The US Counter-Terrorism policy, explained on orders from the White House

Watch this press briefing at the White House on 23 April — following President Obama’s announcement that it had just been realized that two hostages [one American, one Italian] had been inadvertently killed in a US strike “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region” in January…

In the briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “Our CounterTerrorism people follow *Near-Certainty* standards” to carry out an operation, and then evaluate it later using a *high-confidence* battle-damage assessment [[drawin on multiple sources of intel] …

He explained that *Near-Certainty* standards mean “that it was an Al Qaeda compound frequented by an al-Qaeda leader + that civilans wouldn’t be hurt”…

[The *Near-Certainty” standards are described in this link, a White House Fact Sheet Tweeted by @MicahZenko = “US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities”

All these *Near-Certainty* standards were observed, and yet two hostages [that the US did not even know were on the site] were killed, so there will now be some kind of reassessment to see how such ops could be improved, Earnest indicated.

But these ops will not be stopped, Earnest said: “These CT [CounterTerrorism] ops, which are critical to the nationale security of the US and to the safety of American people, will continue”…

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Al Jazeera correspondent in Afghanistan in Israeli jail after returning for vacation to his home + family in Nablus

The Al-Jazeera bureau chief in Afghanistan, Samer Allawi, a Palestinian from the West Bank, has been in Israeli detention for the past week, He was stopped and taken into custody just before crossing the border to Jordan, as he was returning to Afghanistan following a three-week visit to his home and family in the West Bank.

According to a statement issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] in New York, Allawi “was arrested at al-Karama border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank while leaving the Occupied Territories after a three-week vacation in his hometown near Nablus, Al-Jazeera reported. Allawi’s brother, Musaab, told Al-Jazeera that the journalist intended to cross into Jordan then travel back to Kabul. He had entered the West Bank at the same crossing without difficulty three weeks earlier … [T]he authorities provided no justification for holding the journalist, who carries a Jordanian passport, and said only that it was a ‘security-related arrest’, Al-Jazeera reported. On Thursday, Israeli authorities informed Allawi’s employer that his detention would be extended to eight days, but again failed to provide a reason. Majed Khader, program editor and head of assignments at Al-Jazeera, said Allawi told Salim Waqeem, a lawyer hired for him by Al-Jazeera, that he would be charged with transferring money and orders from Afghanistan to the West Bank if he refused to act as an informant…”

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday 16 August here that “Israel has arrested the Al Jazeera’s Afghanistan bureau chief, a Palestinian, on charges of ties to Hamas. Samer Allawi, 46, was picked up August 10 on the border between the West Bank and Jordan, the Arabic-language satellite station said Tuesday. Allawi was detained August 10 after a three-week visit with family in Sabastia, a village adjacent to Nablus”.

The JPost story added that “An Israeli security official confirmed Allawi’s arrest and court appearance but gave no further details on the case. Walied Al-Omary, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said the military court accused Allawi of making contact with members of Hamas’s armed wing. Al Jazeera Arabic’s website posted footage of Allawi appearing in court in an Israel Prison Services uniform. ‘There is nothing in this investigation that I believe harms Israel, like it is being claimed, or has any relationship with my work in this entire region’, he told the judge”…

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Here's every word of the White House briefing

The transcript of the White House briefing, about 20 hours after Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by American special forces, is now posted online here.

President Obama’s counterterrorism Adviser John Brenner said to journalists this afternoon/evening that President Obama and his advisers watched the American operation that killed Ben Laden “in real time”, as is shown in this photo just released by the White House [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the only one showing any emotional reaction here]:

Some 24 hours after the deed, the UN Security Council is convening in consultations about a possible statement.   Matthew Lee of Inner City Press, at the front lines outside the UNSC chambers, has just tweeted that there are going to be changes in a draft text, and/as the  French Ambassador didn’t like the French version…

UPDATE:  Sometime around 3am Jerusalem time, the American Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, Tweeted (@AmbassadorRice): “This afternoon, the Security Council passed a statement welcoming the news that #UBL [Usama Bin Laden] will never again perpetrate acts of terrorism”.

This statement is not yet posted on the website of the US Mission to the UN, and it is difficult to find even on the official UN website.  It is buried down at the bottom of a UN News Centre report on remarks made to the media outside the UN Security Council.  The report says that “Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month, read out a presidential statement in which the 15-member panel welcomed the news that Mr. bin Laden ‘will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism’.   The statement urged all countries to remain vigilant and intensify their efforts to defeat terrorism, including by working together to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of terrorist attacks.  ‘The Security Council stresses… that terrorism will not be defeated by military force, law enforcement measures and intelligence operations alone, and can only be defeated by a sustained and comprehensive approach involving the active participation and collaboration of all States, and relevant international and regional organizations and civil society to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and to impede, impair, isolate and incapacitate the terrorist threat’.”

This Presidential Statement by the UNSC is contained in a UN press release which “also reaffirmed that terrorism could not and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or group”.

The press release also says that “States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law”.

According to the UN press release, “The meeting began at 5:30 p.m. and ended at 5:35 p.m”. The full text is posted here.

Meanwhile, here, for the record, is what John Brenner said at the briefing in Washington on  Monday, especially about the burial at sea:

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Obama announces Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Is the “War on Terror” now over?

Can we go back to life the way it was before?

Because, for sure, there’s no way to ask any questions about this.

[Though, there are probably videos that will be shown later…]

U.S. President Obama said it was a “targetted operation”… which “took care to avoid civilian casualties”.

After 9/11, our time of grief, Americans came together, Obama said. “We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, an organization headed by Osama Bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. So, we went to war against Al-Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends and our allies … In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government which had given Bin Ladan and Al-Qaeda safe haven and support, and around the globe, we worked to capture or kill scores of Al-Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot”, he said. “Shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the Director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of Osama Bin Laden the top priority in our war against al-Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle or defeat his network”…

Obama never once said the word “terrorist” or “terror” [this was one of the significant style changes in his administration]. No, this is a war against Al-Qaeda, Obama said, several times.

“There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us”, Obama added, so the U.S. “must be vigilant, at home and abroad”…

The U.S. then issued a worldwide travel alert and advisory to all U.S. citizens.

A warden message received on Monday afternoon from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem says: “Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations … We urge U.S. citizens to keep in regular contact with family and friends”.

In his announcement, Obama also said that Bin Laden’s “demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity … justice has been done”.

Osama Bin Laden has been killed, somehow, in a “showdown with U.S. forces” in a luxurious villa in a heavily-fortified compound in Pakistan — a country which insisted he was not there, and where U.S. forces have been operating for years, while supposedly searching for Osama Bin Laden and his amorphous Al-Qaeda Organization, which any misfit or rebel who wanted to antagonize could claim to be part of (whether true or not, claims were accepted, usually without question, if convenient).

The villa was reportedly in, or on the outskirts of, Abbotabad, about two hours north of Islamabad. [And, the villa was reportedly about 800 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy.]

According to a report in The Guardian, here, the villa was identified last August, the U.S. was certain in February that Bin Laden and family were there, and Obama gave the order to get him on 29 April.

The same report added that “It was a surgical operation, he said, carried out by a small team and lasted only 40 minutes … The US force ran into a problem with one of their helicopters which had to be abandoned, but only after being destroyed by explosives set by the American troops”.

Some Pakistani forces reportedly accompanied the U.S. soldiers.  Now, they say they’re not sure who fired the shot that actually killed Osama Bin Laden.  But, there can never be another autopsy, a forensic examination, because, the U.S. says, his body has been “buried at sea” — according to Muslim tradition (which is NOT to bury a dead person at sea, but in the earth).

This happened within a very few hours — at 0200 in Washington DC time — and that would be according to Muslim (and Jewish) tradition which prefers burial (in earth) within 24 hours. The military operation apparently started just after 8pm, and Obama made his announcement after 10:30 pm, the time it was supposed to take place …

The U.S. took charge [“custody”, Obama said] of the body, and then said no country was willing to take the body for burial…

That’ll make it easy, they must have thought.

UPDATE: At a White House briefing after 9pm Monday night (Jerusalem time), with the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and John Brennan of the President’s National Security team, Brennan said that “we were able to monitor it [the operation] in real time”. He said the COAs [Course of Actions] were determined over the past couple of months: if he’s captured, what do we do with him? And, if he’s killed what do we do. Arrangements for the burial were ready. The appropriate people were there. A decision was taken that the burial in the way it was done was the appropriate thing to do. He would not say exactly where it happened. He said that there have been differences between the U.S. and Pakistan on counterterrorism policy, and that the Pakistani authorities were briefed immediately after the operation. They were appreciative of the fact that there were no Pakistani casualties”.

Brennan, a “counterterrorism” advisor, said that “we are talking to the Pakistanis” about the location where Bin Laden was found, but initially “they seemed as surprised as we were”…

Brennan said that Bin Laden did participate in the firefight when the U.S. raid occurred, but when asked specifically, Brennan said he didn’t know if Bin Laden got his hand on a weapon or fired any rounds.

Others died, too, including “the two al-Qaeda facilitators” [two brothers], one of his sons [Khaled], and “a woman being used as a hostage shield”… presumed to be one of Osama Bin Laden’s wives, Brennan later said, adding that he did not know how it was she was interposed in the line of fire in front of Bin Laden, including whether she put herself in that position herself.

It is not clear whether Bin Laden was buried alone, at sea, or with this wife, and his son…

But, in the best post-Second-World-War American tradition, the U.S. is leader of “the free world”, and no questions can be asked.  [Or, as happened on Monday evening, there will be a press conference with dozens of questions, and not too many full answers…]

There will be no trial.  Osama will not be water-boarded in Camp Guantanamo to extract “the facts” in a full investigation.  We will never know what really happened, and we will believe what suits us.

There is no body to show = no need to know:  just accept our word, we’re the “good guys”?

Just trust the leaders. Or, what’s wrong with you — get the hell out! Go… to Gaza!

On Twitter, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, tweeted (@husainhaqqani) just after 1:15 in the afternoon, Jerusalem time:
**”Official Pakistan statement being released in Islamabad on our US bringing Osama bin Laden to justice 14 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®”
**”Pak statement: In intelligence driven op, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in the surroundings of Abbotabad in the early hours of Mon morning”
**”Operation was conducted by US forces in accordance with declared US policy”
**”Earlier 2day, President Obama telephoned President Zardari on the successful US operation which resulted in killing of OBL”
**”Al-Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. Scores of Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks resulted in deaths of 1000s of innocent Pakistanis”

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Obama: "civilian control of the military…is at the core of our democratic system"

The Washington Post reported that U.S. President Barack Obama said, after General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation today as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, that “The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general … It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system“… This is reported here.

This drama happened because of an unbridled article published in the current issue of The Rolling Stone magazine. Before calling McChrystal back to Washington for this resignation, Obama said that remarks made by the General and members of his staff and reported in the article, entitled “The Runaway General“, showed “poor judgment”.

Obama made the announcement in the White House Rose Garden with Vice President Joe Biden (one of the targets of McChrystal’s aides in the Rolling Stone article) standing just behind his right shoulder.

[See UPDATE below — the spin reported in the NYTimes says: “The drama began on Monday afternoon, when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was flying home from Illinois to Andrews Air Force Base, took an unsettling call from General McChrystal”…]

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Still too much death in Afghanistan – New Dawn in Iraq

In today’s news:
Karzai says NATO still causes too many civilian deaths: “Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that NATO’s efforts to prevent civilian deaths during its operations are not enough because innocent people keep dying, as the military alliance continued its offensive in a key Taliban stronghold … Karzai said that NATO has made progress in reducing civilian casualties and air bombardments — which have been responsible for some of the largest incidents of civilian deaths … However, Karzai stressed that the effort is not sufficient. ‘We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties,” Karzai said. “Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal’.” See full report here.

Dutch government collapses over Afghanistan mission: The Dutch coalition government collapsed Saturday over whether to extend the country’s military mission in Afghanistan, leaving uncertain the future of its 1,600 soldiers fighting there. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the second largest party in his three-party alliance is quitting … Balkenende made no mention of elections as he spoke to reporters after a 16-hour Cabinet meeting in The Hague that ended close to dawn. However, the resignation of the Labor Party — which has demanded the country stick to a scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan — would leave his government with an unworkable majority, and political analysts said early elections appeared inevitable … Dutch soldiers have been deployed since 2006 in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan on a two-year stint that was extended until next August. Labor demanded that Dutch troops leave Uruzgan as scheduled. Balkenende’s Christian Democratic Alliance wanted to keep a trimmed down military presence in the restive province, where 21 soldiers have been killed. ‘A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan’, said Labor Party leader Wouter Bos. ‘Our partners in the government didn’t want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this government’. NATO recently sent a letter to the government asking if it would consider staying longer — a move that the Western alliance normally would do only if it had a clear signal of agreement. ‘The future of the mission of our soldiers in Afghanistan will now be in the hands of the new Cabinet’, said Deputy Defense Minister Jack de Vries” … Opinion polls suggest the Afghan war is deeply unpopular”. The full report is here.

New Name for War in Iraq: “The Obama administration has decided to give the war in Iraq a new name — ‘Operation New Dawn’ — to reflect the reduced role U.S. troops will play in securing the country this year as troop levels fall, according to a memo from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates [to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander for the region]. Since U.S. forces charged across the Kuwaiti border toward Baghdad in 2003, the war has been known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The new name is scheduled to take effect in September, when U.S. troop levels are supposed to drop to about 50,000 … Such name changes are not unusual. The name of the 1991 Persian Gulf War changed as the mission changed, from Operation Desert Shield to Operation Desert Storm and then finally to Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch”. This report is published here

The Gates memo was first reported by ABC Television news, which posted it on its website — 17 Feb 2010 Request to change the name Operation Iraqi Freedom to Iraqi New Dawn: “… to take effect 1 Sept 2010 … Aligning the name change with the change of mission sends a strong signal that Operation IRAQI FREEDOM has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission. It also presents opportunities to synchronize strategic communication initiatives, reinforce our commitment to honor the Security Agreement, and recognize our evolving relationship with the Iraqi government”. The original memo is posted here.

Obama's Executive Order to close Guantanamo expired yesterday

“One of US President Barack Obama’s most publicized and internationally applauded first acts upon coming into office was his executive order to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year”, as Sara Kuepfer Thakkar wrote in an analysis for the Zurich-based ISN Security Watch, but “The deadline for closing Guantanamo, which expires today [this was published yesterday, Friday 22 January 2010], has not been met”.

The Guantanamo Naval Base Detention Facility was opened on 11 January 2002, to imprison suspects in George W. Bush’s War on Terror.

At the time that this War on Terror was declared, experts warned that it could be a long time before it could be declared over — a fact which could create multiple problems, including what to do with the detainees being held in various covert facilities around the world.

President Obama has ordered an end to the terminology (“War on Terror”), but it seems that the policies and practices die harder.

Sara Kuepfer Thakkar wrote in her ISN analysis that “The prison at Guantanamo Bay had become a symbol of American abuse of Muslims, a convenient recruiting tool for al-Qaida, and thus a real liability for a war that ultimately can only be won by securing the support of Muslims around the world …

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Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize – Positive Reinforcement Therapy

After just nine months in office, U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2009.

As CNN reported, there were gasps in the room when the head of the Nobel prize committee made the announcement this morning.

The head of the Nobel prize committee explained that Obama won for his extraordinary efforts to improve the international climate and strengthen international diplomacy within the framework of international institutions (e.g., the United Nations).

(He added in a later interview on CNN that “of course, other people have to respond positively” – then he indicated that Obama’s distinction is due to his having given diplomacy a central position.)

The announcement also noted that Obama has revived global hopes of creating a world without nuclear weapons.

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Everything we know about Al-Qaeda may be untrue – if based on torture

The Washington Post, in an article published on Saturday, reported that “previously unpublicized details about the transformation, in 2005-2006, of the man known to U.S. officials as [Khalid Sheik Mohammed ] KSM  [was transformed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda.  This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques … enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons” before the transformation.

But, what he provided in the first year of his detention (2003-2004) was untrue: ” ‘KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete’, according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.   The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.   Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again … Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.  ‘During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time’, he said … After his capture, Mohammed first told his captors what he calculated they already knew.  ‘KSM almost immediately following his capture in March 2003 elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow airport’, according to a document released by the CIA on Monday that summarizes the intelligence provided by Mohammed. The agency thinks he assumed that Ramzi Binalshibh, a Sept. 11 conspirator captured in September 2002, had already divulged the plan”.

So, what reason is there to think that what he told CIA and other personnel in 2005-2006 about Al-Qaeda is true?

Here is the reasoning given in the Washington Post story:  “One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure. ‘Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them’, said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified.  ‘After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, “I was tortured into cooperating” ‘.'”

Or, he was tortured into lying … and inventing and making up stories …

We previously discussed the reports that KSM and other alleged High Value Detainees implicated each other after being tortured, here and here.

The Washington Post report adds that “One former agency official recalled that Mohammed was once asked to write a summary of his knowledge about al-Qaeda’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist group had explored buying either an intact nuclear weapon or key components such as enriched uranium, although there is no evidence of significant progress on that front. ‘He wrote us an essay’ on al-Qaeda’s nuclear ambitions, the official said. ‘Not all of it was accurate, but it was quite extensive’. Mohammed was an unparalleled source in deciphering al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine, key operatives and likely targets, the summary said, including describing in ‘considerable detail the traits and profiles’ that al-Qaeda sought in Western operatives and how the terrorist organization might conduct surveillance in the United States. Mohammed was moved to the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006, and his loquaciousness is now largely confined to occasional appearances before a military commission. Back in his 86-square-foot cell at the secret Camp 7 at Guantanamo, he spends most of his waking hours in prayer, according to a source familiar with his confinement who spoke on the condition of anonymity”.

The Washington Post report can be read in full here .

Sleep deprivation is torture

One of the documents on interrogation techniques released this week in Washington [[see our previous post here ]] was an internal CIA report that, as AP says, describes “two instances in 2007 in which the CIA was allowed to exceed the guidelines set by Bush administration lawyers allowing prisoners to be kept awake for up to four days”.

It specifies that “CIA operatives used severe sleep deprivation tactics against a terror detainee in late 2007, keeping him awake for six straight days with permission from government lawyers”.

According to the AP story, “The first episode occurred in August 2007, when interrogators were given permission from the Office of Legal Counsel to keep an unidentified detainee awake for five days, a U.S. government official confirmed … According to the documents, the sleep-deprived prisoner was kept awake by being forced to stand with his arms chained above heart level. He wore diapers, allowing interrogators to keep him chained continuously without bathroom breaks. [[One has to ask who, if anyone, changed his diapers? Wearing soiled diapers for even one full causes serious skin burns from the ammonia in urine …]] The second incident occurred in November 2007. After again asking permission from Justice lawyers to keep a detainee awake an extra day, interrogators pressed to extend the treatment for another 24 hours, depriving the prisoner of sleep for six straight days. It is unclear from the documents whether the two incidents involved the same detainee. CIA spokesman George Little would not provide the identity of the prisoner referred to in the document … According to the documents, the prisoner was monitored by closed-circuit television. If he started to fall asleep, the chains jerking on his arms would wake him up. If a prisoner’s leg swelled — a condition known as edema, which can cause blood clots and stroke — interrogators could chain him to a low, unbalanced stool or on the floor with arms outstretched“.

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