed to present testimony relating to John Doe 2, a suspect in the bombing who was never apprehended. The FBI later claimed he didn't exist. This testimony was permitted because it involved suspects seen with McVeigh in the act of committing the bombing. Several new accounts described sightings of additional suspects at the scene of the bombing.



Some of those following the case had hoped that the trial would shed light on longstanding claims that Middle Eastern terrorists were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing. However, there was no motivation for either side to raise such allegations.



For the prosecution, it would have been a costly and quite possibly unproductive addition to an already expensive case that nearly bankrupted the Oklahoma criminal justice system.



For the defense, there was even less motivation to raise the specter of an al Qaeda link. The latest prosecution of Nichols had only one purpose, winning a death sentence against Nichols to satisfy a perceived anger among the state's population and victims of the bombing. The state had no motivation to cut a plea deal with Nichols, which would only have created additional defendants and an even more difficult criminal prosecution.



Furthermore, any cooperation with al Qaeda or other foreign terrorists would open a can of worms that would expose Nichols to possible incarceration and interrogation as an enemy combatant, and possibly set up new federal criminal charges, incurring further risk of a death penalty.



Now that a death penalty is virtually a fait accompli, however, Nichols could conceivably choose to talk -- assuming he has anything to say, and also assuming he is not concerned with the welfare of those he might implicate.



An FBI internal investigation is again reviewing evidence of a broader conspiracy in Oklahoma City and looking at irregularities in the federal investigation of the bombing, which was the single most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to September 11. The outcome of that investigation could still influence the outcome of the Nichols case on appeal.



AN INTELWIRE SPECIAL REPORT: OKC



OKC Bomb Formulas Found in Al Qaeda Manuals



Exposed: Al Qaeda & Saudi Gov't Plotted To Recruit Gulf War Vets As Terrorists



McVeigh, Nichols made moves on key dates in al Qaeda recruitment plot



INS Deported bin Laden Brother-in-Law Just Days After OKC Bombing



Linking Terry Nichols to Ramzi Yousef: Is There A Case?



al Qaeda Recruited Christians in Key Terry Nichols Locale



Jose Padilla and John Doe 2? A Look At A Long Shot



RELATED STORIES:



Newsweek: Alleged Yousef-Iraq Link Debunked By Secret Post-9/11 Mission



Ex-Terror Czar Says Feds Couldn't Disprove Nichols-Yousef Link



Khalifa Links run to Al-Zawahiri, Uranium Plot, Terror Finance Network and even 9/11



Bin Laden Brother-in-Law Denies Terror Ties, Asks To Be Dropped From 9/11 Lawsuit



Media Backgrounder: Jose Padilla

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Qaeda-Linked Californian Confesses 'Demonic Heavy Metal' and Sloppiness


By J.M. Berger
INTELWIRE.com


An al Qaeda-linked suspect named by FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft in a press conference Wednesday (related story) is widely published around the Internet in a short essay describing his conversion to Islam.

The essay is apparently targeted to Muslim converts and potential converts.

Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a white California native, is named as the author of a text on "Becoming Muslim." He is also wanted for questioning by U.S. authorities, who said he is not specifically suspected of directly perpetrating specific terrorist activities.

One site publishing the material is the Muslim Students Association of the University of Southern California. (external link) On this site, and others, an author claiming to be Gadahn writes:

My first seventeen years have been a bit different than the youth experienced by most Americans. I grew up on an extremely rural goat ranch in Western Riverside County, California, where my family raises on average 150 to 200 animals for milk, cheese, and meat. My father is a halal butcher [a butcher who slaughters in an Islamic manner -ed.] and supplies to an Islamic Food Mart a few blocks from the Islamic Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Gadahn also wrote:

I had become obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music, something the rest of my family (as I now realize, rightfully so) was not happy with. My entire life was focused on expanding my music collection. I eschewed personal cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray. My relationship with my parents became strained, although only intermittently so. I am sorry even as I write this.

Earlier this year, I began to listen to the apocalyptic ramblings of Christian radio's "prophecy experts." Their paranoid espousal of various conspiracy theories, rabid support of Israel and religious Zionism, and fiery preaching about the "Islamic Threat" held for me a strange fascination.
Gadahn wrote that he had been converted after learning about Islam over the Internet, in chat rooms and other online forums.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004
 

Shukrijumah, Siddiqui Again Named In U.S. Terror Alert

By J.M. Berger

INTELWIRE.com






(Corrected date: 5/26/1996)



U.S. authorities have again raised the specter of a dirty bomb attack on American soil.



Attorney General John Ashcroft said U.S. authorities are searching for seven al Qaeda operatives within the U.S., including Adnan G. El-Shukrijumah, whom federal authorities say is an associate of accused al Qaeda "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla.



Ashcroft said Shukrijumah has tried to enter the U.S. using several different passports.



The other suspects were Abderraouf Jdey, Aafia Siddiqui, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Amer El-Maati, and Adam Gadahn (related story).



Ashcroft also said Al Qaeda has been seeking recruits who can pass themselves off as Europeans. (AQ recruitment of Christians, AQ recruitment of Gulf War vets). Suspect Adam Gadahn is apparently a white native of California.



All of the operatives named in the press conference have been previously identified in FBI bulletins and alerts. It's not clear what, if any, substantially new intelligence prompted the high-profile press conference.



FBI director Rober Mueller said that federal authorities expect a heightened risk of terrorist attacks against the U.S. between now and the elections in November. Mueller said there was no evidence the seven suspects were working together.



Shukrijumah has sought as a high-value target for months since being identified in an early 2003 FBI advisory. He lived in the same South Florida metro area as Padilla, and the two worshipped at the same mosque. (more on AQ recruiting in that area)



Shukrijumah is also suspected of trying to build a "dirty bomb," or a radioactive dispersal device designed to spread contaminated material over a large area using conventional explosives. He is also believed to be trained as a pilot.



Shukrijumah's father, Gulshair Shukrijumah, was a character witness in the trial of al Qaeda-linked terrorist Clement Rodney Hampton-El. (more on Hampton-El) The elder Shukrijumah was a Saudi cleric who preached in New York City as part of a government outreach program.



Gulshair Shukrijumah was once a translator for blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Newsweek recently identified the elder Shukrijumah as a recipient of suspicious payments from the Saudi embassy, which are under investigation by federal regulators.



Another suspect named during the press conference was Aafia Siddiqui, a female microbiologist suspected of being an al Qaeda bioweapons expert. Siddiqui was also linked to suspicious transactions in Boston which may be tied to Saudi nationals, according to the same Newsweek report. (external link to financing story)



Adnan Shukrijumah's aliases include Adnan G. El Shukri Jumah; Abu Arif; Ja'far Al-Tayar; Jaffar Al-Tayyar; Jafar Tayar; Jaafar Al-Tayyar.



One of the other suspects, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, is a suspect in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings on Kenya and Tanzania. That plot was executed with assistance from several U.S. based terrorist operatives, including a U.S. Special Forces Sgt. named Ali Mohammed who lived in California, and a top-level bin Laden aide living in Texas named Wadih El-Hage.

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Friday, May 21, 2004
 

Saddam Militiaman Arrested In Berg Killing, But Details Are Murky

By J.M. Berger

INTELWIRE.com




Unnamed Iraqi officials today told the Associated Press that they had arrested four members of Saddam Hussein's former Fedayeeen militia for the killing of U.S. citizen Nicholas Berg.



A great deal of ambiguity surrounded the reports, which were anonymously sourced. It appears some suspects may have already been released, and it's quite possible none of them are connected to the killing.



The arrests took place several days ago and were first reported by AFP earlier this week. According to AP, the group arrested were led by Yasser al-Sabawi, whom AP describes as a nephew of Saddam Hussein. al-Sabawi was not arrested, AP reported. The evidence on which the arrests were made was not immediately known. AP said Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi refused to comment on the report.



AP reported that all four were still in custody. AP also reported that an anonymous U.S. military official confirmed that four suspects were arrested but did not provide further details.



But CNN reported that two of the suspects have already been released, and said that the two remaining in custody may also be released soon, according to an unnamed U.S. military official.



It's unclear what relationship -- if any -- the arrested men may have had to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom U.S. officials have identified as the individual who actually killed and beheaded Berg on a videotape subsequently released over the Internet.



Despite various claims by U.S. officials prior to the invasion of Iraq, no compelling evidence has surfaced to suggest cooperation between the al Qaeda-linked Zarqawi and the Saddam regime prior to the invasion. Scattered reports have indicated some cooperation in attacks on U.S. occupation forces and cooperating Iraqis, but even these have not been strongly conclusive.



A video recording of the Berg slaying identified Zarqawi as the killer and featured a statement apparently read by Zarqawi. The CIA and some media reports have confirmed that the voice is Zarqawi's, but the low-quality video and the mask on the killer's face make it uncertain whether the figure in the video is actually the source of the voice speaking. There are other audio irregularities on the video, and Zarqawi's voice could have been dubbed in.

Related story:



Debunking (And Rebunking) The Nick Berg Conspiracy Theories



External links:



CNN.com - Two held in Berg beheading case -- CNN



Four Arrested in Iraq for Berg Killing -- AP

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WashPost Has New Abu Ghraib Pics, Videos, Gruesome New Details

The Washington Post reported explicit details of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib that go well beyond previously published reports. The Post has published new pictures and a video taken from the Iraqi prison.



According to the Post, prisoners were "ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets."



The Post reported numerous instances of rape, in which prisoners were sodomized with nightsticks and chemical lights, and one instance in which a translator raped a boy as young as 15. The latter case was photographed, a detainee told the Post.



In instances, a father and son were imprisoned naked together, and prisoners reported being assaulted for inquiring about the time so that they could pray. Detainees were made to crawl on broken glass and cuffed to bars, where they were left hanging for hours.



The full story is available at washingtonpost.com:

External Links to Washington Post (registration required)





Video Recording of Prison Abuse



New Pictures of Abu Ghraib Abuse



Sworn Statements by Abu Ghraib Detainees




New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge

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Iraqis Arrest Four Saddam Militiaman In Berg Killing

Click here for INTELWIRE Analysis and link to AP story.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004
 

Debunking (And Rebunking) The Nick Berg Conspiracy Theory

By J.M. Berger

INTELWIRE.com




He's barely been dead a month, but he's already taken his place among the immortals. John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Ron Brown, Vince Foster... and now Nick Berg.



Man claiming to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, screen image taken from videoBerg, 26, was a private citizen traveling in Iraq, purportedly for the purpose of drumming up business for his telecommunications company, Prometheus Methods Tower Service Inc. Berg was kidnapped some time in April, and his dead body was found in early May.

Report: Berg was suspect in pipe bomb case

With such credentials, Berg was well on his way to becoming one more war statistic. Then the video surfaced.



In mid-May, as everyone now knows, a graphic video recording of Berg's death was posted to an al Qaeda-linked Web site. The video showed a masked man beheading Berg, after reading a statement that tied the slaying to widely publicized photographs of soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. The killer was identified as identified as terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.



Within hours the video was circulating widely on the Internet. And just a few more hours after that, a legion of armchair detectives began dissecting every frame. Within a day, breathless postings were peppering the Internet, finding suspicion in every aspect of the tape.



It's hardly surprising that Berg's brutal beheading would become the nexus of a conspiracy theory vortex. After all, there are more than a few legitimate questions about his young life and untimely death.



That isn't an excuse for letting imagination cut loose the bonds of reason, however, and most of the speculation about Berg's death can be discounted after a quick reality check.



But some intriguing contradictions and curious coincidences remain, and mainstream media reporting has emerged to suggest that Nick Berg's death might not be what it seems.



Here's a rundown of what people are saying, and a tough look at whether the questions are probing or just paranoid.



If you're seeing these bullet points for the first time, they may seem arcane. But to anyone who's spent five minutes cruising the Internet for stories on Nicholas Berg, they will already have a familiar, timeless quality, like the "grassy knoll" or the "magic bullet." Do these conspiracy theories have enough weight to keep Oliver Stone interested? Some may, but many do not.



  • Berg was killed by the U.S. government to distract attention from Abu Ghraib.



    This is by far the most commonly cited theory about Berg's death. Many of the more specific claims documented below are designed to end up at this premise. Questions of paranoia aside, the most patently obvious problem with this premise is that the Berg video cites Abu Ghraib as the reason for his killing. It's a poorly constructed conspiracy that seeks to divert attention from a topic by mentioning it prominently.

    Still image from Berg beheading video

  • Berg is wearing a U.S.-issue prison orange jumpsuit, which is evidence that he was killed in U.S. custody.



    Let's put aside the objections in the preceding item, and at least consider the chance that the CIA (or whomever in the U.S. government) was behind the killing, for whatever reason.



    After going to all this trouble and conducting a massive covert operation, is it really credible to suggest that They (with a capital T) were stupid enough to leave the victim in a prison-issue jumpsuit? It's well outside the bounds of reason to suggest the jumpsuit is evidence of any sweeping conspiracy.



    However, that doesn't even matter. First of all, it's debateable whether Berg is wearing a jumpsuit, and whether it's orange. Within the confines of the extremely low-quality video, the fabric appears satiny, there is no front opening or breast pocket visible (as seen in Iraqi prisoner pictures, such as the one below), and the color is not clearly discernible. From the image on screen, it could be a pink sarong almost as easily as an orange jumpsuit.



    The orange jumpsuit is used, but is hardly universal issue in Iraq or at Abu Ghraib. Although it's commonly used in prisons within the continental U.S., dozens of news photos show Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody wearing street clothes or gray tunics. Orange-red jumpsuits are used more routinely at Camp X-Ray, in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba.



  • The white chair in the video is the same white chair in the Abu Ghraib prison photos.



    In the video, Berg is shown sitting in a chair very similar to one seen in some of the Abu Ghraib pictures. I had the same chair on my patio in an apartment I lived in 15 years ago. That doesn't connect me to this crime. It's a common indoor-outdoor chair, popular because it's cheap, durable and easy to clean (a decided plus in this context). Yes, it's weird to see the same chair in both settings. It doesn't prove anything, but it's weird.



  • The killer wasn't Zarqawi because he didn't show his face.



    As a reporter covering terrorist conspiracies online, I have received several e-mails and read endless Internet postings which claim that "it makes no sense" that Zarqawi would wear a mask in the video. This is flat-out wrong, a conclusion based on faulty logic and an incorrect understanding of the facts.



    This is the only known picture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in circulationThere is only one known picture of Zarqawi, and it's several years old. Because of this, Zarqawi can move around Iraq and the region with nearly complete impunity. It would be completely insane for him to show his face, especially on such a provocative video.



    A precedent can be found in the videotaped killing of Daniel Pearl in 2002. It's believed Pearl was killed by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The third most wanted terrorist in the world at the time (a distinction now held by Zarqawi), Khalid did not show his face on that video. There is absolutely no reason why Zarqawi would either.



    Regardless, it's important to remember all this does not actually prove Zarqawi was the killer. It's simply that the mask is a non-issue.



  • The men in the video are overweight, and terrorists wouldn't be fat.



    As with the preceding point, this is the worst sort of faulty statement. It's based on nothing, it's flat out false, and obviously so. Consider this: Why can't you apply the same logic to say that CIA operatives wouldn't be fat? Even better, consider Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, both top al Qaeda terrorists on the run in war zones, both heavy. And that's just off the top of my head.



  • The killer wasn't Zarqawi because he's wearing a gold ring, and wearing gold is forbidden by Islam.



    The central figure in the video appears to be wearing a ring, but again, the quality of the video makes it impossible to be sure. It does look like a ring (within a margin of error), but it there's no special reason to think it's gold. Wearing gold is forbidden for men in most forms of Islam, but wearing silver is sometimes permitted.



    Beyond the specifics of the "ring" itself, many Islamic fundamentalists connected to al Qaeda are members of al Takfir Wal Hijra, an extremist sect whose members are exempted from following the ordinary strictures of Islam.



    The exemption is meant to aid them in infiltrating Western society. They can drink alcohol, take drugs, skip prayers, engage in extramarital sex and have sex with women. Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri is Takfiri, and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef closely fits the profile.



    Yousef and Khalid Shaikh used to pick up women in Manila discotheques. Zarqawi's terrorist tactics (as well as his stated political and theological views) are consistent with Takfiri beliefs. Thus, the ring is curious and interesting, but hardly conclusive of fraud.



  • Berg's business in Iraq sounds fishy.



    Berg's business in Iraq does indeed sound fishy. According to media reports, Berg was climbing telecommunications towers overlooking Abu Ghraib prison, despite the fact that no one had actually hired him to do so. He traveled the country with no visible means of support. He seemed to have befriended an extraordinary number of journalists (to judge from the many cited meetings in media reports).



    Sounding fishy and being dishonest are two different things, of course, but this is a reasonable question to raise and investigate. Score one for the conspiracy theorists. Or we would, if they didn't almost invariably proceed to the following claim...



  • There are no records of Berg's company. Ergo, it was simply a cover story for nefarious activity.



    Although there are only scant records to show his company existed, that's not inherently suspicious. By all accounts, Berg's business was a sole proprietorship with no assets, so there wouldn't be any paper trail to speak of.



    Technically, as a freelancer, I run my own business. I usually present myself in that manner. But I haven't incorporated or filed any other sort of paperwork for the simple reason that I have never needed to. The issue is also a non-starter.



  • Time of death, method of death, quality of audio, and the rest.



    After the first tier of claims listed above, there is a second tier of observations about the video which are correct and interesting, but not necessarily meaningful or important.



    For instance, many who have viewed the tape have noted inconsistencies and some graphic details which suggest Berg was killed first and decapitated later.



    This is almost certainly true. It's just not especially interesting. There are many reasons why Berg's captors might kill first and decapitate later. Without belaboring the point in graphic detail, it's easier and less messy to decapitate a victim who is already dead.



    Others have noted that the killers don't appear to have dark skin. However, the quality of the video is extremely poor and the color is clearly uneven to even the casual viewer.



    It's simply unreasonable to suggest the video's tint is proof of anything. And, as with the jumpsuit, it would take an extraordinarily foolish secret agent to flash pink skin on such a video when it would be so easy to put on a pair of gloves.



    Speaking of the poor video quality, several viewers have pointed out that it's difficult to tell whether the man in the video is actually reading the statement, or whether it's dubbed in.



    This is a valid question which may raise doubt as to whether Zarqawi was actually present at the killing. But it's also a double-edged sword. Critics can't cite this ambiguity and simultaneously claim that fine details in the video are meaningful.



    That Which Remains

    With all these loose and often non-credible claims, many presented with breathless abandon and near-fanatical fervor, it becomes easy for a smart, well-balanced observer to simply dismiss any and all arguments that the death of Nicholas Berg was anything beyond what it seems.



    That would be a mistake. There are still questions to be answered. Big, serious -- even paranoid -- questions. The most significant of these is the fact that Nick Berg has been definitively connected to a real live conspiracy, by no less a source than the FBI.



    According to CBS, CNN and others, Berg was questioned by the FBI after a computer password he used to access computers in college was found in the possession of alleged al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui. (external link to CNN report)



    Zacarias MoussaouiAttorney General John Ashcroft confirmed a link to the September 11 investigation, but said the FBI investigated Berg and that the Justice Department does not believe Berg was linked to terrorist activity.



    Take that for what it's worth, obviously. But the coincidence of Berg's prior link to terrorism is a steep one, made even more curious by the fact that Zarqawi and Moussoui are closely linked. (related story)



    The same London mosque attended by Moussaoui was home to Zarqawi-linked terror cell, according to Newsweek. And Moussaoui's address book contained the contact information for a top Zarqawi lieutenant in Morocco, according to the Wall Street Journal.



    Related story: Cleric's Arrest in U.K. May Have Implications In Berg Slaying

    Berg was detained in Iraq, but it's not clear by whom. The U.S. has denied reports that he was detained by U.S. authorities, despite e-mails from the U.S. consul there (as reported by the Associated Press) which seem to suggest otherwise. Berg also told friends he was detained by Americans. (external link to AP story)



    Although U.S. officials say Berg was detained by Iraqi authorities, they have confirmed that the FBI interviewed Berg in an Iraqi prison on three separate occasions.



    Based on all this, there is a very real possibility of explosive disclosures yet to come in the Berg case. The rash of unfounded speculation online only serves to muddy the issue and to discredit the work of those who are trying to responsibly investigate the case.



    While such Hollywood-style scenarios as a "CIA psyops mission to divert attention from Abu Ghraib" seem to be highly unlikely, even a skeptic can credibly pose a serious question about whether Berg might have been an FBI informant.



    There's still a long, long way to go before the story of the life and death of Nicholas Berg is fully told. And there's an even longer way to go before anyone can prove that there is more to the story than meets the eye.



    While completely unproven and speculative, the "informant angle" is a premise with a lot of appeal. It may not be as sexy as claiming the U.S. government killed Berg, but it makes a lot more sense and it's consistent with the FBI's known counterterrorism practices. In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the related NYC Landmarks case, the FBI aggressively used an informant named Emad Salem to collect information on terror cell activities. (related story)



    While more realistic, this idea is not without its paranoid charms. If Berg was truly an informant when he was killed, the next natural question is whether he was an informant when he encountered Moussaoui.



    If that turned out to be the case, then the failure to recognize Moussaoui's threat relative to the September 11 attack takes on almost mythic proportions, and a series of succeeding deceptions and cover-ups could fall into place like dominos.



    If true, the notion would be enough to shake the halls of power. And you never know, it might make a better movie too.

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    Tuesday, May 18, 2004
     

    INTELWIRE: New Hersh Story Raises Question Of Abu Ghraib Cover-Up In Sivits Plea

    Richard Nixon famously said, "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up." A stunning new report on Abu Ghraib may prove that adage again.



    On May 14, the New York Times reported that Pvt. Jeremy Sivits would plead guilty to abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.



    According to the Times, Sivits will testify that the abuse of prisoners was not authorized by the chain of command at Abu Ghraib.



    But a devastating new report from the New Yorker, released late Saturday, says the prison abuse was indeed authorized up and down the chain of command.



    Both versions of the story can't be true.



    The Pentagon has emphatically denied the New Yorker report, so it's too early to tell how the story will play out. But if new charges prove true, the next big scandal is clearly delineated: Sivits cut a plea deal, which is expected to get him a lenient sentence, in exchange for testifying against his peers and exonerating the chain of command.



    If the abuse was ordered by the chain of command, the Sivits deal starts to look like a cover-up — possibly orchestrated by the same chain of command and compromising the ability of the military justice system to deal with the abuse case at all.

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    INTELWIRE: Moussaoui Order Opens Door To New Political Troubles For Bush Admin

    The first shot in the new legal war over al Qaeda detainees has been fired in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, according to CNN.



    The Moussaoui case is shaping up to be an early test of how the abuses at Abu Ghraib are affecting the judicial climate. An appeals court panel asked the federal government to clarify whether Moussaoui's prosecutors have been able to directly pose questions to key Qaeda detainees, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.



    If so, this may clear the way for Moussaoui's defense teams to pose questions for KSM and other al Qaeda detainees, likely in written form.



    Such questions might include the following, which is directly relevant to Moussaoui's case: "Did you provide evidence against Mr. Moussaoui as the result of torture?"



    If the answer is "yes" (almost certainly the true answer), what little direct evidence has been presented against Moussaoui could be thrown out. If the answer is "no," the court may attempt to force prosecutors to document that claim, in light of the latest media reports on U.S. prisoner abuse.



    Either development would be a PR disaster for the Bush administration. The first would probably completely torpedo the only 9/11-related prosecution yet attempted by the U.S. Not an impressive track record as we approach the third anniversary of the attack.



    The second scenario would open the door to a series of new investigations, exposing the what increasingly appears to be a very ugly underbelly of the U.S. war on terror.



    Before Abu Ghraib, the federal government's legal position on secrecy and detainee rights boiled down to a two word thesis: "Trust us." The courts have thus far allowed the administration a surprising amount of latitude on that basis.



    After Abu Ghraib, trust is no longer an option. "Verify" is the order of the day.



    -- JMB

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    Four arrested in Nick Berg beheading, but Zarqawi gets away

    Four men have been arrested in the slaying of Nichols Berg, according to AFP, but not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the suspected mastermind and the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.



    The report is likely to spark a fresh round of conspiracy theories in the Middle East and around the Internet (where "Nick Berg" has become the most requested search phrase). The release of the Berg beheading video sparked an uproar of analysis and questions, especially after reports that Berg knew al Qaeda suspect Zacarias Moussaoui in the U.S. and that Berg told family and friends he was detained in Mosul by U.S. authorities.



    The U.S. has denied that report despite substantial inconsistencies in the accounts of Berg's detention, which the U.S. says was at the hands of Iraqis. E-mails from the U.S. consul, obtained by the Associated Press, seem to contradict that claim.



    Speculation aside, it does beg the question when a video showing five masked men leads to four arrests — none of whom are the only clearly identified person on the video. The Berg controversy only deepens with every passing day, and it shows no sign of slowing.



    -- JMB



    Related Stories:



  • Berg Conspiracy Theories Run Thick, But Facts Are Few For Now



  • The Tangled Web of Nicholas Berg, Abu Al-Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui & Chemical Weapons



  • Violent Video Invokes Abu Ghraib Photos, But Don't Call It 'Revenge'

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    Fuel on the fire: Four arrested in Berg beheading, but big fish gets away

    Four men have been arrested in the slaying of Nichols Berg, according to AFP, but not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the suspected mastermind and the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.



    The report is likely to spark a fresh round of conspiracy theories in the Middle East and around the Internet (where "Nick Berg" has become the most requested search phrase). The release of the Berg beheading video sparked an uproar of analysis and questions, especially after reports that Berg knew al Qaeda suspect Zacarias Moussaoui in the U.S. and that Berg told family and friends he was detained in Mosul by U.S. authorities.



    The U.S. has denied that report despite substantial inconsistencies in the accounts of Berg's detention, which the U.S. says was at the hands of Iraqis. E-mails from the U.S. consul, obtained by the Associated Press, seem to contradict that claim.



    Speculation aside, it does beg the question when a video showing five masked men leads to four arrests — none of whom are the only clearly identified person on the video. The Berg controversy only deepens with every passing day, and it shows no sign of slowing.



    -- JMB



    Related Stories:



  • Berg Conspiracy Theories Run Thick, But Facts Are Few For Now



  • The Tangled Web of Nicholas Berg, Abu Al-Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui & Chemical Weapons



  • Violent Video Invokes Abu Ghraib Photos, But Don't Call It 'Revenge'

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    Monday, May 17, 2004
     

    Moussaoui Order Opens Door To New Political Troubles For Bush Admin

    The first shot in the new legal war over al Qaeda detainees has been fired in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, according to CNN.



    The Moussaoui case is shaping up to be an early test of how the abuses at Abu Ghraib are affecting the judicial climate. An appeals court panel asked the federal government to clarify whether Moussaoui's prosecutors have been able to directly pose questions to key Qaeda detainees, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.



    If so, this may clear the way for Moussaoui's defense teams to pose questions for KSM and other al Qaeda detainees, likely in written form.



    Such questions might include the following, which is directly relevant to Moussaoui's case: "Did you provide evidence against Mr. Moussaoui as the result of torture?"



    If the answer is "yes" (almost certainly the true answer), what little direct evidence has been presented against Moussaoui could be thrown out. If the answer is "no," the court may attempt to force prosecutors to document that claim, in light of the latest media reports on U.S. prisoner abuse.



    Either development would be a PR disaster for the Bush administration. The first would probably completely torpedo the only 9/11-related prosecution yet attempted by the U.S. Not an impressive track record as we approach the third anniversary of the attack.



    The second scenario would open the door to a series of new investigations, exposing the what increasingly appears to be a very ugly underbelly of the U.S. war on terror.



    Before Abu Ghraib, the federal government's legal position on secrecy and detainee rights boiled down to a two word thesis: "Trust us." The courts have thus far allowed the administration a surprising amount of latitude on that basis.



    After Abu Ghraib, trust is no longer an option. "Verify" is the order of the day.



    -- JMB

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    Sunday, May 16, 2004
     

    New Hersh Story Raises Question Of Abu Ghraib Cover-Up In Sivits Plea

    Richard Nixon famously said, "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up." A stunning new report on Abu Ghraib may prove that adage again.



    On May 14, the New York Times reported that Pvt. Jeremy Sivits would plead guilty to abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.



    According to the Times, Sivits will testify that the abuse of prisoners was not authorized by the chain of command at Abu Ghraib.



    But a devastating new report from the New Yorker, released late Saturday, says the prison abuse was indeed authorized up and down the chain of command.



    Both versions of the story can't be true.



    The Pentagon has emphatically denied the New Yorker report, so it's too early to tell how the story will play out. But if new charges prove true, the next big scandal is clearly delineated: Sivits cut a plea deal, which is expected to get him a lenient sentence, in exchange for testifying against his peers and exonerating the chain of command.



    If the abuse was ordered by the chain of command, the Sivits deal starts to look like a cover-up — possibly orchestrated by the same chain of command and compromising the ability of the military justice system to deal with the abuse case at all.



    Related Stories:



  • New York Times Story



  • New Yorker Story

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    Saturday, May 15, 2004
     

    Berg Conspiracy Theories Run Thick, But Facts Are Few For Now

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    UPDATE 5/20/2004:



    Debunking (And Rebunking) The Nick Berg Conspiracy Theories -- INTELWIRE Analysis

    The case of Nicholas Berg continued to receive close attention, as both mainstream and Internet media outlets examined the shocking revelation that Berg had contact with suspected al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui prior to September 11.

    UPDATE: Four arrested in Berg beheading, Zarqawi gets away

    A private citizen purportedly on an entrepreneurial mission to Iraq, Berg was beheaded on videotape by a man appearing to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the leading terrorist operators in the world today, according to the U.S. government. Berg apparently met Moussaoui, whom the U.S. accuses of participating in the September 11 attack, in Oklahoma. The date is unclear.



    According to media reports, Berg allowed Moussaoui to use his computer password to access a network at the University of Oklahoma, which Berg attended. The FBI investigated Berg and says it cleared him of wrongdoing.



    Media reports have been unclear about when the meeting took place, and several dates have been reported which conflict with the known movements of Moussaoui. Moussaoui and some 9/11 hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, were in Oklahoma in 2001.



    Moussaoui and Zarqawi are linked, and possibly quite closely (related story). The fact Berg was connected to both of them raises significant questions. The current official explanation is that it's a coincidence. The size of the coincidence leaves many observers with doubts.



    Although many Internet postings on the topic had tones ranging from slightly hysterical to extremely hysterical, even the mainstream newspapers oozed skepticism about the official version of the story as it stands.



    According to the Washington Post:



    Iraqi police arrested Berg in the northern city of Mosul on March 24. Maj. Gen. Mohammed Barhawi, the police chief in Mosul, said Thursday that Berg aroused suspicion because he was not carrying identification, according to National Public Radio. Two associates of Berg said this week, however, that he told them he had been carrying his U.S. passport and that police became suspicious because the passport contained an Israeli stamp.



    Barhawi said the FBI asked the police to keep Berg in custody while its agents reviewed the case.



    FBI agents questioned Berg on March 25 and 26 and a third time about a week later. He later told a friend that he was asked about terrorism.



    FBI officials said Friday that the timing of the March interviews was a coincidence and did not affect the length of Berg's stay in Iraqi custody. It remains unclear why he was held for 13 days.
    The New York Times also weighed in on the story:



    That Mr. Berg's password may have been used by the terror suspect, who remains unidentified, has been a subject of news accounts since Thursday. But there are conflicting reports as to whether the password was discovered by the authorities in the belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is in custody awaiting trial in an American court on charges related to the Sept. 11 attacks. And law enforcement officials were unwilling Friday to clear up those conflicts, citing a judge's order barring the parties from discussing the Moussaoui case.



    The F.B.I. is investigating Mr. Berg's beheading, by militants in Iraq, which was captured on a grisly video posted on an Islamic Web site. Mr. Ashcroft pledged Friday to seek criminal charges in the United States against those responsible.



    "Obviously we will work hard to make sure that the people who murdered Mr. Berg are brought to justice, and that would include indictment and prosecution and punishment," he said.



    The attorney general would not discuss suspects in the Berg case, but intelligence officials say the beheading was most likely carried out by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to Al Qaeda.
    There are a couple major questions that these stories are quietly trying to answer. The obvious path for speculation asks whether Berg might have been an intelligence operative, either for the U.S. or Israel (which he visited in recent years, according to Reuters).



    While it's important to remember that absolutely no direct evidence has emerged in the public forum to support that notion, it's a very serious question for many reasons. The two most important are:



  • Media stories and U.S. government statements have characterized Berg as an "innocent civilian." If it turns out Berg was an intelligence operative of any sort, that characterization goes away. The beheading video has engendered significant sympathies among the Arab world, which would be reversed in an instant if it was discovered Berg was anything but an innocent bystander.



  • If Berg was an intel asset of any sort, and his connection to Moussaoui was related to an intel operation, then the question of pre-September 11 warnings and intelligence again rears its head.



    The Justice Department has accused Moussaoui of being involved in the 9/11 attack, and Moussaoui was in training to be a pilot when he met Berg.



    There are a few versions of this theory in circulation, including speculation on who Berg's employer would be if it were true. Candidates include the Mossad, the CIA and/or the FBI. The CIA seems particularly unlikely, since the agency usually doesn't direct people to work undercover, instead recruiting agents already within organizations. Before 9/11, the CIA was also (theoretically) banned from domestic spying.



    However, the FBI does tend to work with and encourage informants in a manner more consistent with Berg's movements. The FBI also met with Berg in Iraq.



    One example of the FBI's informant/infiltrator use is the story of Emad Salem, a key informant who helped break up a 1993 plot to blow up New York City landmarks. Originally, Salem was tangentially connected to the terrorist cell in the World Trade Center bombing. He volunteered to collect information for the FBI, and the FBI supported him in a full-fledged infiltration of the group.



    In light of the question regarding pre-9/11 intelligence failures as they relate to the Berg story, it's extremely noteworthy that the agency failed to heed Salem's warnings before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and had actually fired him as an informant, as chronicled extensively by author Peter Lance in 1000 Years for Revenge -- The Untold Story of International Terrorism and the FBI. After the WTC bombing, the FBI reactivated Salem and used him to crack the Landmarks bombing.



    Could history have repeated itself in the case of Nicholas Berg? For now, the question remains decidedly unanswered.



    The other widespread topic of speculation around the 'Net is that Berg might have been somehow collaborating with the terrorists prior to his slaying. Again, there is no direct evidence to support such a notion. On the face of it, this seems even more unlikely than the spy theory, given his background and Jewish ethnicity.



    Fringe Internet outlets and various message boards have speculated on a whole host of other theories, most of which don't bear close examination based on the facts as we know them. Among the most colorful are suggestions that Berg's death was faked by the U.S. government to divert attention from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, or that he was actually killed by the U.S. for that reason.



    Many have analyzed the video trying to find clues to whatever the truth may be. INTELWIRE has reviewed the video and notes only that there is a clear break in taping between the drawing of the knife and the beheading. At most, this might suggest that Berg was killed first, then beheaded later, perhaps for the simple and uncomplicated reason that it would be easier and less messy to do it that way. (Click here for images of killing: Graphic content, discretion is advised)



    In a complex interconnected world, anything can happen. Anyone investigating terrorist links can tell you that it's pretty easy to draw dotted lines between any two figures on the map.



    Still, the extremity of the coincidence involved in Berg's short life and gruesome death are enough to prompt even the most skeptical observer to wonder whether he's getting the whole story. Whatever the case, it's a safe bet that the mainstream media will be investigating this story for some time to come.

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    Friday, May 14, 2004
     

    The Tangled Web of Nicholas Berg, Abu Al-Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui & Chemical Weapons

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    The tangled webs of terrorist activity often yield unexpected connections, but it was still surprising to see how many links have emerged among Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui and terrorism's most recent high-profile victim, Nicholas Berg.

    Related: Debunking (And Rebunking) The Nick Berg Conspiracy Theory



    Related: UK Cleric's Arrest May Be Missing Link Between Moussaoui, Zarqawi and Berg

    The story of Berg and his gruesome death took an unexpected turn Thursday, when it was revealed that Berg met Zacarias Moussaoui, an accused al Qaeda operative who may have been connected to the September 11 attacks on America (external link). The date of the meeting is unclear.



    What few have yet commented on is the fact that Moussaoui and Zarqawi may be directly linked by common associates and an interest in chemical weapons. Even more disturbing is the possibility that Moussaoui could have belonged to one of Zarqawi's terror cells in London.



    Berg was questioned by the FBI after it was discovered that Moussaoui had used his password to access University of Oklahoma computers. Berg attended college at the University; Moussaoui went to flight school in Norman, OK. According to some media reports, the two met on a bus.



    The FBI determined that the meeting was innocent, reports said. Berg's family told the press that Berg was a trusting person who had simply loaned the password to Moussaoui.



    Although initial reports have not suggested anything more complex than a coincidence, it's worth examining the situation more closely since multiple ongoing investigations suggest Moussaoui may be directly connected to Berg's killer.



    Before Moussaoui came to the U.S., where he is suspected of having plotted terrorist attacks on behalf of al Qaeda, he lived in London. While there, he attended the Finsbury Park Mosque, which officials have connected to radical Islamic activities. Richard Reid, the al Qaeda "shoe bomber," attended the same mosque, whose spiritual leader was Sheik Abu Hamza al-Mazri.



    According to Newsweek (external link), Hamza headed a London cell of Zarqawi's terror network. Hamza has not been charged, but Scotland Yard is continuing to investigate his activities.



    But that's not the only connection. When he was arrested, Moussaoui (a French-born citizen of Moroccan descent) had an address book which listed a phone number for fellow Moroccan Amer el Azizi, according to the Wall Street Journal (external link).



    Investigators told the WSJ that Azizi trained at a Zarqawi-run camp in Afghanistan prior to September 11, where he studied chemical weapons — reputedly Zarqawi's specialty.



    The chemical links brings the story back full circle to London and Finsbury Park. In January 2003, British police discovered a stockpile of the chemical agent ricin in a London apartment. According to NBC News, the ricin is believed to be connected to the same terrorist camp Azizi attended.



    Several days later, scores of policemen descended on Finsbury Park in a raid that found stun guns, tear gas and hundreds of documents. Seven people were arrested.



    Moussaoui is also connected to the specter of a chemical attack. According to his indictment, he was in possession of a computer disk "containing information related to the aerial application of pesticides." Other reports indicated that Moussaoui's laptop computer contained information about crop dusters.



    According to the indictment, investigators are uncertain what Moussaui was doing on the University of Oklahoma computers, which he apparently accessed using Berg's password.



    Moussaoui is currently on trial for plotting attacks against the U.S. Federal officials originally charged that he was intended to be the "20th hijacker," but they have backed off of that claim in recent months.



    All these oddities have fueled a torrent of speculation about how Berg, a young Jewish man fron Pennsylvania, would have struck up a friendship with an Islamic terrorist in the U.S. and what he was actually doing in Iraq.



    Berg was apparently self-employed and frequently traveled in Iraq without security, according to media reports. Berg told a reporter friend in Baghdad that he had an Israeli stamp on his passport, according to Reuters. AP reported he had been to Israel a few times.



    Adding to the mystery around his time in Iraq, Berg told family members he had been detained by U.S. authorities in Iraq shortly before his kidnapping. U.S. authorities have strenuously denied the claim, saying that he was actually held by the Iraqi CPA.



    The U.S. has confirmed, however, that FBI agents met with Berg in the CPA prison on more than one occasion. The reason for his detention is unclear.



    According to Reuters, Berg discussed the detention with his reporter friend in Baghdad.



    "I guess they figured I was a spy," the reporter quoted Berg as saying.

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    Thursday, May 13, 2004
     

    Questionable Risk-Reward Analysis For Rumsfeld's Iraq Trip

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    "If anybody thinks that I'm here to throw water on a fire, they're wrong," Donald Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Iraq in a surprise visit that was truly a surprise.



    Truer words have probably never been spoken. While painted as a "rally 'round the troops" visit, Rumsfeld's sudden appearance in Baghdad is as baffling as it is risky.



    While there are certainly much better than even odds that Rumsfeld will survive the trip, there's a serious question about what realistic benefit is available to offset the not-insubstantial amount of risk.



    al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Iraq have already tried to assassinate visiting U.S. officials, including a rocket barrage attack against Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in October 2003.



    Since then, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated dramatically, especially in light of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal (related story).



    Further adding to the risk, a message purported to come from Osama bin Laden recently offered rich rewards for the assassination of U.S. officials in and out of Iraq, including CPA Administration Paul Bremer and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.



    The message also offered 10,000 grams of gold, about $137,000, for killing the top military commander in Iraq at any given time, which would certainly include Rumsfeld.



    Even a "near miss" assassination attempt could prove to be a P.R. problem, especially if bystanders are killed, although with the proper spin, it could be made into a propaganda tool to galvanize the rapidly dwindling base of U.S. voters who support the war in Iraq. Any high profile attack or even a kidnapping in Rumsfeld's vicinity could constitute a propaganda win for Iraqi militants.



    The visit should help troop morale somewhat, depending on what comments Rumsfeld makes while in the country, but his ability to meet with and inspire the forces in Iraq will be severely hampered by the need for security during the visit.



    Rumsfeld's ability to "rally the troops" is debatable, but his ability to inflame the Arab world is fairly well established. No matter how he conducts himself during the trip, his visit isn't likely to calm the Iraqis, and it could well create even more anger.



    So with no real benefit on the ground in Iraq, and a sharply heightened risk of assassination, who is Rumsfeld trying to impress with this visit?



    His audience of choice is probably the U.S. Congress, where calls for his resignation have been slowly building. Even on that front, the political capital isn't likely to extend much longer than the duration of the trip itself.



    No matter how you cut the cards, the gamble of going to Iraq at this time means taking on an awful lot of risk for very little apparent reward. Unless Rumsfeld has a truly surprising rabbit to pull out of his hat, it's hard to imagine any way that the odds favor this gambit.

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    Tuesday, May 11, 2004
     

    Violent Video Invokes Abu Ghraib Photos, But Don't Call It 'Revenge'

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    An Islamic militant Web site posted a video showing the death of Nicholas Berg, a civilian contractor working in Iraq.



    In the video, Berg is beheaded by an Islamic extremist believed to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the leading terrorists in the region and the third most wanted terrorist by the U.S.

    Links to the uncut video footage are at the end of this story.



    Related:



    INTELFILES.com: INTELWIRE's terrorism video library for members



    Iraqi Sources Claim Four Saddam Militiaman Arrested In Berg Killing



    Washington Post Reports Gruesome New Abu Ghraib Details



    Debunking (And Rebunking) The Nick Berg Conspiracy Theory




    Images from video: Graphic content, viewer discretion is strongly advised

    Although the killers cited the abuses at Abu Ghraib as the motivation for the killing, it's virtually certain that the videotaped murder is simply part of an ongoing campaign against U.S. occupation, Iraqi Shi'ites and Iraqis perceived as U.S. collaborators.



    INTELWIRE has verified the screen-captured images here and those linked below against a copy of the video, which was obtained from the Muntada al-Ansar Web forum. Images are displayed below (content is graphic and may disturb some viewers). Links to the uncensored content are found below the images on this page.



    In a statement read during the video, the man believed to be Zarqawi cited photos of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, according to a translation by Reuters: "And how can free Muslims sleep soundly as they see Islam being slaughtered, honor bleeding, photographs of shame and reports of Satanic degradation of the people of Islam, men and women, in Abu Ghraib prison?"



    Later, he said: "We tell you that the honor of Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and other (prisons) are more noble than blood and lives. And you will only get shroud after shroud and coffin after coffin slaughtered in this manner."



    Zarqawi has historically killed quite freely without such a convenient pretext. The flurry of media reports characterizing this videotaped attack as "revenge" for Abu Ghraib are misleading. To characterize the Berg killing as an act of "revenge" for Abu Ghraib implies that it wouldn't have happened without the cited provocation.



    Although the attack is obviously intended to resonate with the Abu Ghraib story, Zarqawi and other Iraqi militants have been killing U.S. soldiers and civilians for months. At most, the Abu Ghraib abuse enters a continuum of grievances held by radical Islamists against the West and the U.S. in particular.



    That doesn't minimize the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos on the events unfolding in Iraq, but it's vitally important to remember the context and see those events for what they are.



    Militants like Zarqawi don't need any additional motivation to kill Americans, but moderate Muslims and Arab governments can be provoked into withdrawing support for the War on Terror. The citation of Abu Ghraib in the tape is still an extremely significant development in the Terror War, and one that will likely resonate with that intended audience. (related story)



    The video's impact will be most meaningful among non-Zarqawi insurgents in Iraq, noncombatant Iraqi citizens and the wider Arab public. This audience will associate the beheading tape with the prison torture scandal, which depicts the "Zarqawi" militants with a veneer of moral legitimacy and a reputation for bold action, likely increasing their public support.



    The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos (images) have created a great deal of ill will against the U.S. in Iraq and around the Arab world.



    The probable release of new and more graphic photos from Abu Ghraib in the near future will further tip the sympathies of many undecided Iraqis toward Zarqawi and toward militant activity in general.



    Prior to this incident, Zarqawi couldn't be characterized as "popular" figure in Iraq. Many of his attacks have targeted Iraqi Shi'ites and Iraqis perceived as collaborating with Americans. By positioning himself in the role of "avenger" of injustices at Abu Ghraib, it's possible Zarqawi could slip into a more populist, pro-Iraqi role.



    Or maybe not. Even in the violent setting of the Middle East, the images are too extreme for some. As of Wednesday morning, NPR was reporting that the initial response from the Iraqi public was very uncomfortable, with some indicating that the video went "too far" in responding to the Abu Ghraib images, which are still a source of strong anger.



    "Those psychopaths who committed this immoral crime should be brought before justice very rapidly and get their deserved punishment," Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin told CNN.



    However, the element of Iraqi society responsible for the grisly killings at Fallujah likely sees the video in a different light. AFP reported that reactions on the ground in Iraq were mixed.



    "From what we have seen, it was a natural reaction to the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib. What the Americans are doing now is terrible," a female dentist told AFP.



    Updated 5/12/2004



    WARNING:



    Viewer discretion is advised. Images may be disturbing to some viewers. Link to complete set of images is below.



















    EXTERNAL LINKS:



    Warning: Extremely graphic content at links below.



    Full Video at the Memory Hole



    Full Video at Prison Planet



    Uncensored images: Graphic content, viewer discretion advised

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    Monday, May 10, 2004
     

    2WATCH List: Contractors, KSM, Hambali, Afghan Elections And More

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com






    (Updated 5/11/2004)



    Here's a look at some national security-related stories that are likely to be of growing interest over the next few weeks.




  • Pentagon Memo Warned on Army Contractors -- AP



    The issue of private contractors first broke onto the radar screen with the killing of four American civilians in Fallujah. It quickly became apparent that "private contractor" is often a euphemism for "professional mercenary" in the Iraq theater. The Abu Ghraib abuse report raised the story's profile substantially with allegations that private contractors gave orders related to the graphic photos of guards mistreating prisoners. News reports thus far have only scraped the surface of the "private contractor" story which may well reach bombshell proportions by the time the U.S. election rolls around.



  • Lawyer's family denies link to Madrid blasts -- USA TODAY



    Although it's still much too soon to tell, there are some rumblings in the reporting on this story which suggest there are only shaky grounds for the arrest of an Oregon lawyer as a co-conspirator in the 3/11 attack. If that proves to be the case, it will be yet another embarrassment for the Justice Department, which has not distinguished itself with any impressive convictions of terrorists since September 11. Isn't terrorism the department's top priority now?



  • FBI Agent Was Prevented From Relaying Warning on 9/11 Hijackers -- ABC News



    This is a major, major story which could have significant consequences when it moves from being an "ABC Exclusive" into the public domain. Sometimes big stories don't spread quickly when they're broken exclusively by a single news outlet. Witness the several days lag between 60 Minutes II airing the Abu Ghraib pictures and everyone else picking the story up, or the explosive Oklahoma City bombing reports from the Associated Press which have been virtually ignored by TV news outlets.



  • More Violence Targets Electoral Process in Afghanistan -- Reuters



    If al Qaeda is affecting elections in Madrid, how much more so will they affect elections in Afghanistan? A high-profile disaster in the September elections in Afghanistan would have significant ramifications for the November elections in the U.S.





  • Secret World of U.S. Interrogation -- Washington Post



    Expect to see the U.S. Congress demand full disclosure of the treatment, location and conditions of high-profile al Qaeda detainees over the next two to three months. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah will be of primary interest to watchdogs, since their detentions are considered among the government's most protected secrets and since the U.S. had claimed it extracted a great deal of vital information from both of these hardened al Qaeda lieutenants. Another top AQ leader who has apparently been talking freely is Hambali, who may become very high profile over the next month, as the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia have been asking (with increasing stridency) to interrogate him themselves.



  • Chechnya killing has al-Qaeda hallmarks -- The Times of London, AP



    Keep an eye on this one. While it's early in the investigation, and Russia is not especially transparent in such matters, al Qaeda has been targeting political leaders in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for some time, including multiple attempts to hit Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf within the last year. The only reason it hasn't hit a Western leader yet is plain bad luck — Ramzi Yousef was caught just before attempting to assassinate the pope, and he plotted unsuccessfully to kill Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto and U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1994.

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    Sunday, May 9, 2004
     

    al Qaeda Linked to Recruitment of Cebu Christians as Terrorists

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com






    Since the mid-1990s, al Qaeda-linked charities in Manila and Cebu City have been recruiting Christians first as Muslim converts and then as potential terrorists, according to a new investigation by Philippines authorities.



    The Fi Sabilillah Da'wah and Media Foundation has been tied to a radical Islamic movement that seeks to convert Christians to Islam, then recruits them into a militant sect, according to the Straits Times and the Associated Press.



    The conversion movement, known as Balik Islam, teaches that converts are actually "reverting" to Islam, their true religon, according to the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism.



    The Fi Sabilillah Da'wah and Media Foundation is tied to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, according to the Straits Times.



    "Christians whom they have converted into Muslims are being used. This means that they are using people who are familiar with Manila, Cebu and other Christian-dominated centres," Philippines National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said, as quoted in the Straits Times. (Link)



    During the early 1990s, accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols made several trips to Cebu, where he met and married a local woman through a "mail order bride" service. Ramzi Yousef also traveled to Cebu during the same period, although there has never been conclusive proof of a connection between the two. (Link)



    In May 1993, the Islamic Da'wah Council of the Philippines hosted Clement Rodney Hampton-El as a guest at a conference in Manila. According to a Philippines government investigative report obtained by law firm Motley Rice, Khalifa was deeply involved in the formation of the Council.



    A U.S.-born convert to Islam, Hampton-El recruited U.S. veterans as terrorist operatives, according to testimony and evidence presented at his 1995 trial for an al Qaeda-linked plot to blow up New York City landmarks (US v. Rahman, S5 93 Cr. 18, August 2, 1995; Link to related story) The aborted 1993 plot would have used improvised ammonium nitrate explosives similar to those successfully employed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. (Link)



    Hampton-El testified that he received instructions from representatives of the Saudi government and that the May 1993 conference was sponsored by wealthy Saudis. According to evidence presented at his trial, Hampton-El told his co-conspirators that he visited terrorist training camps in the south of the Philippines during the 1993 visit.



    Khalifa was arrested in December 1994 outside San Francisco on a visa violation. He was in U.S. custody at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. Immediately after the bombing, Khalifa struck a deal with the INS in which he agreed to be deported to Jordan, despite his suspected connections to several open investigations into terrorist attacks on the U.S.



    One of those planned attacks involved a terrorist cell run by Yousef in the Philippines, which U.S. authorities now claim was funded by Khalifa. The supected connection was cited in numerous 1995 media reports on Khalifa's arrest. One member of that cell told a prison guard on April 19 and the FBI on April 20 that Yousef's terror organization was responsible for the OKC bombing.



    Khalifa has consistently denied ever having any connection to terrorism, despite extensive media reports and repeated allegations by both the U.S. and Philippines governments. He recently filed a legal action seeking to have his name removed from a suit by law firm Motley Rice which seeks reparations from Saudi Arabian nationals for their alleged roles in the September 11 attack on America.



    External Links



  • Associated Press story on recruitment

  • Straits Times story on recruitment

  • Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism story on Balik Islam



    INTELWIRE Exclusives



  • Linking Terry Nichols to Ramzi Yousef

  • Exposed: Al Qaeda's Plot To Recruit U.S. Servicemen

  • McVeigh, Nichols made moves on key dates in al Qaeda recruitment plot

  • Special Section: al Qaeda and the OKC Bombing

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    Friday, May 7, 2004
     

    Rumsfeld: More 'Inhuman' Iraq Prison Photos And Videos To Come

    Reports Say Rape, Murder, Child Molestation Among Unreleased Images; Journo Claims Pics Were A 'Competition' Among Soldiers

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed Friday during Senate testimony that some soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison videotaped prisoner abuse and other misconduct, amid official warnings that "the worst is yet to come."



    UPDATE: Class-Action Suit Gives Graphic Details Of Abu Ghraib Horrors

    "Beyond abuse of prisoners, there are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence toward prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman." Rumsfeld testified during his opening remarks. "Second, there are many more photographs, and indeed some videos."



    During Senate testimony, Rumsfeld and members of the Senate panel said that the unreleased photos and videos were even more disturbing than those already published in the media.



    "I want to prepare the public," Sen. Graham said during the session. "Apparently, the worst is yet to come, potentially, in terms of disturbing events. We don't need to leave here thinking that we've seen the worst."



    Rumsfeld amplified on the unreleased material during his remarks. He confirmed that the contents of additional photos and videos not yet released are much worse than those already released.



    "The pictures I've seen depict conduct, behavior that is so brutal and so cruel and so inhumane that anyone engaged in it or involved in it would have to be brought to justice," Rumsfeld said.



    Later, he said the release of the pictures would be even more damaging than the first batch. Not a man prone to public displays of emotion, Rumsfeld became visibly agitated as he discussed reviewing the unreleased photos.



    "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse," he said. "That's just a fact. I mean, I looked at them last night, and they're hard to believe."



    After the session, Graham told reporters outside the chamber that there will be additional allegations of "rape and murder," apparently related to the content of the videos, according to NBC News.



    New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh indicated as much earlier this week, saying that the videotapes depict sexual abuse of minors. Several reports also cited the existence of videotaped rape involving female prisoners.



    "There was a special women's section. There were young boys in there. There were things done to young boys that were videotaped. It's much worse," Hersh said during an appearance on Fox News Tuesday.



    NBC News reported further details Friday evening, quoting unnamed sources who said that the unreleased material showed a prisoner being beaten nearly to death, an Iraqi female being raped by American soldiers and male children being raped by Iraqi guards.



    The L.A. Times reported that the unreleased material includes images of at least one detainee being forced to engage in oral sex. The Washington Post and NBC News both reported that the videos include images of soldiers posing "inappropriately" with a dead body, apparently a detainee slain in prison.



    Rumsfeld declined to specifically discuss the contents of the video, citing the ongoing military/criminal investigations and the need to prevent any appearance of bias emanating from the chain of command.



    Suhaib al-Baz, journalist for al Jazeerah television told British broadcaster ITV that the pictures were taken as part of a contest among the soldiers at the prison.



    "They were enjoying taking photographs of the torture. There was a daily competition to see who could take the most gruesome picture," al-Baz told ITV. "The winner's photo would be stuck on a wall and also put on their laptop computers as a screensaver."

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    Thursday, May 6, 2004
     

    Company Named In Iraq Prison Torture Report Also Sells Ethics Training Videos To White House

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    When new employees at the White House want to learn about government ethics, the office that hires them sends a check for $20 (plus $3.25 postage) to CACI Productions Group -- a division of CACI International, one of two civilian defense contractors named in an Army report on the torture of Iraqi prisoners.



    After sending payment to CACI, new executive branch employees receive a CACI Productions training video on government ethics titled "You've Got It!" Among other topics, the video covers "issues concerning use of subordinates to perform tasks unrelated to Government service," according to an October 2000 memo from the Office of Government Ethics.


    "You've Got It!" was produced during the Clinton Administration for use after the 2000 election. According to an October 2000 memo from the United States Office of Government Ethics, the video was "intended especially for use during the Presidential transition and thereafter to focus the attention of political appointees on the importance of the executive branch ethics program."



    The Ethics Office said it expected the video would also "prove instructive for other executive branch employees." The memo also describes the video's contents: "Against the backdrop of an E-mail romance, the 31-minute video examines some of the ethics issues that commonly confront employees entering Government from the private sector, especially higher-level employees."



    According to the memo, the video discusses "recusal requirements to avoid conflicts of interest and impartiality concerns, use of official title to advance private fundraising, acceptance of payment from private sources for giving an official speech, and acceptance of gifts from prohibited sources," as well as "issues concerning use of subordinates to perform tasks unrelated to Government service."



    CACI Productions is a division of CACI International, a sprawling software and intelligence services company based in London, with offices all over the United States. CACI employs an unknown number of "interrogation specialists" deployed overseas and within the U.S., including those stationed at Abu Ghraib. Company recruitment ads describe the job as "exciting" and subject to "moderate supervision."



    Several soldiers and civilians are under investigation for abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where smiling U.S. soldiers posed for photographs while sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners. The Army report on at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq named two civilian employees of CACI International among four people suspected of sharing primary responsibility for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. CACI declined to comment on the charges during a conference call Wednesday, saying only it had received no formal notification of wrongdoing from the U.S. government.



    The report also said that military intelligence workers and associated civilians with other companies may have given orders that encouraged the mistreatment of inmates in order to create "conditions favorable for interrogation."



    CACI Productions Group lists some 60 government agencies for which it provides video production services, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of Government Ethics, the Bureau of Prisons, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Departments of State, Justice and Treasury.



    CACI Productions previously did business as Infocus Media, under which banner the "You've Got It!" video was originally distributed. The former president of Infocus subsequently became Executive Producer of TV Programming for CACI Productions. According to the Office of Government Ethics, the Office was responsible for the actual production of the video.



    In addition to "You've Got It!", CACI sells two other ethics-themed videos to the federal government. One video contains three short industrial films titled "Ethics Inquiry," "The Battle for Avery Mann," and "The Revolving Door." The other is titled "Integrity in the Public Service: Earning the Public Trust." Both were made during the mid-1990s.



    According to the Ethics Office, the "Ethics Inquiry" installment "explores various standards of conduct issues using a broadcast-quality news magazine format. News 'anchors' in Los Angeles and Washington host four field reporters, each of whom provides an in-depth look at different ethics topics while bringing a unique and sometimes humorous approach to their coverage. The result is an educational, interesting and even entertaining program for any level of employee. The program is divided into four segments with each segment devoted exclusively to one of the following topics: gifts from outside sources, gifts between employees, conflicting financial interests and impartiality issues. These segments can be shown separately or collectively, depending upon an agency's needs and interests."



    In "The Battle For Avery Mann," viewers learn about "an average executive branch employee's struggles with the rules governing everyday conduct. Throughout the story, Avery is faced with different dilemmas including using Government equipment for personal documents, accepting a gift from a subordinate and working on a project that involves his outside employer. Avery finds himself caught between what he knows is the right thing to do and what may not be right but would be more convenient or beneficial to him."



    In "You've Got It!", according to the Office of Government Ethics, "the main female character (of the video) is a Federal agency ethics official who, by day, is frustrated as she tries to advise a busy incoming political appointee about the Federal ethics and conflict of interest laws.



    "In the evening, she is corresponding by E-mail with a romantic interest whom she has not yet met, but who welcomes her philosophical thoughts on several ethics issues. At the end of the video, the two corespondents (sic) meet and learn the true identities of their E-mail friends."



    Links to Documentation:



  • Office of Government Ethics Order Form for "You've Got It!"

  • October 11, 2000 Memo on "You've Got It!", Office of Government Ethics

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    Sunday, May 2, 2004
     

    Iraq Prison Abuse Photos Unleash Tough New Problems In Terror War

    ANALYSIS: Abu Ghraib charges have major ramifications for international security, terrorist recruiting, political realities

    By J.M. Berger

    INTELWIRE.com




    Photographs depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war at the hands of U.S. and U.K. soldiers will almost certainly increase the flow of funding and volunteers to al Qaeda-linked insurgencies in Iraq, sharply heightening the risk of terrorist attacks on U.S. interests around the world for the foreseeable future.



    UPDATE: Class-Action Suit Gives Graphic Details Of Abu Ghraib Horrors

    The Bush administration's 2002 refusal to take part in the International Criminal Court and the upcoming war crimes tribunal of Saddam Hussein are also poised to become major related issues in the wake of the unfolding scandal at the Abu Grhaib prison in Iraq, where smiling U.S. soldiers posed for photographs while sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners.



    Before the new revelations, Saddam Hussein's prosecution for war crimes would have prominently featured Abu Grhaib, which was a notorious prison under his regime, as an example of his atrocities. The U.S. cited torture at the prison as part of its rationale for invading Iraq and features "tales of brutality" from the prison on a White House Web site.



    At the very same time that abuses were being carried out at the prison by U.S. soldiers, President Bush was highlighting the previous regime's offenses and calling on Middle Eastern nations to embrace Western values, saying that Saddam and other Middle Eastern regimes had left "a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin."



    "To have the American soldiers supposedly bringing freedom and democracy and the American way of life to this part of the world, spreading this kind of shameful misconduct, that is an irony that to my taste is very sickening," a spokesman for the Arab League told Reuters last week.



    Further deepening the crisis is the fact that the U.S. is holding hundreds of suspects (at minimum) in the War on Terror, many at undisclosed locations, and virtually all of them outside the normal checks and balances that U.S. prisoners could once expect.



    Many of these captives are being held and interrogated by U.S. intelligence agencies, a further complication since the soldiers at Abu Grhaib are claiming that they were ordered to abuse prisoners by military intelligence officers who wanted to "set favorable conditions" for interrogation.



    The U.S. has until now detained top al Qaeda leaders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah in total secrecy, with no accountability. In another case, accused al Qaeda dirty bomber Jose Padilla was denied access to a lawyer specifically because such access would disrupt the interrogation of Padilla, an American citizen who has not been charged with a crime.



    In the wake of Abu Ghraib, all these detentions will receive new and perhaps painful scrutiny. Padilla's case, currently before the Supreme Court, may be the first of many to be swept up in the Iraq prison scandal's aftershock.



    Additionally, there is a very real possibility that CACI International, one of the contractors implicated in the Abu Ghraib report, is involved in at least some top-level al Qaeda detentions and interrogations. If that is the case, there will be significant consequences, especially in light of the U.S. government's strong push to conceal even the smallest details of their interrogations.



    If abuses are uncovered, it could potentially impact the continued detention and eventual prosecution of top Qaeda figures like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, which would be a disaster for the U.S. on virtually every level imaginable.

    Implicit Claim of Moral Legitimacy

    Prior to the outbreak of war in Iraq, the U.S. announced it would not consider itself subject to the International Criminal Court. Marc Grossman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, said on May 6, 2002, said that the Bush administration made the decision based on several concerns including simply that "the treaty threatens the sovereignty of the United States."



    According to Grossman, the ICC "claims the authority to detain and try American citizens, even through our democratically-elected representatives have not agreed to be bound by the treaty. While sovereign nations have the authority to try non-citizens who have committed crimes against their citizens or in their territory, the United States has never recognized the right of an international organization to do so absent consent or a UN Security Council mandate."



    Implicit in the U.S. position was an unspoken statement that U.S. leadership inherently possessed the moral and legal authority to effectively prosecute war crimes, should an American ever be found culpable. That premise is now being put to the test, and the U.S. response thus far is deeply problematic.



    On Wednesday, CBS News published graphic and disturbing photographs of U.S. soldiers sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib (link to photos) , a prison which had also been notorious under Saddam Hussein's regime as a place of torture and oppression. The photographs show naked Iraqi prisoners being forced to take part in simulated sexual activity with each other and other humiliation, often at the hands of female soldiers.



    According to an report in the New Yorker (link) and another in the Washington Post (link), the accused soldiers have attempted to deflect blame onto U.S. intelligence agencies, saying they were ordered to treat prisoners this way in order to soften them up for interrogation. According to New Yorker and the Independent, soldiers also took orders from private contractors hired by the U.S. government, who would be ineligible for prosecution under military law.



    (Regardless of the merits of this claim, it seems highly unlikely that intelligence agencies would encourage any sort of photographic evidence, let alone the appalling souvenir-style snapshots published by 60 Minutes II).



    The consequences of the photos in the international arena cannot be overstated. The images are perhaps the most provocative imaginable to the Arab Muslim population, where public nakedness and any hint of homosexuality are deeply stigmatized. The fact that the perpetrators are American women substantially increases the stakes.



    There may be more to come. According to Amnesty International, "our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident." Amnesty says it has received "frequent reports of torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition Forces during the past year. Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention."

    Democracy Initiative Amplifies Problem

    The situation is further aggravated by U.S. policy decisions over the last two years, which now stand in stark contrast to documented behavior. The Bush administration's heavy-handed push for the democratization of Arab states has been predicated on the explicit notion that a democratic society is morally superior to existing Arab regimes, which range from monarchy to theocracy to dictatorship.



    In November 2003, even as a prisoner was allegedly being tortured to death at Abu Ghraib by U.S. intelligence officers, President Bush issued a call for Middle Eastern states to embrace democracy (link):



    "In many nations of the Middle East — countries of great strategic importance — democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism?"



    Later in the same speech, Bush said: "Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They've left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin."



    Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses have increasingly been cited as the primary justification for the war in Iraq, in the absence of any evidence for a significant weapons program. In September 2003, just before the abuses at Abu Ghraib began, the White House posted a propaganda Web page titled Tales of Saddam's Brutality (link):



    "The Iraqi people talk about mass graves and Saddam's crimes against humanity The cruelty of Saddam's regime is evident in its brutality toward Iraqi citizens. Mass grave sites across Iraq provide further evidence of Saddam's atrocities."



    Ironically, the collection of news citations included several items relating to abuses perpetrated by the Saddam regime at Abu Ghraib. These words and many more like them are now coming home to roost.



    "To have the American soldiers supposedly bringing freedom and democracy and the American way of life to this part of the world, spreading this kind of shameful misconduct, that is an irony that to my taste is very sickening," a spokesman for the Arab League told Reuters last week (global reaction).



    The immediate political fallout is likely to deepen based on the U.S. response to the situation. Specifically, the question looms large of whether and how the perpetrators will be punished — and which perpetrators will be punished.



    One key theological argument employed by extremists in an effort to justify violent jihad calls on Muslims to fulfil their Islamic obligation to fight for justice by fighting Western interests. If there is a widespread perception that the Abu Grhaib abuses are not going to be justly punished, it will provide a powerful propaganda and recruiting tool for Osama bin Laden and like-minded militants.



    The alleged involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies adds the color of authority to the abuse, but there is no clear path to justice nor any sign that the U.S. is investigating that aspect of the situation.

    No Clear Path To Just Punishment

    The U.S. decision to exempt itself from the International Criminal Court is likely to have a profound impact on the level of anger among Arab nations, both on the streets and in the corridors of power.



    The refusal to take part in the ICC has significant ramifications for how the criminal case against U.S. soldiers and citizens will proceed. Six suspects have been charged in relation to the incidents, which were described in a military report cited in the New Yorker as "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses."



    None of the suspects facing charges rank higher than sergeant; some are specialists and privates. The Washington Post says a seventh suspect is likely to be charged as well. According to the New Yorker, the suspect (also a private) was reassigned stateside because she was pregnant.



    The investigation to date has been conducted secretly, and the soldiers were quietly brought up on charges in March. While the court martial punishments may well include jail time, if the suspects are convicted, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq said Sunday on NBC's Today Show that "criminal charges will be filed" and "careers will be ended" because of the investigation.



    Because the U.S. has opted out of the ICC, the military court may end up being the only judicial review of the case. An even deeper issue concerns the private contractors, who may not be subject to any applicable law or authority for their actions. In the minds of many Iraqis, this lack of accountibility will retroactively justify recent attacks on civilians, such as in Fallujah. The new anger will also add luster to the reputation of foreign fighters tied to such attacks, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.



    As far as the soldiers, the current charges, while serious, fall short of the definition most Middle Eastern countries will apply to the conduct — war crime. The impending war crimes tribunal of Saddam Hussein only heightens the question that has been asked repeatedly by Arabs in media interviews over the last week: "What's the difference between the U.S. and Saddam Hussein;s regime?"



    Significantly, no charges have yet been brought against the military brass at the prison, although they have been subject to administrative suspensions and review. It's entirely unclear whether any such charges will be filed. On Sunday, the Pentagon indicated that it was "investigating" charges that military intelligence officers may have directed or instigated some of the abuse, but the status of that investigation was decidedly unclear as of Monday morning, May 3.



    Finally, and significantly in the minds of Arabs, there is virtually no chance that any American politician or high-ranking administration official will face any sort of criminal liability or punishment for the abuse, even if it is eventually determined to have been authorized by intelligence agencies on behalf of the White House (a prospect which has not yet been widely discussed in the U.S. media).



    At worst, such liability (if it exists) would be resolved by a political process, likely with strictly political consequences, potentially generating hostility toward subsequent administrations which may be left to deal with the issue of determining appropriate punishments. The tribunal of Saddam Hussein may well be seen as sharply hypocritical in this context, further inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment. Certainly, the Abu Grhaib prison would have been one of that tribunal's centerpieces prior to the developments of the past week.



    In the absence of ICC jurisdiction, Arab and Muslim nations and their citizens are not likely to accept the fairness and objectivity of any American court, let alone a closed military court, a non-criminal administrative review or a toothless political censure. The Arab media have already begun citing the decision to opt out of the ICC as fuel for speculation that the U.S. premeditated war crimes in Iraq.

    Immediate Consequences

    Taken as a whole, there will certainly be grim consequences resulting from the prison abuse reports, especially considering that any judicial resolution that will assuredly fall far short of even moderate Arab and Muslim conceptions of justice.



    The most obvious and probably the most immediate consequence will be an escalation of the jihad in Iraq, which will likely become visible within several weeks to six months at most. The graphic photos of U.S. (and apparently U.K.) soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners play directly into the hands of terrorist recruiters.



    According to U.S. authorities, there has not yet been a dramatic influx of foreign fighters to Iraq. That will almost certainly change in the weeks to come. Countless thousands of young Muslim men flocked to Afghanistan during the 1980s without such a visceral provocation.



    As in Afghanistan, a popular international jihad in Iraq presents multiple challenges over the short, medium and long terms. An extended Iraq conflict would create a host of new alliances, personal connections, trained soldiers and logistical networks which can then be employed to support global terrorist activity for decades to come.



    The inflammatory pictures also make it extremely difficult for Arab nations which have directly and indirectly supported the U.S. and the War on Terror to continue doing so with impunity, notably including Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.



    The first cracks may already be appearing in those alliances. After months of Saudi P.R. touting the Kingdom's role in fighting al Qaeda, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said in a speech this week that "Zionism is behind terrorist attacks in the Kingdom." State-affiliated newspapers in Egypt ran the Iraq abuse photos on their front pages.



    The Saudi situation is particularly acute. During the Afghan jihad, Saudi leadership attempted to solve the kingdom's domestic unrest by exporting young men overseas to fight in Afghanistan. Such a strategy may hold significant appeal in light of the unprecedented wave of attacks within the kingdom over the past year.



    The U.S. fight to stem terrorist financing is also highly dependent on cooperation from Middle Eastern governments, especially the Saudis. The prison photos will certainly increase the flow of funds coming from Arabs and Muslims at the ground levels, and regional governments may be increasingly willing to look the other way if they think the funds being raised will be put to use in Iraq.



    Key nations around Asia, including Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, will also have to contend with new pressure from their large Muslim populations, as anti-U.S. sentiment may become increasingly mainstream. These nations run a larger risk of regime change in the medium- and long-term future, depending on the voting public's response to how the prison abuse is finally adjudicated (and how that resolution compares to the handling of Saddam Hussein's not-yet-scheduled war crimes tribunal).



    Finally, the U.S. will face growing issues surrounding its continued detention of Muslims in the United States, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and at undisclosed locations worldwide. The Bush administration has forcefully argued that it need not account for its detentions of enemy combatants in the War on Terror, often refusing to submit to international monitoring of the conditions of imprisonment and arguing against judicial review of its interrogation and imprisonment practices. It reiterated these views just last week before the Supreme Court, which may now take the Abu Grhaib situation under consideration in the cases of Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla (link)



    If it eventually emerges that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was carried out at the direction of U.S. intelligence agencies, European nations will likely mount a serious international effort to force inspections of the conditions of imprisonment for such al Qaeda leaders as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah.



    The U.S. government has insisted that its treatment of these prisoners is consistent with international law, however the Abu Grhaib abuses were clearly illegal. France and Germany will almost certainly lead other nations in seeking assurances that the Abu Grhaib practices are not being applied to other U.S. captives. In the wake of the revelations of the last week, the administration will shortly be forced to prove Abu Ghraib is an aberration rather of U.S. interrogation techniques, rather than an example of them.



    Until now, the Bush administration has essentially argued in political and legal forums that the legality and morality of its conduct regarding terrorist POWs should be an article of faith. Abu Ghraib represents a breach of that faith, in a magnitude that the international community will not be able to ignore.

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