Tag Archives: War on Terror

What is the role of the West in the Middle East? Christopher Davidson interview

What is the role of the West in the Middle East? Christopher Davidson interview
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
18 January 2017

A Reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University, in 2012 Dr Christopher Davidson published the best-seller After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies.

Endorsed by John Pilger and Ilan Pappe, in his new book Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East, Davidson turns his attention to the West’s often covert counter-revolutionary activities in the region.

Ian Sinclair: What have been the US and UK’s broad aims in the Middle East since World War Two?

Christopher Davidson: Although limping through World War Two as a technical victor, Britain’s surviving global empire was nonetheless in retreat.  With repeated uprisings and national liberation movements chipping away at overseas possessions, Whitehall officials and planners were already expert in devising strategies aimed at blocking or reversing indigenous challenges. But with increasingly resource-intensive heavy industries requiring vast imports of basic materials at a cheap and stable price from their remaining colonies and protectorates, such counter-revolutionary efforts had to become much more focused on what was now the greatest threat of all: economic nationalism. Certainly the enemy insurgents Britain was facing by the mid-twentieth century were no longer being measured by their ideology, religion, or barbarity, but quite clearly by their capacity to nationalize resources and industries or, at the very least, build states capable of demanding greater stakes in the local production of wealth.

Since its secret Sykes-Picot agreement with France that effectively carved up the territories of the crumbling Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War One, Britain’s grip over much of the Middle East had been more or less uncontested. But by the 1950s a potent pan-Arab movement was threatening to unseat remaining British client rulers in the region and jeopardize lucrative trade arrangements and control over valuable resources. With ‘classic nationalism [having become] impotent’ in the Middle East, as veteran correspondent Patrick Seale once described, many of the new ‘Arab nationalist’ revolts were effectively military operations, often led by army officers intent on forcibly removing foreign influences from their countries.

Despite some muted discomfort over Britain’s stance on Arab nationalism, the United States of the mid-twentieth century was nonetheless rapidly waking up to the demands of its own resource-hungry industries and the realities of its Cold War stalemate with the Soviet Union.  Ensuring vacuums left in the wake of the retrenching European empires were not filled by such antagonistic forces bent on nationalizing assets or – equally dangerously – liberation movements likely to align themselves with Soviet-sponsored international communism, the US government and its intelligence agencies soon found themselves at the very forefront of counter-revolutionary action, even surpassing the British. As Karl Korsch put it, the US may have been based on the ideals of revolutionary France, but by this stage it was fast losing its ‘capitalist infancy’.

Advancing into the void left by Britain’s retreat, and quickly overcoming their initial fence-sitting on Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, by the mid-1950s US planners acknowledged that securing the Middle East, and especially the Persian Gulf region, was going to be vital to the future prosperity of Western industries and, in turn, for holding the Soviet Union in check.  As it was in the rest of the world, the extraction of natural resources was an obvious priority, so all indigenous attempts to nationalize economic assets – regardless of any progressive, liberal, or even democratic agendas – needed to be intimidated or destroyed by the US. In 1955, according to secret correspondence between British officials, President Dwight Eisenhower had even called for a ‘high class Machiavellian plan to achieve a situation in the Middle East favourable to our interests which could split the Arabs and defeat the aims of our enemies’.

Just two years later the region got its own ‘Eisenhower Doctrine’; an evolution of the earlier Truman and Monroe doctrines that had sought to secure US interests against international communism and foreign encroachment on the American continents. Stating that ‘the US regards as vital to the national interest and world peace the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East…’, Eisenhower effectively made the Middle East a special zone of US control. Moreover, as with Truman’s more global declaration, Eisenhower sought to tie the Cold War to all threats to the Middle Eastern status quo by claiming he was ‘prepared to use armed forces to assist [any Middle Eastern country] requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism’. He also proclaimed that ‘the existing vacuum in the Middle East must be filled by the US before it is filled by Russia’.

The sudden special treatment of the Middle East at this time was, for the most part, due to the simultaneous deepening of US dependency on crude oil imports. Although still a net exporter at the end of World War Two, by 1950 the US was importing a million barrels per day, and by the 1960s more than a third of the US energy demands were being met by such imports, mostly from the Shah’s Iran and the Gulf monarchies. US oil companies had already arrived on the Arabian Peninsula in 1933, eventually founding the American-Arabian Oil Company – Aramco – in Saudi Arabia, and with President Franklin Roosevelt proclaiming in 1943 that ‘the defence of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defence of the US.

IS: Though most accounts of Western involvement in the Middle East focus on the large scale interventions such as the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, with Shadow Wars you’ve decided to look at the West’s often covert actions in the region. What are some of the common strategies and tactics the West has used to achieve their aims in the Middle East?

CD: Since the 1950s a variety of different strategies and tactics have been employed, mostly determined by the scale and urgency of the perceived threat to Western interests. The first ‘wave’ of activity, led by the US and Britain’s fast-growing intelligence agencies, mostly comprised of assassination attempts, false flag operations, and efforts to destabilize uncooperative governments by sponsoring street protests and public political violence. Our best case studies from this period of course include the multiple attempts to kill off Gamal Abdel Nasser, the efforts to unseat Iran’s Mohammed Mosaddegh, who sought to part-nationalize his country’s oil industry, and the steps taken to undermine various Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian administrations.

With other, more paramilitary threats, such as the challenges to Britain’s control over Yemen and then the Dhofar rebellion against the British-backed Omani sultan, such strategies needed to be supplemented by ‘shadow wars’ in which British forces were secretly deployed to assist the troops of their local clients or ‘proxy’ regional allies. In Yemen, for example, Saudi Arabia was conducting airstrikes with considerable British assistance and was sponsoring ‘tribal irregulars’ to fight against a new nationalist regime that had unseated a British-backed imam who had been ruling autocratically over the northern part of the country. In Oman, as well as British intelligence helping to wage a propaganda war against the rebels, the SAS was being deployed without the British parliament’s knowledge, while forces from several other pro-British states including Iran and Jordan arrived to buttress the sultan’s beleaguered army.

By the latter part of the twentieth century, with the West’s demand for Middle Eastern resources intensifying and with the Soviet Union still undefeated, a much darker strategy started to form in which US and British officials sought to cultivate an ultra-conservative pan-Islamic movement capable of countering secular, progressive or potentially Soviet-aligned national liberation movements, or even simply nationalist governments. Gestating since the 1960s, by the 1980s the strategy was bearing great fruit as a CIA and Saudi-funded international jihad had already facilitated the arrival of thousands of foreign fighters in Afghanistan and helped forge a hardline Islamic state along the vulnerable Muslim-majority southern underbelly of the Soviet Union. By the end of the decade Al-Qaeda had emerged in the jihad’s wake, and since then its leaders and various splinter organizations proved themselves more than capable of sustaining the same sort of financial networks originally put in place for the Afghan campaign.

In the 1990s such Islamic fighting forces remained a strategic, but volatile asset for the US and British intelligence agencies, with Al-Qaeda veterans helping form a jihadist ‘foreign legion’ in the Balkans to assist the Bosnian and Kosovan forces against Serbia, and with the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ – whose leaders were living in Britain – being protected and paid by MI6 as part of a plot to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power. Al-Qaeda blowback to the West by the end of the decade, including the bombings of US embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen was largely contained. Even the massive disaster of 9/11 – which briefly threatened to expose and undo the US’s historically useful relationships with Saudi Arabia and other ultraconservative allies in the region – was successfully repackaged as a casus belli for a fresh round of US military interventions against other problematic regimes, and was carefully refocused on the immediate symptoms rather than the root causes of Al-Qaeda terror.

More recently, the nationwide revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt led to the discomforting overthrow of dictators who had opened up their economies to Western investment and had satisfactorily played the game of the post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’. Their overthrow certainly wrong-footed the Western powers, but very rapidly a series of counter-revolutions began as the West again began to call on key regional allies to either sponsor Islamist parties that could continue to uphold capitalistic structures and prevent the formation of inclusive, democratic, and secular societies, or could sponsor hard-man ‘deep state’ military dictatorships if Islamist parties proved incapable of keeping the crowds off the streets. By March 2011 a parallel campaign had also been launched to help re-direct the ‘Arab Spring’ to states such as Libya and Syria that remained antagonistic to Western interests. Wilfully fostering, funding, and weaponizing localized uprisings in an effort to create fresh nationwide revolutions, key US and British allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE all played major roles in destabilizing these long targeted Arab states, under the banner of the Arab Spring.

IS: Your book includes several sections on the ongoing Syrian war. The media and think-tank commentary around the conflict seems to be increasingly dominated by analysts who are pro-US intervention, or at least sympathetic to Western governments’ broad framing of the conflict. What do you make of the common arguments being put forward about the war?

CD: Despite the Central Intelligence Agency’s [CIA] bungled efforts in the twentieth century, the Western powers have still repeatedly sought to interfere in Syria’s affairs, with even Britain having had fairly well developed plans prior to 2011 to use the terrorist-designated Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and ‘armed men’ to destabilize the Al-Assad regime should it fail to prove more cooperative.  Given this, many seasoned commentators, and not just ardent anti-imperialists or pro-Iran/pro-Kremlin partisans, have correctly understood the dynamics behind the current, post-2011 Syrian conflict, seeing close parallels with the 1980s Afghanistan war, and understanding it as a function of covert Western assistance to Syrian opposition factions combined with more extensive support provided by the West’s regional allies to groups that have included Al-Qaeda franchises and other terrorist-designated organizations.

Nevertheless, as with the very vocal Western supporters of the Afghan ‘freedom fighters’ in the 1980s, most of whom were oblivious to the CIA’s ongoing ‘Operation Cyclone’ and the other efforts to wilfully create a hardline central Asian Islamic state, a significant proportion of the Western commentariat today continues to call for even greater Western intervention in Syria, either on some sort of selective humanitarian basis, or because Western allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been lobbying strongly for more extensive efforts to remove the Damascus administration from power once and for all, even if this would likely entail the disintegration of the Syrian nation state and the rise of yet another reactionary, conservative religious regime in the region. Indeed, most of the major think tanks and policy institutes in the United States and Britain that focus on Syria either receive substantial donations from such allied governments or, at minimum, have interests that are now incredibly closely intertwined with the political elites of the Gulf monarchies.

IS: What is the role of the Western mainstream media in the West’s ongoing shadow wars in the Middle East?

CD: In general, the Western ‘mainstream’ media seems to be suffering from something of a crisis, perhaps best exemplified by its relentlessly one-sided coverage of the British ‘Brexit’ referendum and the recent US presidential campaign, which has done little to contribute to informed debate and, as far as I can see, has helped to polarize Western society. Its coverage of international events is certainly in trouble too, as although there are still some outstanding foreign correspondents, severe cuts have drastically reduced the number able to provide high quality coalface reporting. I believe this is particularly evident when it comes to writing on the Middle East, as there are now only a handful of journalists left to cover several parallel conflicts all at once. Understandably unable to visit warzones populated by groups known to kidnap for ransom, this means that most have had to rely on difficult-to-vet intermediaries and an increasing army of organized ‘information entrepreneurs’.

Easily able to manipulate this situation, a number of bespoke media outlets and ‘atrocity propaganda’ operations either directly funded by Western governments or Western regional allies, and managed by leading PR firms, have been able to create believable, seemingly credible on-the-ground sources in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya that the Western media has largely had to rely upon. Usually identifiable by their catchy logos, high definition videos, slick websites, and bilingual twitter feeds, they are often ostensibly humanitarian, civil defence, or ‘citizen journalist’ non-governmental organizations, but yet they consistently produce a highly-politicized, and often very emotive narrative that almost always seeks to undermine the adversaries of the Western powers and their regional allies.  For those who remember the ‘Nayirah testimony’ of ‘babies in incubators’ in the build-up to Operation Desert Storm, or perhaps the story of Soviet soldiers burning babies alive in Afghanistan, there is an eerie sense of familiarity.

IS: Other than your book, which other writers and books would you recommend to someone trying to understand the West’s real role in the Middle East?

CD: Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game. William Blum, Killing Hope. Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs and Web of Deceit. Stephen Dorril, MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations.

Iraq Body Count: Real and Imagined

Iraq Body Count: Real and Imagined
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
4 April 2015

“We don’t do body counts”, US General Tommy Franks, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, infamously stated in 2002.

Depressingly, much of the mainstream media’s (lack of) coverage of the post 9/11 wars has broadly mirrored Western Government’s disinterest in those killed by their aggressive foreign policy.

This failure of journalism has had a predictable effect on US and UK public understanding of the Iraq War. A 2007 Ipsos poll of US public opinion included a question about how many Iraqis the interviewee thought had died in the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation. The median answer given was 9,890, with 72 percent of respondents believing under 50,000 Iraqis had died. Similarly, a 2013 ComRes survey found 74 per cent of Britons estimated that less than 50,000 Iraqi combatants and civilians had died as a consequence of the war, with 59 per cent estimating that less than 10,000 Iraqis had died. Only 6 per cent of the poll’s respondents estimated the death toll to be over 500,000 Iraqis.

It is this ginormous gap between public knowledge and reality that makes the new report from the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR) so important. Titled ‘Body Count’, the paper investigates the total number of deaths caused by the so-called War on Terror. PSR estimates the war “directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million.” Though they believe this shocking figure to be a conservative estimate, PSR note it is “approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.”

The report is particularly good on the relative merits of the different mortality surveys conducted in Iraq, comparing Iraq Body Count (IBC) with the 2006 Lancet survey. IBC, which recorded approximately 110,000 dead Iraqi civilians between 2003 and 2011, is repeatedly cited by the media. In contrast, the Lancet study’s estimate of 655,000 Iraqi dead was quickly attacked and rejected by politicians and many journalists.

Of course, the differing responses can be explained by how the respective results fit with Western Governments’ self-serving narrative of the war. This conclusion is inescapable when one considers an earlier mortality study on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used similar methods to the Lancet study, had been uncritically accepted by Western governments. In addition the Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Advisor noted the Lancet study’s design was “robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to ‘best practice’ in this area”. As one of the report’s chapter headings says: the Lancet’s methodology is “barely disputed among experts”.

In contrast, the report explains how the IBC’s passive counting of Iraqi civilian deaths using Western media outlets and registered deaths by hospitals and morgues severely underestimates the total number of dead. The gaping flaws in their methodology are numerous and serious: Western media reports were often based on US military or Iraqi government sources, both of whom had a vested interest in downplaying the number of civilian dead; the Baghdad-based Western media’s coverage of provincial Iraq was patchy at best; as the level of violence rises in a particular area there is a corresponding reduction in media coverage; Western occupation forces often blocked journalists from investigating instances of civilian deaths; Iraqi government statistics from morgues were deliberately downplayed for political purposes.

There is a lot of hard evidence for the IBC’s gross underestimation. For example, in 2007 Najaf governorate’s spokesperson said they had buried 40,000 non-identified corpses since the start of the war. The IBC database records only 1,354 victims in Najaf. IBC recorded no violent deaths in Anbar province in June 2006, despite it being a stronghold of violent resistance to the occupation at the time.

Since the report was released on 19 March 2015, there has been zero coverage in the supposedly free and questioning British media. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this omission has huge ramifications for democracy and foreign policy: How can the British general public make informed decisions about foreign policy if they are not aware of the consequences of military action carried out by the UK and its allies?  T

his mass ignorance is no coincidence. Rather it is advantageous to the US and UK Governments. “The figure of 655,000 deaths in the first three war years alone… clearly points to a crime against humanity approaching genocide”, notes the PSR report about the 2006 Lancet survey. “Had this been understood and recognized by the public at large, the Iraq policy of the US and its European allies would not have been tenable for long.”

*Please note my article reproduces a couple of small factual errors from the original PRS report. Please read the comments below for more details.

Interview with former British Ambassador Craig Murray

Interview with former British Craig Murray
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
April 2008

“I‘m in pains to say I‘m really not an heroic person”, Craig Murray explains as I take a seat in the book-laden living room of his West London flat. However, despite his protestations, by speaking out against the US-UK support for the Uzbekistan Government when he was British Ambassador there from 2002-4, Murray is very much a heroic figure to many people, not least dissidents in Uzbekistan itself.

Having joined the Civil Service in 1984, the now 49-year old Murray rose rapidly through the ranks of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with a number of overseas postings in Africa and Europe, before being appointed the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002. Before his posting to the Central Asian Republic he attended a series of briefings at the FCO. “The first thing to say is that human rights featured virtually not at all”, Murray says. Instead, “there were two main concerns. The first was oil and gas and the second was the ‘war on terror‘.”

In particular he was told it was essential to maintain a good relationship with Uzbekistan as they had granted the US an airbase in the south of the country in Karshi Khanabad. Citing official Pentagon documents, Murray explains this airbase was part of the US ‘lily pad system‘ – a network of American-allied airbases surrounding the wider Middle East, “which is, purely coincidentally, the world‘s largest oil and gas belt”. With bases in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Diego Garcia, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Cyprus, Murray argues the American military is able to project force very quickly to protect their interests in the area.

Arriving in Tashkent, Uzbekistan‘s capital, Murray was soon made aware of the dire state of human rights in the country, when gruesome evidence of prisoners being boiled to death was brought to his attention. “It had actually got much worse since Soviet times”, he says. “The media was 100 per cent state controlled. There are no opposition parties allowed, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, definitely no freedom of religion. The people lived in a state of palpable fear.”

According to Murray, in 2002, purportedly to resist the growth of militant Islam, the US “gave the Uzbeks over $500 million of aid, of which $120 million went straight to the Uzbek armed forces and $80 million went to the Uzbek security services, who probably have the worst reputation in the whole world for torture.” Furthermore Murray contends Uzbekistan was being used as an extraordinary rendition destination, with the CIA “actually embedded” in the Uzbek security services.

If all this wasn‘t bad enough, Murray then began to receive British intelligence reports which included material from the Uzbek security services, probably obtained through torture. He was soon writing to his superiors in London arguing we should not be getting our intelligence through these channels, “on legal, practical and moral grounds”. Incredibly his line manager replied criticising him for being “over-focussed on human rights”.

With Britain‘s de facto role “to effectively be sidekicks to the Americans, and support them in deflecting international criticism of the Uzbek regime” a speech Murray made in October 2002 criticising the Uzbek Government proved particularly controversial. According to a Senior FCO source quoted in the Guardian at the time, for going ‘off message‘ Murray was soon on the receiving end of a “campaign of systematic undermining” partly “exercised on the orders of No. 10.” He was called back to London to face 18 disciplinary charges (all subsequently disproved), with the Kafkaesque proviso he wasn‘t permitted to discuss these with anyone. Under immense pressure he had a breakdown, sunk in to a pit of depression and experienced a life threatening pulmonary embolism. However, although Murray recovered and returned to his post, in October 2004 he was sacked, ostensibly “for operational reasons.”

A year later Murray unsuccessfully stood against his old boss Jack Straw in the 2005 General Election, and published Murder in Samarkand, his own account of events – offering a refreshingly honest and fallible portrait of himself. “Her body invited sex while her eyes screamed ‘save me‘”, wrote the then married Murray upon seeing 21-year old Nadira – whom he now lives with in London – for the first time in a club where she worked as an erotic dancer. Murray explains his candour: “I had been through this terrible smear campaign where they made all kinds of allegations which were not true, and I thought the best way to tackle this is to be completely honest and open.”

The news that Murder in Samarkand is being made in to a film will publicise his story to millions of people around the world. The script has been written by the playwright David Hare and will be directed by Michael Winterbottom, with the comic actor Steve Coogan playing Murray. “I think I am in very safe hands”, he says of Winterbottom, whose previous work includes The Road to Guantamano and 24 Hour Party People. About Coogan, Murray says they “haven‘t really had any serious discussions yet. The trouble is when we meet we tend to drink and tell jokes.”

Murray is also in the middle of writing three books, including an earlier set of memoirs about his time in Africa and an historical biography of Alexander Burns, a diplomat, explorer and army officer who died in the first Afghan war. “The parallels of that invasion and what has gone wrong with our current invasion our absolutely extraordinary”, he says. “We are very bad from learning from history.”

Returning to his defiance of the UK Government, Murray says he is amazed how few people have resigned over Iraq, Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror‘. “The lesson of it is that most people will do anything to hang on to their job”, he says. The ex-British Ambassador to Uzbekistan isn‘t so easily silenced though: “I hope to be around to annoy the Government for sometime to come.”

Murder in Samarkand. A British Ambassador‘s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror is published by Mainstream Publishing, priced £7.99.

“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
14 February 2015

‘…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

Why do they hate us?

Why do they hate us?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
January 2010

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow himself up on Northwest Airlines 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day has generated a stupendous amount of column inches and airtime in the US and British media. While the saturation-level coverage has focused on questions of “who,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “how,” it has categorically failed to ask the most important question of all – why?

Those hoping that the new messiah of the United States would enlighten the ignorant masses were sorely disappointed when the Democratic president could only offer to “communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that … the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress.” Barack Obama then turned the floor over to his top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, who made the blindingly obvious and technically true statement that “al-Qaida is an organisation that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents.”

As with much of Obama’s foreign policy, his inability or unwillingness to articulate why the US is the target of so much terrorism has more in common with his universally reviled predecessor than many of his supporters would like to admit. Of course Bush was always far more crass and simplistic than the smooth Harvard graduate. “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,” the then commander-in-chief told the US on September 11 2001.

Just in case anyone is turning their noses up at “those stupid Americans,” we shouldn’t forget that immediately after the July 7 2005 terrorist attacks in London, the BBC reported then home secretary Charles Clarke as saying that “those responsible for such attacks simply wanted to destroy democracy.”

In contrast Michael Scheuer, the man who headed the CIA unit monitoring Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, argues 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 who should we believe? To begin to answer this question, it seems pertinent to look at the reasons those actually carrying out the terrorism give for their actions.

Although it has since disappeared down the memory hole, in 2004 bin Laden himself directly addressed Bush’s claim that al-Qaida is motivated by a hatred of US freedom and democracy. “Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden,” the al-Qaida figurehead quipped before stating: “We fought you because we are free and do not accept injustice. We want to restore freedom to our nation.”

What about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind September 11 2001 and the man with the dubious honour of holding the world record for the number of times to undergo waterboarding – 183 times according to the US Justice Department. “By his own account KSM’s [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favouring Israel,” noted the official 9/11 Commission report.

Back to Britain. Last September, the International Herald Tribune reported that the jury at the trial of the 2006 plot to blow up 10 transatlantic airliners were shown martyrdom videos prepared by several of the plotters. “A common theme was that they planned to wreak revenge on Britain and the United States for their interference in Muslim countries, especially the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” reported the newspaper.

No doubt some readers will be uncomfortable with taking mass-murdering terrorists at their word. But what about testimony from the US government itself?

In 2004 the Pentagon-appointed US Defence Science Board explained: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies.” The board elaborated: “The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.”

As someone paralysed in a 2004 attack by Saudi extremists, one presumes BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner has thought a little bit about this topic. In 2005 he told the Commons foreign affairs committee that “al-Qaida could not give a stuff about what Americans do in America. What they object to is Western military adventures in their heartland, whether it be Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever.”

Robert A Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, has written a whole book addressing this question. He concludes that “suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than the product of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Returning to the case of Abdulmutallab, a recent Associated Press story noted he was “not overtly extremist,” however he “was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza.” In addition Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula released a video after the attempted attack stating that it was in revenge for two joint US-Yemeni air raids on December 17, supposedly targeting al-Qaida operatives. Yes that’s right, the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize personally ordered US air strikes in Yemen, killing 23 children and 17 women, according to local officials.

The enigmatic US novelist Thomas Pynchon once wrote: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

So far the “wrong questions” asked by politicians and the mainstream media have led to the implementation of “the most significant changes to airport security since 2006,” according to the Guardian. “Increased pat-down searches, more sniffer dogs in terminals and a step-up in hand luggage inspections” along with “the introduction of body scanners” has been the British government’s knee-jerk response to Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack.

The problem is that these are technical answers to something that desperately requires a political solution. In fact, by ignoring the inconvenient question of “why,” the chances are that we are actually making future terrorist attacks on the US and Britain more likely.

This is not to suggest that British foreign policy should be decided by the actions of a small group of murderous Islamic extremists. Rather it should radically change because it is immoral, hypocritical and has directly caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of them in the Islamic world. Put simply, reversing US and British backing for Israel, withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and ending our Machiavellian support for undemocratic Arab regimes is the right and moral thing to do. A welcome by-product of implementing these sane and humane policies would be a decrease in the hatred directed against the US and British in the Islamic world – and therefore a significantly reduced terrorist threat

Western support for extremists will lead to more terrorist attacks

Western support for extremists will lead to more terrorist attacks
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
28 January 2015

Is it safe to come out yet? Can we begin the rational, reasoned debate about the Paris terrorist attacks that is so desperately needed?

The media coverage and discussion over the recent shocking events in France has been predictably hysterical and evidence-free. For Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow the attack was a “brutal clash of civilisations. Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs.” The normally sensible Will Self labelled the perpetrators “evil”. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen tweeted “I am shaking with rage at the attack on Charlie Hebdo. It’s an attack on the free world.” His frightening solution? “The entire free world should respond, ruthlessly.” Seeking to go beyond the bile, some have made the very sensible suggestion that the ongoing Western military attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan etc. may well have contributed to the radicalisation of the attackers.

Missing from the endless mainstream media coverage is any mention of the awkward fact that, as Noam Chomsky has stated, “traditionally the United States and Britain have by and large strongly supported radical Islamic fundamentalism.” The historian Mark Curtis details the link in his 2010 book ‘Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’. Citing British support for the “crazies” in Afghanistan in the 1980s and their BFF, the ruthless Saudi regime, Curtis notes “British Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have, in pursuing the so-called ‘national interest’ abroad, colluded for decades with radical Islamic forces, including terrorist organisations.”

It’s important to remember all this is not ancient history. Just as the Western-backed jihad in Afghanistan gave birth to Al-Qaeda, by supporting those who wish to violently overthrow President Assad in Syria, the West has helped to create the jihadi blowback of which Paris may well be only the beginning.

You don’t believe me? Let me explain. The West has been helping to arm the rebels in Syria since before May 2012. With its involvement initially covert and limited, the US gave a wink and a nod to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to support the rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists. How clear, you ask? Well, as clear as a New York Times headline stating “Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria”.

The US, the UK and, yes, France, have continued to provide arms and training to the rebels despite experts repeatedly warning of the danger of such a strategy. In September 2012 the Head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria said Western support for the opposition risked prolonging the conflict. Writing in the New York Times in June 2013 two former NATO Secretary-Generals noted “Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” Experts from Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations all warned that weapons sent in to Syria would likely end up in the hands of jihadists. William Hague, of course, told the BBC Today Programme there was no risk of arms falling into the wrong hands. Who do you think has been proved right? Unsurprisingly, and somewhat ironically, CIA-supplied weapons have been spotted being used by Islamic State to target armoured vehicles the US had supplied to the US-backed Iraqi Government.

You don’t need to be a counter-terrorism expert to realise an increasingly militarised conflict, awash with weapons and populated by a burgeoning number of extremists, with no peaceful end in sight, is exactly the kind of conditions that encourage violent jihadists to travel to Syria. Terrorism analyst Aaron Zelin’s February 2013 warning that “the Syrian conflict is going to be as big, if not bigger, than Afghanistan was in the 1980s in terms of mobilizing jihadi fighters” seems very prescient today. However, it is veteran correspondent Patrick Cockburn who makes the key point about Western responsibility: “The West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

All of this information about our own responsibility for engendering radical, sometimes violent, Islamists is on the public record, having been published in widely read, highly respected newspapers over the last few years. And yet it has effectively been excluded from the on-going debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the terrorist threat to the West. No overt censorship or terrorist intimidation was needed – just professional, career-minded journalists and well-educated commentators arguing feverishly within the narrow bounds of acceptable debate.