a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Edwards on terrorism, Pakistan …and Iraq

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th September 2007

I’ve had a look now at John Edwards’ speech on terrorism from late last week — particularly the part about going into Pakistan if there was “actionable intelligence about imminent terrorist activity and the Pakistan government refuses to act.” Vishnu be praised, he didn’t even discuss nuclear weapons in that context like Barack Obama — let alone decline to rule them out, like Hillary Clinton. But frankly, Edwards’ specific scenario itself isn’t all that likely; if it’s attacks on the U.S. or Europe we’re talking about, I don’t think “actionable intelligence of an imminent attack” will be available in Karachi or Peshawar , nor will action there matter very much in the short run.

But something like this needs to be raised; Pakistan may not want the job of, say, catching OBL & Mr.Z., but some preparations need to be made in that case so that the job can be done without exchanging fire with Pakistani troops or planes.

That may be a long shot, but it’s worth bearing in mind. We’re often reminded that there’s not going to be some “surrender on the USS Missouri” moment in our current wars that proves to everyone “OK, we’re done now.” But OBL in plasticuffs might be one of the very closest analogues to that we can envision; even if it’s just one millionaire terrorist, it could finally give many Americans some room to reconsider where we are and what we want after the Bush years. Sometimes I wonder if that’s precisely why it hasn’t happened yet. Edwards:

The world stood united behind America after 9/11. But instead of leading a truly visionary campaign against global terrorism, our president led America down a garden path. He used the attacks to justify a preconceived war against a nation he now admits had no ties to Al Qaeda. He then offered belligerence and hostility to the world community, and we have been rewarded in kind.

President Bush, like the Republicans following him today and even some Democrats, was stuck in the past, and he still is. He had no grasp of the new threats we faced, so he failed to offer a vision to keep us safe in a world that had changed. Saddam Hussein was the threat he knew, so Iraq was the war he waged.

We needed new thinking and a bold vision to protect the world for our children; instead, George Bush literally gave us his father’s war—but without his father’s allies or his father’s sense of decency. What’s more and what’s worse, the so-called “war on terror” he used as his excuse for war in Iraq became his excuse for trampling our Constitution and, most perversely, for ignoring the demands of the actual struggle against terrorism. Because in George Bush’s reality, disagreement is called weak, challenge is suspect, and opposition downright unpatriotic.

There’s more; I think it’s a good speech that gives me confidence Edwards gets it about how counterproductive and, shall we say, geographically confused this administration’s “war on terror” has been.

Meanwhile, Edwards’ comment about Pakistan may remind a lot of people: “oh yeah, this guy hasn’t forgotten I still want OBL’s rear end — and that 6 years on I still haven’t got it from George Dubya “dead or alive” Bush.” With the follow-on thought, “Instead we’re stuck in g****m Iraq for reasons I’ve never been clear on, and nobody seems to really want to get us out of there.”

And that’s where Edwards diverges from Obama and Clinton, if the American people only knew it. * Edwards wants all U.S. troops all the way out of Iraq (if not necessarily the region). By contrast, last I checked both Obama and Clinton are still talking about a “residual force” of 40,000-50,000 — and they haven’t been urging the Democratic leadership to hang tough about Iraq the way Edwards has. It’s hard to improve on Edwards’ statement on Thursday about Congress possibly granting more funding for Iraq without any withdrawal timelines:

In 2006, the American people elected a Democratic Congress to change course and end this war. It’s the whole reason the American people voted for change. Yet, 10 months after the election, we still have the status quo and Congress has still failed to do the people’s will. That might be the way they do it inside the Beltway, but it’s not the American way. It’s time to stand up for the American people and against President Bush’s failed, stubborn policy. Without a firm deadline, a small withdrawal of only some of the surge troops won’t cut it—that’s not a solution, it’s an excuse. Congress must not send President Bush any funding bill without a timeline to end this war. No timeline, no funding. No excuses.

No timeline, no funding. No excuses. Nancy? Harry? — that may be your next President on the phone.

* To their credit, Bill Richardson (WaPo, 9/8, although he mischaracterizes Edwards) and Dennis Kucinich are two more Democratic presidential candidates advocating complete withdrawal from Iraq.

NOTES: “if the American people only knew” — Chris Bowers, “OpenLeft”; Edwards’ Thursday statement via Matthew Yglesias, who also links to a number of other Edwards statements on Iraq.

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German EU-extradition law invalidated, terror suspect walks

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th July 2005

Suspected Al Qaeda kingpin Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-German residing in the Hamburg area, has avoided extradition to Spain to stand trial for involvement in the 3/11/2004 Madrid attacks. He was immediately released from jail yesterday. The development followed a German Supreme Court (Verfassungsgericht, lit.constitutional court) decision invalidating a recently enacted German law authorizing his incarceration.

The law was designed to implement a European Union agreement requiring member countries to honor eachother’s arrest warrants via extradition. The “EU arrest warrant” [EU-Haftbefehl] was intended to make it easier to combat international terrorism and the drug trade across the many borders within the European Union — borders which are open to trade and tourism, but still define widely differing legal systems.

The German court could have potentially seen the German cooperation with (or acquiescence to) to the EU law as unconstitutional in and of itself, but pointedly did not do so, opting instead to require clearer guidelines about when extradition would and would not occur. Writing for the German newsweekly SPIEGEL, Mathias Gebauer reports:

The judges demand that legislators protect all Germans’ rights with an improved law supporting the EU-arrest warrant agreement. They did not call the idea of the EU law into question. They also did not consider national sovereignty damaged by it. The EU framework decision was only to be sparingly and proportionately implemented. In short: the idea is OK, its implementation was poor.

The judges provided the most important features of a revised law. Extraditions may not occur if there is a strong domestic connection to the alleged crimes. Conversely, someone who who is mainly punishable abroad may be subject to foreign criminal and trial law. The judges emphasized, that the foreign connection [Auslandbezug] was “also and especially assumed” “if the deed had a typically cross-border dimension from the outset,” such as in cases of drug trade or participation in international terrorism.

Looking on from the outside, it’s doubly annoying that the Darkazanli case seems to have fit all of these restrictions, even if the flawed law did not. Gebauer:

Darkazanli’s freedom is bitter for the government. The Hamburg businessman would presumably already be behind bars under new security laws passed by the Red [SPD]-Green coalition. But old deeds or proofs don’t suffice for the still freshly drafted Paragraph 129b, which makes membership in a terror network like Al Qaeda punishable since August 2002. And new proof has not turned up, despite long and intensive surveillance of the suspect by officials.

But the high court judges’ briefs were more about the general constitutionality of the law than about the particular case. Their verdict had the potential to put even more strain on EU integration, already under pressure following recent rejections of the proposed EU constitution in France and the Netherlands. While they largely ducked a head-on challenge, the judges did set some limits. Also writing for SPIEGEL, Dietmar Hipp reports:

Germany has “not surrendered nonnegotiable principles” in European cooperation until now, [chief justice] Hassemer said in delivering the verdict: even the “restriction of the formerly absolute proscription against extraditing Germans” does not lead to a “desovereignization [Entstaatlichung]” of the national legal system. So far, so good for Europe.

But the verdict specifically mentions two points, that could be a step too far on the path to Europe: the one would be if national citizenship is “surrendered,” “substantially devalued,” or “replaced with European citizenship,”; the other would be if the EU were to envision a “general harmonization of the legal systems of the member states.”

One may wish German legislators had gotten their extradition law right the first time. But then one may also wish the U.S. Congress or the U.S. courts were half as zealous as this German high court in preventing “extraordinary renditions” to other countries.

Darkazanli’s release is a galling setback. Gebauer reports that Darkazanli knew two of the 9/11 hijackers, and was the representative of convicted Al Qaeda treasurer Mamduh Mahmud Salim for a Deutsche Bank account, from which he was empowered to draw funds. He is also said to have purchased the freighter “Jennifer” for Osama Bin Laden in 1993. Evidence like this could now put someone behind bars in Germany under “Paragraph 129b,” enacted in 2002, but no new evidence or developments in Germany could be held against Darkazanli since then. It will apparently take another German “act of Congress” — i.e., revising that extradition law — before Darkazanli will finally face justice.

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On "Apologists among us"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th July 2005

On Thursday, Stygius pointed out a post by Norm Geras titled “Apologists among us.” The British professor and blogger objected to attempts by some to locate blame for the London bombings in the British role in Iraq:

It needs to be seen and said clear: there are, amongst us, apologists for what the killers do, and they make more difficult the long fight that is needed to defeat them. (To forestall any possible misunderstanding on this point: I do not say these people are not entitled to the views they express or to their expression of them. They are. Just as I am entitled to criticize their views for the wretched apologia they amount to.) The plea will be made, though – it always is – that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we all live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy that seeks to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else. […]

Geras advances a number of examples designed to show when it is and isn’t right to attribute one misdeed to another. All either amount to showing the disproportionality of the misdeed to the grievance (punch in the mouth for liking Bob Dylan, burning down a house to retaliate for a stolen bike), or disputing that the grievance is legitimate in the first place (e.g., Zimbabwe dispatches thugs to retaliate for a hypothetical anti-Mugabe British policy). I don’t at all disagree — but neither approach seems to me to very closely resemble the case at hand. Geras gets more specific with an exacting test for whether the Iraq issue might play a role in the London bombings:

How do they know? What they need to know is not just that Iraq was one of a number of influencing causes, but that it was the specific, and a necessary, motivating cause for the London bombings. Because if it was only an influencing motivational cause amongst others, and if, more particularly, another such motivational cause was supplied by the military intervention in Afghanistan, then we don’t have that the London bombings wouldn’t have happened but for the Iraq war.

This seems all too carefully designed to yield the desired result. We may not have Iraq as a logical necessity, but we may still have it as a likely, strong contributing factor, depending on what is learned about the bombers and their leadership as time goes on. We can go further, with the familiar “straw that broke the camel’s back” scenario, one that seems to be missing from Geras’ arguments. To wit, say the bombers were angry about events A, B, and C, but not motivated enough by them to criminally retaliate for them. Then if event D pushes them over the edge to committing crime X, then event D has had a causative role in X, if not a deterministic one.

I don’t deny that the London bombers were criminals and villains. Yet Geras makes it far too easy on himself to deny that an Iraq war begun on false premises (and continued on a highly problematic ‘flypaper’ premise — one that seems quite ruthless in its own way) may have been a key motive for the bombers and/or their handlers. Does it “dissipate” the wrongdoers’ responsibility to discuss that? Or must one button one’s lip when a cost of failed policies may have become apparent, lest one give aid and comfort to the enemy? (I agree a decent moratorium ought to be observed, but Geras doesn’t leave it at that.)

I won’t take up the specific ‘apologies’ that Geras objects to — because Geras doesn’t himself. Instead, his piece is a jeremiad against the enterprise as such, and as he defines it, that to my eye winds up smearing reasonable arguments in the process of condemning unreasonable ones. In a subsequent post, Geras approvingly cites an article by Tony Parkinson, who argues,

A mindset that can target innocent tube travellers in London is the same mindset that can dispatch a suicide bomber to kill 24 Iraqi children as they accept sweets from US forces in a Baghdad neighbourhood . . . or, indeed, force a Kuwaiti woman to eat her own flesh.

Conceding strategic victories to this mindset will not protect a single innocent life, in Iraq, the West or elsewhere. More likely, it will embolden those behind these acts of savagery.

These are ruthless mindsets, indeed, but they were different ones with different antecedents. I think folding them all into one and effectively ruling it off-limits to discuss why any of these people did what they did is neither democratic nor helpful in the long run. It may objectify the victims of the London attacks quite as much to use them as arguments for “staying the course” in Iraq as it does to use them against that policy — and Geras and Wilkinson both veer perilously close to that.

I really hate to say this, because I once supported waging war on Iraq, based on my conviction that Saddam could not be allowed to have WMD or WMD programs. But I think whatever the case turns out to be with the July 7 bombers, a new variety of “root cause” arguments are becoming less and less “dodgy” in the wake of the Iraq war: a war waged in large part on false premises going in, a war waged in large part on morally problematic premises (“flypaper”) now, and a war waged with methods that denied the human dignity and rights of Iraqis. We are creating reasons to be hated. It won’t guarantee safety, and terrorists will continue to plague us, but the sooner we stop that, the safer we’ll be.*

We can’t honestly object to our foes justifying their misdeeds — or simply denying that they are misdeeds — if we are doing the same. But if we are in a struggle with a ‘mindset,’ hypocrisy doesn’t just shame us, it amounts to a strategic error, since it devalues our own mindset in the eyes of the unstable, uncommitted, hostile, and/or disaffected, and even among ourselves. It helps recruit foes and alienate friends.

Conversely, acknowledging (and remedying) our own failings need not amount to apologizing for theirs, even if we reasonably hope that such remedies may reduce hostility. This, I think, is not merely a view — a “wretched apologium” — that I’m “entitled to hold.” I think it is as important to our eventual success against Al Qaeda-style Islamist terrorism as the equally necessary firm resolve to forcefully oppose those terrorists.

* I’ll appear to contradict myself, but I think there are good and honorable reasons to remain in Iraq. But they are purely and simply connected to giving the democratic process there a decent chance — not to forward bases, permanent bases, oil, or “flypaper.” I’m not for a timetable, but I am for milestones — elections held, units trained, trials completed. We should plan to respond to each milestone with troop reductions, so that everyone sees a way out.

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Re Mr. Rove’s remarks

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th June 2005

The discussion below must be followed, I think, with a reference to Mr. Karl Rove’s remarks at a New York Conservative Party fundraiser in New York last week:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

Such wholesale contempt for his opposition, and such abuse of the 9/11 attacks for political gain are not (pace Paperwight*) a mere political smokescreen for deflecting (a wholly necessary) discussion and investigation of issues raised by the “Downing Street Memo” and subsequent revelations.

They may be that as well. But they are even more important than that. Rove’s comments are a serious and vicious slander of liberals, the left, and of democratic debate itself that deserve anger and contempt in their own right. They are yet another big lie — and this time, they are about me. I take them personally, I will not forgive them, I will not accept an apology for them. And I assume they come from the top.

I personally yield to no one in my utter enmity and hostility to those who perpetrated the atrocities of that day, and to the benighted beliefs and ideologies that guided them.

But that doesn’t mean how to fight back and what to preserve are not fit subjects for debate. Karl Rove’s comments — and by extension, George W. Bush’s thinking — suggest that we are very close to institutionalizing 9/11 as a defeat for American democracy, and as a tool for enforcing lockstep public opinion on how to defend what’s left. With typical Rovian chutzpah, 9/11 is supposedly a symbol of liberal ineffectualness — even though it was the extremist Republicans’ darling who flitted hither and yon like a scared butterfly in the aftermath, who ignored direct warnings about the impending attack, whose top defense priority prior to 9/11 was to waste billions on missile defense.

It seems it wasn’t just buildings and peoples’ lives that went up in smoke that day, it was respect for real democracy itself — and by the leaders of the victims’ own country, who seem to think it a luxury in easy times, rather than a principle forever.

We live in dangerous times, and not all of our weakened democracy’s enemies live beyond our borders. Some, in my opinion, have White House passes. And you have to assume they have their boss’s blessing.

* But see also this post.
UPDATE, 6/28: A “Take it to Karl” blog features lots of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, including Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom vets, who are none too pleased with Mr. Rove’s recent comments, either. Via Stryker at “digitalwarfighter.” (note edited to be more descriptive, 6/28)
UPDATE, 5/14/07: image link fixed.

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Define terrorist; show your work

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th June 2005

In a couple of recent posts, Stygius proposed a kind of mental doctrine he says should inform all progressive/liberal national security thinking:

  1. There are a group of fanatic killers who want to kill as many Americans as they can; and,
  2. Dead terrorists can’t kill Americans.

In the second post, which should be taken as the more definitive statement, Stygius elaborates on what he does and doesn’t mean with what might be called the “Stygius doctrine”:

Hopefully, readers see that I’m talking about sentiments about right actions; about practical values. Thus, this is not a “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!” sentiment. I fully acknowledge and embrace the notion that there can be conditions where killing terrorists can be impractical, or imprudent. That is why I’m talking about “appropriateness” and a broad, multi-faceted calculus of values. Rather, I’m asking skeptical progressives to accept the idea that there can be and are conditions where terrorists can be legitimately fought and killed.

I certainly accept that being prepared to fight to kill is a necessary part of dealing with any mortal foe. I think most people, even “skeptical progressives,” do. You enumerate the possibilities, and prepare yourself for them — as Hamlet concludes, “the readiness is all.”

My critique of Stygius’ doctrine isn’t so much to quarrel with it as to say the house is only half built. One problem is in the vague concept of ‘terrorist’; I’m not trying to be sarcastic when I say that they don’t come clearly labeled.

Unlike in a classic war, we can not be sure we know who the practitioners of terrorism are, much (much, much) less who are potential terrorists, and less yet what to do about these not-yet-terrorists. We have further problems with the term itself. Not long after 9/11, I tried my hand at defining “terrorism”. I decided that it was the self-appointed, unaccountable nature of terrorism that was its crucially dangerous and reprehensible feature. If so, it would seem obvious how not to fight against it.

I’ve grown a little wary of my own early certainties about the “war on terror,” yet I also know I still feel the incandescent anger I felt after 9/11. Then, “war” seemed right and just. Now, maybe it is still the best word, but the question is whether incandescent anger, shrewd moderation, or some judicious mixture thereof best serves us in protecting ourselves and our society against our foes.

I recall celebrating a Predator strike in 2002 on some terrorists — I was led to believe, and have little reason to doubt — in Yemen. Yet in the years since 9/11, I’ve grown so disillusioned with the directions American fighting and policy have taken, and the half-truths, quarter-truths, and one sixty-fourth truths offered in explanation, that I can wonder: was this strike, too, a publicity stunt or a necessary act? How sure are we — whether “we” who had our finger on the button launching the missile, or we the people — that those killed were part of al Qaeda, that they were involved in the USS Cole attack, and so forth? Will anyone with a critical mind ever get a chance to find out? I may have little reason to doubt the right thing was done, but in truth I have little reason to credit it either.

Whether such doubts are evidence of my liberalish lack of firm resolve, or of my government leading me down a primrose path one too many times is probably a matter of little importance to anyone but me. But if I’m not the only one with doubts, I think they illustrate one small price we, the people of the United States, pay for the unaccountable methods — foreign and domestic, political and military — that we’ve allowed in our name.

In his book “The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror,” (Princeton University Press, 2004) Michael Ignatieff examines the issues of proper and effective self-defense by liberal democracies against terror attacks. In it, Ignatieff proposes that all responses to the challenge of terror attack campaigns be subject to four tests: the dignity test (does the response respect human dignity?), the conservative test (if the response calls for changes to our own system, are those changes really necessary?), the effectiveness test (will the response work?), and open adversarial review (is the response subject to institutional and/or public review and approval?) It seems to me that we are failing, or close to failing, on all four counts. Ignatieff asks,

If force must be the ultimate response to violence against a constitutional state, what is to keep state violence from becoming as unconstrained as the enemy it is seeking to destroy? The only answer is democracy and the obligation of justification that it imposes on those who use force in its name. […]

The evil [of terrorism] does not consist in the resort to violence itself, since violence can be justified, as a last resort, in the face of oppression, occupation, or injustice. The evil consists in resorting to violence as a first resort, in order to make peaceful politics impossible.

We should not flirt with emulating that evil; we should make our war (when that is necessary) with terrorists the antithesis of theirs: transparent, subject to debate, principled. Fighting terrorists to the death — even apocalyptic, undeterrable ones like those on 9/11 — is a lesser evil only when their methods and outlook are clearly not adopted.

Stygius is a principled person, and I know he* does not support the excesses and ‘look the other ways’ of the Bush administration policies (plausibly deniable as such or not) at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere; his statements on his own blog and his frequent and welcome comments here underline that.

But I suspect many Bush administration people did not wake up on 9/12 knowing that’s the direction they were headed. (I also suspect some did; but that many did not.) Regardless; our country’s single-minded emphasis on a narrowly conceived national security and on death to our foes — while ignoring every other principle — has got us where we are now: in the mud, with far too much innocent blood on our hands, and far too much human indignity and injustice on our consciences. I dare not deny it: on my hands and on my conscience, too. Regarding his tests, Ignatieff writes:

If all this adds up to a series of constraints that tie the hands of our governments, so be it. It is the very nature of a democracy that it not only does, but should, fight with one hand tied behnid its back. It is also in the nature of democracy that it prevails against its enemies precisely because it does.

To be clear: there is a variety of terrorist that needs killing. To be equally clear: that’s not all there is to it. Not if we want to keep our principles and country intact.

* Or she, as the case may be.

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Abject gratitude

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th September 2004

Belle Waring said she didn’t know what to say on the subject of Beslan, and then offered a lamb recipe, of all things. But it made a kind of sense, because she then said this:

I recommend washing it down with a combination of red wine and abject gratitude that your children are safe. Yes. When you wake up in the night and panic you can go look at them, to make sure their narrow chests are rising and falling in the dim room. You can smell their heads. Still alive. When Violet was just newborn she smelled a little like lamb, which made me somewhat disinclined to eat it. Now she just smells like milk and clean things. She’s sleeping on the sofa next to me right now. Zoë is sleeping on a sheepskin on the living room floor. Safe. No one can get them, because the doors are locked and I’m watching them breathe.

I check in on Maddie at night, too. She still does something we call “shields up” — middle and ring finger of her right hand in her mouth, the left hand over that, palm out. Sometimes when I kiss her, she’ll breathe a little more deeply, then roll away for more good sleeping. Her hair smells like summer. And for now, she’s safe.

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Blast from the past

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th August 2004

The New York Times reports “Bush Promotes His Plan for Missile Defense System“:

“I think those who oppose this ballistic missile system really don’t understand the threats of the 21st century,” he said. “They’re living in the past. We’re living in the future. We’re going to do what’s necessary to protect this country.”

Bush is on to something — if (1) the North Koreans get a missile that can hit the U.S., (2) they decide there’s some very compelling reason they actually want to hit the U.S., and (3) we had a missile defense system that, oh, I don’t know, ACTUALLY WORKS — in which case (4) the North Koreans unaccountably decided not to just load the bomb into a shipping container and float it into San Francisco Bay instead or (5) failed to just add two or three $1 Mylar balloons to the missile payload for a multi-million dollar ABM to choose from. Sure, that sounds like a good reason to spend $53 billion, $10 billion in FY 2005 alone.

There are so many better things to do with that kind of money for real security problems. Here’s one, suggested by Nick Kristof in a New York Times op-ed piece yesterday: increase funding for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has deactivated thousands of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, and which could continue to buy or secure weapons-grade uranium and plutonium there.

Earlier this year, Bush actually proposed cutting back this program from $451 million to $409 million. That is, Bush was dickering about $42 million for something that actually works now, as opposed to spending $10 billion for something that may never work.

Why would those extra $42 million be well spent? In a prior article, Kristof wrote:

…Al Qaeda negotiated for a $1.5 million purchase of uranium (apparently of South African origin) from a retired Sudanese cabinet minister; its envoys traveled repeatedly to Central Asia to buy weapons-grade nuclear materials; and Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, boasted, “We sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent, to other Central Asian states, and they negotiated, and we purchased some suitcase [nuclear] bombs.”

…But the White House has insisted on tackling the most peripheral elements of the W.M.D. threat, like Iraq, while largely ignoring the central threat, nuclear proliferation. The upshot is that the risk that a nuclear explosion will devastate an American city is greater now than it was during the cold war, and it’s growing.

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"Who won the elections?"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th March 2004

In December 2003, two Norwegian researchers, Brynjar Lia and Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt, FFI) found a 42 page document on the Internet titled “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers” (Arabic, PDF). They now argue that it “served as ideological inspiration and policy guidance for the terrorist attacks in Madrid”, quoting the anonymous author:

…It is necessary to make utmost use of the upcoming general election in Spain in March next year.

We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, then the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral programme.

(via a Bjorn Staerk 3/24/04 quicklink; emphasis and underlining from the Arabic original)

Beyond the obvious fact that the Madrid bombers did as the document proposed, Lia and Hegghammer point out that the “nom de terror” chosen by an alleged Al Qaeda video spokesman after the attack — Abu Dujana, a warrior and contemporary of Mohammed — matches one mentioned in the “Hopes and Dangers” document.

The authors see a more pragmatic, cool variety of Islamist in the pages of this document. Yassin Musharbath, writing for the German weekly SPIEGEL, agrees:

The message is clear: the jihadists should spend their resources carefully, not at random.[…]

The Jihad handbook of December 2003, whose authenticity is much more certain* and which was probably written in the summer of 2003, is very different from most of the Al Qaeda publications seen until now. For one, it’s less nuts and bolts than the pure bombmaking manuals out of the Afghan training camps, but simultaneously much more intellectual and analytical than the usual propaganda material. […]

In any case it’s an example of the professionalization of Al Qaeda in military tactics. The mujaheddin are reminded again and again in the text not to act spontaneously and rashly: the authors send their pupils off with “Preparation and planning are the foundations for success of every project,” the authors remind their pupils. “Only that guarantees (…) great capability, shortens the (required) time and removes the confrontation with danger.”

(via A Fistful of Euros)

The behavior of an alleged ringleader of the Madrid attacks bears out that this is not your 1990s Al Qaeda any more. A cell phone on an unexploded bomb led Spanish police to Jamal Zougam within a day of the bombings. The next time he was seen in public, he wasn’t declaiming “God is great” or “Death to the crusaders.” As the New York Times reports:

When Mr. Zougam arrived in court after five days incommunicado, he reportedly asked the clerks, “Who won the elections?”

(via Regnum Crucis)

*EDIT, 3/27: The comparison is with a message purportedly written by Abu Musab al-Zarkawi and released before the election, in which he comments on the Spanish government’s theory that ETA was responsible for the bombing.
UPDATE, 8/4: A New Yorker article pulls together this and other aspects of the 3/11 attacks.

Take away the dumb ones and the rest look smarter
SPIEGEL author Musharbash calls the new Al Qaeda a “learning organization.” But it could be simpler than that: for all its haphazardness — the “unconnected dots” before 9/11, the Great Tora Bora Escape — the war on terror may have exerted some strong selection pressure on terrorists. That is to say, despite it all, maybe a lot of the gung-ho hothead types are dead or in custody by now. True, that would still leave the colder, smarter, more cunning ones. But it would also still leave them on the run.

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This is what a suicide bombing really looks like

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th June 2003

Gil Shterzer, quoted in full:

This is what a suicide bombing really looks like. Warning, uncensored gruesome hard to watch photos.

No prescriptions or wannabe smart forecasts here — or balance or “balance.” It just makes me understand the fury Israelis must feel, I feel some of it myself.

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Gotcha, you bastard: the continuing series

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st May 2003

Not Al Qaeda this time — although similarities come to mind: Olympics Bombing Suspect Rudolph Arrested. Abortion clinic bomber suspect, too. Sayonara, a**h*le. Way to go, FBI. (Prior “Gotchas” here.)

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