Tag Archives: 9/11

How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism

How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism
by Ian Sinclair
3 July 2015

The first question on BBC Question Time last night was about the recent terrorist atrocity in Tunisia. There was a long discussion involving all the panellists, but here are the key quotes:

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour leadership candidate: “You’ve got to think through the policies we’ve been following for the past 15 years in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Are they not a contributory factor in the collapse of so much all across the whole region?”

Presenter David Dimbleby then asked Corbyn what he would do about the threat from terrorist groups such as Islamic State.

Jeremy Corbyn: “You recognise that we’ve made some catastrophic mistakes in the bombing that we’ve done in so many other places, and that we’ve encouraged the growth of some of these groups – not intentionally but they’ve been a factor within that. And you develop a foreign policy that supports people and tries to attract them away from the purposes of ISIL.”

Jeremy Hunt MP, Health Secretary: “I have great respect for the integrity that Jeremy – the other Jeremy [Corbyn] – expresses his views, but I disagree with him that this is about foreign policy. 9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan. Foreign policy is an excuse.”

Jeremy Hunt is, of course, right that “9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan.” However, by making this argument Hunt is either incredibly ignorant or being incredibly disingenuous.

Western foreign policy and Western intervention in the Middle East didn’t begin on the morning of 11 September 2001. 9/11 didn’t happen in a social, historical and political vacuum. Al-Qaeda and the 19 hijackers didn’t randomly choose the World Trade Center and Pentagon out of all the famous landmarks across the globe. They targeted these symbols of US power for very specific reasons.

Speaking to me about Al-Qaeda in 2011, Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996-1999, explained that not since Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh has the US had an enemy who has been so frank about their motivation for fighting. For Scheuer Islamic terrorist attacks on the US have nothing “to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

So what reasons did Al-Qaeda give for targeting the United States in 2001? In public statements made in 1996, 1998 and 2002 Al-Qaeda repeat a number of grievances:

  • The US military presence in Saudi Arabia
  • US support for dictatorships in the Middle East
  • US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine
  • The effects of the US-led United Nations sanctions on Iraq

So, very obviously, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a direct response to US foreign policy in the Middle East. A foreign policy, it’s important to remember, that was strongly supported by the UK. Those people, such as Hunt, who dismiss attempts to look at Western foreign policy as a reason for why the US and UK are being targeted, thus shutting down debate on the topic, are likely helping to make future terrorist attacks on the US and UK more, not less, likely.

“Why do they hate us?” Nothing to do with Western foreign policy, apparently

“Why do they hate us?” Nothing to do with Western foreign policy, apparently
by Ian Sinclair
2 May 2017

“He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge” – sister of Salman Abedi, who carried out the Manchester attack on 22 May 2017 (Chris Graham, ‘Salman Abedi “wanted revenge” for US air strikes in Syria, Manchester bomber’s sister says’, Telegraph, 25 May 2017)

‘The last message left by the killer Khalid Masood on the WhatsApp messaging service, revealing his motivation for the lethal attack in Westminster, has been uncovered by the security agencies, The Independent has learnt. In the message, sent just minutes before he began the rampage in which five people died and 50 were injured, the 52-year-old Muslim convert had declared that he was waging jihad in revenge against Western military action in Muslim countries in the Middle East.’ – Khalid Masood, killed after carrying out the terrorist attack in Westminster, UK on 22 March 2017 (Kim Sepgupta, ‘Last message left by Westminster attacker Khalid Masood uncovered by security agencies’, Independent, 29 April 2017)

‘In the series of phone calls with the negotiator during the Orlando massacre, Mateen also railed against U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, saying they were killing women and children. “What am I to do here when my people are getting killed over there. You get what I’m saying?” he said.’ – Omar Mateen, killed after carrying out a terrorist attack on a nightclub in Orlando on 12 June 2016 (‘Transcripts of Orlando shooter’s conversation with police reveal ISIS influence’, Wall Street Journal, 28 September 2016)

‘…police found a letter in Ziamani’s jeans addressed to his “beloved parents”, saying he was a changed person. He wrote of being martyred and going to paradise, and referenced people being raped, tortured and killed in Iraq and Syria. He said he had a duty to help them. In the message, he wrote: “Because I have no means ov gettin there I will wage war against the british government on this soil the british government will have a taste of there own medicine they will be humiliated this is ISIB Islamic State of Ireland and Britain [sic].”’ – Brusthom Ziamani, arrested in August 2014 for planning to behead a British soldier (Press Association, ‘Muslim teenager planned to behead soldiers in London, court hears’, Guardian, 9 February 2015)

‘Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. This British soldier is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone… you lot are extreme. Do you think when you drop a bomb it picks one person? Or rather your bomb wipes out a whole family. This is the reality… tell them [the UK Government] to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace.’ – Michael Adebolajo speaking immediately after killing British soldier Lee Rigby on 22 May 2013 (‘Lee Rigby trial: jury shown “eye for an eye” video’, Telegraph, 25 November 2014)

‘The two suspects in the Boston bombing that killed three and injured more than 260 were motivated by the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials told the Washington Post. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, “the 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack,” the Post writes, citing “US officials familiar with the interviews.” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who carried out the 15 April 2013 Boston bombing (‘Boston Bombing Suspects Motivated By Afghanistan, Iraq Wars: Report’, Huffington Post, 24 April 2013)

‘”If the United States does not get out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries controlled by Muslims, he said, ‘we will be attacking US”, adding that Americans “only care about their people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die”… As soon as he was taken into custody May 3 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, onboard a flight to Dubai, the Pakistani-born Shahzad told agents that he was motivated by opposition to US policy in the Muslim world, officials said.’ – Faisal Shahzad, who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, New York City on 1 May 2010 (Jerry Markon, ‘Shahzad pleads guilty in failed Times Square bombing, warns of future attacks’, Washington Post, 22 June 2010)

‘I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants.’ – Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the ‘underwear bomber’, who attempted to blow himself up on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on 25 December 2009 (Detriot Free Press Staff, ‘Transcript: Read Abdulmutallab’s statement on guilty plea’, Detroit Free Press, 12 October 2011)

‘Part of his disenchantment was his deep and public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a stance shared by some medical colleagues but shaped for him by a growing religious fervor. The strands of religion and antiwar sentiment seemed to weave together in a PowerPoint presentation he made at Walter Reed in June 2007… For a master’s program in public health, Major Hasan gave another presentation to his environmental health class titled ‘Why The War on Terror is a War on Islam.’’ – Nidal Hasan, who killed thirteen people at Foot Hood, Texas on 5 November 2009 (Scott Shane and James Dao, ‘Investigators Study Tangle of Clues on Fort Hood Suspect’, New York Times, 14 November 2009)

‘The story of his personal conveyor belt towards political violence starts with one word: Iraq… The destruction of his home country was the catalyst… he says he watched the country implode under sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship – and his view of the West began to change… He said he had no doubt a rise in childhood leukaemia was caused by depleted uranium shells, special armour-piercing US ammunition used in the first Gulf War. Abdulla blamed the US and its allies for the deteriorating situation – and he wasn’t standing and applauding when they came again in 2003… “My political views changed dramatically towards the [British] government,” he said. “They shared in murdering my people. It was the British government and American government. Without Blair, Bush couldn’t have invaded Iraq.”’ – Bilal Abdulla, who attempted to detonate a car bomb at Glasgow Airport on 30 June 2007 (Dominic Casciani, ‘Iraqi doctor’s road to radicalism’, BBC News, 16 December 2008)

‘The London bomb plot suspect arrested in Rome has allegedly confessed to Italian interrogators, lifting the lid on the plan to bring a wave of terror to Britain. Anti-terror police in the Italian capital say Osman Hussain has told them that the “bombers” watched videos of British and American troops “exterminating” Iraqi women and children before embarking on the attack on London’s transport network on July 21.’ – Osman Hussain, one of the failed 21 July 2005 suicide bombers (‘Confession lifts lid on London bomb plot’, Scotsman, 30 July 2005)

‘He said the public was responsible for the atrocities perpetuated against his “people” across the world because it supported democratically elected governments who carried them out. “Until we feel security, you will be our targets,” he said. “Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.”’ Mohammad Sidique Khan, in his 7/7 suicide bomber martyrdom video (‘London bomber video aired on TV’, BBC News, 2 September 2005)

‘The suspect, Amrozi, who was arrested on Wednesday, Maj Gen Made Mangku Pastika, the chief investigator of the multinational police team, said Amrozi described the attack as “revenge because of what Americans have done to Muslims”.’ – Amrozi, who was convicted and executed for his role in the 12 October 2002 Bali bombing (Alex Spillius, ‘Bali bombers were trying to kill Americans’, Telegraph, 9 November 2002)

‘Two days before he boarded United Airlines Flight 63 last December 22, accused Al-Qaeda shoe-bomber Richard Reid wrote what federal prosecutors say was a farewell email to his mother… Prosecutors say that Reid wrote, “The reason for me sending you [a “will”] is so that you can see that I didn’t do this act out of ignorance nor did I do just because I want to die, but rather because I see it as a duty upon me to help remove the oppressive American forces from the Muslim land and that this is the only way for us to do so as we do not have other means to fight them.”’ – Richard Reid, who tried to blow himself up on a transatlantic flight on 22 December 2001 (Elaine Shannon, ‘Did Richard Reid Let Mom Know?’, Time, 23 May 2002)

‘Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple… Because you attacked us and continue to attack us… You attacked us in Palestine… which has sunk under military occupation for more than 80 years… You attacked us in Somalia; you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon… Under your supervision, consent and orders, the governments of our countries which act as your agents, attack us on a daily basis… You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of you international influence and military threats. This theft is indeed the biggest theft ever witnessed by mankind in the history of the world…Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them… You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.’ – Osama bin Laden sets out the reasons why the US was attacked on 9/11 (‘Full text: bin Laden’s letter to America, Guardian, 24 November 2002)

‘Law-enforcement officials said yesterday that the suspects in the [1993] World Trade Center bombing mailed a letter around the time of the attack claiming responsibility and attributing the action to deep resentment against United States policy in the Middle East.’ – (Alison Mitchell, ‘Letter explained motive in bombing, official now say’, New York Times, 28 March 1993)

‘Fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist’: Michael Scheuer interview

‘Fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist’: Michael Scheuer interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
June 2011

A CIA operative for 22 years, including three as the head of the Agency’s Osama bin Laden unit from 1996-9, Michael Scheuer is no stranger to controversy.

His first book, written anonymously as he was still a serving CIA officer, compared bin Laden’s public statements to those made by US revolutionary giants such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Published in 2004, the 58-year-old American’s second book Imperial Hubris was a bestselling full-frontal assault on the US government’s “war on terror.”
It was endorsed by none other than bin Laden himself.  “If you want to understand what’s going on … then read the book of Michael Scheuer,” said the most wanted man in the world in 2007.

Scheuer was in Britain last month to promote his new biography of bin Laden and I caught up with him at his hotel in central London before he gave a public lecture at the London School of Economics.

“We’ve had three presidents, you’ve had two or three prime ministers, who have told the British and American people we are at war because Muslims hate freedom, they hate gender equality, they hate elections,” he says. “But if we were facing the people who were willing to blow themselves up because our daughters go to university it wouldn’t even rise to a level of a nuisance.” So why are the US and Britain primary targets for al-Qaida? “I think it’s pretty clear,” he says. “They don’t like what we do in their world – whether it is support for the Saudi police state or support for Israel or our presence on the Arab peninsula.” Not since Ho Chi Minh has the US had an enemy who has been so frank about their motivation for fighting and how they intend to win, Scheuer says.

“It’s kind of a racist idea that somehow Muslims are so stupid that they are willing to kill themselves because we have McDonald’s or because I have a beer after work.” As a result of this self-imposed ignorance, Scheuer believes the West has underestimated al-Qaida and is “fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist.”

The US Establishment – Democrats and Republicans – “are, quite simply, lying to Americans,” Scheuer argued in his first book. With his election to president in 2008, Barack Obama can be added to this rogues’ gallery. “Obama gave a speech on May 19 in which he called for regime change in six Muslim countries,” Scheuer says. “Had Bush made that speech and come to London I don’t think Bush would have gotten the reception that Obama got.”

Scheuer maintains that this top-level deceit continues because the US is unable to extract itself from the Middle East, after failing to act following the 1973 oil embargo. “No politician wants to go to the electorate and say: ‘We’ve been stupid and derelict and criminally negligent in not doing anything about energy’,” he says. “So what’s easier to do than scaring people and avoiding any kind of discussion about whether a policy change could help remove the motivation from much of al-Qaida and also slow the process of the attraction of its ideas to the coming generation?”

While Morning Star readers will likely broadly agree with much of Scheuer’s analysis, he is no dove, and he certainly not sympathetic to progressive politics in general. On several occasions during the interview he disparagingly refers to Amnesty International, “the left” and the American Civil Liberties Union. He argues this is “a substantive war” with an enemy that has to be defeated. The killing of bin Laden by US special forces was “a great operation,” he says, although the political aftermath was badly botched.

The impact of bin Laden’s death on al-Qaida is significant but not fatal, Scheuer believes.
“The key to the whole situation is how the succession works out.” Although this is being presented in the West as a power struggle, Scheuer maintains that “the reason it is taking so long is that, in an odd way, al-Qaida is a small ‘d’ democratic organisation. “There is a shura council who will pick the next leader and they obviously haven’t settled on anyone yet.”

Scheuer is highly critical of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, although his analysis might best be termed ‘the fight-the-war-better school of criticism.’ “I think the only way to have addressed Afghanistan was with a very much larger military operation that lasted 12-15 months,” he says. With a doctorate in history, Scheuer is a keen student of past military campaigns. “You would certainly be able to do what the British did in Afghanistan in 1878, which was to make it quiet for 20 years.” How? “By conducting what the British used to call ‘a punitive expedition’’”. That is, “break as much of al-Qaida and the Taliban as you could and then leave with the full knowledge you might have to do it again. But leaving them with the impression there really is a cost to playing around with American security.”

If this sounds like a bloodbath, that’s probably because it would be. “Bush had a window for savagery after 9/11,” Scheuer says, which although I’m not totally sure, seems to be an endorsement of this course of action.

“I think the only way to fight it is by telling the truth,” he says when I ask him what he would like to see done. “For example, Israel is an enormous burden on the United States and people pick up guns to fight us because of our support for Israelis. That’s a fact. “It’s not an opinion and you don’t have to agree or disagree with it, because it’s a fact. “Whether you choose to support Israel or not is a different matter. But – and I’ll sound like your father but I don’t mean to – everything in life has a consequence. And to imagine we can do what we’ve done with the Israelis and not have consequences is adolescent.”

How does Scheuer deal with the considerable flak he continues to attract? “The biggest problem I have is abuse and threats indirectly from the people who support Israel,” he replies.
In 2009 Scheuer was sacked from his position as a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, after several donors threatened to withdraw funding after he described Obama as “dancing the Tel Aviv two-step.”

“That’s part of the game,” he says. “If you are an American and you question the worth of the relationship with Israel you are going to be labelled as an anti-semite and anti-American.”
During the Q&A session at the LSE lecture later that day, Scheuer is back to his old tricks, stunning the audience with his answer to a question about al-Qaida’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians. “I’ve not yet seen al-Qaida endorse indiscriminate attacks on civilians … the 9/11 targets were perfectly legitimate military targets as defined by the United States and its allies in World War II.”

While some of his positions may jar uneasily with progressives, undoubtedly the plain-spoken and direct Scheuer continues to be an important voice of reason on this emotive issue.
As the LSE professor noted in his introduction to the lecture, “there is no-one better to speak about Osama bin Laden than Michael Scheuer.”

Michael Scheuer’s Osama bin Laden is published by Oxford University Press (£14.99). Scheuer blogs at www.non-intervention.com

Jeremy Scahill interview

Jeremy Scahill interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 May 2013

Within days of 9/11 it was clear the Bush Administration would exploit the terrorist attacks to push for war on Afghanistan and Iraq. What is less well known is the huge transformation that occurred at the heart of the US Government in those dark days – the topic of US journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield.

With the nation in a state of collective hysteria, the neo-conservatives led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rewrote the rules of the game, instituting a huge expansion of covert US wars. In London earlier this month on a promotional tour, Scahill spoke to me about how covert action, secret prisons, drone strikes and assassination all began to be deployed on an unprecedented scale. Having reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, the 38-year old National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine is one of the most knowledgeable observers of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

According to Scahill, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was sidelined after 9/11, with Cheney and Rumsfeld viewing “the CIA as a worthless, liberal thinktank.” Instead they massively increased the funding and power of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – “the most closely guarded secret force in the US national security apparatus”, writes Scahill in his book. Formed in the 1980s and modelled on the British SAS, President Clinton had muzzled the force following their disastrous involvement in the Black Hawk Down episode in Somalia in 1993. What the Bush Administration did after 9/11, says Scahill, was let JSOC “off the leash”. Or as Cofer Black, the Head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, put it: “All you need to know is that there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off.”

JSOC’s primary role was established during the occupation of Iraq. “The myth was that ‘The Surge’ created this relatively stable couple of years in Iraq”, that US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus instituted a brilliant counter-insurgency campaign, Scahill says. However, he points out “everyone in the US military knows this is just a fraudulent portrayal.” Rather “it had everything to do with JSOC creating a kind of Murder, Inc. operation where they went down and just killed a tremendous number of people”. Bluntly, he says “there was no one left to kill at one point. JSOC had killed its way through every Mom and Pop resistance operation all the through to Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.” This, along with the US paying the Sunni tribes – the Awakening Councils – not to kill US soldiers was what was responsible for the lull in fighting, according to Scahill.

In the run up to the Iraq War, the UK general public was often told that one of the reasons Tony Blair was supporting President Bush so closely was that he would be able to influence, and hopefully constrain, US policy. Scahill laughs when I raise this argument: “The notion that Tony Blair was going to reign in Bush or Cheney is laughable. If anything Britain was used as a cover by the United States to give legitimacy to the Iraq War.” In actual fact UK forces were “deeply involved” in the assassination campaigns waged by JSOC in Iraq, with British units heading up JSOC operations, he explains.

Scahill is also very critical of President Obama’s record in office, noting how the first Black president came under intense pressure from the US military establishment to massively expand the covert wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. “And elsewhere – they were asking for authority in the Philippines and Indonesia and certain cases in Latin America, they wanted covert action inside Iran”, he notes. Enamoured by the generals and admirals the Obama Administration caved in and “start hitting in Pakistan at a rate 3-4 times what Bush was authorising.” Similar upswings in drone strikes – and the inevitable civilian casualties – occurred in Yemen and Somalia.

“Obama was trying to find a way to continue some of these policies by simply tweaking them, or adjusting them in a small way”, Scahill says. “He ended extraordinary rendition by the CIA and closed CIA black sites. Instead what he is doing is working with human rights abusing forces around the world to do it for the United States. So it’s by proxy now.” More broadly Scahill believes “Obama has tried to find a way to legitimise the core of the Bush-Cheney programme while defending the system itself from attack both internally and externally. And it’s been pitched that this is a cleaner, more legal way of waging war.”

“I think he has largely been effective in selling that idea to liberals”, he adds.

Turning to his objections to the US policies, Scahill says he isn’t a pacifist and that a state has the right to defend itself. “I just think it is self-defeating”, he says. “My fear, and I believe this to the case, is that we are actually creating more new enemies than we are killing actual terrorists.” He is keen to stress his concerns are of a long-term, strategic nature. “What’s our security going to look like ten years from now as a result of killing innocent people in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan?” he asks. “If you and I sit down a decade from now I’m sure we will be talking about attacks that took place as a result of policy implemented right now.”

A key reason so many US citizens either actively support or are ignorant about these damaging actions is arguably the media’s inability to hold the US Government to account since 9/11. “I don’t believe there is a conspiracy with fat white guys smoking cigars in a back room and deciding how they are going to screw the little people”, Scahill says. “It’s unnecessary.”

“Powerful people in Government are close friends with powerful people in the media”, he explains. “They are part of the same class of people. They hang out together at weekends. They have their little parties like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where the President jokes about drones and the powerful media barons chuckle at his jokes, and their kids go to the same elite private schools.” He also argues that in the US “the default position is that power is right, that power is telling the truth, that the powerful are to be trusted.”

“I think the opposite should be true – that you should always assume that what they are saying is manipulative”, he counters. “You have to be sceptical as a journalist.”

As Amy Goodman, his former colleague at news programme Democracy Now!, once said “The role of journalism is to go where the silences are”. By shining a light on the darkest parts of US foreign policy, Dirty Wars is a brilliant example of this noble aim. With a senior US defence official recently testifying that the ‘war on terror’ will continue for another 10-20 years muckraking, investigative journalists like Scahill are needed now more than ever.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield is published by Serpant’s Tail, priced £15.99. A documentary based on the book will be released later this year. For more information see www.dirtywars.org.