CIA black sites. “Extraordinary rendition.” The PATRIOT Act. Massive NSA surveillance. The 2003 invasion of Iraq. Abu Ghraib. Torture. Religious and racial profiling. FBI entrapment. Drones, “kill lists” and civilian casualties. “Terror Tuesdays.”
Whatever the successes of US public diplomacy since the attacks of September 11, 2001, they pale in comparison to the cavalcade of scandals. And all these foreign policy “missteps” or manifestations of “imperial hubris”—take your pick—predate the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, the latest fixation of State Department attempts at counter-radicalization through messaging.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Guantánamo Diary (New York: Little, Brown, 2015).
The themes of Adam Curtis’ new documentary Bitter Lake should be well known to those familiar with his body of work: power, techno-politics, science, managerialism and the media. The film uses the contemporary history of Afghanistan to tell a story about how polities in the West have become incapable of understanding the complex and horrible happenings around them. Traditional forms of power in the West and Afghanistan have taken advantage of the fear and confusion to consolidate their control, but at the expense of an intellectually deskilled Western public and a world that is fundamentally less governable. Bitter Lake is more fable than scholarship, but the film is nonetheless a devastating examination of how Western interventions in Afghanistan refract the vacuousness of our own politics.
‘Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a designated “high-value detainee” in US government parlance, is on trial in the Guantánamo Bay military commissions. The 49-year old Saudi Arabian is accused of directing the October 2000 al-Qaeda suicide boat bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 sailors and injured 40 more, and a failed plan to bomb the USS Sullivans. Five other high-value detainees, including alleged “mastermind” Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, are being tried together for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. All six could face the death penalty if convicted.
The US government wanted to kill Anwar al-Awlaqi long before a CIA-JSOC drone strike actually succeeded in doing so on September 30, 2011. Before and after that deadly strike, al-Awlaqi’s kill-ability has been a bone of contention because he was a US citizen. The cleric, who had become radicalized as the “war on terror” wore on, moved to Yemen, his ancestral homeland, in late 2004.
On June 14, 123 people — including a military judge, teams of civilian and military defense lawyers and prosecutors, eight courtroom observers, and 15 journalists — flew on a C-17 from Andrews Air Force Base to Guantánamo Bay for military commission proceedings. It is my fifth trip to Guantánamo, and the second to cover the pre-trial hearings related to the September 11, 2001 attacks. (I went three times in 2010 to cover the last hearings in the case of Omar Khadr, the Canadian “child soldier” who pled guilty and was convicted in October 2010.
We at MERIP are excited about the issue of Middle East Report on China and the Middle East coming out next week, featuring the work of two of my mentors, Engseng Ho and MER editor Cemil Aydın. The issue will address linkages between China and the region, from trade in oil and manufactured consumer items to ideological exchanges under the signs of Marx, Mao and Islam.
A jury today convicted on all counts Sulayman Abu Ghayth, a Kuwaiti preacher who made televised statements in support of al-Qaeda shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. As expected, war-on-terror liberals are seizing upon the outcome as proof that civilian courts are a superior alternative to military tribunals at Guantánamo. On Friday I blogged about some of the legal issues raised by the case and how it fits into broader US detention policies. Civilian trials are undoubtedly preferable to kangaroo courts at Guantánamo in principle and one hopes that the administration uses this verdict to finally close the prison in Cuba.
It has been a dramatic week in a federal courtroom just off Foley Square in southern Manhattan, where the trial of Sulayman Abu Ghayth has been taking place. The Kuwaiti preacher and one-time confidant of Osama bin Laden was pulled off a plane while transiting through Jordan last year under mysterious circumstances and handed over to the FBI.
Lisa Hajjar’s spring lecture tour, entitled “Let’s Go to Guantánamo! An On-the-Ground Perspective on the Military Commissions,” explores secret renditions, black sites, torture, suppression of evidence, clandestineness and what it means to provide “legal counsel” to detainees in the post-September 11 “war on terror” in the absence of procedural fairness or public scrutiny.
During his State of the Union Address last night, President Barack Obama said:
We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.
Zero Dark Thirty is a movie the CIA wants you to see.
It tells a tale of the search for Osama bin Laden wherein the key lead comes from a man softened up by waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in a coffin-like box and other forms of pain and humiliation. It shows CIA agents extracting subsequent clues by similar means or the threat thereof. It alludes to other evidence supplied by “the Paks” and “the Jords” that was also obtained from detainees under duress. It twice depicts CIA officials asking the higher-ups how they are to find bin Laden when, after Barack Obama’s election, “the detainee program” is taken away.
After drones became the American weapon of choice in Pakistan sometime toward the end of the 2000s, a number of US counterinsurgency experts expressed their discomfort with the killer robots in various military-related forums. For these writers, the non-human nature of drones, their blunt force and their distance from the enemy were something of an affront to counterinsurgency dictums about “hearts and minds” and “calibrated force.” The military characterizes counterinsurgency as a series of battlefield tactics (clear, hold, build) and developmental activities intended to persuade or coerce enemy civilians into supporting the counterinsurgent force.
As President Barack Obama geared up for the 2012 campaign, he and his administration were eager to capitalize on their most bipartisan “victory” — the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. With the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death approaching, top officials took to podiums to deliver remarks that, while differing in some particulars, were consistent in their message: The targeted killing policy is legal, it is necessary to keep Americans safe, it is effective in eliminating terrorist threats, and it is undertaken with great care to minimize civilian casualties.
Drones are President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice in the war on terror.
Since taking office, he has ordered over 280 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That’s more than eight times as many as George W. Bush authorized and doesn’t even count the scores of other unmanned attacks in Somalia and Yemen. When the mainstream media reports these operations, it claims that almost all the people killed are “militants” — members of al-Qaeda or affiliated radical groups.
American policymakers and their advisers are struggling with the question of Pakistan. The last ten years have produced a host of policy reviews, study group reports, congressional hearings and a few academic and more popular books, with more expected as the 2014 deadline for the end of US major combat operations in Afghanistan nears. Much of this literature sees Pakistan as a policy problem and seeks to inform Washington’s debate on how to get Pakistan to do what the United States wants it to do. The literature also reveals the limits of American knowledge and power when it comes to Pakistan.
Conventional wisdom among scholars of the Middle East is that the September 11, 2001 attacks left behind a threatening professional environment. Graduate students and faculty alike speak of hostile infiltrators in their classrooms, inevitably bitter tenure battles and the self-censorship that both can produce. At the same time, in the aftermath of September 11 Middle East scholars anticipated that the perennially spotty job market might improve.
On Tuesday I became a citizen of the United States. Almost ten years ago, I was granted permanent residency. Between my Green Card and my naturalization certificate lies the seemingly endless decade of the “war on terror.”