Imran Khan: Unplugged

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Love him or hate him, you can no longer ignore him. Following the Lahore rally, Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf have emerged as a force on the field of Pakistani politics.
But to many he is still a mystery: is he a superstar, a philanthropist, a politician, or all three? Who is he really, and what does he stand for?

Imran Khan

Q: Some call you Taliban Khan, and some call you Inqilab Khan. So the first question I want to ask is: will the real Imran Khan please stand up?
Imran Khan (IK): (laughs) … You missed out one thing… I’m also part of the Jewish lobby.

Q: And of course you’re a slave of the US and Europe, according to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

IK: And according to PML-N, there is also a Jewish conspiracy going on.

Q: So we need the real Imran to tell us who he is. First, let’s talk about Shah Mahmood Qureshi. After his resignation, he can either go for the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) or the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), and now you’re going to tell us which one it is.

IK: I’m hoping he joins PTI because he fits the profile of what I expect a PTI office bearer to be. He’s honest, a clean politician who is educated and is a bit of an anomaly in this system. He has a vote bank and has a lot of political experience which our party lacks because we’ve got new people. Here is someone who started from the union council level and has been contesting elections for years and so he brings in a lot of experience.

Q: On the point of new people joining the party, one of the statements you made recently is that PTI will not award tickets to corrupt people and opportunists…but can those corrupt people and opportunists still join your party?

IK: If someone is a known crook then they can’t join the party, but there are a lot of shades of grey. This is a society where it is difficult to be honest, and even if you try to be honest, society forces you to be dishonest. For example, I was trying to transfer land from my ex-wife’s name to mine and it took me one year just to have a simple transfer done. I kept asking my lawyer why it’s taking so long and, without telling me, he eventually bribed the patwari because otherwise it would have gone on forever! So to say that we will find angels here is not possible. But we will try and sift through relatively better politicians. For instance, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Mian Azhar are clear-cut choices.

Q: Why is Mian Azhar a clear-cut option? A lot of people are criticising that decision because Mian Azhar was the head of the PML-Q under Pervez Musharraf and he lost the elections in 2002 so why him?

IK: Because he is honest and nobody has accused him of corruption. If we exclude everyone who has changed parties or is of a slightly different ideology then it will be impossible to get anyone. So we have decided that it is financial corruption we’ll concentrate on, which is the biggest reason why we are in the state we are today. If we can fight corruption in Pakistan then the country becomes viable.

Q: But don’t you see a contradiction there when you have somebody like Mian Azhar who represents the old status quo politics and you say you are representing ‘new’ politics?

IK: It’s not a contradiction and I’ll tell you why. It’s because revolutions are not brought about by political workers. It’s the leadership that comes up with a certain ideology. I remember Fidel Castro saying that he started the Cuban Revolution with 16 people who formed his ideological core. The most invaluable part of the PTI are the core workers and office bearers who have survived 15 years in the wilderness. I mean, we have passed through the most difficult test where everyone wrote us off. So those people who stuck it out were the ideological workers and office bearers. Everyone can join and there are a lot of people joining but the ideology of PTI will be protected by this old guard.

Q: Is the real Imran Khan a risk taker?

IK: Imran Khan was always a risk taker. Everyone said “Minar-e-Pakistan! Oh you’re doomed now” and of course Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif had their own rally in quite a small venue, despite full administrative support, so everyone said you’re taking a huge risk with Minar-e-Pakistan. But anyone who has achieved anything in life has always been a risk taker.

Q: So what happened that day on October 30th when you arrived at the venue and saw all those people? What was your instant reaction?

IK: You know I had four interviews before the 30th and in each interview I said that there will be over a hundred thousand people at the rally. When I said that we will sweep the elections, people laughed! And I actually made a bet with Talat Hussain on Kashif Abbasi’s programme saying that we will sweep the elections. He was very cynical about it and then on another programme I gave him in writing that the PTI will sweep the elections. The reason was…and I’ve never said this before…the reason was in the past year I’ve seen the people change. That’s because I’m probably the only politician who was going around holding public rallies because others were too scared. I could see that the youth had suddenly woken up and decided that there was only one party that stood for the change they wanted. So each rally was larger than the last. So when it came to the Lahore rally, I felt it would be a big success and I was very relaxed. My party workers were worried but I was relaxed about it.

Q: When I first interviewed you in Lahore in 1997, the PTI was quite new. It was your first time in politics and I remember quite clearly at that time you had said corruption is the most serious problem affecting this country and that all corrupt people should be hanged. There was a certain naivety that you had at that time. The Imran Khan sitting in front of me here today…how has he changed?

IK: This is a country where thousands of children die from waterborne diseases, where over 1,600 people have committed suicide because they can’t feed their families and here are these criminals siphoning off billions of dollars. My instinct is against capital punishment, but these people are taking lives and I do believe that to stop the plunder of this country, for a while there should be capital punishment above a certain level of corruption. I was in China recently and they had a huge problem with corruption but then 150 state ministers were imprisoned and some were even executed and the problem has been largely controlled.

As for the other question, yes I was completely naive! I’d approach politicians with all sincerity and say ‘you should join me because we want to change this country’ and now when I look back I realise they must have thought what an idiot I was! Because I was being sincere and thought they’d all join me just because of that. But now of course, they’re all joining but they don’t join simply because you are sincere.

Q: Then why do they join?

IK: They join because they have invested a lot in their constituencies. Some of them will join because they are total opportunists and think you are going to win. Others (I think) want to join you but feel you’re not viable. They feel they’ve done a lot of work and built a vote bank and don’t want to join someone who is sincere but unviable.

Q: You say corruption causes billions of dollars in losses and that you want to bring back the money and assets that are in the Swiss banks. How are you going to do this? What is your game plan?

IK: Firstly it is important to know that only a government that is clean can bring that money back. I don’t know if you saw Rehman Malik’s comment after Shahbaz Sharif’s rally on the 28th where Shahbaz said “We’ll bring back the Swiss money,” so Rehman Malik the next day said, “the Sharifs better be careful because we know where all their foreign assets are and we know all the corruption cases against them so they better not cross this line.” In other words they are saying, “let’s keep sparring but let’s not cross a certain point” because they know that once an accountability process starts, both of them will be affected. So you need a clean government to do this. Secondly, the world has changed. Once you start corruption proceedings against anyone with foreign assets, as with (former Tunisian president) Zine Abedin Ben Ali, (former Egyptian president) Hosni Mubarak and Qaddafi, all their foreign assets are immediately frozen. We are no longer in the old days where you could hide your money in Swiss banks. Now there is a money trail, so if a government has the will and there are people who cannot explain their assets, it can get this done. That’s why our main campaign is to have politicians declare their assets.

Q: But all these politicians declare their assets before the Election Commission. You don’t consider that viable?

IK: It is so obvious that they have concealed their real assets. That is why someone as rich as Nawaz Sharif will only pay Rs5,000 in tax. Then there’s me, a politician who was a professional cricketer for 18 years and I earned most of my money abroad. And all my money is in Pakistan and declared in my name. So how is it that these people, who only earned or plundered money from Pakistan, have assets abroad? They even sent the money abroad through hawala and other channels and laundered it. That’s why we insist that politicians must declare their assets.

Q: Do you seriously think they will?

IK: We have now set up a cell to bring out the real assets. So we will see what they have concealed even if they want to hide it.

Q: Leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N says if you have proof you should go to the courts.

IK: We might do that, but the problem is that it is the duty of the state to stop corrupt people. Instead here is a state which protects criminals. Here the judgments of the Supreme Court are ignored by all. When the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was annulled, why did the PML-N not do anything in the assemblies? Why did they sit around? If they are a genuine opposition, they should have stood up. But the problem is that the PML-N leadership has a number of corruption cases against it so it’s a “you scratch my back I scratch yours” situation. It became the friendliest opposition which is why now you’re seeing them panicking and going for a “Go Zardari Go” campaign because they have suddenly realised that the PTI has now taken over as the main opposition and they are trying to reoccupy that space which they have lost.

Q: Why is the PTI opening up multiple fronts simultaneously? With the PML-N, the PPP and the MQM. The only people you haven’t attacked yet are the ANP and I suspect that is not too far in the list at this point.

IK: We are not attacking parties, but the status quo as represented by the PML-N and the PPP. In sports we learn that you have to know your enemy and then go for them. Who is destroying this country? It’s the two main parties and their interests are the same. They have been in this coalition for almost all the time since 2008 and now they are trying to pretend they are actually in opposition with each other because they are threatened by us. Threatened by the tsunami that is coming. When they attack each other, it’s like watching a fixed match!

Q: You have always strongly opposed drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. You have declared the war on terror an American war and vowed to hang all those responsible for the deaths of the over 35,000 people killed in terror attacks as well as drone strikes. This will probably confuse a lot of people. Who exactly do you hold responsible?

IK: First, let me make it clear that I never used the word hang. I said we would bring them to justice. The reason is this country has had 35,000 to 40,000 people dead and more are dying every day. Zardari says the country has lost $70 billion, which means the people have lost this money. The government has got $20 billion, but we don’t know where it went because the people are getting poorer and there are three and a half million people who have been displaced and the entire tribal belt has been devastated. People have been devastated; you cannot imagine the way they are living because no one is allowed to go in there and see. Life is hell for them. So, why did we get into this? We were not involved in 9/11, no Pakistani was involved. Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, there were no militant Taliban in Pakistan and in any case the Taliban were not terrorists, but fundamentalists. We went in for dollars. Our ruling elite have always sold us for dollars. Some 20 years ago we were in this for dollars again, acting as a frontline state. We were creating jihadis for dollars then and now we are taking dollars to kill the same people. After 9/11 we should have helped the US, just as we should help any country suffering from terrorism, but not like this. We have created terrorists at home.

Q: What kind of help would you have offered?

IK: If there was any information about the plot, about the plotters, then we should have provided it to them.  But help doesn’t mean that we should have handed over our civilians for bounty and have them end up in Guantanamo. We did a U-turn, we turned people who were our allies into our enemies. The Afghan Taliban government, as far as I am concerned, was a pro-Pakistan government.

Q: The Taliban government in Afghanistan was a pro-Pakistan government?

IK: They were not giving us any problems and Pakistan had recognised them. Now if the US had an issue with them, we should have stayed neutral. Why did we have to get into this mess? The reason we are in these top ten failed states lists is because the ruling elite has sold us for dollars.

Q: Let’s get specific. You say that there are one million armed people in the tribal areas who, if the drone attacks stopped, would happily remove terrorists living in their areas. Isn’t that a little unrealistic? We know that these people have been taking money [from militants], we know that they have been supporting militancy in many ways. The general perception is that withdrawing the Pakistani army from the tribal areas would allow militants to regroup.

IK: The general perception is there because of total ignorance, people have absolutely no idea about the tribal areas. The politicians don’t know about it, and no one knows the history of the tribal areas. When the great Quaid-e-Azam withdrew the Pakistani army from the tribal areas in 1948, the politicians said, “Don’t withdraw the Pakistani army, we will have problems.” What happened? We never had one problem in the tribal areas ever since we withdrew the army although we deprived [the tribals], we never helped them, never spent any money on them. We kept them backwards but still there was never any problem for Pakistan. If anything, they helped us and were always ready to help Pakistan. The number one question is: why was the whole tribal belt not on fire before? Do you know that we started military operations in early 2004 and it took three years of collateral damage to produce what are called the Pakistan Taliban. This was a reaction to the military operations.

Q: So what is your counter-narrative?

IK:  There is only one way to understand, we have to get people on board who know the area. There are generals and diplomats, like Rustam Shah Mohmand, people who know the tribal area. Ask them what the answer is. The politicians have completely sublet the whole war to the army, and which civilian government allows the army to run a war? If I was prime minister, would I allow the army to make all the decisions? No. I am a politician and politicians look for political solutions, not military solutions. Especially if those solutions have failed for seven years. What have we achieved in seven years? What has the US achieved in 10 years in Afghanistan? Nothing. If anything, radicalisation in Pakistan has grown. So we have actually made the situation much worse. So if you speak to anyone who has any understanding of the tribal areas, there is only one solution: win the people of the tribal areas to your side, start truth and reconciliation, say that we are no longer a part of this American war on terror. They consider the Pakistan army to be fighting on behalf of the Americans as a mercenary army.

Q: I want to throw one word into the equation: Swat.

IK: Please understand that Swat has nothing to do with the tribal areas. Swat was a mess we created and it could have been solved in a month. Swat is a totally different thing and unfortunately people did not understand the difference between Swat and the tribal areas and they confused the solutions of the two. The solution to the tribal areas is to get out of the US war, pull out the Pakistani army and tell the people of the tribal area, after truth and reconciliation, that it is your job to finish terrorism.

Q: Let me present an argument here.

IK: Let me give the solution here. If you empower the people of the tribal areas, get the Pakistan army out and no longer be considered a hired gun of the US, I promise you we will win this war. Otherwise, this is a never-ending war. For eighty years, the British never had peace in the tribal areas. They were a superpower. We are a country which is bankrupt. For 62 years, the Mughal Empire, which was a global superpower, fought against the tribals and eventually there was a political settlement. There is only a political settlement, and the PPP, the most incompetent and corrupt government in our history, is not going to be able to do anything. We are committing suicide. In the All Party Conference on Sept 29th, there were 50 parties and they all finally came down to what our stance has consistently been, that there is no military solution. All of them accepted that there was only one solution and that was to give peace a chance.

Q: What would you say to American policymakers who are convinced that the Haqqani network operates out of safe havens in the tribal areas? In the regional endgame when it comes to Afghanistan, what is your solution?

IK: I would tell the American policymakers: for God’s sake don’t listen to your generals. You need a political settlement, you don’t need more troops, you don’t need a surge. The surge has failed in Afghanistan. And I would ask the American politicians , is it plausible that five or six thousand Haqqani men, these fighters, these Rambos, are the reason one hundred and forty thousand soldiers of the greatest military machine in history are facing defeat? The Americans are fighting an entire population and they’ll never win the war because they don’t understand Afghan history. Read the Russian accounts; they killed a million Afghans out of a population of 60 million. They said that eventually they were fighting women, and children. The whole population was fighting.

Q: So here we come back to the same question, is Imran Khan a conservative, a fundamentalist or a liberal?

IK: You know, people pigeonhole people a lot. The only reason I wrote my book was because I was sick of the question: Are you a liberal? A fundamentalist? A radical?  What are you? I wrote this book for the young people of Pakistan because there is so much confusion here. What is Islam? What is religion? What is secularism? So to try and answer all these questions, I thought I better put all of this down in a book and try to make people understand what religion is and what spirituality is. In fact, my conclusion is that the threat to the world is not from religion because all the great religions of the world talk about humanity, justice, and the noble values of human beings. It is naked materialism we should be scared of because it’s going to destroy the globe. It’s this lust for more and more and this unfettered greed. It is this extreme form of capitalism that’s the danger.

Q: But the underpinning of modern civilisation is capitalism.

IK: But if we keep consuming at the rate we are, we are doomed. Imagine if China starts consuming, per capita, at the same rate as the US. It’ll all be over! The real issue is consumption and greed — attacking countries because you want to capture their resources, as has been done throughout history, that’s the real issue. Religion is not the issue. A true religion should make us all humane.

Q: Among many circles, the biggest fear is that Imran Khan will come to power and his coalition partner is going to be the Jamaat-e-Islami.

IK: I don’t know about the Jamaat-e-Islami, you should ask them about their agenda. But my agenda is clear, it is the agenda of Jinnah, and that of my ideological role model Iqbal. As for religion, it is a way of life, a way of being. It is religion which brings out the best in a human being. The only reason I am a politician is because my religion tells me that I have a responsibility to my society. Otherwise, I have everything I want in my life.  I don’t need anything. But it’s religion which tells you that the more God gives you, the more responsibility you have towards less privileged human beings.  And this is really why it is important to promote religious values and spiritual values as opposed to the materialistic culture which is unfortunately imbibed by our upper classes. This culture of “me” and “I” can only be countered by spirituality.

Q: One of the statements you recently made was that the ISI should be under civilian control. Are you advocating that the country’s military intelligence agencies should be brought under a civilian ministry?

IK: What I am saying is that the military should stay within its constitutional role. In a democratic government, it’s the civilian government that takes responsibility and has authority. No management structure can work if you divide it up so that someone else has the authority and someone else the responsibility. It doesn’t work. In the case of Prime Minister Gilani, he has the responsibility but President Zardari has the authority. It doesn’t work.

Q: Now another crucial question. In your rally you said you want to eradicate thana culture, the police structure in this country, and the patwaris. But here is the critical point: politics in Pakistan is very strongly based on biradaris and dharras, clans and community structures that are centuries old. How can you be okay with biradaris and say that that is part of the political process and at the same time be uprooting institutions that are also a part of the same structure?

IK: Well. First of all, if you want to bring about a change in Pakistan, the fundamental change you have to make is to empower your people. You empower your people by having a strong local government system. Western societies give freedom to their people not through a centralised system but through a devolved structure of empowering the people at the grass roots level. Now, before the British came here, under the Mughals and even before that, the village was actually empowered. The village was a self -contained unit. In fact, if you go to the tribal areas today, you will find that the village has its own jury system, it has its own parliament. It’s actually autonomous.

Q: A lot of us believe that it is a parallel judicial structure and you can’t have jirgas meting out their own brand of justice.

IK: In the tribal areas, this is not a parallel structure, it is the only structure. There is only one structure, where every village has its own jury system and it has worked very well for them, which is why they don’t want to become part of Pakistan. In Swat, one of the reasons why they started the Nifaz-e-Shariat movement is because the imposed system did not work. When Swat became part of Pakistan in 1974, Pakistani laws came in and their whole devolved structure of free justice at the village level disappeared. Suddenly they had to hire lawyers and pay fees and still had no guarantee of justice. So the poorer classes all joined this movement to bring their system back. You have to empower people at the grassroots level, in other words at the village level.

Q: But that is the level where these biradaris, powerful clans and feudals continue to dominate the lives of the people.

IK: These braderies existed before the British came but at the village level, people were empowered. Remember that it’s impossible to have a false witness at the village level. In fact, Mirza Ghalib wrote in 1860 that the first time the British introduced sessions courts was the first time [the people] started hearing of false witnesses. Sixty per cent of the issues that clog the rural courts are land issues and they should be resolved at the village level. The schools should be under the village committee, and the same goes for the local health services.

Q: Do you support biradari politics?

IK: How are you going to destroy it?

Q: How are you going to destroy thana culture?

IK: They are not linked. Thana culture is feudal and perpetuates the feudal system. The first thing a politician does when he comes into office is he gets his own thanedar and patwari in place. This is because he wants to control the thana, he wants to control the patwari and therefore he enslaves the people. What I am talking about is empowering the people through local government. One of the greatest Pakistanis was Akhtar Hameed Khan and in the Orangi Pilot Project, he proved to people that the moment you empower the people, the people can lift their own standard of living. They can look after themselves.

Q: And the problem that many people feel that the PTI is going to be mired in the politics of clans and of all of these old structures that exist. Do you think that the PTI can break free of these feudal structures as well as these biradaris?

IK: Look Quatrina, I won the election in one of the most difficult rural areas. I understand about biradari systems. The moment you destroy the oppression in the thana, you will liberate the people. How does a feudal operate? The way the feudal operates is by controlling the thana. If you liberate the people from the thana, you give them justice at the village level, which is the most important thing. That is how you will liberate the people. I went to China and understood how the Chinese got four hundred million people out of poverty in twenty years. There were some interesting ideas that came out, and one of them was how to help the small farmer. If you want to help the small farmer, you must liberate him from the thana and the patwari system.

Q: How?

IK: We have to have e-government. We have a plan through which we can implement a whole system in 90 days and bring in e-government which can not only eliminate corruption but also help people.

Q: That’s for when and if you get into government, what’s your political plan right now?

IK: We are going to have a rally in Karachi on the 25th of December. The whole objective of the rally is reconciliation. We want to bring everyone together, especially the Urdu-speaking community and the Pashtuns. We are probably the only party that can get these two ethnic groups together and not engage in the divisive politics which certain people and parties exploit. They make people fight each other and get votes and power through discord and bloodshed. Our idea is to bring about a grand reconciliation.

Q: Nawaz Sharif has now officially gone on the warpath against the government. Will you ally yourself with Nawaz Sharif for your mutual goal of removing the current administration?

IK: I think after 30 years of seeing power, it is time for Nawaz Sharif to think of retirement. Thirty years is a long time.

This interview has been adapted from the televised interview of Imran Khan by Quatrina Hosain on Witness with Quatrina, which aired on 14th November 2011

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 24th, 2011.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed or derived from.
Unless otherwise stated, all content is copyrighted © 2011 The Express Tribune News Network.
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The Express Tribune

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“Arrest Bush” — Amnesty International Asks Canada

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michel Comte

October 13, 2011 “AFP” – Amnesty International called on Canadian authorities Wednesday to arrest and prosecute George W. Bush, saying the former US president authorized “torture” when he directed the US-led war on terror.

Bush is expected to attend an economic summit in Surrey in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province on October 20.

In a memorandum submitted last month to Canada’s attorney general but only now released to the media, the London-based group charged that Bush has legal responsibility for a series of human rights violations.

“Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture,” Amnesty’s Susan Lee said in a statement.

“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in. A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention Against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights,” Lee said.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blasted Amnesty for “cherry picking cases to publicize, based on ideology.”

“This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International,” he said.

Kenney said it will be up to Canadian border officials to decide independently whether to allow Bush into the country.

Bush canceled a visit to Switzerland in February, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International’s Canadian branch, told a press conference the rights group will pursue its case against the former US president with the governments of other countries he might visit.

“Torturers must face justice and their crimes are so egregious that the responsibility for ensuring justice is shared by all nations,” Neve said.

“Friend or foe, extraordinary or very ordinary times, most or least powerful nation, faced with concerns about terrorism or any other threat, torture must be stopped.

“Bringing to justice the people responsible for torture is central to that goal. It is the law… And no one, including the man who served as president of the world’s most powerful nation for eight years can be allowed to stand above that law.”

Amnesty, backed by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, claims Bush authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “waterboarding” on detainees held in secret by the Central Intelligence Agency between 2002 and 2009.

The detention program included “torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (such as being forced to stay for hours in painful positions and sleep deprivation), and enforced disappearances,” it alleged.

Amnesty’s case, outlined in its 1,000-page memorandum, relies on the public record, US documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush’s own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the US’s war on terror policies.

Amnesty cites several instances of alleged torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval facility, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, by the US military.

The cases include that of Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, both arrested in Pakistan. The two men were waterboarded 266 times between them from 2002 to 2003, according to the CIA inspector general, cited by Amnesty.

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‘Little Gitmo’

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

When an upstate imam named Yassin Aref was convicted on a suspect terrorism charge, he was sent to a secretive prison denounced by civil libertarians as a Muslim quarantine.

By Christopher S. Stewart

WW STING103
File:  Yassin Aref.  (Photo: Will Waldron/Albany Times Union)

July 11, 2011 “New York Magazine” — -  On August 4, 2004, Yassin Aref was walking along West Street in a run-down part of downtown Albany. It was about 11 p.m., and he had just finished delivering evening prayer at the storefront mosque around the corner, where he had been the imam for nearly four years. Caught up in his thoughts, he might not have noticed the car parked across from his two-story building if a man hadn’t called out his name.

Aref instantly recognized the FBI agents inside the darkened vehicle. They had been monitoring him for years now, maybe longer. Sometimes they stopped and asked questions about his views on Saddam Hussein or the mosque. As part of Bush’s war on terror, the FBI had been talking to other Muslims in Albany, too. When Aref climbed into the back seat, he figured that the agents simply wanted to talk some more. Instead, they told him he was under arrest.

It took a long time for this to settle in. Aref was silent as they drove to FBI headquarters, a fortlike concrete-and-glass building on the south side of town. The agency has spoken only vaguely about what happened when they questioned him, and there are no recordings, though Aref would later describe the time as the “hardest, darkest, and longest night of my life”—scarier, he said recently, than the hardships he and his wife suffered as Kurds in ­Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

His hands and feet were chained. One of the agents spoke some Kurdish. Aref heard questions about terrorism, money laundering, a missile launcher. He refused a lawyer, believing that he had nothing to hide. “It is against my religion to lie,” he told them. The interrogation lasted much of the night. He says he never heard specific charges. At some point they told him his house and mosque were being raided, and all he could think about was his wife and three children, who had arrived in Albany with him as U.N. refugees in 1999.

When morning broke, he was loaded into another car, bleary-eyed and weakened, and taken to the federal courthouse. As the vehicle moved through the streets, Aref was astonished by the sudden commotion. Helicopters swarmed overhead. There were scores of local and national news reporters, cameras angling to get his picture. He saw snipers.

During his three-week trial in 2006, he learned that he was the target of a controversial FBI sting, which involved a Pakistani informant with a history of crime. In the end, he was convicted of, among other things, conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He spent weeks in solitary confinement, days shackled in different vehicles, which shuffled him from prison to prison. Time coalesced, became unrecognizable, until, in the spring of 2007, Aref landed at a newly created prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana, that would change his life again. It already had a nickname: Little Gitmo.

Aref didn’t know anything about Little Gitmo, or a Communication Management Unit (CMU), as it’s formally called. Once a death-row facility where Timothy McVeigh was executed, the Terre Haute CMU was quietly opened by the Bush administration in December 2006 to contain inmates with links, in particular, to ­“terrorist-related activity.” A year later, another unit opened in Marion, Illinois.

Although inmates and guards refer to CMUs as Little Gitmos, the comparison to Guantánamo is imprecise: The units are not detention centers, and the inmates inside have already been convicted of crimes in the U.S. legal system. But what differentiates CMUs from all other facilities in the U.S. are the prisoners. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) estimates that 66 to 72 percent of them are Muslims, a staggering number considering that Muslims represent only 6 percent of the entire federal-prison population.

As of June, there are 82 men in the two CMUs, according to federal-prison officials, including a man convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the American Taliban John Walker Lindh, and the lone survivor of an EgyptAir hijacking in 1985. All inmates are kept under 24-hour surveillance in near-complete isolation. “If the government has intelligence that links you to terrorist activity, then that’s something that the prison authority should be able to take into account,” says Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, in defense of the measures. “We give them an array of privileges that most other places in the world are shocked by.”

Legal activists agree that restrictive rules can be applied to high-security prisoners, but many in the CMUs, they say, are low-security inmates. One Muslim man was placed in a CMU for perjury, while another was locked up, in part, for violating U.S. sanctions by donating to a charity abroad without a license. According to CCR, many don’t fully know why they ended up in the segregated units or how they might appeal their placement. In the words of Kathy Manley, one of Aref’s defense attorneys, the CMUs are a “quarantine,” and Alexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at CCR, calls them “an experiment in social isolation.” “There is this story being told in this country now about the threat of homegrown terror and of radicalization related to Muslim prisoners, and the CMU is a story about law enforcement controlling that dangerous threat,” says Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer at CCR. “An allegation that someone is somehow connected to terrorism, without evidence and without an actual conviction [for terrorism], allows them to be treated in this whole different system of justice.”

To gather intelligence from CMU inmates, correspondence is combed through by a counterterrorism unit in West ­Virginia. Regular group prayer is prohibited, and communications must be in English unless there’s a live translator. Phone calls are limited to two fifteen-minute conversations a week (most maximum-­security prisoners get 300 minutes a month). Immediate families of CMU inmates can visit only twice a month for a total of eight hours (general-population prisoners at Terre Haute get up to 49 hours of visits a month), and those conversations are monitored, recorded, and conducted through Plexiglas. Physical contact is forbidden, a permanent ban not imposed on most violent felons in maximum-security prisons.

As a result, critics say, those familiar markers—family, language, and religious identity—are being stripped away. “This is more than just being cut off from the world,” says Nina Thomas, a psychologist-psychoanalyst at NYU who has studied the CMUs. “Inmates are being shut into a very narrow universe.”

While the stated purpose of the CMUs, according to prisons spokesperson Traci Billingsley, is to “protect the public,” Meeropol thinks that they “spread fear.” Shamshad Ahmad, a physics lecturer at the University of Albany and president of Aref’s mosque, says that CMUs “send a message that the whole justice system [is] geared to take revenge of the events of 9/11 on anyone belonging to the Muslim community”—a message that, essentially, any Muslim could become Aref.

And especially because Aref’s conviction is itself a matter of controversy, CCR has chosen the imam to become its lead plaintiff in a case against the CMUs, one of the major lawsuits, including the ACLU’s in Indiana, meant to challenge the units and change the way they operate. Along with five other plaintiffs, Aref now sits at the center of a civil-­liberties battle against the prison system. To a growing number of supporters in Albany—who have rallied to get him out; have published his pre-CMU memoir, Son of ­Mountains; have raised money for his family—he is a symbol of the inequities Muslims still endure as collateral damage in the war on terror.

Aref was born in a mountain village in northern Iraq, where he lived through Saddam’s genocide on the Kurds and met his wife, Zuhur. They fled to Syria, where he finished his religious studies, worked at the office of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), and had three kids. Under a U.N. asylum program, the family learned in 1999 that they were going to Albany, a place the 29-year-old Aref had never heard of.

Although he couldn’t speak or understand much English, he managed to support his family as a hospital janitor for more than a year before he became the imam of ­Masjid As-Salam, the city’s only mosque. During his four years as imam, Aref regularly discussed his anti–Iraq War sentiments and grew to represent the spiritual voice of many Albany Muslims. “People hesitated to criticize the government publicly,” says ­Ahmad. “But he didn’t.”

It is believed that the FBI decided to target Aref in the summer of 2003, after the American military stormed an armed camp in Iraq and discovered a notebook with his name and number in it, along with the word kak, which the FBI translated as “commander” (the prosecution would later admit that the term actually translates to “mister”). The camp was alleged to be affiliated with Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization founded by Mullah Krekar, who was once a member of the IMK, where he had met Aref. Aref’s backers argue that the camp was filled with refugees and that the notebook could have belonged to anyone. Aref claims that he met Krekar only in passing and that he left for Albany long before the mullah founded Ansar al-Islam.

That Aref had a past connection to Krekar was perhaps enough to attract the FBI’s attention, though likely not enough to mount a legal case against him. So, working with expanded surveillance powers, the FBI went about setting up an operation.

Since 9/11, the FBI had begun relying more heavily on informants, under a controversial policy of preemptive prosecution—taking down those thought to possibly become terrorists in the future. It has resulted in the conviction of more than 200 individuals, including four Muslims in Newburgh convicted of plotting to bomb two Bronx synagogues; a 19-year-old Somali charged with attempting to blow up a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon; and a man caught plotting an attack on Herald Square. “These types of operations have proven to be an essential law-enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a dinner this winter in defense of the tactics.

Critics, however, point out that in many operations, it’s difficult to determine whether anyone is truly culpable—or inherently dangerous. And intentionally or not, it’s very easy to round up Muslims. “There is a massive ideological, military, and intelligence infrastructure committed to the domestic and international wars on terror. These wars depend on maintaining Muslims as the primary threat to national security,” says Amna Akbar, a senior ­research scholar at NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “The U.S. government seems to rely on widespread use of informants … sending them into mosques and other community spaces without any concrete suspicion of criminal activity.”

In order to pursue Aref, the FBI employed a Pakistani informant named ­Shahed Hussain, known as Malik, the same informant later used in the Newburgh trial and a man once described by the defense in that case as “an agent provocateur who earned his keep by scouring mosques for easy targets.” Malik had made a deal to avoid years in jail and deportation for helping people cheat on driver’s-license exams. He was also arrested in Pakistan on a murder charge. The operation, scripted by the FBI, started with Mohammed Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who owned a local pizzeria and helped found Aref’s mosque.

Over several months, Malik moved into Hossain’s life, bringing his kids toys and expressing interest in religion. Malik, who claimed to be working for the Islamic terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, or JeM, eventually said he was buying a shoulder-firing missile launcher to kill then–Pakistani president Pervez Mushar­raf during a visit in New York City. To complete the purchase, he needed Hossain to launder $50,000 for him. In return, Hossain, whose business was on the skids, would earn $5,000.

Hossain then asked Aref to be the witness to the loan, a tradition in Islamic culture (as the only imam in Albany, Aref had notarized many loans). There were additional months of transactions where Aref documented Hossain’s loan payments to ­Malik. During those months, Malik would occasionally mention the missile, using the code word chaudry. The government argued that this was evidence that Aref knew about Malik’s terrorist connection, and the jury agreed. Aref was charged with ten of the 30 total counts, and the jury found him guilty of money laundering and supporting a known terrorist organization. “Did [Aref] actually engage in terrorist acts?” William Pericek, assistant U.S. Attorney, asked during a post-sentencing press conference. “Well, we didn’t have the evidence of that. But he had the ideology.”

“Family, language, and religious identity are being stripped away.”

o outside observers of the case, the details that emerged during the trial were troubling. The FBI testified that Aref knew the code word, linking him to the conspiracy, but according to recorded conversations, there was no evidence that either Malik or Hossain informed him of the term. And though Malik had shown a fake missile to Hossain, the FBI decided against showing it to Aref because they worried that he would be “spooked.”

The case, observers noted, ultimately lacked definitive evidence that Aref knew the true nature of the transaction, and the jury was directed to ignore the motives of the FBI’s investigation. As Judge ­Thomas J. McAvoy instructed them, “The FBI had certain suspicions, good and valid suspicions for looking into Mr. Aref, but why they did that is not to be any concern of yours.”

“I’m not only surprised that the jury convicted him, but I’m sure the judge was surprised too,” says Stephen Gottlieb, a professor at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. “They basically turned two decent men into criminals.”

Manley believes he lost on emotional grounds. “I think the fear got to [the jury]. They ended up convicting him out of fear that he might be some kind of shadowy bad guy.” Steve Downs, another member of Aref’s legal team, attributes it to what he calls “the Muslim exception.” The emotion and politics of 9/11 had, they argue, altered the threshold for what constituted reasonable doubt.

In the years since Aref’s trial, critics have identified a pattern. “A whole range of policing, prosecution, and incarceration policies seem to take as a starting point that Muslims pose a particularly uncontainable threat meriting extreme and exceptional treatment by the government,” says Akbar. “Because national security has become an area in which the government is granted an extraordinary amount of deference, these policies are often allowed to stand without much scrutiny.”

After the jury reached a verdict, two local papers published editorials asking for leniency. The editors at the Albany Times Union called the case “unsettling,” with no clear answer to why the men were targeted, and wondered what lives Hossain and Aref would have “continued to lead if they had never been lured into a sting operation.”

The judge sentenced Aref to fifteen years and recommended a local federal prison. Instead, he was sent to the CMU, with little explanation, no hearing, and no obvious way to appeal.

The first time Aref wrote to me, in a heavily monitored e-mail exchange, he said, “I am not spending my time, time is spending me. My family’s situation is driving me insane and eating my patience.” His world was falling apart at the CMU. “It’s really hard for me to talk about what happened,” he wrote.

When Aref was sent to the Terre Haute CMU in May 2007, he was 37 years old. “I arrived to find a small Middle Eastern community,” he said. There were about twenty others inside. The idea of being called a terrorist sickened Aref. Every day he wondered why he was there, and he hoped someone would eventually realize that a mistake had been made. “I don’t understand how the jury found me guilty,” he wrote at one point.

His cell unlocked at 6 a.m., and he could circulate through the small unit comprising a few dozen cells and a common room. At 9 p.m., he’d be locked in for the night. On occasion, he heard screaming, and one day he saw a grown man drop to the floor and begin uncontrollably shaking and sobbing. When Aref asked a nurse later what had happened, she told him, “It’s all fear and stress.”

A peculiar loneliness consumed him. As an imam, Aref was naturally social. He helped solve people’s problems and guide them through their tangled lives. But at Terre Haute, he became reticent, curled inside himself. It was hard to know whom to trust. The FBI was sending agents to the unit to ask questions, and new inmates came every few weeks or so.

All along, he felt his family drifting away. That one fifteen-minute phone call a week (a second call per week was added in January 2010) was never enough. What could you really say in fifteen minutes divided up among at least four people? He tried to be upbeat, avoiding talk of the CMU. With the kids, he spoke about school, a kind of dinner talk. When his wife got on, the reality of their separation was oppressive.

Zuhur “almost lost her mind,” as Aref put it. The case had turned her upside down. Worried about wiretaps, she had disconnected the Internet, TV, and phone. She didn’t have a job and relied on friends and the mosque to pay her rent and buy food. She rarely interacted with strangers, afraid that they might be informants setting her up.

Talking to Aref was a project that required a friend to lend a cell phone to the family on the days he called. And when he spoke to Zuhur, she mostly cried. In the four years that he has been at the CMU, she has cried during every single call.

One of the hardest things was thinking about his young daughter, Dilnia. She was born while Aref was in jail. All he was to her was an abstract concept. “Whenever anyone asks her, ‘Where is your daddy?’ she will point or run to the phone and say, ‘That is my daddy,’ ” Aref said.

His two boys visited that first summer. With surveillance cameras zeroing in on them, it was difficult to be intimate. Salah was 10, Azzam 7. As Aref spoke through the Plexiglas, every word, every gesture was being mined for information.

His demeanor changed dramatically when his boys stepped away and Downs stepped in. Downs had made the two-day car trip with the kids from Albany. “They abuse me,” Aref said. When Downs asked him to explain, Aref wouldn’t. Then suddenly the meeting was terminated. According to Downs, a guard falsely claimed that he was using a pen “as a secret recording device.”

“I’m convinced that they understood I was trying to get info about the CMU,” Downs says. “And they did what [the CMU] was set up to do—prevent information [about the CMU] from getting out.”

The entire family arrived in a minivan the next summer, in 2008. It had been roughly four years since they’d all been together. But seeing his 2-year-old girl on the other side of the glass gave Aref tremendous pain. She didn’t recognize him.

The family spent a total of four hours together, and all seemed well until Zuhur suddenly snapped. In front of the kids, she made an announcement: She wanted to go back to Kurdistan. She felt her safety was at risk in America, even more than in the region from which she had fled.

Aref didn’t want to argue. A part of him understood. “I am not dead in order for them to forget me,” he said to me, “and not really alive to benefit them.” That was the last time he saw his family. They didn’t visit again. Zuhur wouldn’t let them.

On March 27, 2009, at about 4 a.m., a guard entered Aref’s cell and told him to pack. He was being transferred to the second CMU, at the state penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, which had opened a year before. Until recently, Marion had been one of the nation’s only supermax facilities, replacing Alcatraz in 1963.

The move came at a particularly fraught moment for the CMUs. When President Obama came into office in 2009, many hoped the units would be shut down. The Bureau of Prisons wouldn’t say if the new administration had reviewed the units, but they remained open, and their expansion soon inspired a fierce legal battle. In the summer of 2009, the ACLU’s National Prison project filed a lawsuit on behalf of an inmate that disputed the legality of the creation of the units, among other things. Soon after, the ACLU of Indiana filed another lawsuit, about the restrictions on Muslim prayer.

In the meantime, “balancers,” as CMU guards call them, were reportedly blended into the population—environmental activists, sexual predators, bank robbers, people who, prison officials claimed, “recruit and radicalize”—in order to address the criticism that CMUs were housing only Muslims. The Bureau of Prisons says it doesn’t use race or religion to decide placement, and it rejects claims of adding balancers, though Muslim inmates continue to be in the majority.

In April 2010, CCR, with Aref, filed its suit, challenging the constitutionality of the place: the harsh restrictions on phone calls and visits, the ban on physical contact, the alleged absence of due process, and cited growing evidence suggesting that prisoners were being targeted for their religious and political beliefs.

To CCR, Aref’s case was especially ­poignant. “Aref came to the United States as a refugee and was then subject to a dubious conviction,” says Agathocleous. “Despite the fact that he engaged in no violence, that the prosecution acknowledged at trial that it was not seeking to prove he was a terrorist, and that his conduct in prison was spotless, he has been subject to these incredibly restrictive conditions at the CMU … It just doesn’t make any sense.”

In Marion, Aref’s single cell was just as small as the former one, and his family was just as far away. But something had changed. He began to dread the phone calls with his family. “For many prisoners, the phone call is a big relief, and they get strength from it,” he said. “But each time I call and hear my wife crying and I learn what my children are going through, it stresses my mind.”

“I am not spending my time, time is spending me.”

After a motion for a new trial was dismissed and the appeal to his original case was rejected, a part of him became resigned to the situation, friends say.

Then on April 13, I received a surprise e-mail from Aref. “How are you doing?” he asked. And then he told me the news. “For real, I am no longer in CMU!”

“My father is a very religious man,” Aref’s 15-year old daughter, Alaa, says one recent summer night. “He has a beard and wears Arab clothes and has an accent. But when you talk to him”—she pauses as if conjuring her father—“you know he’s not a terrorist.” She has trouble saying this word. Terrorist. It doesn’t sound right in her mouth. And she tries it another way. “Baba didn’t hate anyone.”

On this June night, Aref’s four kids sit barefooted on the carpet of a classroom on the second floor of the Central Avenue mosque in Albany, where their father was once the imam. Some of the doors are still broken from the FBI raid almost eight years ago.

The two boys, Salah, 14, and Azzam, 11, sit on either side of Alaa. Dilnia, who is now 5, sits off to the side, reading a book with a family friend. Zuhur stayed home. “She sometimes is depressed and doesn’t go out,” Alaa says.

Friends of the family say that Zuhur still talks about returning to Iraq, though she doesn’t have the money for a plane ticket or travel documents. Her crying hasn’t abated. When she does leave the house, she occasionally visits Aref’s lawyers and asks, “What did Yassin do wrong?” or “When is he coming home?”

Since being placed in a general-­population prison, Aref remains cautious. Without much explanation, he was moved out of the CMU, where he had been separated from the world for four years, and he could just as easily be moved back, like officials had done recently to an environmental activist named Daniel ­McGowan. Aref’s lawyer speculates that my requests to visit Aref in a CMU and the CCR lawsuit had placed pressure on prison officials, which might have had something to do with his sudden transfer out. (It’s a tactic that’s worked for CMUs in the past. With one of the ACLU lawsuits, a plaintiff was moved from a unit to a general-population prison and the case was dismissed.)

Last April, four years after the first CMU opened and days following CCR’s suit, the Bureau of Prisons began a public discussion of the units, a move, advocacy groups say, the prison system was legally obligated to make before the CMUs ever opened.

Many of the comments that flooded in focused on the lack of meaningful appeal—that inmates are stuck in the units—and in particular, how the units were ruining the men and their families.

Once Aref entered the general-population prison, he assumed that things would get better—that he would be able to embrace his wife and hug his kids, and that he might even be transferred again to a prison closer to home.

But so far, none of that has changed.

The FBI investigation and the CMUs have so alienated his family, especially Zuhur, who has still not visited her husband since his transfer. She hasn’t allowed the kids to go, either—though supporters are working to set up a trip for this summer.

None of Aref’s kids know exactly why their father is in jail.

Azzam, playing with the yellow gum in his mouth, says, “Money laundering or something, right?”

“It was an FBI sting,” Alaa says. “They kind of set him up for missiles or something.”

Salah, who looks most like his father in his long white shirt, nods.

“I miss him,” Alaa says. Turning to Steve Downs, who has been sitting quietly against the wall, she asks, “When my father gets out, they can deport him right away?”

Downs nods. Aref will be deported the day he is released from prison. Among them, Dilnia is the only American citizen, which means that all the others could be deported on that day too, or shortly after. Zuhur was recently denied citizenship.

Alaa will turn 18 before her father is released, and she could apply for citizenship. If it’s granted, she could become the guardian of the others.

I ask whether what’s been done to their father makes them angry. The boys are silent. “I’m upset,” Alaa says. “But my dad taught us never to hate.”

13-30

Hay Festival 2011: Ex-CIA Man Claims Barack Obama ‘Doesn’t Have a Clue’

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

David Cameron and Barack Obama ‘’don’t have a clue’’ about dealing with the war on terror, a former senior member of the CIA has claimed.

Scheuer_1908616c

Former head of the CIA Michael Scheuer talks about Osama bin Laden at the Hay Festival Photo: PA

Speaking at The Daily Telegraph-sponsored Hay Festival, Michael Scheuer said western politicians had to accept that the conflict in the Middle East was caused by US foreign policy.

Mr Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit said that the terrorist and organisations such as al-Qaeda were fighting a war against US imperialism rather than a war on western culture.

‘’American politicians, and I’m afraid listening to Mr Cameron this week, there’s not a clue about what’s going down in the western world,’’ he told the festival.

‘’They can’t cope with the fact that it’s nothing to do with the way we live. It doesn’t have anything to do with elections or democracy or liberty.

‘’We are being attacked in the west and we will continue to be attacked in the west as long as we are in Afghanistan, as long as we support the Israelis, as long as we protect the Saudi police state.”

He added: ‘’Yet we hear the President, we hear your Prime Minister, talking about thugs and gangsters. We are still in the starting blocks in this war.

‘’The main recruitment sergeant for al Qaida is Barack Obama because his speech on the May 19 was a declaration of cultural war on Islam.’’

Mr Scheuer, who was speaking at the Festival, in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, is a controversial figure in intelligence and political circles.

He left the bin Laden unit two years before September 11 but was called back as an adviser in the wake of the terrorist attack.

Mr Scheuer described his experiences in his book Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism. It was published anonymously in 2004, but Mr Scheuer was soon outed as the author.
His book drew criticism in the US, but was praised for its insight in a speech by bin Laden himself.

In a round of questions, a member of the audience asked Mr Scheuer what advice he would give Mr Obama.

‘’I would ask him to tell the truth,’’ he replied.

‘’He, the first Mr Bush, then Mr Clinton and the second Mr Bush have assiduously lied to the American people for 20 years and as a result have made the relations in the United States between Muslims and other people much more difficult.

‘’They have identified the motivation of our enemy as a war against liberty, as a war against gender equality.”

He added: “There is almost no Muslim out there who is an insane character who is going to blow himself up because my daughters go to university.

‘’What I try and show in my book is that there is no discussion by bin Laden of this cultural war that is supposed to be waged against us.

‘’A president who was a statesman and a politician might say something like ‘I’m sorry we’ve been kinda lying to you for 30 years and why we are being attacked is until recently we were supporting fascism across the Middle East’.”

He continued: ‘’In the rhetoric of our enemies there is very little, if anything, about attacking us for how we live or how we think or how we act in our own country.

‘’It is about intervention, it is about being in the Arab Peninsula and it has nothing to do with these cultural things.

‘’We are the ones that are arranging the cultural war against them. What we will see as al Qaida evolves is that the next generation is better educated, combat experienced and probably much crueller.’’

Mr Scheuer said the only way to end the war on terror was to withdraw from the Middle East to an extent that is ‘’consistent with our interests’’.

He added: ‘’The American relationship with Israel, in my mind, is a useless and unnecessary relationship.

‘’As long as we are playing a role we are the recruiting sergeant for the people that are going to kill us.’’

The Telegraph UK

13-25

Bin Laden: Obama Snatches Defeat from Jaws of Victory

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yvonne Ridley

As the news of Osama bin Laden’s death filtered out onto the streets of America it triggered unsightly scenes of undiluted hysteria, chest-thumping and back-slapping which has sadly become a trademark of the vengeful ‘hang’em high’ lobby that emerged from the rubble of 9/11.

And just like George W Bush did on that horrific day way back in 2001, US President Barack Obama unashamedly wallowed in a flag-waving, nationalistic wave of emotion, crowing about national unity and everyone pulling together as he revealed the manhunt for the world’s most wanted man had finally been concluded.

It mattered not the al-Qaida leader was unarmed – that detail was kept back as hugely distorted stories zoomed around the globe about how the evil Arab used his wife as a human shield while firing off rounds at the heroic soldiers who risked their all for Uncle Sam.

The naked display of uncontrollable gung-ho emotion was bad enough but then a smug-looking Obama began sounding like Glenn Ford in a scene from High Noon as he lectured the world about “justice being done”.

To quote my favourite journalist Gary Younge: “This was not justice, it was an extra-judicial execution. If you shoot a man twice in the head you do not find him guilty. You find him dead. This was revenge. And it was served very cold indeed.”

Mercifully, in this sea of madness another sane voice in America also drowned out the hate-filled chorus and it came from an unlikely source – 9/11 survivor Harry Waizer.
If anyone had a right to jump up and down like a lunatic at the show of a full moon it was him, but instead of adding to the hatefest he said: “I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”

I hope now that America’s Number One Bogeyman is no more the USA returns to some semblance of normality that has been absent from its landscape since the now discredited War on Terror began.
And I hope that the US Administration will stop using the politics of fear on its own people who have been ruthlessly hyped up in to a state of advanced paranoia at every opportunity. High days and holidays have been blighted by accelerated levels of terror alerts while the latest airport scares and the latest suspect parcels have brought major cities and their transport networks to a halt.

While it is always dangerous to generalize the American people appear to have been kept suspended in fear ever since 9/11 – the reality is ordinary citizens have more chance of being shot in their backyard than be killed by a terrorist.

30,000 innocents die every year in gun-related crime – that’s a 9/11 multiplied by ten – but the close relationship with deadly weapons shows no sign of abating in trigger-happy America.

In terms of a violent society and armed citizens, the US is in a league of its own and sadly the state of disregard for the law and justice filters all the way down from The White House.

That the most powerful man in the world can stare straight into the cameras and say: “Justice was done” over Bin Laden’s murder borders on absurdity; it’s almost Pythonesque.

Real justice would have involved an arrest, a trial by jury and a sentence in an international court should the thought of holding him on USA soil prove too frightening.

Real justice would not have involved shooting an unarmed man in front of his wife and children – there were no bodyguards in the house in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

Real justice would not have involved charging into someone else’s country with armed forces unannounced, if indeed that was really the case in Pakistan.

I’m surprised David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and other political leaders went into congratulatory mode in the House of Commons over the whole saga.

Had it not occurred to them that if OBL had chosen to hide out in Didsbury, Tooting or Chipping Norton then US Special Forces would have come into the UK all guns blazing?

I wonder, would Cameron have gushed forth with undiluted praise then?

We don’t know who America’s next Bogeyman is going to be, but what if he does live in Britain or chooses to hide in the UK? What then? Do we sit back and allow America to breach our sovereignty in the name of US justice?

Are there any real guarantees that we won’t have US Navy Seals bursting into our neighbourhoods anytime soon?

OK, it’s highly unlikely but not impossible. This is what happens when there’s total disregard for international law, Vienna and Geneva conventions et al.

Distinguished QC Geoffrey Robertson is a man I’d like to lock in the Oval Office with the Commander in Chief for maybe 30 minutes. A renowned international human rights lawyer, he is not at all impressed by Obama’s interpretation of justice.

Writing about the OBL killing he said the law “permits criminals to be shot in self-defence. They should, if possible, be given the opportunity to surrender, but even if they do not come out with their hands up, they must be taken alive, if that can be achieved without risk. Exactly how Bin Laden came to be shot (especially if it was in the back of the head, execution-style) therefore requires explanation. Why the hasty “burial at sea” without a post-mortem, as the law requires?”

Why indeed? The trouble is various US Administrations have lied to the world – lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, lied about the existence of WMD, lied about Saddam being in league with al-Qaida.

And the problem with serial liars is that when they do tell the truth no one believes them.

Once again America has managed to shoot itself in the foot in the name of justice – a justice that has earned the admiration and praise of the chairman of the Israeli parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security.

Shaul Mofaz of the right wing Kadima is now urging the Zionist Government to assassinate Palestinian leaders like the “US did with Osama bin Laden”.

He seems to have overlooked the fact that Israel has been “doing an Obama” for years as the leadership of Hamas can testify.

Nevertheless, it seems that even though international law prohibits the use of extra judicial assassination policies, various states of terror may now starting “Doing an Obama”.

After bringing an end to the biggest manhunt in US history, the US President has managed to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a patron of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners – www.cageprisoners.com

13-20

Huge Rally Against Bigotry

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By TMO Stringer

DSC_1866The Muslim Peace Coalition  (MPC) organized a rally in New York City’s Union Square at noon on April 9th to protest against “war, Islamophobia, and terror.”

The Muslim Peace Coalition claimed that 500 Muslim organizations had joined in to cosponsor the rally and its San Francisco sister rally on April 10th, which was attended by the prominent imam Zaid Shakir as well as many other imams and other prominent individuals, such as (in alphabetical order) Sr. Seemi Ahmed, Imam Abdul Latif Al-Amin, Imam Shamsi Ali, Imam Ashrafuzzaman Khan, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Br. Abu Ahmed Nuruzzaman, Imam Muhammad Qatanani, Cindy Sheehan and Dr. Shaik Ubaid.

500 plus organizations, Muslims and neighbors from interfaith, peace movements and labor joined hands together  Against Islamophobia, to oppose war and to condemn terrorism.

The MPC hoped for 25,000 Muslims and 25,000 neighbors to come to Union Square, and perhaps thousands did attend although it is difficult to give an exact estimate of the attendance.

The MPC press release about the event said, “We stand together to make one point: that War, Terrorism and Islamophobia —- are all one set. One distasteful, ugly set —– that has to go.”

The rally was intended to put a good face on the Muslim community–people were invited to come with their children and were invited to be friendly with people of other faiths in attendance, in order to counter the negative media portrayals of Islam and Muslims.

Said the MPC press release, “Please bring your families—- many media people think of Muslims as some distant people, aliens, not families and not neighbors. We need to give our community a human face.”

The MPC pointed out that non-Muslims have in fact been more vocal in their support of the Muslim community against war, Islamophobia, and terror, and encouraged Muslims to thank them “for being a true patriot.”

People marching were also encouraged to sign up with the MPC, to develop “a broader coalition of all neighbors against hate and injustice.”

“Diversity is as American as Apple pie. Let’s build on our diversity.”

MPC organizers also told horror stories of Muslim children in New York being beaten up and robbed in school on account of their religion, and pointed out that those most vulnerable are girls with hijab.

Good weather, organization, and good speakers made the event a very successful rally with widespread attendance from New York’s Muslim community.

13-16

This is Not a National Emergency

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt

Let me put American life in the Age of Terror into some kind of context, and then tell me you’re not ready to get on the nearest plane heading anywhere, even toward Yemen.

In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society; 5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760 children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.

As for airplane fatalities, no American died in a crash of a U.S. carrier in either 2007 or 2008, despite 1.5 billion passengers transported. In 2009, planes certainly went down and people died. In June, for instance, a French flight on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared in bad weather over the Atlantic, killing 226. Continental Connection Flight 3407, a regional commuter flight, crashed into a house near Buffalo, N.Y., that February killing 50, the first fatal crash of a U.S. commercial flight since August 2006. And in January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, assaulted by a flock of birds, managed a brilliant landing in New Yorks Hudson River when disaster might have ensued. In none of these years did an airplane go down anywhere due to terrorism, though in 2007 two terrorists smashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane tanks into the terminal of Glasgow International Airport. (No one was killed.)

The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived. Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York States 2008 traffic death toll of 1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as “alcohol-impaired fatalities.”

Had the 23-year-old Nigerian set off his bomb, it would have been a nightmare for the people on board, and a tragedy for those who knew them. It would certainly have represented a safety and security issue that needed to be dealt with. But it would not have been a national emergency, nor a national-security crisis. It would have been nothing more than a single plane knocked out of the sky, something that happens from time to time without the intervention of terrorists.

And yet here’s the strange thing: thanks to what didn’t happen on Flight 253, the media essentially went mad, 24/7. Newspaper coverage of the failed plot and its ramifications actually grew for two full weeks after the incident until it had achieved something like full-spectrum dominance, according to the Pew Research Centers Project for Excellence in Journalism. In the days after Christmas, more than half the news links in blogs related to Flight 253. At the same time, the Republican criticism machine (and the media universe that goes with it) ramped up on the subject of the Obama administrations terror wimpiness; the global air transport system plunked down millions of dollars on new technology which will not find underwear bombs; the homeland security-industrial-complex had a field day; and fear, that adrenaline rush from hell, was further embedded in the American way of life.

Under the circumstances, you would never know that Americans living in the United States were in vanishingly little danger from terrorism, but in significant danger driving to the mall; or that alcohol, tobacco, E. coli bacteria, fire, domestic abuse, murder, and the weather present the sort of potentially fatal problems that might be worth worrying about, or even changing your behavior over, or perhaps investing some money in. Terrorism, not so much.

The few Americans who, since 2001, have died from anything that could be called a terror attack in the U.S. whether the 13 killed at Fort Hood or the soldier murdered outside an Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark. were far outnumbered by the 32 dead in a 2007 mass killing at Virginia Tech University, not to speak of the relatively regular moments when workers or former workers “go postal.” Since 9/11, terror in the U.S. has rated above fatalities from shark attacks and not much else. Since the economic meltdown of 2008, it has, in fact, been left in the shade by violent deaths that stem from reactions to job loss, foreclosure, inability to pay the rent, and so on.

This is seldom highlighted in a country perversely convulsed by, and that cant seem to get enough of, fantasies about being besieged by terrorists.

Institutionalizing Fear Inc.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which had the look of the apocalyptic, brought the fear of terrorism into the American bedroom via the TV screen. That fear was used with remarkable effectiveness by the Bush administration, which color-coded terror for its own ends. A domestic version of shock-and-awe Americans were indeed shocked and awed by 9/11 helped drive the country into two disastrous wars and occupations, each still ongoing, and into George W. Bushs Global War on Terror, a term now persona non grata in Washington, even if the “war” itself goes on and on.

Today, any possible or actual terror attack, any threat no matter how far-fetched, amateurish, poorly executed, or ineffective, raises a national alarm, always seeming to add to the power of the imperial presidency and threatening to open new “fronts” in the now-unnamed global war. The latest is, of course, in Yemen, thanks in part to that young Nigerian who was evidently armed with explosives by a homegrown organization of a few hundred men that goes by the name al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The fear of terrorism has, by now, been institutionalized in our society quite literally so even if the thing were afraid of has, on the scale of human problems, something of the will o the wisp about it. For those who remember their Cold War fiction, its more specter than SPECTRE.

That fear has been embedded in what once was an un-American word, more easily associated with Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany: “homeland.” It has replaced “country,” “land,” and “nation” in the language of the terror-mongers. “The homeland” is the place which terrorism, and nothing but terrorism, can violate. In 2002, that terror-embedded word got its own official government agency: the Department of Homeland Security, our second “defense” department, which has a 2010 budget of $39.4 billion (while overall “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget reached $70.2 billion). Around it has grown up a little-attended-to homeland-security complex with its own interests, businesses, associations, and lobbyists (including jostling crowds of ex-politicians and ex-government bureaucrats).

As a result, more than eight years after 9/11, an amorphous state of mind has manifested itself in the actual state as a kind of Fear Inc. A number of factors have clearly gone into the creation of Fear Inc. and now ensure that fear is the drug constantly shot into the American body politic. These would include:

The imperial presidency: The Bush administration used fear not only to promote its wars and its Global War on Terror, but also to unchain the commander in chief of an already imperial presidency from a host of restraints. The dangers of terror and of al-Qaeda, which became the global bogeyman, and the various proposed responses to it, including kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), secret imprisonment, and torture, turned out to be the royal road to the American unconscious and so to a presidency determined, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others liked to say, to take the gloves off. It remains so and, as a result, under Barack Obama, the imperial presidency only seems to gain ground.

Recently, for instance, we learned that, under the pressure of the Flight 253 incident, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration position that a president, under certain circumstances, has the authority to order the assassination of an American citizen abroad. (In this case, New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar Aulaqi, who has been linked to the 9/11 plotters, the Fort Hood killer, and Abdulmutallab.) The Bush administration opened the door to this possibility and now, it seems, a Democratic president may be stepping through.

The 24/7 media moment: 24/7 blitz coverage was once reserved for the deaths of presidents (as in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) and public events of agreed-upon import. In 1994, however, it became the coin of the media realm for any event bizarre enough, sensational enough, celebrity-based enough to glue eyeballs. That June, O.J. Simpson engaged in his infamous low-speed car “chase” through Orange County followed by more than 20 news helicopters while 95 million viewers tuned in and thousands more gathered at highway overpasses to watch. No ones ever looked back. Of course, in a traditional media world thats shedding foreign and domestic bureaus and axing hordes of reporters, radically downsizing news rooms and shrinking papers to next to nothing, the advantages of focusing reportorial energies on just one thing at a time are obvious. Those 24/7 energies are now regularly focused on the fear of terrorism and events which contribute to it, like the plot to down Flight 253.

The Republican criticism machine and the media that go with it: Once upon a time, even successful Republican administrations didnt have their own megaphone. Thats why, in the Vietnam era, the Nixon administration battled the New York Times so fiercely (and my own guess that played a part in forcing the creation of the first “op-ed” page in 1970, which allowed administration figures like Vice President Spiro Agnew and ex-Nixon speechwriter William Safire to gain a voice at the paper). By the George W. Bush era, the struggle had abated. The Times and papers like it only had to be pacified or cut out of the loop, since from TV to talk radio, publishing to publicity, the Republicans had their own megaphone ready at hand. This is, by now, a machine chock-a-block full of politicians and ex-politicians, publishers, pundits, military “experts,” journalists, shock-jocks, and the like (categories that have a tendency to blend into each other). It adds up to a seamless web of promotion, publicity, and din. Its capable of gearing up on no notice and going on until a subject none more popular than terrorism and Democratic spinelessness in the face of it is temporarily flogged to death. It ensures that any failed terror attack, no matter how hopeless or pathetic, will be in the headlines and in public consciousness. It circulates constant fantasies about possible future apocalyptic terror attacks with atomic weaponry or other weapons of mass destruction. (And in all of the above, of course, it is helped by a host of tagalong pundits and experts, news shows and news reports from the more liberal side of the aisle.)

The Democrats who don’t dare: Its remarkable that the sharpest president we’ve had in a while didn’t dare get up in front of the American people after Flight 253 landed and tell everyone to calm down. He didn’t, in fact, have a single intelligent thing to say about the event. He certainly didn’t remind Americans that, whatever happened to Flight 253, they stood in far more danger heading out of their driveways behind the wheel or pulling into a bar on the way home for a beer or two. Instead, the Obama administration essentially abjectly apologized, insisted it would focus yet more effort and money on making America safe from air terrorism, widened a new front in the Global War on Terror in Yemen (speeding extra money and U.S. advisers that way), and when the din from its critics didn’t end, “pushed back,” as Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote, by claiming “that they were handling terror suspects much as the previous administration did.” Its striking when a Democratic administration finds safety in the claim that its acting like a Republican one, that its following the path to the imperial presidency already cleared by George W. Bush. Fear does that to you, and the fear of terror has been institutionalized at the top as well as the bottom of society.

9/11 Never Ends

Fear has a way of reordering human worlds. That only a relatively small number of determined fanatics with extraordinarily limited access to American soil keep Fear Inc. afloat should, by now, be obvious. What the fear machine produces is the dark underside of the charming Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue,” in which Manhattan looms vast as the rest of the planet fades into near nothingness.

When you see the world “from 9th Avenue,” or from an all-al-Qaeda-all-the-time “news” channel, you see it phantasmagorically. Its out of all realistic shape and proportion, which means you naturally make stupid decisions. You become incapable of sorting out what matters and what doesn’t, what’s primary and what’s secondary. You become, in short, manipulable.

This is our situation today.

People always wonder: What would the impact of a second 9/11-style attack be on this country? Seldom noticed, however, is that all the pinprick terror events blown up to apocalyptic proportions add up to a second, third, fourth, fifth 9/11 when it comes to American consciousness.

So the next time a Flight 253 occurs and the Republicans go postal, the media morphs into its 24/7 national-security-disaster mode, the pundits register red on the terror-news scale, the president defends himself by reaffirming that he is doing just what the Bush administration would have done, the homeland security lobbyists begin calling for yet more funds for yet more machinery, and nothing much happens, remember those drunken drivers, arsonists, and tobacco merchants, even that single dust devil and say:

Hold onto your underpants, this is not a national emergency.

[Note: The figures on the 2010 Department of Homeland Security budget and “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget were provided by the National Priorities Project.]

Nigerians Parents Fear for Students Studying Abroad

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, Olugu Ukpai

My dear God, has it now become a crime to be a Nigerian? The headlines tell me so over and over again. Mutallab: Man Who Shamed Nigeria. Mutallab: The Nigerian Agent of Al Qaeda. The Boy Who Blew Nigeria’s Image.

Umar Faruq Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner has just landed Nigeria, my country of birth, on the list of 14 nations whose nationals are going to be singled out for special checks if they want to fly to the United States. Nigeria has become a uniquely insecure travel terrorism hub, they say.

But Abdulmutallab never studied in Nigeria. He did not have “terror connections” in Nigeria. Instead his initiation into terror clubs happened abroad in the countries where he was sent to study to become a better person.

Abdulmutallab went to a British high school in Togo. He studied in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt. Above all, he studied mechanical engineering at University College, London, one of the oldest in England. It makes me wonder how Nigerian parents who have sent their children to study abroad, and those children studying abroad, are looking at the story of “the boy who blew Nigeria’s image.”

I, too like Abdulmutallab, am a Nigerian student studying in the United Kingdom. I can understand the concerns of Nigerian parents like mine who sent their children abroad in hopes for a better education – a Western style education. Now there is a deep concern among the same parents, especially those at home who are skeptical of the kind of “cults” their children are being exposed to abroad in the name of acquiring “the white man’s” education. A study by the University of Notre Dame in 2009 found that parents tended to know only 10 percent of what their children were doing abroad.

Foreign education is no longer a safe haven. On the other hand fearful parents cannot bring their children back home either. After all, American media reports paint Nigeria as a hotbed of Al Qaeda terror. When I come back to the U.K. after Christmas break I do not know what will befall me. Will I be treated as a terror suspect because I am Nigerian? Will the U.K. government just wash its hands off me while it pockets my high tuition?

Nigerian parents and students worry whether the U.K. government is living up to its promises to protect the students in its charge. Has it allowed terrorist groups to penetrate its universities so that unsuspecting students can fall prey to their wiles? Already there is a systemic breakdown of security in U.K. institutions of higher learning. A King’s College, London report says more and more women are reporting rapes. Nigerian parents worry about their children abroad.

Instead of demonizing Nigeria, the international press and the world at large should be honoring and celebrating the alleged terror suspect’s 70-year-old father, who set aside blood bonds to report his son’s newfound religious extremism to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. I contend that he deserves a Global Citizen Award, and Nigeria should honor him with a National Merit Award. He is an exemplary Nigerian whose act of integrity should be rewarded and recognized. This might help fight terrorism by encouraging others who might have similar useful information.

Instead of ganging up on Nigeria, world powers would do well to review security policies to better protect the lives of international students. Our parents sell their pound of flesh to provide a brighter future for us. No parent would ever dream their “well-behaved and humble” child — as many have described Abdulmutallab — would turn into a terrorist and end up in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of acquiring the “white man’s” education.

Olugu Ukpai is a Ph.D student at School of Law at the University of Reading, U.K. He can be reached at oluukpaiolu@yahoo.com.

12-2

Muslims Distance Selves from Atlanta Terror Suspects

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslims Distance Selves from Terror Suspects
By Adil James
April 25—All of those with alleged social ties to two terror suspects arrested by the FBI are seeking as much distance from them as possible.
The two, 19-year-old US citizen Ehsanul Islam Sadequee (of Bangladeshi origin) and 21-year-old Syed Haris Ahmed (of Pakistani origin), are local area students (Mr. Ahmed being a mechanical engineering bachelor’s candidate at Georgia Tech) accused of having gone to Toronto to conspire to engage in unspecified terrorist attacks against unspecified victims within the United States.
The FBI arrested Mr. Ahmed on March 23. They accused the two of having met at a mosque adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus, al-Farooq Masjid and Corporation.
Dr. Mohammad O. Tomeh, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of al-Farooq Masjid, said that he does not remember having seen the two boys at all in the mosque. “It’s not like a church—people pray and go—we have no relationship with them.”
Dr. Tomeh emphasized that “there are no political activities in our mosque.” No political functions, he explained—the mosque as a matter of policy as written in its bylaws, he says, prohibits political activities. “We are a religious institution, we teach Qur`an, `ahadith, and good character—we have two schools. “We have no relationship with” the two boys who were arrested.
The mosque is an old one, having been built in 1980. It is now in the process of building an entirely new structure on its land, to replace the old mosque. So far, Dr. Tomeh explains, the mosque has fortunately had no problems from the surrounding community in the wake of the arrests.
Fellow students, also, are seeking to put as much distance between themselves and the two boys as possible. “I didn’t hear about that at all,” explained Jenny Rieck, a freshman psychology major from Augusta Georgia in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’ve been locked in my room working.”
Another student, West Daniel, was similarly shocked. “I’d never even picture a classmate even being accused of something like that,” said Wes Daniel, a junior mechanical engineering major who believes he may have had a class with Ahmed. “Everyone’s asked each other if they know him.”
One dark cloud remains over Atlanta in the wake of the accusations and arrests. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, without giving supporting evidence or quotes, that the two boys were well-known at Al-Farooq Masjid.
In fact, according to Dr. Tomeh, the Chairman of that mosque, this is absolutely not the case. -