From captive to suicide bomber

As President Obama takes the first tentative steps toward fulfilling his campaign promise to close Guantanamo, the case of Abdallah Ajmi has become a symbol of the vexing challenge his administration faces in adjudicating the fates of terrorism suspects held by the United States, a process that almost certainly will result in the release of additional detainees among the approximately 245 now in custody there.

What makes Ajmi’s journey from inmate to bomber so disturbing to top government officials is the fact that he never was deemed to be among the worst of the worst. He was not one of the former top al-Qaeda operatives considered “high value” detainees; nor was he regarded as someone who posed a significant, long-term threat to the United States.

Compared with what other Guantanamo detainees were believed to have done, the principal accusation leveled against him — that he fought for the Taliban — was unremarkable. At his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he was not accused of perpetrating any specific violent acts other than “engaging in two or three fire fights with the Northern Alliance,” according to a summary of evidence presented by the military.

As one former U.S. government official involved in detainee issues put it, Ajmi was “never on anyone’s top 10 list of people we expected to return to the fight.”

Since his death, U.S. intelligence agencies have sought to determine when Ajmi became a hard-core jihadist. Was it in the late 1990s, when he came under the sway of a radical preacher while serving in the Kuwaiti army? Was it in 2001, when he allegedly joined the Taliban? Was it upon his release in 2005, when extremists back home celebrated him as the “Lion of Guantanamo”?

Or is the answer potentially more alarming: Was his descent into unrepentant radicalism an unintended consequence of his incarceration? [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — In America immediately after 9/11, if intelligent public debate had not been crushed by fear and national hysteria, a vital question could have been considered and its answer then could then have become instrumental in policy making.

The question: Did the Egyptian government’s sytematic use of torture have a crucial role in molding the jihadist philosophy and psychological outlook of men such as Ayman al-Zawahiri?

This incredibly important question has received amazingly little attention. An exception would be Chris Zambelis’s essay published by the Jamestown Foundation last summer: Is there a nexus between torture and radicalization?

If, as was surely possible, policymakers had concluded very early on, that torture was not merely illegal and immoral but that it actually fuels terrorism, Guantanamo would never have been opened. The “dark side” that Cheney proposed entering would have been seen to be nothing more than an emotive and utterly wrong-headed response to an issue that had to be addressed with intelligence.

Alleged torture victim to be freed from Guantanamo

Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who has been held without charge for seven years, is expected to be released from Guantanamo Bay and return to Britain early this week.

Mr Mohamed’s detention and allegations that he was tortured while subject to the “extraordinary rendition” programme adopted by the Bush administration and yet to be abandoned by the Obama administration, have led to legal proceedings in both the US and the UK.

As recently as the beginning of this month Mr Mohamed, who had been on hunger strike since Jan 5, was described as being “close to death”. Lieutenant colonel Yvonne Bradley, a US military lawyer who visited him in late January said, “He is just skin and bones. The real worry is that he comes out in a coffin.” [continued…]

‘Antiwar’ film Waltz with Bashir is nothing but charade

Everyone now has his fingers crossed for Ari Folman and all the creative artists behind “Waltz with Bashir” to win the Oscar on Sunday. A first Israeli Oscar? Why not?

However, it must also be noted that the film is infuriating, disturbing, outrageous and deceptive. It deserves an Oscar for the illustrations and animation – but a badge of shame for its message. It was not by accident that when he won the Golden Globe, Folman didn’t even mention the war in Gaza, which was raging as he accepted the prestigious award. The images coming out of Gaza that day looked remarkably like those in Folman’s film. But he was silent. So before we sing Folman’s praises, which will of course be praise for us all, we would do well to remember that this is not an antiwar film, nor even a critical work about Israel as militarist and occupier. It is an act of fraud and deceit, intended to allow us to pat ourselves on the back, to tell us and the world how lovely we are. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — When the glowing reviews of Waltz with Bashir started coming out, they made me feel queasy — but I hesitated to slam a film I hadn’t seen.

Even so, there seemed something narcissistic and perverse about the idea that right in the middle of the carnage taking place in Gaza, our attention should be steered towards the moral anguish that an Israeli soldier might face.

Gideon Levy, in his usual no-punches-pulled style, confirms my suspicions:

    The waltz rests on two ideological foundations. One is the “we shot and we cried” syndrome: Oh, how we wept, yet our hands did not spill this blood. Add to this a pinch of Holocaust memories, without which there is no proper Israeli self-preoccupation. And a dash of victimization – another absolutely essential ingredient in public discourse here – and voila! You have the deceptive portrait of Israel 2008, in words and pictures.

Image problem in Afghanistan

The additional 17,000 troops the Obama administration is preparing to send to Afghanistan will face both an aggressive, well-armed Taliban insurgency and an unarmed but equally daunting foe: public opinion.

In more than a dozen interviews across the capital this week, Afghans said that instead of helping to defeat the insurgents and quell the violence that has engulfed their country, more foreign troops will exacerbate the problem.

The comments echoed a recent survey by the BBC and ABC News that found that although 90 percent of Afghans oppose the Taliban, less than half view the United States favorably, a sharp drop from a year ago, and a quarter say attacks on U.S. troops can be justified. [continued…]

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