ISIS

Rouhani to NBC: “US Presence in Region Exacerbates Terrorism Crisis”

NBC News’ Ann Curry interviewed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday in her second extended interview with him. She had been the first Westerner to interview Rouhani after his election. Remarkably, the story put up by NBC on their website to accompany the video seen above did not mention the part of the interview that Mehr News chose to highlight in Iran. From Mehr News:

Iran’s president has denounced ISIL terrorist group for its savagery and said US presence in the region has exacerbates [sic] the terrorism crisis since 2001.

That comment about US presence in the region exacerbating the terrorism crisis appears nowhere in the NBC article. The article does, however carry Rouhani’s accusation that the US approach to fighting ISIS is cowardly:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, denounced ISIS for its savagery but also branded the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as “ridiculous.” Speaking from the presidential palace in Tehran ahead of his visit to the United Nations, Rouhani questioned President Obama’s decision to go after ISIS with airstrikes.

“Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.

“If they want to use planes and if they want to use unmanned planes so that nobody is injured from the Americans, is it really possible to fight terrorism without any hardship, without any sacrifice? Is it possible to reach a big goal without that? In all regional and international issues, the victorious one is the one who is ready to do sacrifice.

Rouhani’s accusation that the US wants to carry out this fight without sacrifices seems to be a very accurate description of the approach by the Obama Administration.

Further evidence for the “ridiculous” charge comes in this Huffington Post story about a Congressional briefing on US strategy:

One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.

“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”

He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, already in New York for the beginning of talks on the nuclear deal and the opening of the UN General Assembly, told NPR that he still favors a deal with the P5+1 group of nations:

On the subject of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Zarif said all the “wrong options” have already been tried and that “we are ready” for an agreement.

Zarif is fully cognizant of the forces allied against reaching a deal, though:

“The only problem is how this could be presented to some domestic constituencies, primarily in the United States but also in places in Europe,” because “some are not interested in any deal,” he said.

“If they think any deal with Iran is a bad idea, there is no amount of — I don’t want to call it concession — no amount of assurance that is inherent in any deal because they are not interested in a deal, period,” Zarif said.

In sharp contrast with what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders have said about no deal being better than a bad one, Zarif said: “I think if you compare any deal with no deal, it’s clear that a deal is much preferable.”

Gosh, considering how the US is working closely with anti-Iran groups, even to the point of interfering in lawsuits to prevent disclosure of how the government shares state secrets with them, Zarif seems to have a very clear grasp of the problem a deal faces.

Despite his harsh comments about the US (and harsh comments about ISIS, as well), Rouhani also held out hope that the P5+1 final agreement can be reached.

After Spectacular Failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, US to Throw More Money at Training for Syrian Rebels

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and "accomplishments" from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond is discussed.

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and “accomplishments” from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond are discussed.

A central part of Barack Obama’s prime-time disclosure that he is authorizing air strikes in Syria was his call for half a billion dollars to train and equip “moderate” rebels in Syria. Proving that bipartisanism in Washington is not dead, John Boehner was quick to show his support for this nifty plan:

Congressional leaders rallied behind President Obama’s call to combat the Islamic State, vowing Thursday to back his request for funding to arm Syrian rebels as early as next week.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the House to pass Obama’s $500 million funding request to train and equip Syrian rebels who are fighting the militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

/snip/

“We only have one commander in chief,” Boehner said. “At this point in time, it is important to give the president what he is asking for.”

Remarkably, though, even this USA Today article notes that there might be a slight problem or two with this brilliant plan to stop ISIS, otherwise known as “the personification of evil in the modern world“:

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another endangered Democrat, said he was opposed to arming Syrian rebels. “We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us,” he said.

House Republicans are divided into two camps, according to Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. He told the Associated Press after a closed-door caucus meeting that one side hopes to hold Obama “accountable for doing the right thing.” The other group — that includes himself, Fleming said — believes Obama’s plans amount to an “insane strategy to go out there and depend on people that are proven undependable” to take down the Islamic State.

Wow. I think I just became a big fan of a Republican congressman from Louisiana.

So where could Begich have gotten the idea that if we arm extremists they might eventually use those arms on us? I mean, besides folks like Osama bin Laden and the death squads we have armed in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how could Fleming think the groups we plan to train and arm might be undependable? That is, besides the Iraqi troops we trained who then abandoned their posts and US-supplied weapons as soon as ISIS entered the picture or the Afghan troops that routinely give territory back to the Taliban as soon as US forces withdraw?

And about that half billion dollar budget. Note that back in June, SIGAR’s latest figures (pdf) showed that the US has already disbursed over $48 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund which provides funding for the training and support of Afghanistan’s troops. Despite those billions, of course, no one doubts that these forces will be completely unable to function once US troops and US funding are gone, just as we saw when Iraqi forces faded away in the face of ISIS.

So yes, we are still stuck in that version of the movie Groundhog Day where we just end up training and equipping groups to take on our latest enemy, only to have the effort fail. But who should lead this august effort? Our most accomplished failure on this front, hands down, is David Petraeus. How could we possibly not use the author of this brilliant prose, penned in September, 2004, claiming that his second attempt at training troops in Iraq was a smashing success: Continue reading

“Let’s Bomb Syria” Version 2 Is Working; Why Did Version 1 Fail?

Polls taken almost exactly one year apart show a remarkable reversal in US opinion regarding the prospect of air strikes on Syria. Last year, in a poll conducted September 6-8, (pdf) there were a number of questions regarding action in Syria. By a margin of 59% to 39%, Americans overwhelmingly said they thought Congress should not pass the then pending resolution authorizing “military action for 60 to 90 days” that also banned use of US troops in a combat role. Further, 55% of those polled stated that even if Congress passed the resolution, they opposed US air strikes in Syria while only 43% favored them. In the hypothetical of no Congressional authorization, opposition to the air strikes rose to 71% with only 27% favoring them. Just one year later, those numbers have reversed. In a poll conducted September 4-7, 65% of Americans now say they support expanding US air strikes against the Sunni insurgents into Syria, while only 28% oppose them. Checking the crosstabs, support for the strikes jumps to 74% for Republicans but still is 60% for Democrats.

So why is this year’s Drum-Up-War week working, when last year’s failed?

Despite the heinous nature of last year’s sarin attack, it seems to me that most Americans did a good job of recognizing that what is underway in Syria is a civil war in which the US has no vital interest other than humanitarian concern for widespread death and displacement of citizens. Having failed to paint Bashar al-Assad as an evil-doer on the level of Saddam Hussein (or perhaps after Americans rejected such an obvious campaign to do so) Obama and his fellow war hawks now consider ISIS “the focus of evil in the modern world“.

The beheading of US journalists in Syria got huge play in the press. And yet, if we drill down a bit, the rate of journalists being killed in Syria is going down from its peak in 2012.

Somehow, Obama’s war gang has managed to convince ordinary Americans that ISIS represents a real threat to the US. That same poll that favors attacks on ISIS in Syria found that a staggering 91% of Americans find ISIS to be a serious threat to the US (59% said “very serious” and 31% said “somewhat serious”). Sadly, there is no reality behind this fear on the part of Americans. Even Time, in doing its best to support the hysteria, winds up undercutting the concept in a story today. In a piece creatively titled “Understanding the ISIS Threat to Americans at Home“, we learn:

On the one hand, Attorney General Eric Holder has said western fighters joining ISIS and returning home radicalized are the national security danger he worries about most. “We are seeing, I would say, an alarming rise in the number of American and European Union nationals who have been going to Syria to help extremist groups,” Holder told TIME last month. “This represents a grave threat to our security,” he said.

But in a thorough presentation on Sept. 3 at the Brookings Institution, outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, presented a less scary picture. ISIS has no cells in the U.S., Olsen said, “full stop.” Further, Olsen said, “we have no credible information” that the group “is planning to attack the U.S.” ISIS, Olsen said “is not al Qaeda pre-9/11.”

At most, the article concludes, quoting Obama in his “exclusive” with Chuck Todd, he needed “to launch air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.”

The links Holder is hyping about ISIS and AQAP simply do not exist:

Holder says the danger comes from the combination of westerners joining ISIS and the expert bomb-makers working for the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is not clear what if any evidence exists of such collaboration yet. On the one hand, AQAP has issued statements in support of ISIS, and both groups are active in Syria and Iraq; on the other, al Qaeda and ISIS split in the last year after a debate over tactics and territory.

Several senior administration officials tell TIME they have seen no evidence of direct contact between individual members of AQAP and ISIS.

In the end, the article concludes, Obama’s war team has deduced that we must attack ISIS because at some point in the future, they will turn their sights on us. Never mind that in this case, attacking ISIS in Syria winds up helping Assad, whom we wanted to attack last year:

Jane Harman, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that while the Assad government was a major topic of discussion, she and other participants told Mr. Obama that he could order military action in Syria without fear of helping Mr. Assad, since ISIS was occupying ungoverned territory that his forces were unlikely to reconquer.

I guess that Harman and Obama know that Assad won’t be able to reconquer those once ISIS is gone because of the bang-up job we will do training and equipping our famousmoderate” rebels, but hey, what could go wrong on any of this?

In the end, though, the apparent support for this version of strikes on Syria seems to me to have come about because of the shift in focus on the “enemy” from a president oppressing the citizens of his country to an international terror group that we must fear and that represents true evil. As far as the average American is concerned, meddling in another country’s civil war is out of bounds, but when it comes to protecting the homeland against evil-doers, anything goes.

And it doesn’t even need Congressional approval.

 

Did Afghan and Pakistani ISIS Recruits Really Expect to Travel Length of Iran?

The red marker for Bandar Abbas falls close to a projected flight path, and more than halfway from Bagram (Kabul) to Dubai. Note that travelers entering Iran along the Pakistan border would need to traverse entire country to reach Iraq.

The red marker for Bandar Abbas falls close to a projected flight path, and more than halfway from Bagram (Kabul) to Dubai. Note that travelers entering Iran along the Pakistan border would need to traverse entire country to reach Iraq.

Disclaimer: There is a very good chance that my thinking here is so off-target as to make it total bullshit, but it is still a fun exercise in trying to make sense of recent events. –JW

Long-time readers will be familiar with my strange hobby of noting interesting events taking place along the border between Pakistan and Iran. We have a new entry in that category, and this time the information we have is quite cryptic. The initial report came from IRNA, dated September 8:

Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said here on Monday Afghan and Pakistan nationals, who were trying to cross Iranian borderlines to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as Daesh) terrorists in Iraq, have been arrested.

Speaking in a local gathering, Rahmani Fazli underscored that the Iranian military forces and residents of the border areas are fully vigilant against Daesh plots to counter potential threats.

He added that Iranian forces are on full alert, as the Daesh terrorist group is failing in Iraq.

Note that Fazli does not state where or when these arrests took place. Mehr News expanded slightly on the IRNA story:

Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli in a meeting of the country’s deputy governors for political, social and security affairs said that a number of Afghans and Pakistanis who were passing through Iran seeking to join ISIL in Iraq were arrested.

Rahmani Fazli added that the country had already prevented some other Afghans and Pakistanis to enter Iran.

“ISIL terrorists have not succeeded in recruitment of fans inside the country; however, this is not to deny they promote their ideology, since they are active in the cyberspace, connecting to the possible candidates for recruitment,” the minister said.

He asserted that there is no fear of any danger of this terrorist group for the country because the residents of Iranian border provinces are smart enough and the security forces are completely dominant over the borders.

Hmm. Last October those security forces weren’t exactly “completely dominant” when fourteen Iranian border guards were killed. But mostly, it does seem to me that Sunni fighters wishing to make their way to the front lines to aid ISIS in Iraq or Syria would be ill-advised to try to make their way across the longest part of Shia-controlled Iran from Pakistan.

News outlets in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have noted Iran’s announcement of the arrests but add no new information on how many militants were arrested or the loacation or date of the arrests.

This event stood out to me because I had been intrigued by Friday’s strange episode where a plane transporting coalition military contractors from Kabul to Dubai made an unscheduled landing in Iran: Continue reading

Happy Monday of Drum-Up-War Week

”From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” —  Andy Card

12 years ago today, Michael Gordon and Judy Miller published a story about aluminum tubes based off deliberate leaks from Dick Cheney and Condi Rice. Dick Cheney then cited the story on Meet the Press.

More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.

Yesterday, Obama himself appeared on Meet the Press, to roll out his new war.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks for doing this. We start with a very basic question. Are you preparing the country to go back to war?

PRES. OBAMA:

I’m preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat from ISIL. Keep in mind that this is something that we know how to do. We’ve been dealing with terrorist threats for quite some time. This administration has systematically dismantled Al Qaeda in the FATA.

ISIL poses a broader threat because of its territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria. But the good news is coming back from the most recent NATO meeting is the entire international community understands that this is something that has to be dealt with.

So what I have done over the last several months is, first and foremost, make sure that we got eyes on the problem, that we shifted resources, intelligence, reconnaissance. We did an assessment on the ground. The second step was to make sure that we protected American personnel, our embassies, our consulates. That included taking air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.

The next phase is now to start going on some offense. We have to get an Iraqi government in place. And I’m optimistic that next week, we should be able to get that done. And I will then meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I’ll make a speech and describe what our game plan’s going to be going forward.

But this is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war. What this is is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years. And the good news is is that because of American leadership, we have I believe, a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem.

And the NYT — including Michael Gordon — published a story based partly on leaks (those are about bombing Syria) from senior officials warning that this war would take 3 years.

The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against theIslamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obamahas left office, according to senior administration officials.

On Wednesday, Obama will roll out this new war, just in time for 9/11.

I’m thinking if maybe we could force Michael Gordon to take the entire month of September off in the future we might get out of this war cycle?

If note, we might as well just mark this in our regular calendar: Labor Day, Back to School, New War Roll-Out. Because it seems to be an annual thing.

Two Explanations for Confusion about US ISIS Members: Associational Claims and Watchlisting Procedures

Eli Lake has a piece trying to explain the big disparities between claimed numbers of Americans who have joined ISIS.

One might think that a government that secretly collected everyone’s cellphone records would be able to find out which Americans have joined ISIS. But actually that task is much harder than it would appear.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told CNN more than 100 Americans have pledged themselves to the group that declared itself a Caliphate in June after conquering Iraq’s second-largest city. Hagel added, “There may be more, we don’t know.” On Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman walked back Hagel’s remarks, saying the United States believes there are “maybe a dozen” Americans who have joined ISIS.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” a U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast when asked if there were more than 12 Americans in ISIS. “We have some identifying information on some of the Americans, it may not be their name but we have enough information. That said, we readily acknowledge that that number is probably low and there are others we don’t know about.”

“I think 12 is probably low only because there is always stuff we don’t know,” said Andrew Liepman, who left his post as the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in 2012 and is now a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation. “I would not say that number is hugely low, but we always have to remember what we don’t know.”

But at least some of these discrepancies are actually quite easy to explain.

First, Lake jokes about the NSA’s dragnet. But that is actually one explanation for the larger numbers: in FISC documents, it is clear NSA treats association as transitive, meaning that an association with someone who is known to be associated with a group is itself, in many cases, considered evidence of association with the group. And some of this analysis is not going to go beyond metadata analysis (meaning NSA may not get around to reading the content to confirm the association unless the metadata patterns suggest some reason to prioritize the captured communication).

Thus, for any Americans who are in email or phone contact with a known or suspected member of ISIS, NSA likely considers them to be associated with ISIS. And remember, NSA’s collection of email and phone records overseas is almost certainly more extensive than their collection here, meaning those contact chains will be more exhaustive.

In addition, we know that the government considers traveling to an area of terrorist activity to be reasonable suspicion that someone is a known or suspected terrorist. The watchlist guidelines list just that as one behavioral indicator for being watchlisted as a known or suspected terrorist (see page 35).

3.9.4 Travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of TERRORIST ACTIVITY.

This means that any Americans who have traveled to Syria or Iraq are likely classified, by default, as terrorists. And many of those may have traveled for entirely different reasons (like freelance journalism).

That the Pentagon responded the way it did to Chuck Hagel’s fear-mongering is itself tacit admission that the government’s means of tracking terrorist affiliation sweep far wider than actual terrorist affiliation actually does.  All Americans who have communicated with ISIS or traveled to Syria may not even want to join ISIS, and not all that want to will succeed in doing so. But NSA and NCTC are going to track everyone who might want to join, because that’s the best way to keep us safe.

Of course, that means the numbers can be used as Hagel used them, to fearmonger about the possible rather than the actual threat of American ISIS members.

All the more reason to make these watchlisting details public!

Final Push for P5+1 Deal Begins Against Backdrop of US Working With Anti-Iran Groups

Very high level US diplomats, including William Burns and Wendy Sherman, are in Geneva for talks today and tomorrow (for the second time in a month) with  an Iranian delegation headed by Abbas Araghchi, whose position in Iran’s Foreign Ministry is similar to theirs. This meeting follows one on Monday between the EU’s chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Reuters has more on today’s meetings, informing us that they are a prelude to the resumption of P5+1 negotiations (which now have a November 24 deadline when the interim deal expires):

Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks on Thursday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities by a new deadline in late November.

The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept. 18.

It is a wonder that Iran continues negotiations, as the US blacklisted a new group of companies last week that it accused of trying to help Iran work around sanctions. More from the Reuters article:

State news agency IRNA and a U.S. official confirmed the discussions were underway. “If there is good will and a constructive approach, we can reach a desired result before Nov. 24,” IRNA quoted Iran’s deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi as saying late on Wednesday. The United States last week penalized a number of Iranian and other foreign companies, banks and airlines for violating sanctions against Tehran, saying it was sending a signal that there should be no evasion of sanctions while talks continue. Rouhani said on Saturday the sanctions were against the spirit of negotiations, but added he was not pessimistic about the viability of the talks.

There is a very interesting backstory on parts of the blacklisting process. A seemingly “independent” group, United Against Nuclear Iran, has been very active in the process of “naming and shaming” individuals, companies and organizations that it accuses of violating the spirit of the sanctions against Iran. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be independent, the US has stepped into a lawsuit brought against UANI by a businessman claiming he was defamed (I owe Marcy a big thank you for alerting me to this part of the story). The government is specifically intervening to keep the funding of UANI secret:

The Obama administration has gone to court to protect the files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group, saying they likely contain information the government does not want disclosed.

The highly unusual move by the Justice Department raises questions about the connections between the American government and the group, United Against Nuclear Iran, a hard-line voice seeking to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The group has a roster of prominent former government officials and a reputation for uncovering information about companies that sometimes do business with Iran, in violation of international sanctions.

The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.

Wow. So this “independent” group seems to be getting intelligence directly from the government, if we are to believe what the US said in its filing. So just who are the “former government officials” in UANI? A look at their “Leadership” page is nauseating. The first entry in the section for “Advisory Board” is none other than war hawk Joe Lieberman. Next to him is Fran Townsend and directly below him is a former director of the Mossad. The Advisory Board photos go on and on, a virtual “Who’s Who” of pro-war, pro-Israel media darlings. There also is a former Deputy Director of the IAEA even though it is supposed to be apolitical. Intellectual luminaries Mike Gerson and Mark Salter appear much lower on the list, perhaps out of a semblance of embarrassment. So, regarding those “investigative techniques” and “confidential sources” that the government doesn’t want to reveal in how UANI gets its information, consider this tidbit we got recently from David Albright, another player in the Iran-smearing business, this time branching out to comment on the recent tensions over US spying on Germany (also brought to my attention by Marcy): Continue reading

The West’s Ideological Vacuum

One point I tried to make in this post on George Orwell’s fighting in Spain is that the fight between Bashar al-Assad and ISIS is one that has become an ideological magnet. I was trying to argue that we’re offering little by way of positive ideology to combat ISIS, particularly among those most susceptible to its draw.

Two recent commentaries have made related points. This Jocelyne Cesari NYT op-ed on Europe’s need to more fully embrace Muslims notes the “collapse” of ideologies in Europe.

Third, the collapse of all major ideologies in Europe — nationalism, Communism, and liberalism — has left room for new radical options. For some young Europeans, adherence to radical Islam provides a viable alternative ideology, comparable to that of radical leftist groups in the 1970s.

And at the New Yorker, Steve Coll notes that ISIS is the kind of thing that arises when people feel they have no other avenue for security and justice.

The group’s lightning rise is a symptom, however, of deeper instability; a cause of that instability is failed international policy in Iraq and Syria. If the United States is returning to war in the region, one might wish for a more considered vision than Whack-a-Mole against jihadists.

The restoration of human rights in the region first requires a renewed search for a tolerable—and, where possible, tolerant—path to stability. ISIS feasts above all on the suffering of Syria, and that appears to be unending. The war is in its fourth year, with almost two hundred thousand dead and nine million displaced, inside the country and out. The caliphate now seated in Raqqa is the sort of dark fantasy that can spring to life when people feel they are bereft of other plausible sources of security and justice.

Though the very terms Coll discusses may betray part of the problem — and the neoliberal ideology Cesari doesn’t account for in her piece.

It is not yet clear that ISIS will endure as a menace. Fast-moving extremist conquerors sometimes have trouble holding their ground. ISIS has promised to govern as effectively as it intimidates, but its talent lies in extortion and ethnic cleansing, not in sanitation and job creation. It is vulnerable to revolt from within.

Conceiving of governance as “job creation” may undersell what a destabilized region is looking for — not to mention ignore what ISIS has done in Syrian areas they control.

The group also has a surprisingly sophisticated bureaucracy, which typically includes an Islamic court system and a rovingpolice force. In the Syrian town of Manbij, for example, ISIS officials cut off the hands of four robbers. In Raqqa, they forced shops to close for selling poor products in the suq (market) as well as regular supermarkets and kebab stands—a move that was likely the work of its Consumer Protection Authority office. ISIS has also whipped individuals for insulting their neighbors, confiscated and destroyed counterfeit medicine, and on multiple occasions summarily executed and crucified individuals for apostasy. Members have burned cartons of cigarettes and destroyed shrines andgraves, including the famous Uways al-Qarani shrine in Raqqa.

Beyond these judicial measures, ISIS also invests in public works. In April, for instance, it completeda new suq in al-Raqqa for locals to exchange goods. Additionally, the group runs an electricity office that monitors electricity-use levels, installs new power lines, and hosts workshops on how to repair old ones. The militants fix potholesbus people between the territories they control, rehabilitateblighted medians to make roads more aesthetically pleasing, and operate a post office and zakat (almsgiving) office (which the group claims has helped farmers with their harvests). Most importantly for Syrians and Iraqis downriver, ISIS has continued operating the Tishrin dam (renaming it al-Faruq) on the Euphrates River. Through all of these offices and departments, ISIS is able to offer a semblance of stability in unstable and marginalized areas, even if many locals do not like its ideological program.

I’m not saying this is the societal solution the Middle East seeks. Continue reading

Whatever Happened to Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi?

On the same day the NYT published the latest in a series of reports of how ISIS has incorporated Baathists from Saddam’s regime, the WaPo reported that ISIS had tortured some of its captives, including James Foley, using some of the same techniques employed by the US.

The NYT described how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi teamed up with some of Saddam’s old officers.

He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.

They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.

The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.

And WaPo described the waterboarding used with Foley — but it described it exclusively as a CIA torture technique.

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Waterboarding often involves strapping a person down on a gurney or bench and pouring cold water over a cloth covering the face. It causes the sensation of drowning. “The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult — or in some cases not possible — to breathe,” according to a Justice Department memo in May 2005 about the CIA’s use of the technique.

True, waterboarding — as opposed to simulated drowning by submersion — has only been admitted in 3 known cases, all CIA detainees — Abu Zubaydah, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (as well as Egypt’s waterboarding on our behalf of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi).

But waterboarding was at least contemplated for use on Baathists. Charles Duelfer admitted that OVP suggested a Mukhabarat officer Duelfer names as Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi be waterboarded, though Duelfer claims he ultimately wasn’t waterboarded. 

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

[snip]

Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.

[snip]

“Everyone knew there would be more smiles in Washington if WMD stocks were found,” Duelfer said in the interview. “My only obligation was to find the truth. It would be interesting if there was WMD in May 2003, but what was more interesting to me was looking at the entire regime through the slice of WMD.”

But, Duelfer says, Khudayr in fact repeatedly denied knowing the location of WMD or links between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda and was not subjected to any enhanced interrogation. Duelfer says the idea that he would have known of such links was “ludicrous”.

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Did Eric Arthur Blair Come Back from Catalonia Radicalized?

George_Orwell_press_photoThe UK raised its threat limit to “pee your pants” today, based on the assessment an attack on the country is “highly likely.” This is a response to the 500 or so Britons who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS.

PM David Cameron said at least 500 people had travelled from the UK “to fight in Syria and potentially Iraq”.

He said Islamic State (IS) extremists – who are attempting to establish a “caliphate”, or Islamic state, in the region – represented a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before”.

New legislation would also be brought in to make it easier to take passports away from people travelling abroad to join the conflict, Mr Cameron said.

Which has me thinking — and not for the first time — of the large numbers of people who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

After all, it’s not like wanting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is an ignoble goal. And while I think most Brits (and Americans) will grow disillusioned by the intolerance and ruthless discipline of ISIS, I can imagine the attraction, from afar, of moral certitude they offer. The 1930s, like today, are a morally confusing time, and those who fought the fascists in Spain ended up being vanguards of a necessary fight, even if they fought for an equally loathsome authoritarian force in the process.

The experience of fighting — and growing disillusioned — in Spain was chronicled by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia. After his return, his views were suspect, but he did manage to return to the UK and warn of the dangers of absolutism.

I’m not the first to make this comparison. Boyd Tonkin wrote a piece in the Independent wondering whether those who traveled to Syria to fight Assad will be able to return to the UK without he specter of terrorism ruining their lives. (h/t to Gabe Moshenska who pointed me to it on Twitter)

Tony Blair’s third administration passed the Terrorism Act 2006. Section Five, as presently interpreted by the Crown Prosecution Service, makes it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive”. The legislation appears to forbid all training or action in a foreign combat. If so, its provisions would have criminalised every Briton who fought in Spain. It would have turned Lord Byron, whose commitment to Greek independence led him to arm and lead a raggle-taggle regiment prior to his death at Missolonghi in 1824, into an outlaw. As for the 6,500 veterans of Wellington’s armies who went off after Waterloo to fight against Spanish colonial rule in the battles that led to freedom for Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, how could the courts have processed such a lawless throng?

The 2006 legislation currently targets UK citizens deemed to have fought with Syrian rebel groups. Estimates of their number vary wildly but a figure of around 400-500 has gained currency. At least eight have died. The fear of radicalisation, with any link to al-Qa’ida-allied units and above all to Isis treated as a communicable virus, has propelled the hard legal line. In January, 16 Britons were arrested after returning from Syria. Further arrests have followed since.

[snip]

[T]oday’s security-led prism and its “radicalisation” model, with the automatic penalties in place for any returnee, appears blind to every nuance. One British volunteer in Syria tweeted a poster that read “Keep Calm, Support Isis”: a spoof of the already much-parodied Second World War campaign to beef up morale. What are the chances that the kid who wrote that poster had watched Dad’s Army? Pretty high. If so, he will be many things apart from a bloodthirsty future avenger dedicated to importing holy mayhem on to British streets.

The long-term significance of an overseas adventure for anyone may not be apparent to them, or to others, at the time. But every present or past volunteer in Syria now knows they bear an invisible brand marked “potential murderer”, stamped by the agencies of surveillance. In a BBC radio analysis, one British fighter thought it a “slightly surreal” notion to “go back to the UK and start a jihad there”. For him, at least: “As to the global jihad, I couldn’t tell you if I’m going to be alive tomorrow, let alone future plans.”

Just because you hear someone rashly cry “wolf” does not mean that wolves do not exist. Over the past six weeks, Isis in Iraq has shown to the world a savagery almost beyond belief. Its bloody stunts may have emboldened a few would-be butchers. They will have deterred many secret faint-hearts, already in too deep. However, if the near-certainty of UK criminal sanctions closes down your road to reintegration, why not rise to the fanatics’ bait? What have you then got to lose?

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @dangillmor Apparently most newsworthy part of Clapper's speech today is he again denies that his lies were lies. https://t.co/P1niebSfrb
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emptywheel RT @KenDilanianAP: Snide blogger misunderstands what journalism is, and also fails to stand by for full story.
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JimWhiteGNV I'm gonna need a lot more popcorn...
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JimWhiteGNV @lrozen Re Restis case, I found some interesting info on Pallis and Cambis yesterday: http://t.co/ONX5GrnNcM
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JimWhiteGNV RT @lrozen: Restis motion: deprived Plaintiffs of the opportunity to test Gov'ts claims..& limited Court’s opportunity to make an informed …
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JimWhiteGNV RT @lrozen: Restis attorneys: By relying solely upon ex parte submissions... the Gov't has improperly invoked the state secrets privilege, …
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emptywheel Maybe when Brady is done playing football, he can take over DHS? Obviously he has directly relevant experience.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 If you don't just blindly accept ToS, you're not a patriot.
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JimWhiteGNV Just how closely is Texas watching this Scotland vote?
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