John Walcott writes: On September 9, 2002, as the George W. Bush administration was launching its campaign to invade Iraq, a classified report landed on the desk of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It came from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it carried an ominous note.
“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD,” Rumsfeld wrote to Air Force General Richard Myers. “It is big.”
The report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew — or more importantly didn’t know — about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt: “We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. … We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”
Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war. But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House and CIA who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.
While the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iraq was at the heart of the administration’s case for war, the JCS report conceded: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely — perhaps 90% — on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
The rationale for the invasion has long since been discredited, but the JCS report, now declassified, which a former Bush administration official forwarded in December, nevertheless has implications for both sides in the 2016 presidential race, in particular the GOP candidates who are relying for foreign policy advice on some of the architects of the war, and the Democratic front-runner, who once again is coming under fire from her primary opponent for supporting the invasion. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: It was one of the most shocking events in one of the most brutal periods in Iraq’s history. In late 2005, two years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, U.S. soldiers raided a police building in Baghdad and found 168 prisoners in horrific conditions.
Many were malnourished. Some had been beaten.
The discovery of the secret prison exposed a world of kidnappings and assassinations. Behind these operations was an unofficial Interior Ministry organisation called the Special Investigations Directorate, according to U.S. and Iraqi security officials at the time.
The body was run by militia commanders from the Badr Organisation, a pro-Iran, Shi’ite political movement that today plays a major role in Baghdad’s war against Islamic State, the Sunni militant group.
Washington pressured the Iraqi government to investigate the prison. But the findings of Baghdad’s investigation – a probe derided by some of its own committee members at the time as a whitewash – were never released.
The U.S. military conducted its own investigation. But rather than publish its findings, it chose to lobby Iraqi officials in quiet for fear of damaging Iraq’s fragile political setup, according to several current and former U.S. military officials and diplomats.
Both reports remain unpublished. Reuters has reviewed them, as well as other U.S. documents from the past decade.
The documents show how Washington, seeking to defeat Sunni jihadists and stabilise Iraq, has consistently overlooked excesses by Shi’ite militias sponsored by the Iraqi government. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both worked with Badr and its powerful leader, Hadi al-Amiri, whom many Sunnis continue to accuse of human rights abuses.
Washington’s policy of expediency has achieved some of its short-term aims. But in allowing the Shi’ite militias to run amok against their Sunni foes, Washington has fueled the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide that is tearing Iraq apart.
The decade-old U.S. investigation of the secret prison implicates officials and political groups in a wave of sectarian killings that helped ignite a civil war. It also draws worrying parallels to the U.S. government’s muted response today to alleged abuses committed in the name of fighting Islamic State.
Those accused of running the secret prison or of helping cover up its existence include the current head of the Iraqi judiciary, Midhat Mahmoud, Transport Minister, Bayan Jabr, and a long revered Badr commander popularly referred to as Engineer Ahmed. [Continue reading…]
‘The attacks will be spectacular’: How the Bush administration ignored this warning from the CIA months before 9/11
Chris Whipple writes: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The CIA’s famous Presidential Daily Brief, presented to George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, has always been Exhibit A in the case that his administration shrugged off warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. But months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.
By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.” The crisis came to a head on July 10. The critical meeting that took place that day was first reported by Bob Woodward in 2006. Tenet also wrote about it in general terms in his 2007 memoir At the Center of the Storm.
But neither he nor Black has spoken about it publicly in such detail until now — or been so emphatic about how specific and pressing their warnings really were. Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.
The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”
That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’” [Continue reading…]
Aron Lund writes: When the United States was occupying Iraq, senior Bush administration officials like Washington Don kept blaming “terrorists” of the “Baathist dead-ender” or “al-Qaeda” variety for everything new setback. To be sure, Baathists and al-Qaeda loyalists were a prominent part of the mix, and they would later become dominant. But in the early days, Iraq’s insurgency seems to have been considerably more diverse than what we now see in Syria. In 2003-2004, it consisted of innumerable little local groups that spanned the full range of ideologies from secular nationalism to jihadism; they would even on occasion bridge the Sunni-Shia divide. And yet, U.S. President George W. Bush could get away with telling his people that the Iraqi resistance was all “al-Qaeda types, Ansar al-Islam types, terrorist groups” and conclude that it was better to “fight them there than here.”
A decade later in Syria, the roles are reversed. Russian politicians will contemptuously label any Syrian who has taken up arms to stop the depredations of Bashar al-Assad’s army a “jihadi terrorist” and in lieu of a political strategy, they smirk and puff their chests and say “bring ‘em on.” Their American counterparts sound like the anti-Iraq War tankie left in 2003-2004, eyes darting nervously around the room as they try to explain that there are good salafi insurgents and bad salafi insurgents. Give it a year more, and they’ll be complaining about Russia’s “cowboy attitude.”
Not that their respective supporters seem to notice, or care. But if you’re not a die-hard partisan of either Vladimir Putin or of the late and unlamented presidency of George W. Bush, you will by now have noticed that the Kremlin’s “anti-terrorist” discourse is essentially indistinguishable from the bullshit shoveled into the media by the American White House ten years ago, and equally self-serving, misleading, and destructive. [Continue reading…]
Christopher Dickey writes: Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi mathematician, banker, schmoozer, spy and source of dubious intelligence provided to journalists and politicians alike, died today of an apparent heart attack in Baghdad at the age of 71. And at least one breaking news headline called him “the man who drove the U.S. to war in Iraq.”
That’s a common, and perhaps convenient, perception. But for my part, as someone who first met Chalabi 30 years ago, and stayed in close touch with him up to and through the first years of the disastrous American occupation of his homeland, I think the blame is misplaced.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and crew were hellbent on war with Saddam Hussein, and if they hadn’t had Chalabi supplying grist to their mill, they’d have found someone else. Their attachment to fantasies was infinitely greater than their attachment to facts, and, believing in American omnipotence, they wanted to make their dream of an utterly overhauled Middle East a reality. Chalabi played to their delusions and prejudices, but he didn’t create them.
Do you remember the ideas floating around Washington in those days? With a minimum of force, the United States would invade Iraq; the people would rise up; Saddam would fall; Iraq would recognize Israel (and Iraq’s Jews would return to Baghdad); Iran would be intimidated. The Middle East would be set on a path to democracy. Oh, and a grateful Iraq probably would give American companies great deals on Mesopotamian oil and gas.
Anyone who knew the region well, and there were many in the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department who knew it very well, realized that these were pipe dreams. But the top officials in the Bush administration systematically excluded those voices. [Continue reading…]
By Christian Christensen
“When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect.”
These are eloquent words. Words of justice and understanding. Words of reconciliation. They are the words of President George W. Bush – spoken at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. on September 17, 2001 – a mere 6 days after the Al Qaeda attacks that killed almost 3,000 in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. They are also the words of a President who said that Jesus Christ was the political philosopher who had influenced him the most. And, they are the words of a President who, using falsehoods on Iraqi WMD and links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as moral and legal justifications, would green light a military invasion and occupation of Iraq that would leave hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and an entire region destabilized.
Fast-forward 14 years to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Would either man utter the words uttered by Bush, let alone only days after the 9/11 attacks?
Hisham Melhem writes: Former President George W. Bush bequeathed to Barack Obama a precarious and partially broken Arab World. A spectacularly ambitious imperial attempt at remaking the region, beginning in Mesopotamia, crumbled mightily in the inhospitable desert of Iraq.
The dream of planting a Jeffersonian democracy in the land of the two rivers, metamorphosed into an unprecedented sectarian bloodletting. Bush’s freedom agenda, coming after he admitted – correctly – that for more than fifty years U.S. administrations neglected human rights in the Middle East in the name of maintaining stability, the free flow of oil, and striking alliances against the Soviet Union, was ill-conceived, naively pursued, and badly executed.
Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism’ was equally flawed; Al-Qaeda was cut to pieces, but like the mythical Hydra it metastasized and produced the monstrous ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS). But hard as it is to conceive, President Obama will bequeath to his successor a breathtakingly pulverized – figuratively and, yes, physically – region, where in some states like Syria and Iraq whole communities have been uprooted and once great ancient cities have been ransacked, and precious cultural and religious jewels have been destroyed.
There are no more streets in some Syrian cities; The Assad regime turned them into shallow valleys of broken concrete, twisted metal and shattered personal artifacts indicating that they were once full of life. If hell has streets, they will surely look like the streets of Syria’s cities today. It shall be written, that the words of a sitting American President in the second decade of the 21st century justifying his inaction and his inane silence in the face of the staggering savagery of the Syrian regime – which repeatedly used chemical weapons, barrel bombs, medieval sieges and starvation against his own people – were stunning in their moral vacuity. The President of the United States will be judged as an accomplice in the historic betrayal of the Syrian people – and, to a lesser extent, the Iraqi and Libyan peoples – and in the creation of the worst refugee problem in the Middle East in a century.
Surely, the primary responsibility for the agonies of the peoples of the Middle East lies in the hands of the political and cultural classes that inherited the new political structures erected in modern times by the colonial powers over the remnants of old civilizations.
True, European powers drew artificial boundaries – most countries have such borders – not taking into consideration the wishes of the affected peoples, whose promises were rarely honored. This left behind wounds that have yet to heal. But in subsequent years, the ideologues of Arab Nationalism and Political Islam, the military strongmen who perfected military coups along with some atavistic hereditary rulers maintained the ossified status quo or destroyed nascent and relatively open, diverse societies and representative forms of governance in countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Tunisia.
However, Western meddling and military intervention contributed to the rise of Arab autocracy and despotism. The American invasion of Iraq did not cause sectarianism in that tortured land; that dormant scourge was awakened by years of Ba’athist despotism and Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran in 1980.
But the way the American invasion was conceived and executed accelerated Iraq’s descent into the abyss. Hence America’s partial political and moral responsibility for Iraq’s current torment. President Obama’s eagerness to disengage himself and his administration from Bush’s Iraq burden explains his reticence to push for a residual force after 2011, or to seriously and personally continue to engage Iraqis and help those forces willing to live in a unitary civil state, his deafness to repeated warnings that former Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s sectarian policies were deepening the sectarian fissures, makes him a partial owner of Iraq’s chaos. [Continue reading…]
Steve Hilton writes: While we can argue forever about the causes of conflict in the Middle East, it is impossible to ignore the impact of American foreign policy on what’s happening in Europe. It was shocking to see an “expert” from the Council on Foreign Relations quoted on Saturday saying that the situation is “largely Europe’s responsibility.” How, exactly? The Iraq invasion (which could reasonably be described as “largely America’s responsibility”) unleashed a period of instability and competition in the region that is collapsing states and fueling sectarian conflict.
European leaders wanted, years ago, to intervene directly in Syria in order to check President Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty; the United States didn’t. You can understand why — I wouldn’t for one second question the judgment of American political leaders that their country was reluctant to participate in another military conflict. But at least acknowledge the consequences of nonintervention: the protracted Syrian civil war, the emergence of a lawless territory ripe for exploitation by the sick zealots of the Islamic State, and the resulting flood of millions of displaced people.
So it’s a bit rich for American commentators to lecture Europeans when part of the reason the refugees are arriving on Europe’s doorstep is American foreign policy. It’s great that the United States is by far the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Syrians, but America is bigger than Europe, and wealthier. Why should Europe be expected to take around a million refugees practically overnight and the United States, hardly any? [Continue reading…]
Peter Beinart writes: Something revealing happened over the weekend on Fox News Sunday. Dick Cheney had stopped by to bash President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal and promote his new book (co-authored with his daughter Liz). But moderator Chris Wallace, to his credit, wanted to ask Cheney about his own failings on Iran. On the Bush administration’s watch, Wallace noted, Iran’s centrifuges for enriching uranium “went from zero to 5,000.” Cheney protested, declaring that, “That happened on Obama’s watch and not on our watch.” But Wallace held his ground. “No, no, no,” he insisted. “By 2009, they were at 5,000.” Cheney paused for an instant, muttered, “right,” and went back to his talking points.
The exchange illustrated why the former vice president is such an effective purveyor of untruths. Even when caught in a falsehood, he displays no discomfort. Unlike Rick Perry, he never ever says “oops.”
Cheney has needed that sangfroid in recent days, because his falsehoods keep piling up. On Fox, he said that in the nuclear negotiations, the Iranians “got everything they asked for.” Really? In a June 24 tweet, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, declared “we do not accept 10, 12 years long-term restrictions.” But under the deal signed a few weeks later, the Iranians accepted restrictions on their uranium enrichment and their plutonium reprocessing that last 15 years. They accepted international inspections of their uranium mines and mills for 25 years. And they agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gives inspectors the right to see undeclared nuclear sites in perpetuity. Khamenei also demanded “immediate removal of economic, financial and banking sanctions,” adding that, “We do not agree with IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] verification as precondition for the other side to implement its commitments.” But under the agreement, U.S. and European economic, financial, and banking sanctions imposed against Iran’s nuclear program are not immediately removed. They will remain until, you guessed it, “IAEA verification” that Iran has curbed its nuclear program. [Continue reading…]
SPIEGEL: What was it like in the days following the [al Qaeda] attacks?
Steiner: Condoleezza Rice was George W. Bush’s security advisor at the time. I actually had quite a good relationship with her. But after Sept. 11, the entire administration positively dug in. We no longer had access to Rice, much less to the president. It wasn’t just our experience, but also that of the French and British as well. Of course that made us enormously worried.
Steiner: Because we thought that the Americans would overreact in response to the initial shock. For the US, it was a shocking experience to be attacked on their own soil.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean, overreact? Were you afraid that Bush would attack Afghanistan with nuclear weapons?
Steiner: The Americans said at the time that all options were on the table. When I visited Condoleezza Rice in the White House a few days later, I realized that it was more than just a figure of speech.
SPIEGEL: The Americans had developed concrete plans for the use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan?
Steiner: They really had thought through all scenarios. The papers had been written. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west. [Continue reading…]
This image of the body of a Syrian boy drowned today on a Turkish beach is emblematic of the world's failure in Syria pic.twitter.com/IYiIPgvieG
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) September 2, 2015
To speak of the world’s failure in Syria, presupposes some sort of global responsibility, yet many war-weary Americans might wonder: what makes Syria our responsibility?
The answer is simple: the war in Iraq.
Had the U.S. and its allies not invaded Iraq in 2003, it’s hard to envisage that the region with Syria at its epicenter would now be ripping itself apart.
That’s not to suggest that absent the Iraq war, there would now be something that could reasonably be called Middle East peace.
Yet it’s fair to assume that however the region’s systemic injustices might have metastasized over the last decade, the result would most likely not have been the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan was justified in large part by highlighting the plight of women under Taliban governance. Within the first weeks of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Cherie Blair helped spearhead a highly-effective propaganda effort to convince the public that the U.S. and the U.K. were engaged in a moral war — one which was fundamentally about human rights rather than merely advancing geopolitical or security interests — thereby necessitating a massive ground invasion and state-building enterprise to transform Afghan society, rather than a more limited venture to dislodge and degrade the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Of course, the U.S. bore significant moral responsibility for the plight of Afghan women, given the central role that the CIA played in sponsoring mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Cold War — before, during, and after the Russian occupation. Leaders trained in these programs would go on to found the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda — groups which were not only responsible for the widespread oppression of the Afghan people, but also for planning and executing the suicide bombings of September 11, 2001.
And so, the moral implications of the war were extraordinary: had Operation Enduring Freedom been successful, it would have not only liberated Afghan women, but avenged 9/11—and in the process, helped to rectify a particularly dark chapter in U.S. foreign policy. And this, it was held, would go a long way towards winning the “hearts and minds” of people around the world. [Continue reading…]