Sunday, September 29, 2002

Democratic Congressmen Return from Iraq & Warn of a Prevaricating White House

The NYT reports, "Democratic Congressman Asserts Bush Would Mislead U.S. on Iraq" - Ya think?:
Democratic congressmen who are visiting Iraq this week stirred up anger among some Republicans when they questioned the reasons President Bush has used to justify possible military action against Iraq.

One of the congressmen, Representative Jim McDermott of Washington State, said today that he thought President Bush was willing "to mislead the American people" about whether the war was needed and that the administration had gone back and forth between citing supposed links between Iraq and the terrorist network Al Qaeda and Iraq's supposed attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. McDermott and Representative David E. Bonior of Michigan also said it might still be possible to work out a new inspection approach that would satisfy the Iraqis but fall short of what Mr. Bush wants.

The two Democrats' strong comments about a foreign policy matter while traveling abroad drew rebukes from Republicans at a time when the political furor over Iraq and over a bill on domestic security has sharply divided leaders of the two parties.

They spoke on the ABC News program "This Week" and in other broadcast interviews.

Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma, who is the party's assistant leader in the Senate, said Mr. McDermott and Mr. Bonior "both sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government." He said it was "counterproductive" to undermine Mr. Bush when he was seeking support from allies.

This has been the reason that has been given for Bush wanting, prematurely, a congressional resolution authorizing him to attack Iraq, before inspections have played out. For the 'bullying' advantage. I was going to say, "to take advantage of Bush's cowboy image," but that's an insult to cowboys. Along with their reputation for simple, honest, straightforward talk and action (acting without guile). That can hardly be said of Bush, who talks "simply" because he doesn't have verbal acuity. 'Honesty' is hardly one of Bush's traits.

Giving Bush an authorization to take the country to war in Iraq at this point is really to capitalize on what most bright and observant people around the world see about Bush: He's a loose cannon, and with a Congressional resolution authorizing him to attack Iraq, he'd be like a child who has been given a loaded gun.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, was gentler. "As long as they're careful what they say and what they do, then I think it's fine," he said. "But all of us should keep in mind that foreign affairs, national security issues, etc., are generally handled by the executive branch, with the advice and consent of the Congress."

Speaking of the administration, Mr. McDermott said, "I believe that sometimes they give out misinformation." Then he added: "It would not surprise me if they came up with some information that is not provable, and they've shifted. First they said it was Al Qaeda, then they said it was weapons of mass destruction. Now they're going back and saying it's Al Qaeda again."

When pressed for evidence about whether President Bush had lied, Mr. McDermott said, "I think the president would mislead the American people." But he said he believed that inspections of Iraq's weapons programs could be worked out.

The NYT is pressing Representative McDermott for "evidence about whether President Bush had lied," but is not pressing Bush for evidence that he isn't lying.

How the hell did we get here? From when the media failed to do any investigation on its' own (like during the Reagan administration) to now, when they carry the water for those in power and question the credibility (or integrity, or sanity, or intelligence, or patriotism) of those asking for proof of Bush's claims.
"I think they will come up with a regime that will not require coercive inspections," Mr. McDermott said, anticipating meetings on Monday between Hans Blix, the leader of the United Nations inspection group, and Iraqi officials.

"They said they would allow us to go look anywhere we wanted," he said of the Iraqis. "And until they don't do that, there is no need to do this coercive stuff where you bring in helicopters and armed people and storm buildings."

"Otherwise you're just trying to provoke them into war," he added.

Mr. Bonior, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said: "We've got to move forward in a way that's fair and impartial. That means not having the United States or the Iraqis dictate the rules to these inspections."

Can Bush be trusted with 'a loaded gun' (the resolution)?

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Frontline Goes In Search Of Al Qaeda

The 'golden arches,' even in Karachi

Martin Smith reports:
The trail that led to the arrest of Ramzi bin al-Shibh began with the arrest of another man in another neighborhood two days earlier.

For months, the ISI, Pakistan's proud and darkly secretive intelligence agency, has been investigating a ring of human smugglers based in Karachi which is led by an infamous Pakistani millionaire they call "Mr. M." He owns a large "import-export business," but investigators believe he is also trafficking in illegal human cargo. Some of his payloads, they suspect, consist of 11- and 12-year-old boys destined to become camel jockeys at the race tracks in Dubai, or consist of poor undocumented workers seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia.

But the payloads they are most interested in are Al Qaeda militants on the run. They believe "M" may be able to tell them about where some of those militants may have gone or just who's still in the pipeline. Unfortunately, "M" remains at large.

However, on a balmy Monday night, the 9th of September, ISI agents and Sindh Rangers -- a paramilitary force under the control of the Interior Ministry -- raided a house in the Badurabad section of Karachi. According to a high-level Pakistani government official who spoke to me on the condition that I would not reveal his identity, the ISI arrested "a foreigner" who had been seen in the presence of a "Pakistani accomplice" on several occasions over the last few weeks. This "accomplice," I learn separately, is "M".

According to the official, the "foreigner" sang. He confirmed to investigators that he was in the business of providing false identity papers and arranging the smuggling of Al Qaeda militants across the Gulf of Oman to Middle Eastern countries such as the U.A.E., Yemen and Oman. He also told police where some of his Al Qaeda clients were hiding. Based on this information, a small contingent of around 15 to 20 ISI agents and Sindh Rangers took up positions around a four-story apartment block in the Defense neighborhood of Karachi at around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 11. They did not know who exactly was in the building, but they knew "there were some Arabs." At around 9:00 a.m., two men came out of the buildings' front door, just beneath a sign that reads "Nice Enterprises," and began making their way across the street where they appeared headed for breakfast. The ISI agents moved out and arrested them.

The two men put up little resistance, but realizing the danger they were in they began shouting warnings back up to their friends on the fourth floor. One grenade was thrown and some shots were fired. A battle followed that lasted three to four hours, although most of this time was spent waiting for someone to make a move.

Police fired more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition at this apartment in Karachi on the morning of Sept. 11, 2002. Arrested in the raid was Ramzi bin al-Shibh.(Photo by Marcela Gaviria)

The gun battle can be roughly reconstructed from the visual record of the event. The first video crew on the scene was from GEO TV, a new Urdu-language TV news network service now beginning to broadcast by satellite around Pakistan. From their cameraman's footage it is obvious that most of the top floor was already heavily riddled with bullet holes at the time he began taping, around 9:45 a.m. And from 9:45 to 1:00 or 2:00 p.m., when the 10 men and one woman and two children were taken into custody, very little gunfire was recorded by him or the other local cameramen who covered the event. Most of that time, the "battle" was a standoff during which hundreds of reinforcements, mostly Karachi policemen, arrived.

Some neighbors told me the men in the apartment didn't fire any shots at all. I think they are wrong, but not very. I saw two bullet holes in the glass window of the shop directly across the street and a few more, no more than 5 or 6, in the front façade of that same building. This was all. There were no bullet holes visible on the roof, either. The police on the other hand, clearly fired hundreds of rounds, if not thousands, mostly from the roof of the opposite building. And after the raid only one Kalashnikov rifle was found in the apartment, along with a laptop and a message smeared in blood on the wall. "God is great. There is only one God and Mohammed is His messenger."

According to the government official, these men were lying low."There was no evidence they were planning anything. They may have just been in transit. They had only been in the apartment for less than a month."

President Musharraf announced there were eight Yemenis, one Pakistani and one Egyptian arrested. The world now knows that the big get was a 30-year-old Yemeni named Ramzi bin al-Shibh: one of the key planners of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the U.S., a former roommate of Mohamed Atta in Hamburg, Germany.

"It was not the interception of a satellite phone call by the Americans, as has been reported in your papers, that led to this arrest. It was the work of our investigators," the government official emphasized to me. I have learned more than once that there is an ongoing battle between the Pakistanis and the Americans over who is responsible for the big gets.

Another man arrested on Sept. 11 is Fazal Karim. Karim was already known to the police as one of three Yemenis responsible for the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl last spring. Karim has not been handed over to the Americans because unlike bin al-Shibh's alleged crimes, Karim's was committed on Pakistani soil. Authorities want to try him here. The ringleader of the Pearl kidnapping, British born Sheik Omar Saeed Sheik, has already been tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, he awaits a ruling on his appeal in a Pakistani prison.

There are some other reports that it was a tip-off from an Al Jazeera reporter that led to the arrests. Three months ago, Yosri Fouda came to Karachi to interview Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. News of the interview leaked out to reporters and editors a few weeks ago. The London Sunday Times ran a transcript of the interview about a week before the raid. Al Jazeera originally planned to broadcast the tape on Sept. 12. If the ISI was picking up information from Al Jazeera, they would have moved in on bin al-Shibh sooner. Reports of Al Jazeera leading investigators to the Al Qaeda raid are, I think, false. And only bin al-Shibh was caught. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed escaped capture.

Although barely. On Sept. 19, Interior Minister Lt. General Moinuddin Haider told a small group of Pakistani journalists that the two children captured on Sept. 11 were Khalid's. "We are holding them. We are not turning them over to anyone. And we will get Khalid." Some investigators believe he is right: that with Abu Zubaydah and bin al-Shibh in custody, and the whereabouts of bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri unknown, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be the next big get.

A very big get ... Many American counterterrorism officials believe that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the true mastermind behind 9/11. Such plots may run in his family. Sheikh Mohammed is reportedly the uncle of Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

He is a flamboyant character. While most 9/11 conspirators stayed in modest flea-bag motels, Sheikh Mohammed prefers 5-star quality hotels. And, once, he reportedly rented a helicopter to impress a dentist he was dating -- flying by her window and waving while calling her on his cell phone.

In a recent report, reporters Dan Rubin and Michael Dorgan of Knight Ridder News Service quote a U.S. intelligence official talking about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

"'He gets more interesting every day...' If he had to decide between catching Osama bin Laden and catching Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he might prefer the latter. 'Bin Laden is unquestionably the leader, the symbol and the recruiting poster. But it's looking more and more like Khalid actually makes things happen.' Their report also quotes a French terrorism expert and U.N. Security Council consultant, Roland Jacquard, as saying, '[Sheikh Mohammed] is probably the only man who knows all the pieces of the puzzle.'"

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Former No. Ireland Secretary, MP, & Blair Cabinet Member: "Iraq is no threat; Bush wants war to keep U.S. control of the region . . . .

. . . The real goal is the seizure of Saudi oil.

Maureen "Mo" Mowlan, former Labour MP, former Northern Ireland Secretary (she oversaw the negotiations which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement), and 'enforcer' in Tony Blair's cabinet, writes in The Guardian:
I keep listening to the words coming from the Bush administration about Iraq and I become increasingly alarmed. There seems to be such confusion, but through it all a grim determination that they are, at some point, going to launch a military attack. The response of the British government seems equally confused, but I just hope that the determination to ultimately attack Iraq does not form the bedrock of their policy. It is hard now to see how George Bush can withdraw his bellicose words and also save face, but I hope that that is possible. Otherwise I fear greatly for the Middle East, but also for the rest of the world.

What is most chilling is that the hawks in the Bush administration must know the risks involved. They must be aware of the anti-American feeling throughout the Middle East. They must be aware of the fear in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that a war against Iraq could unleash revolutions, disposing of pro-western governments, and replacing them with populist anti-American Islamist fundamentalist regimes. We should all remember the Islamist revolution in Iran. The Shah was backed by the Americans, but he couldn't stand against the will of the people. And it is because I am sure that they fully understand the consequences of their actions, that I am most afraid. I am drawn to the conclusion that they must want to create such mayhem.

The many words that are uttered about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, which are never substantiated with any hard evidence, seem to mean very little. Even if Saddam had such weapons, why would he wish to use them? He knows that if he moves to seize the oilfields in neighbouring countries the full might of the western world will be ranged against him. He knows that if he attacks Israel the same fate awaits him. Comparisons with Hitler are silly - Hitler thought he could win; Saddam knows he cannot. Even if he has nuclear weapons he cannot win a war against America. The United States can easily contain him. They do not need to try and force him to irrationality.

But that is what Bush seems to want to do. Why is he so determined to take the risk? The key country in the Middle East, as far as the Americans are concerned, is Saudi Arabia: the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, the country that has been prepared to calm the oil markets, producing more when prices are too high and less when there is a glut. The Saudi royal family has been rewarded with best friend status by the west for its cooperation. There has been little concern that the government is undemocratic and breaches human rights, nor that it is in the grip of an extreme form of Islam. With American support it has been believed that the regime can be protected and will do what is necessary to secure a supply of oil to the west at reasonably stable prices.

Since September 11, however, it has become increasingly apparent to the US administration that the Saudi regime is vulnerable. Both on the streets and in the leading families, including the royal family, there are increasingly anti-western voices. Osama bin Laden is just one prominent example. The love affair with America is ending. Reports of the removal of billions of dollars of Saudi investment from the United States may be difficult to quantify, but they are true. The possibility of the world's largest oil reserves falling into the hands of an anti-American, militant Islamist government is becoming ever more likely - and this is unacceptable.

The Americans know they cannot stop such a revolution. They must therefore hope that they can control the Saudi oil fields, if not the government. And what better way to do that than to have a large military force in the field at the time of such disruption. In the name of saving the west, these vital assets could be seized and controlled. No longer would the US have to depend on a corrupt and unpopular royal family to keep it supplied with cheap oil. If there is chaos in the region, the US armed forces could be seen as a global saviour. Under cover of the war on terrorism, the war to secure oil supplies could be waged.

This whole affair has nothing to do with a threat from Iraq - there isn't one. It has nothing to do with the war against terrorism or with morality. Saddam Hussein is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians in check he was the same evil man he is today. He was a pawn then and is a pawn now. In the same way he served western interests then, he is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the west's supply of oil. And where does this leave the British government? Are they in on the plan or just part of the smokescreen? The government speaks of morality and the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, but can they really believe it?

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